toscana rustica revision

      It is nasty and cold outside... all of a sudden! The weather has gone from yesterday's rain and muggy temps to cold, gray and blustery, overnight. The kitchen smells like Thanksgiving. I'm one happy chick!
     While trying to keep everyone's fingers out of the Thanksgiving pie, I threw together one of my faves... This hearty soup will hit the spot tonight. All I need now is a roaring fire!
     I used Publix Greenwise chicken Italian sausage this time, but have also made it with turkey or traditional pork Italian sausage. If you're a spicy person, try the hot Italian, but omit the red pepper flakes until you taste the soup. It still has a bit of heat the way it is written. Proceed at your own risk!
     I love, love those itty-bitty, golden potatoes they sell in most food stores. Have you found them? I roast them in the oven quite a bit, but decided to try them in soup. I cut them in half to speed up the cooking time. If you can't find little potatoes, use about five regular-sized bakers. I didn't peel the babies, but you might want to peel large, thicker skinned potatoes.
     I bought the kale that was already chopped, washed and ready to cook. It really saves time, but you could wash and chop your own bunch, if that's how you roll. Kale is one of the most popular greens these days. I've even seen baby kale among the salad fixings. It is very, very good for you and unobtrusive in a soup... Give it a try!
Ingredients
5 chicken Italian sausage links, casings removed, hot or mild
1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced
2 slices bacon, cut up
1 tsp red pepper flakes (you can omit if you used hot sausage)
3 cans fat free chicken broth or 6 c. homemade stock
2 c. Dutch Baby gold potatoes, halved
2 t. salt
1 t. pepper 

2 cans of evaporated milk, (I used fat free)

4 c. Kale, chopped and ready to serve
Directions
In a large, deep pot on medium heat, brown sausage and bacon with onion, garlic and red pepper flakes. Break up the sausage chunks as it cooks. When onion is translucent and meat is cooked through add a splash of broth and scrape the browned bit off the bottom of pot.
Add remaining broth and potatoes, salt and pepper. Cook on medium low for  about 20 minutes until potatoes are tender. Add evaporated milk and simmer for another few minutes. Toss in the kale. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Let cook another 10 minutes on a low simmer.
Serving idea: Serve along-side a salad made of sliced tomatoes, basil leaves and fresh skim mozzarella drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette.
Weight Watchers Points plus value: 4 per 1 c. serving. Makes 10-12 servings.

a time to purge: living with less...

     Today, it is muggy and drizzly outside, dusty and cluttered inside... but just my bedroom and closet. Why do master bedrooms serve as a dumping ground for stuff you don't know what to do with??? I need a force field or an electric fence to prevent all of the stuff from entering.
the finished product. neat and pretty
     I began early, after the Master himself got out of there, and started by stripping the bed. While the cozy, light gray flannel sheets launder, I'm planning to dust, vacuum and purge.
     Let me stop first and talk about sheets. Specific sheets. Solid Hemstitch Flannel from Ballard Design. They're aMAZing and velvety soft. They're I'm-not-EVER-leaving-this-bed soft. These sheets feel like you'd imagine a bunny's ear would feel. The more you wash them, the softer they become.
     I ordered them when they went on sale, which they frequently do. I may never stop sleeping on them until they completely wear out. (It may involve a super high air conditioning bill in the Southern summer, but we'll see.)
photo courtesy of Ballard Design
     So, back to purging. I gathered a few laundry baskets and filled one with things for donation to a clothes closet. In another, I placed gently loved clothing that could be sold to a designer consignment in town.
     The third, I placed paper items to be moved to my office for sorting at a later time. I also had a very large trash can ready to fill with paper items that did NOT need to move from one place to another.  
     I removed all hanging clothes and shoes from the closet. I then dusted and vacuumed the entire little room, including shelves. All summer shoes were place on high shelves and winter shoes, including boots below, within reach. (A couple of seldom used things, like a basket of ball caps and visors, and my hiking boots leftover from life in Tennessee, were relegated to the rafters as well.)
     Shoes are required (by moi,) to be in some type of box. It can be the original shoebox or a plastic one. This way, they stay dust-free and don't fall off the shelf or go wandering around and get lost from a mate.
     There's nothing so annoying as one lone shoe, is there? I currently own two pair of rogue, un-boxed boots... I'm trolling the shops for suitable containers.
wall of shoes
     The same organizational reasoning is behind the order of hanging items. Warm weather gear and light colors toward the back wall and cold weather things in the front near the divider. I looked over purses, totes and belts, and dug through my large basket of sheets, removing things not recently used. Items not worn in the past year are placed in or next to baskets to discard. When purging, you must be tough and brutish. Show no mercy. Get rid of it!
hanging wall
      I usually hang the lighter weighing, shorter shirts and caridgans on top of the divided side. Group colors together and place all patterned items near the front. Sweaters in the middle, shirts near the front. (My chef shirts take up the rear.)
     On the bottom are short jackets and coats, skirts and a few blazers. The long-hanging side is organized by season, then item and length. A stylish wicker hamper hold small washables.
     I placed my three scarf and hat boxes on the shelf. Two baskets on the shoe wall hold linens and purses. Two large, pewter hooks hold hats, a couple of belts and a few aprons.
behind the door...
     This took me quite a while to do, but I was rewarded with dinner out, a clean room and a beautiful closet NOT filled to overflowing. I'm ready to snuggle in the cozy sheets. The master suite is once again SWEET! And clean sheet night is my favorite night of the week!

let's review: green truck pub

     I've been meaning to tell you about a great, little place in Savannah. Since the weekend is here, you might want to hurry on down there...
     Gail and I stopped in at Green Truck Neighborhood Pub for an early lunch. We needed fuel... lots and lots of energy for combing through the eye candy at Habersham Antiques, located across a parking lot from the Truck.
photo compliments of GreenTruckPub
     We had our hearts and taste buds set on a big, juicy burger... and this is surely the place to find it. We settled into a booth and looked over the menu. Here's the item that tickled my fancy: The Rustico; Goat cheese, balsamic caramelized onions, roasted red peppers and fresh basil.
     Oh. My. Goodness. The one-third pound, grass-fed-beef burger is locally sourced from Hunter Cattle Company, (one of my favorite farms.) This beautiful creation arrived still oozing a combo of meat juices, homemade ketchup and melted goat cheese.
     I tried not to make a spectacle... Once you take that first bite, the blend of flavors will make you smile really big, totally ignoring the fact that you have caramelized onions hanging out of the corners of your mouth and basil in your teeth. You just. don't. care.
      Go ahead. Let it run down your chin and onto your arm as you bury your face in it. The server will bring extra napkins. Or a hose. They may even set up a partition around your table so you can be alone with your burger, if you ask nicely. Or if you repulse enough other patrons. Whatever.
     Finishing my meal was similar to coming to the end of a really good book. A mix of sadness and wonder plays with your emotions. I thought about heading for the kitchen to hug the chef, but instead used those happy endorphins for some retail therapy.
     Someday, I'm going to be really brave and order the Whole Farm burger: A burger and bacon and cheddar AND a fried egg. Sigh.
photo compliments of GreenTruckPub
     I have to confess that I've been back a few times since that first day with my antiquing girl, Gail. I finally introduced my hubs to the place. And, btw jsyk, the Hot Rod burger is just as amazing as the Rustico.
     I've also enjoyed the Green Greek and the Farm Truck salads. The Farm Truck is my fave with spiced nuts, crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, crispy apples, balsamic caramelized onions, dried cranberries and drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette. You can order it as a side with any sandwich. They make all salad dressings in house. And ketchup. And pickles. I just love that!
     The only tiny, little negative thing I can find to say is that the fries I had should have been crispier. They seemed like they had been sitting for a few minutes and had cooled. I rarely eat things that are fried. If I'm going to order french fries, I want them to blow me away with their crispy, salty crunchy exterior and steamy, hot potatoe-y insides. They need to work on their delivery.
     A recent tweet (@greentruckpub) announced that they're now serving Chocolates by Adam Turoni... Hmmm, I'm checking my calendar to see when I can go back.

Green Truck Pub on Urbanspoon

vintage post: thanksgiving, the rodney dangerfield of holidays

Note: This post was originally published in November of 2010, year One of the blog. It is one of my favorite early posts. I thought it would be fun to dust it off and trot it out for everyone to see. Again. 

      Just as the Halloween frenzy fades, Christmas decorations are allowed to blatantly take over the world. Visions of sugarplums are dancing well before the beginning of December.
     The overhead speakers in every store chortle a selection of distorted carols. And my favorite of all the holidays, the humble, loveable underdog is again, getting NO respect.
     As I contemplate the menu, count tables and chairs and pencil out a guest list, retail stores are exploding with holly and ivy. Even a few of my friends are mulling over the question, "Is it too early to put up the tree?"
     I am horrified by the thought of putting up a Christmas tree in early November. I just want to stand up as tall as my five foot-three frame will allow and shout, "This is the Thanksgiving police. Step away from the tinsel!"    
     What about the Pilgrims and the Indians? The endless types of pie, the savory stuffing and the rice and gravy?? It's not just any gravy. It's TURKEY gravy, people. Pure gold!
     What about deep, red cranberry relish with grated orange peel, tiny brussel sprouts sauteed with garlic and whole fingerling sweet potatoes, oven roasted and sprinkled with brown sugar, cinnamon and sea salt?
     We should be reminiscing about smiles on the faces of beloved family around our table. Or mulling over which orphaned friends have no one to dine with. We should be pondering our gratefulness to God for just one day, before we get sucked into the great commercial vortex of holiday shopping.
     Seldom do we stop and smell the turkey. We forget to be thankful on a daily basis. Thankful for our health, of getting up one more day and breathing in air. Thankful for our disfunctional families that alternately drive us insane or fill us with joy and wonder.
     Thankful for the country in which we live, for freedoms purchased with the blood of many brave souls. Even thankful for our seemingly inept government officials, which WE, the people put in places of power.
     So, in spite of what the rest of the country is doing, I will be here organizing acorns and pinecones, stacking firewood, ironing napkins, picking pecans and calling people I love.
     I will light candles, get out the serving platters, fill bowls with candy corn and whole hazelnuts. I will bathe the dogs, shake rugs, fluff pillows and get out folding chairs.
     I will eat too much, talk a lot, listen more, play in the yard with the kids, take a little tryptophan induced nap, and say, Mmmmm too many times to count. I will be very, very thankful for one whole day... before heading to the woods on Friday to pick out my tree.
     It's Thanksgiving season, y'all... Santa can wait;)

spicy grilled shrimp

     I mentioned in the lettuce wrap post that you could fill your wraps with spicy grilled shrimp. Here is a simple and tasty recipe for you. If you are lucky enough to find fresh, locally caught shrimp, even better.
     I've made these for lettuce wraps, to top a salad or to make shrimp tacos... Get creative. What could YOU make out of them?
Ingredients
1 pounds large shrimp, washed and peeled
1 T. Jamaican Jerk seasoning (or less, if you want less heat)
zest and juice of one nice, fat orange
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
Directions
Wash and peel shrimp. Be careful not to let the little spear-thingy at the back of the tail gouge you. (I'm currently typing with a bandage on my right index finger. Ouch.)
Place the skewers in a sink of water. Or a bowl. Or a bowl IN the sink... you decide.
In a container for marinating, (a zipper bag, Tupperware or non-metal mixing bowl,) blend Jerk seasoning, orange parts and oil. Toss in shrimp and move them around in the sauce until everyone is coated and happy. Mmmm. Place covered in the refrigerator and marinate until ready to skewer and grill.
Drain the skewers and place four shrimp on each one. Set them on a sheet pan with sides or another comparable vessel. Discard marinade.
Heat the grill. Place shrimp on to sear. But, wait... Stop right there! Don't get distracted and mosey off... shrimp cook very quickly. Turn over to mark the other side, then remove to a nice platter. They will be bright pink when cooked through.
When slightly cooled, place desired amount of skewers on top of salad or in lettuce wraps. Serves five people, approximately four shrimp each. (These are large shrimp, 16-20 count.) Weight Watchers Points Plus value: 3, (four shrimp each.)
Leftovers on a salad, the next day for lunch... Lucky me!

the broccoli slaw project: chicken lettuce wraps

     Here's the next post in a series that asks the question,  just how many meals can we make out of broccoli slaw?
     Several restaurants won my affection with their versions of lettuce wraps. Dishes like this appear healthy and are much better than other menu choices, but may contain hidden fat, sodium and carbs.  
     I made my version for dinner with chicken and even my carb-loving hubs loved them! You could easily substitute spicy, grilled shrimp or as a vegetarian option, mixed wild mushrooms. These would also make an excellent appetizer, if you made them a bit smaller and bite-sized.
     First of all, these lettuce wraps were not only delish, but just plain beautiful. You know I'm all about the visual appeal. Several shades of green sprinkled with bright orange of the carrots and near translucent neutral of the sprouts made a soft place for the tender, golden chicken to land.
     Dark green cilantro and bright red chili sauce festively dotted the top. Textural elements of almond and crunchy noodles cascaded down, around and through.
     The first bite was, well... Boom. Pow. Mmm. Sigh. Fireworks and crunch followed by complete and utter loss for words.
Ingredients
Marinade:
1 t. sesame oil
1t. ginger root, peeled and minced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 T. ponzu sauce
2 T. fish sauce
2 oz. orange juice
Lettuce wraps:
6 chicken tenders, (approx 6-7 oz. raw chicken)
1 1/2 c. broccoli slaw
1 c. shredded carrots
1 c. bean sprouts
1/2 head, Boston lettuce, (6-8 leaves)
1 T. slivered almonds
1/2 c. chow mein noodles
2 T. cilantro leaves
2 T. sweet chili sauce
Directions
In a small bowl, blend marinade ingredients together and add chicken tenders. Store in refrigerator for several hours. Around thirty minutes before serving, remove chicken and discard marinade. Grill or pan-sear chicken tenders until done. At this point, I sliced each tender into three long slices so they fit better on the wrap.
Lay desired amount of lettuce on each plate. Top it with broccoli slaw, bean sprouts and carrots. Divide chicken evenly among the leaves. This makes approximately three servings. We each had 3 oz. of chicken on top of three leaves for each person. There was a couple of ounces of chicken left. Divide the chow mein noodles, almonds, cilantro and sweet chili sauce among all of the prepared wraps.
 Makes 2- 3 servings. Weight Watchers Points Plus value: 5 (This is for 3 wraps with 3 oz. chicken divided among them.)

holi-dazed and confused

     The Fall/ Winter holiday season is upon us. You are trying behave, be sensible and, let's be blunt...trying to be thinner than you were. So, how in the world are you going to make it through the next couple of months? Slow down. Take a deep, cleansing breath. Let's talk about it.
1. You're invited to the boss' house for a cocktail party. What do you do before you go besides pressing that LBD and making sure your fishnets don't have holes?
     Look up on WW or a calorie counting/ dieting website for points, calorie count, fat content and carb amounts of possible nibbles. Figure out ahead of time what to gravitate toward and what to avoid. Remember that veggies and fruit, sans dip, are your best friends.  
     Sugary cocktails have hidden calories. If you decide to have one, follow it up with a tall glass of iced water, not another cocktail.
     Think about having a snack beforehand, like a salad or a piece of lean protein. You don't want to arrive ravenous and suck down the entire buffet. How embarrassing would that be?
2.  You're having dinner at a restaurant with out of town guests. What will you eat?
     Before departing, check online to see if the restaurant has nutritional info on their website for the food they serve. For example, Weight Watchers online has a listing of many restaurants and the menu items. The points are calculated for your convenience and success.
     Choose what you're going to order before you get there. Everyone will be impressed by your decisiveness and knowledge of the menu. You will be proud of your own resolve to be healthier.

3. You're hosting the entire free world Fam for a holiday brunch. They've requested your famous sticky-buns. You've been diligent in controlling the size of another pair of buns... What will you prepare?
     Try a few sensible things, like a fruit tray, bite-sized fritattas, homemade muffins without added fat, boiled shrimp, fresh veggies, and turkey bacon. 
     Skip the sticky buns unless you think there will be a lynching. Yours. Then just plan ahead. Indulge in a bite or two, if you must. Fill up on healthy foods first, so you won't be starving and forget to think!
Good Luck. Wishing you a happy, healthy holiday season.

chicken chili stew

     The weather outside is chilly, so why don't you make some? Our family loves this and yours will as well.  It is very easy to make and is great for a busy weeknight meal. 
     The chicken in this recipe is pre-cooked, so it's a great way to use up some leftovers. No leftovers? Pick up a rotisserie chicken or a package of fajita chicken meat on the way home. I love to add fresh toppings to my chili. Fresh avocado, freshly chopped cilantro and a dollop of plain, fat-free Greek yogurt are three of my faves.
     I add cornbread and, you guessed it, a fresh, green salad. When I'm in a hurry, my favorite go-to cornbread is still the economical Jiffy mix in the little blue and white box, but I doctor it up a bit... I throw in a dash of cayenne, small, drained can of green chilies and one of of drained corn and bake it up in a cast iron skillet. We rarely have leftovers.
Ingredients
1 T. olive oil
1 c. chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, any color… yellow is sweetest, green is the strongest
12 oz. cooked chicken (frozen, fajita-seasoned breast meat is a fast and delicious option.)
2 cans stewed tomatoes
2 cans, fat free, chicken broth or 4 cups, homemade stock
1 can pinto beans, drained
2/3 c. salsa
1 t. chili powder
1 t. cumin
½ t. salt
Black pepper to taste
Optional toppings: diced avocado, diced raw tomato, baked tortilla strips, fresh cilantro, shredded cheese, plain fat-free Greek yogurt
Directions
In large pot, saute onion, garlic and bell pepper until soft. Add all other ingredients. Simmer 30 minutes. While the chili simmers, pop the cornbread into the oven and toss your salad. Serve with fresh toppings as desired. Makes 10-12 servings. Weight Watchers Points Plus value: 3 (chili only)

rare roast beef and herb cheese wrap

     Healthy can be delicious and beautiful. I made a wrap for lunch the other day. Rare roast beef, low-fat homemade herb cheese, arugula or spinach and shredded carrots. It was simple to put together and one wrap was definitely enough to fill a person up.
    I added a shiny red apple, unsweetened decaf, iced tea and a SO Delicious mini ice cream sandwich made with coconut milk.
     Roast Beef wrap, Weight Watchers Points Plus value: 3. So Delicious min ice cream bar: 2

i'm such a loser

     I'm such a loser, but in a really good way! I'm wearing jeans TWO sizes smaller than before, for the first time in 15+ years! WOO HOO! Go, me.
     I feel great. I'm not starving or taking a diet pill or living on some crazy concoction like cabbage soup. I'm eating real, healthy food, preparing it my way, which is delicious... and the pounds are sliding off. So are my old jeans.
     I've been on this healthy little road trip for around a month and have dropped twelve unwanted pounds. I'm NOT going back.
     Weight Watchers is so, so simple. Anyone can make it work. But... you have to pay attention to what your hand is shoving in your mouth. That's it, really. I'm not lying! You have to think.
     Take a few carrot sticks and an apple and a couple of bottles of water with you as you go, you'll be less likely to drive-through some place unhealthy. Planning ahead really makes you successful.
     As a professional in a commercial kitchen, I'm constantly tempted to gobble up some of our divine goodies. (Get it? Church kitchen. Divine goodies. Haha.) Lunch on the busiest days are the most likely time for me to mess up. So is late at night.
     For the past month, I've prepared my lunch in advance and carried it with me on days I work in the kitchen. A few times, I even made lunch for the other girls... sharing healthy stuff is fun!
     A pouch of tuna mixed with whatever you like, a few Wasa crackers, carrots and some fresh fruit makes a great lunch. Or, lean deli ham, arugula, spicy mustard, low fat Swiss cheese and a low-carb tortilla wraps up that growl-y sound coming from your mid-section.
     Pair  with some Special K cracker chips and chunks of fresh pineapple and you're full for the rest of the afternoon. Mix it up and be creative. You can take favorite sandwich items and make them into a salad.
     If I can do it, you can too. Just stay positive and think before you eat... Let's be healthy! www.weightwatchers.com    

scorched tomato bruschetta

     I love having good friends who are willing to be my guinea pigs. Amiable test subjects. Brave individuals who will taste what I concoct and give me an honest opinion... Yay or nay. 
     I spied a recipe for toast points with grape tomatoes on them... I didn't even have half of the ingredients. It called for fresh basil leaves, sour dough bread and making your own balsamic reduction... right. Ain't nobody got time for that. 
     So, I improvised. I did have a loaf of potato-rosemary bread, some homemade basil pesto, a lot of grape tomatoes, fresh lemon thyme and a bottle of store-bought balsamic glaze.
     Scorching the tomatoes in a cast iron skillet is the key. If you don't own one, borrow your grandmama's or your neighbor's. If you're a Southerner and don't own one, shame on you. Don't make me come over there and take away your DAR membership card, 'cause I will. Run on down to the Goodwill and get one. They've always got a few. Quick, like a bunny!
     The bruschetta turned out to be FABulously delicious. And, they were very pretty with all of the colors of the Italian flag so nicely represented. Really, it's a miracle that anyone besides me got to taste them... but I'm learning restraint and self-control.
     In the photo above, you can see the savory pesto peeking out from under a squishy, lightly scorched tomato. The balsamic glaze finished off the bite with a hint of sweetness.
     We were invited to a friend's house for dinner, so I took the bruschetta along. Trying a new app out on a crowd gives fresh meaning to Bravery in the Kitchen. Thankfully, they loved them and even asked for the recipe... Here you go, girls!
Ingredients
8 slices of sourdough or potato rosemary baguette
1-2 T. olive oil
1 T. salt
1 T. black pepper
24 grape tomatoes
2 T. reduced fat basil pesto
1 T. white balsamic glaze or reduction
fresh thyme or lemon thyme leaves
Directions
Cut bread slices into bite-sized pieces, (3 pieces per slice.) You should have around 24 pieces. Brush lightly with some of the olive oil, reserving a little for the skillet. Set on a baking sheet and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Toast until golden brown.
While bread is toasting, place a cast iron skillet on high and add remaining olive oil to pan. When it begins to smoke, add tomatoes, shaking the pan to keep tomatoes moving. When they become blackened on outside and begin to burst, remove from heat. The aroma is amazing!
Remove bread from oven and spread a dollop of pesto onto the center of each piece. The pesto is the food glue that cradles the tomato and holds it on the toast. Place bruschetta pieces on a serving platter.
Spoon one tomato onto each bread slice. Before serving, scatter fresh lemon thyme leaves and drizzle balsamic reduction over entire platter.  

Makes 8 servings. 3 pieces per person. Weight Watchers Points Plus value: 2

chimichurri: a little green flavor bomb

     Have you ever tasted a chimichurri? Have you ever even heard of chimichurri? Think of it this way... If a steak is an elegant, but rather plain Little Black Dress, chimichurri is the amazing statement necklace that makes the outfit memorable.
     Chimichurri originated in Argentina as a condiment for grilled meats. According to Wikipedia, no one is really sure where the name came from, but everyone is extremely glad it was invented. The recipe that follows is truer to the original green chimichurri... and it is divine! I added lemon juice because, well, it just needed it.
     I have dabbed it on grilled salmon, doused a steak and dribbled a little beside a burger. It also kicks up the flavor of just about anything you choose to add it to... veggies, chicken and pasta. It's best used on non-sauced food and is quite potent. Use sparingly, at your own discretion.
Ingredients
1 large bunch of Italian parsley
2 shallots
3 cloves garlic
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
1/4 c. lemon juice
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/2 c. olive oil
1 t. salt
2 t. pepper
pinch sugar
Directions
Place parsley, shallots, red pepper flakes and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add lemon juice, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and sugar. Pulse a few more time to blend. With machine running, pour in olive oil in a steady stream. Tast for seasonings and adjust as needed. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Makes approximately 20 servings. WW PointsPlus 2.

taco soup

     This soup originated many years ago as one of my mom's Weight Watcher recipes. My own family loves it. I have made this several times on Wednesday nights for my church fam and it is very popular.
     When I mention its WW beginnings, everyone is surprised. They are also surprised to learn there is no meat. It really doesn't need it. The beans really load up the protein... hey, #Meatless Monday!
     It is simple to make. The most time consuming portion is time spent chopping the onion and opening cans. Since it doesn't contain meat, it could be a vegetarian dish if you switch the chicken broth to vegetable or mushroom broth. This soup also freezes very well.
     The secret to the creamy texture is refried beans! It gives the soup a rich, velvety consistency, decadence without the guilt! (It is a tiny bit spicy. If you wish, exchange tomatoes and green chilies for another can of diced tomatoes to lose the heat.)
     My mom sometimes adds brown rice under it and low fat cheddar cheese over it. You can also dollop the top with plain, ff Greek yogurt. Pair the soup with a big green salad and you've got a hearty meal!
Ingredients
1 t. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pkg. taco seasoning mix
1 can fat free refried beans
1 - 15 oz. can chicken or vegetable broth, preferably homemade
2 -15 oz cans petite diced tomatoes w/ juice
1 can tomatoes and green chilies w/ juice (like Rotel)
2 cans black beans, undrained
1 can great northern or navy beans, undrained
2 c. canned or frozen kernel corn, drained
salt and pepper to taste
Directions
Saute' onion in oil until soft and golden. Add refried beans, mash to soften. Let them melt before adding broth. Be careful not to let the bottom burn. Sprinkle with taco seasoning.
Slowly add broth, breaking up and incorporating refried beans, until smooth. A potato masher works really well for this step.
Add remaining ingredients and season to taste. Simmer for 30 minutes. Top with your own toppings, if desired...cheddar cheese, ff Greek yogurt, fresh salsa or avocado.
Serves approx. 18 (1 c. serving) WW Points Plus: 3 (soup only, without toppings)

thankfulness

     The month of November is often seen by the world as a month of thankfulness. But, I find it amusing and sad that being thankful isn't thought of as an everyday thing.
     But, then I remember my own dark heart. How easily I forget to say thanks to the One who has given the Most.
     I'm reading Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts, right now. I really don't know why I haven't read it before now. I know practically everyone else has.
     I really like the way she blends together our need to thank God on a daily basis, with having real and lasting joy in our lives, even through the valleys, storms and darkness. Grace, thanksgiving and joy are intimately intertwined. Eucharisteo. Greek; Thanksgiving.
     In the New Testament Paul writes to the church at Philippi, encouraging them to be thankful, but explaining that it is a learning process. I love that we continue to learn how to live here on Earth in preparation for our life with God in eternity... only for His glory, not our own.
     This is one of my favorite scriptures, Philippians 4:12-13. "I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me."
     I have a huge, bling-y crown pendant I frequently wear. (I like large, sparkly stuff.) Some one asked if I thought I was The Queen. Not being glib or sassy, I replied that No, I didn't, but I am a daughter of The Most High King.
     It is His crown I wear. Its not about me. I'm trying really hard to show that to others every second, with every word and every deed. Apart from Him, we are derelict, bereft, shattered.

     Lord, help me to live up to my own declaration every single day. Help me to learn to give more thanks, find more joy and extend more grace. Amen and amen.

the broccoli slaw project: garden veggie soup

     I like to sneak extra veggies into my family's food whenever I get the chance. Spinach can be added to lettuce in a salad or tossed into a soup pot just before serving. Finely grated zucchini can be slipped into a muffin mix without anyone becoming wise to your slightly devious nature.
     Have you seen Broccoli Slaw in the produce department? There are SO many options for using it! Here is the first in a series...
     I made a simple vegetable soup with homemade chicken stock, a bag of broccoli slaw and a few other pantry and freezer items. If you have a crowd, this recipe doubles and triples well.
     It takes mere minutes to prepare. I served it up with huge garlic croutons and a squeeze of lemon. Don't you think that a bowl of this soup and a Pumpkin-Apple Muffin would make a divine weeknight meal? Fabulous!
Ingredients
1 t. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
1 bag broccoli slaw
1/2 bag julienned carrots
1 T. tomato paste
3 c. fat free chicken stock, preferably homemade
1/2 pound, frozen cut green beans
salt and freshly ground pepper
zest of a lemon
a few sprigs of thyme
juice of a lemon
fresh spinach
homemade garlic croutons (optional)
Directions
Heat oil in deep pot. Saute onion, garlic and pepper flakes until onion is soft. Don't let the garlic get too brown. Toss in the slaw mix and carrots. When they begin to look translucent, add the tomato paste. Let it become a deep, rich burgundy color. Pour in the stock and frozen beans. Season with salt and pepper. Add lemon zest and thyme leaves. Let the soup simmer for 20 minutes, or until beans are cooked through.
Just before serving, toss in a couple handfuls of fresh spinach and squeeze in the juice of the lemon. Stir until spinach wilts. Ladle into large bowls and top with homemade croutons, if desired. Sit back, taste and say, Aahhhhh.
WW Points Plus: 1, soup only. With garlic croutons, add 2 points per serving.

spaghetti squash carbonara

     Somewhere in the midst the teen-age years, my kids learned that if there was activity in the kitchen late at night, their mom was hungry and most likely cooking something up. The girls knew it usually meant pasta... namely, what our bunch calls Midnight Pasta.
     They'd scoot in quickly, anxious to join the fun. I'd cook. They'd sit on bar stools, watch the progression and talk... and we'd laugh. A lot.
     Have you discovered the best way to find out what is really going on with your teens? Be busy doing something else and just listen. Be in the room, but not jumping in with advice, unless it's asked for.
     Make eye contact so they know you're listening. Serve them and don't ask for help cleaning up. Just listen. And smile.
     You may know of our family fave by another name, Spaghetti Carbonara... the real one. No cream. Just bacon and eggs, Parm and garlic with spaghetti and of course, loads of black pepper.
     Historically, carbonara was a Roman dish and presently has many versions, some of which are laden with unnecessary fat and calories.
     Since I'm trying to find healthier ways to eat, I've been experimenting with substituting veggies for pasta. I don't always feel a need to do this, but I've already got a spaghetti squash, so why not?
     I got the idea from a recipe of Emeril's. I wanted to make it compatible with Weight Watchers, so I cut the extra fat and pared down the ingredients. His recipe used pancetta, but I don't always love the flavor with this dish.
     I bought a couple of small packages of guanciale, (pronounced, gwon-cha-lay,) from Savannah River Farms, at our local farmers' market. Guanciale is the seasoned jowl, (or cheek) of a hog. It feels drier than bacon, containing both fat and lean.
      I used a very spare amount, mainly to impart flavor... and boy, did it! By roasting the spaghetti squash in advance, the dish comes together very, very quickly. Be ready. I served this with a mixed green salad. Serves 2. WW Points Plus 4
Ingredients
1 t. kosher salt
1 t. black pepper
1 spaghetti squash, cut in half
1- 1 1/2 c. water
1 oz. guanciale or bacon, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 c. Egg Beaters
2 T. Parmesan cheese
additional salt and pepper as needed
Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise. Take a spoon and scrape out the seeds and the muck that comes with it. It will be like scraping out a cantaloupe. Discard those innards.
Sprinkle a baking dish, (I used glass) with salt and pepper. Place squash cut side down in dish and fill with about a quarter inch of water. The quantity of water will depend on the size of the squash. Mine was fairly small, so I used a 9 x 13 pan with about 1 1/4 c. water. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or just until fork tender.
When squash is done, remove from oven and cool for a couple of minutes, so you can handle it. This time, take a fork and pull out the inside flesh. It will shred and resemble spaghetti noodles. Make sure you get all of it out. Discard the outer shell. Set squash aside.
Heat a large, non-stick pan on medium. Toss in the guanciale and cook til it begins to become translucent and sizzle-y. Add minced garlic. Did you notice I didn't add additional oil or butter? The guanciale has enough fat to bring the entire dish together.
While that's going on, stir together Egg Beaters, Parmesan and a little more black pepper. Take the squash and place it in the pan. Toss it around to coat with fat and garlic, then add the egg mixture. Continue to move the squash around until egg is cooked and squash it heated. Taste for additional seasoning and eat it immediately. No, really... IMMEDIATELY.
Oh. my. good. golly. gosh.
I'm eating a vegetable and it tastes like CARBonara. I'm eating a vegetable!