Spring is in the Air

We were between test weeks this past week, so I have several delicious recipes to share with you this time. All of the beautiful weather has been making it difficult to study, but it’s kept me in a better mood than the winter weather, so I guess that’s a plus! So many things are going on this time of year that it makes it difficult to stay in and cook for yourself. There are festivals, crawfish boils, picnic parties, parades, concerts and who knows what else for you to enjoy. It’s important to remember not to over-eat when you attend all of these wonderful spring events. I haven’t had the chance to go to something like that since I’ve been stuck in the books lately, but I hope everyone else is enjoying all the activities. You could make your own spring event by cooking at home and enjoying the weather by eating outside. I might try that this week for a study break. Here’s what I have from this past week, hope you try one!

Spinach Pesto Lasagna
This lasagna was AWESOME! I believe I made it last Sunday night for me and my roommate, and we both loved it. It’s a veggie lasagna that uses wonton wrappers instead of your typical lasagna noodles. I didn’t  compare the nutritional facts between the two, but I’m thinking that the wonton wrappers may have less carbs and calories. A serving of the lasagna was surprisingly low on calories, with only 261 calories. I think I followed the recipe pretty closely on this one. I roasted my own red bell peppers instead of buying canned or jarred ones. It’s really easy to do! All you do is slice your pepper into halves and broil them for about 5-10 minutes until the skins are a little charred. Then you place them in a paper bag or ziploc to let the skins loosen up for about 5 minutes. After that, you peel the outer skins off and slice them however you like. Using store bought pesto and ricotta cheese (make sure you get low or no fat) made the filling easy to put together also. I had leftovers the next night for dinner and had enough to pawn off to one of my friends also. I would say the recipe makes enough for four to five servings. It was also pretty filling, so a small salad is all you need to go along with it. The picture doesn’t do it justice, but I forgot to take one of the whole thing after it came out of the oven. Click here for the recipe.

Orzo Salad with Chickpeas, Dill, and Lemon
This is a great recipe to throw together for any occasion. I think I posted a recipe with orzo a few weeks ago, but if you’ve never had it, it’s a small pasta shaped like rice. I’ve been using whole wheat, which you should do with any pasta or bread that you eat. I used dill from my herb garden that I started a few weeks ago, which was exciting to do. All of my herbs have grown several inches and look great! I did change one thing about this recipe. I used white kidney beans instead of chickpeas, because I was planning to make a salad with white beans and knew I wouldn’t use the whole can. When you’re planning to make two things that call for similar ingredients, it’s good to think about what you might be able to substitute in one so that you can cut down on cost and waste. I think it turned out great. You could easily add chicken or shrimp if you needed to make it a little more hearty. Click here for the recipe.

Herbed Shrimp and White Bean Salad

I think that I have posted this recipe before, but I’m not quite sure. I know it’s my second time to make this particular salad, but I changed several things in the recipe this time so I wanted to share it again. I like the original recipe just fine, but I had trouble finding arugula at the grocery store. Instead, I just used fresh spinach. I also didn’t use pine nuts, because I had walnuts at home already. I kept everything else the same, and added some cucumber and tomatoes that I had in the fridge. I liked it even more this time around. Salad can be such an easy thing to make your own by adding any fresh vegetables or herbs, even fruit sometimes. The dressing for this was light and fresh and all of the flavors from the herbs, nuts, and beans worked so well together. I had it for dinner, but it would probably make a great lunch as well. I think I’ll stick with the spinach next time I make it, but try it however you think you might like it and let me know what you think! I’m hungry just thinking about it! Click here for the original recipe.


Leftovers Left Out!

When cooking for only one or two people, one of two things usually happens. You either make too much food and end up eating it all at once, or you make too much and have a pile of leftovers. In theory the better option is to keep your leftovers and eat them later. Oftentimes, we keep our leftovers for a couple days thinking we will eat them, but it usually never happens and they end up in the trash. Since I’ve started cooking for myself and trying to stay on a budget at the same time, I’ve become more conscious about how much food I initially make, and what happens to the leftovers. This idea is also important when eating out. While you might not be able to control the large portion sizes that you are served at many restaurants, you can choose to eat less and actually eat the leftovers you take home. So, I encourage you to be more aware of what you waste, remember, there are people in the world that don’t have any food, and I think it’s a shame to waste what we are so fortunate to have. This week I had several meals that were leftovers, so that’s what I’m going to share with you.

Good Ole’ Spaghetti
Last weekend, my boyfriend and I made spaghetti for dinner one night. Classic spaghetti with meat sauce is probably one of the simplest and most inexpensive meals you can make. We used regular lean ground beef and browned it in a skillet; don’t forget to drain the excess grease into a can or bottle that you can dispose of in the trash. The sauce was from a jar, Prego maybe? We spiced it up a little bit by adding our own oregano, red onion, and fresh garlic. Adding your own fresh herbs, fruits, or vegetables is a simple trick that can be done with any store bought sauce or mix. As for the noodles, try to always use whole wheat or whole grain. I knew that we would have leftover meat and sauce, so instead of cooking enough noodles to go with all of the sauce, I kept them separate. Cooking only the amount of pasta we needed for that night and adding the meat sauce as a topping on each of our individual servings. This way, you can just keep the meat sauce in the fridge and make your pasta fresh for when you have it as leftovers. This is what I did for dinner a couple nights later.  Pasta is a difficult thing to keep and then reheat because it usually just doesn’t taste the same. If you’re making something and know you will have extra sauce, just don’t cook all the pasta you will need for it, like I did. If you have pasta leftovers from a restaurant and your pasta and sauce are already combined, adding a little water before you microwave it can help with the reheating process.

Banana Bread
I buy bananas, apples, and oranges at the store every week. I usually have a couple pieces of fruit a day, but sometimes I end up with a few brown bananas at the end of the week. Many people like their bananas on the yellow to brown side, but my favorite is when they are more on the green side. So, once they get to be too brown I don’t really like to eat them. This past week, my roommate and I ended up with three quite brown bananas, which is the exact amount needed to make banana bread. I can’t vouch for whether or not this recipe is very healthy, but I can say it makes a great breakfast, especially on the run. This particular recipe has been passed down in my family and is super easy to make. You can make one large loaf or two smaller loafs, which is what I did. This time, I made one with walnuts and one without. Banana bread is also a great thing to give away or take to work to share. I’ll include the recipe at the bottom of the page. You could probably also make banana pudding with leftover bananas, I’ve never made it though. Leftover bananas, strawberries or other fruits might be useful for making a smoothie. Certain vegetables like tomatoes, onions, and peppers would be great for making homemade salsa.

Greek Style Shrimp Scampi
So, this is the second pasta recipe in one post. This amount of carbs probably isn’t the best thing to eat every other night if you have just started trying to lose weight. When I began my diet and exercise plan, I pretty much cut out all pasta and bread, simply because I didn’t need it. Now that I’m used to eating smaller portions and know how to control my portions, I’ve allowed myself to have pasta on occasion, since it’s easy to make and it’s cheap. This recipe is from cooking light and is really flavorful. This is another recipe that you can kind of make your own by adding fresh herbs or other fresh vegetables to spice it up a little bit. I don’t think I really added anything to this one, but if you like spicier food, you may want to have some hot sauce on hand to add. Click here for the recipe.

So, there’s my opinions and advice on how to keep leftovers from getting left out. If you have something leftover that you know you won’t eat, give it away. I had leftovers from a dinner out with my parents this past week that I knew I wouldn’t eat because I had plans the next night, so I called one of my guy friends who I knew would eat it. He greatly appreciated it. I’ve also given leftovers to a homeless person before so, if you have a homeless shelter in your city, that’s also a great option. I think I’ll be having leftovers tonight as well; you’ll get the recipe for that next week.

Banana Bread Recipe
1 cup sugar                                  2 well beaten eggs
1 tsp baking soda                         3 mashed bananas
1/2 cup shortening/butter           2 cups flour
Pinch of salt                                 Pecans or walnuts (optional)

Mix all ingredients together (I use an electric hand mixer). Pour into sprayed loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. May take up to an hour and ten minutes. Loaves are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Colorful and Fresh

Spring is probably the best time of year to experiment with new foods. There are all kinds of things that come into season that you can get fresh at the grocery store, farmer’s market, or even grow yourself. I started my own little herb garden a couple weeks ago and it’s coming along quite nicely. I have a couple recipes to share that are full of colorful and fresh ingredients that make for a great spring time meal or snack.

Greek Style Quinoa
This is my third type of quinoa that I’ve made. The first time I tried it, I made quinoa tabuleh, you can find the recipe for it a few posts prior to this one. I’ve also tried quinoa just plain, as a side to a regular meal, in place of rice. This particular recipe is similar to the tabuleh recipe. I think I stuck pretty closely to the recipe on this one. It said to cook the quinoa in low sodium, fat-free chicken broth. Personally, I didn’t really taste a difference between using the broth and using water, so I would recommend just using water. The other ingredients included fresh mint leaves, cucumbers, yellow bell peppers, tomatoes, and non-fat feta cheese. I think it may also call for sherry vinegar, but I used red wine vinegar since that’s what I had at home and I use it in my greek salad dressing, I figured it was close enough. I think it turned out really well. Recipes like this one are easy to keep on hand for snacking during the week or as a side to a meal. I think it would go with almost anything, so you could also easily take it to a picnic or potluck. Click here for the recipe.

Chicken Caprese Wrap
This was a really simple recipe to throw together for dinner and would make a great lunch as well. It has fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. It calls for rotisserie chicken, but I just baked my own breasts and I made my own balsamic dressing with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil. I also used a whole wheat wrap instead of flatbread. It tasted great and was filling as well. With this type of recipe, you could pretty much add any other type of vegetable you wanted to give it your own flavor. I don’t think I had anything to go along with it, but the greek style quinoa would probably go well or just some fruit. Click here for the recipe.

All in all, recipes like these two give you the freedom to add fresh veggies and herbs to make them more nutritious and delicious…haha, what a cliche. But, it’s true. If you experiment with all the fresh fruits and veggies that are out this time of year, you might find something new that you will love!

It’s a Funny Story…

I mentioned in last week’s post that I just started one of the most intense classes of my first year of medical school. I wasn’t exaggerating. This past week has been crazy. I’ve been getting to the library early, going to class, taking a quick afternoon break, eating dinner, and heading back up to school in the evening to study. I wish I had been this dedicated first semester. As busy as the week was, I’m actually really enjoying it. I’ve stayed pretty caught up and it’s nice to actually know what they professors are talking about during their lecture and when you ask a question. One of my professors reminds me of my favorite college professor, which kind of makes things fun also. Anyway, even though I was busy, I planned my dinners out ahead of time so that I could take some study breaks and make something yummy. I think all the studying has put me in a daze though, wait until you hear what I did one night.

Pasta with Asparagus, Pancetta, and Pine Nuts
I won’t be able to give you a fully accurate review of this recipe because I changed several things and totally messed up one thing. Since I was only making this for myself, I decided not to get the pancetta. I couldn’t find it in the store and I think I would have ended up wasting what was left in the package after using what was needed for this recipe. I’m have no doubt that it would make this dish even more delicious though. Even thought the recipe calls for pine nuts, it suggested that walnuts also worked great; I already had walnuts so I decided to use them. I think I kept everything else the same, except of course I cut the recipe to less than half since I was only cooking for myself. Now, here’s my funny story. I came home ready to make dinner, eat, and head back to school to study. I read through the recipe once before starting, and then began. I started my pot of water for the pasta and then put the walnuts in the oven to roast for a few minutes. I then went about my business cutting up the asparagus and tomato (which I don’t think was included in the recipe). My roommate, Laura, came home when I was about mid-way through this adventure. She asked what I was making and I simply replied, “just some pasta.” I then tossed everything together and enjoyed my dinner. It wasn’t until after Laura had left to work out, and just before I was getting ready to head back up to school, that I realized something had been missing from my dinner. I left the walnuts in the oven……..the whole time. I knew something smelled a little funny, but I just assumed something was stuck under the burner of the stove. I’m pretty sure Laura smelled it right off the bat when she walked in the door and that’s why she asked what I was making. Anyway, thankfully I realized what I had done just before leaving the house. I quickly opened the oven to reveal a sad collection of very black and very burned walnuts. I took them outside and dumped them in the yard so they wouldn’t smell up the house any more than they already had. I think this is a good lesson to be learned for two reasons. First, remember what you are cooking, and don’t leave things in the oven, especially if you will be leaving your home soon after. Second, mistakes happen, don’t get discouraged about making something or trying new things. If you make a mistake, clean it up, laugh about it, and move on. All in all, what ended up in my bowl was great though. Click here for the recipe, and let me know how it really is.

Pan Seared Cod with Basil Sauce
If you don’t like cod, and you’ve been reading my blog, I guess you’re kind of out of luck. I really like how it tastes and it’s super easy for me to keep in the freezer and cook whenever I need it. I normally bake it in the oven with some lemon pepper and garlic herb seasoning, but I found this recipe and thought I’d try it. I cooked the cod in a saute pan, and it turned out better than I thought. Cod is a pretty delicate flaky fish, so you have to be careful when handling it in the pan. Mine stayed together pretty nicely though. As for the basil sauce, I read a few of the reviews of the recipe that said they thought it was too watery. I was cutting the recipe down to a single serving size, so I pretty much just eyeballed it. I used about a tablespoon each of the chicken broth and olive oil, I think. Estimating amounts is something I’ve gotten used to, and it’s not too difficult once you’ve been cooking for a while and know what you like and don’t like. Give it a try sometime, but not with baking. Moving on, my sauce turned out pretty nicely, I would have liked to have added more basil to get a stronger flavor, but I ran out. That being said, I think that’s all I would have changed. I donated blood the day I gave this so I wanted to eat a big dinner. I paired the cod with a small salad, asparagus, and some plain quinoa. You’ve heard me talk about quinoa before, but this is the first time I’ve had it plain. It was kind of like having rice, and was really good as  side. Click here for this recipe.

Herb Garden
I also mentioned last week that I was really interested in growing some herbs this spring and summer. I love adding fresh herbs to my foods, especially, basil, dill, and cilantro. I couldn’t resist the temptation of running a quick errand this weekend to get this started. At the grocery store on Friday I happened to see some dill and rosemary, so I went ahead and picked those up. Saturday, I needed to make my collection complete so I dropped by Home Depot to get some basil and cilantro. Fresh herbs like this are really cheap, and so are the pots to put them in. I got my cilantro and basil along with two pots at Home Depot and it was only six dollars! If you’re not sure what to grow or how to grow something properly, most of the information you need comes with the plant, but you can always ask someone at the store and they will probably be able to help you. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep them growing and use them for making my meals all the more delicious.