Friday, November 4, 2011

Easy Weeknight Moussaka

I love moussaka and when eggplant is as cheap as it's been the past few weeks at the farmer's market (50 cents each for very large eggplants!), I'm going to dive in and make this comfort food dish.  It isn't that hard and it lasts quite a while.

2-3 large eggplant, peeled and sliced in thick slices
sea salt
1 lb. ground beef, very low fat content is best
2 large onions, diced
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
16 oz. can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup dark red wine
8 oz. tomato sauce
Parmesan cheese, grated

Slice the eggplant and coat both sides of each slice in sea salt.  Place in a dish and allow to rest until a good amount of water has accumulated in the bottom of your dish (about a half hour).  Rinse the salt off the eggplant well and towel dry.

In a non-stick skillet add a small amount of olive oil and fry the eggplant slices about 3-4 minutes on each side.  Set aside in a 9 x 13 baking pan.

Brown the hamburger and onion in a skillet.  Drain if necessary.  Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, wine, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Allow to simmer for at least 15 minutes.

In a 9 x 13 baking dish (I prefer glass), arrange a layer of eggplant along the bottom.  Cover with 1/2 the beef ragu.  Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese all over the top of that layer.  Add another layer of eggplant, ragu, and cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-50 minutes.  Serve and enjoy!

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mexican-Inspired Vegetable Soup

This is adapted from a Weight Watchers recipe.  Believe it or not, if you scour their recipe site, you can find some winners.  This is one I will keep in my arsenal a long time.  I grew up on vegetable soup.  I never liked it.  I think it was the cabbage.  You know, a little cabbage goes a long way.  And when you buy a head of cabbage, unless you are going to make cole slaw with half of it, there isn't much else you can do except put it all in the soup.  Therein, I think, lies the problem I had with vegetable soup as a kid.

Thank goodness, I'm not a kid anymore.

So without further ado, my Mexican-inspired vegetable soup (sans cabbage).  Weight Watchers PointsPlus, 1 per serving.  Serving size about 1 cup.

3-4 bell peppers, pick your color, diced
2 jalapeno peppers, fine diced
28 oz. diced tomatoes, canned
8 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth, low sodium
2 onions, diced
1 medium to large zucchini, diced
1 medium to large yellow squash, diced
3 whole carrots, peeled and sliced in medallions (or about 1 cup baby carrots)
1 cup whole wheat pasta (I prefer elbow macaroni)
3-4 clove garlic, minced
1 T cumin
1/4 t chili powder
3/4 t salt

You can add green beans if you'd like, but I'd avoid the cabbage.

Put it all in a stock pot and bring to a boil.  Turn down the heat and cover and simmer until the macaroni is cooked through.  Serve.  Makes a boat load.  Hope you're hungry.  :)

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Italian Vegetable Soup

Here is a recipe I had been dying to try for weeks. It turned out so good!! I will post the recipe in its original form, but I made several changes/substitutions and will note those. Hope you enjoy it!

  • Another note-I made the soup ahead of time and it sat for a while before we ate it. The noodles REALLY soaked up alot of the liquid in the meantime. I had to add an entire box of chicken broth to make it soupy again (double batch, remember). I will definitely use half the noodles called for next time. Also, I did not care for the flavor the parmesan gave after sprinkled on top, so I will forego that myself next time.

    My changes/substitutions:

    -Any brand of ingredients will do.
    -I doubled the recipe, it made a TON of soup.
    -I added two garlic cloves, minced (one for single batch).
    -I used slightly less onion.
    -The store I went to didn't have italian style stewed tomatoes, so I used regular stewed and added some ground italian seasoning. I also used diced tomatoes w/basil, garlic and oregano. (So for double recipe I used two cans regular stewed and 2 cans diced w/ basil, garlic and oregano.)
    -I used half veg. broth and half chicken broth.
    -Store didn't have canellini beans, so I used Great Northern.
    -Didn't have my basil EVOO, so used regular and it tasted fine. I also didn't use the parmesan on my serving.


    6 ounces COLAVITA Fusilli Pasta
    2 tablespoons COLAVITA Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    1 cup green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
    1 cup chopped onion
    1 red bell pepper, diced
    2 (14.5 - ounce) cans Italian style stewed tomatoes, chopped or lightly
    2 cups vegetable broth
    1 cup water
    2 medium zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise and cut into 1/4 inch pieces
    4 cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach
    6 fresh basil leaves, chopped or torn
    1 (16 - ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
    Salt and freshly ground pepper
    Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
    2 tablespoons COLAVITA Basilolio, or more to taste
    2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or to taste


    1. In a large pot of
    salted water, cook the fusilli for 6 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold  water to stop the cooking process. Set aside.

    2. In a large pot, heat the oil over low heat, add the green beans,
    onion and bell pepper, sprinkle with salt; cover and allow them to sweat for 10 minutes, do not brown.

    Add the stewed tomatoes, vegetable broth and water;
    bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.

    Add the zucchini, spinach and basil; simmer another 10 minutes.

    Add the cannellini beans, pasta and red pepper flakes (if using) along with some additional broth or water if the soup seems too thick; simmer 5 minutes more. Taste and adjust seasoning.

    Ladle into warmed bowls, drizzle with Basilolio and a good sprinkle of
    Parmesan cheese. Pass additional cheese if desired.

    Serves 6 - 8
    Per Serving: 278 Calories (28.1% from fat); 9g Fat (1g Sat, 5g Mono, 1g
    Poly); 9g Protein; 42g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 2mg Cholesterol; 725mg
    Sodium. Food Exchanges: 2 Grain (Starch); 2 Vegetable; 1 1/2 Fat.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Ahem.  I know.  I have neglected this blog in the worst way.  But really, I have an excuse.  I moved.  I got a new job.  I moved.  If I survive this year, it will be a miracle.

But now back to the point of this post.  Spoonbread.  What the heck is spoonbread.  Before I sallied up to the booth and had a sample this evening, I didn't know either.  It's not quite a sweet bread.  It's not savory either.  It's rather a bit like Yorkshire pudding.  Interesting, a bit weird.  Worth a try anyway.

3 cups whole milk
1 cup plain cornmeal
1 T baking powder
3 large eggs
4 T butter
1 t salt

Scald the milk, stir in cornmeal, and bring JUST to a boil, making mush.  Remove from heat; stir in butter until melted.  Allow to cool.

Beat eggs to a froth with salt and baking powder.  Add to cornmeal mixture.  Beat with a hand mixer for 2-4 minutes.  Pour into a pre-heated, buttered baking dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until nicely browned.

"Best when served immediately with butter, honey or sorghum on top."

For those of you who have never had sorghum, it's like molasses on steroids.  I can't imagine eating it drizzled on top of anything.  Wow. Bittersweet sticky stuff.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Mystery Garden

I planted a garden this year.  It looks like this.  This is the tame side anyway where the rambling squash vines are hidden.  But this is my garden.  It's awesome.  The only bad part is that I'm not going to be here to harvest most of it.

But today, I'd like to tell you about my "other" garden.  It contains my first ever cantaloupe.  About the size of a softball. 

And that is also what I presume these are.

And this, I can only guess, is a spaghetti squash.

Below that is an old shriveled lemon.  Confused?  Well, if you don't recognize it, these aren't in my garden and I don't know what these are because they're volunteers growing in my compost bin.  It's true.  My most productive plants are growing in the fertile soil of my compost.  I didn't plant the seeds.  But in a way, I did.

The garden proper is also starting to produce.  I give you the peppers.  This is a red bell variety.

And what garden would be complete without jalapenos?

Can't forget the green bells.

The tomatoes are doing fine.  Just still a bit green.

The squash, on the other hand, are taking off.  This first one is a cushaw.  I'm very excited about this.  They are often used to make pie.  They taste like pumpkin but are sweeter even than pie pumpkins.  Each fruit will get between 10-20 lbs. and grow about 2 feet in length.  I've never grown them before.  I bought the seed and planted it as a mother's day gift to my mom.  This is what she wanted.  She drools over the thought of a cushaw pie for Thanksgiving.  She may get more than she bargained for.  I planted 14 plants in 7 hills and each one appears to be a prolific fruiter.  I may be selling these at the Farmer's Market this fall.

Here's a cushaw with the very large flower still attached.  Ooops.  Make that TWO cushaw.

Can't forget the butternut squash.

Crookneck squash?  Yellow, I think.

It's going to be a great garden year.  Damn shame I'm moving before things really get interesting.  This is probably my best garden yet.  And I was so looking forward to it after not getting to have a garden at all last year....what with all of my research travel.  C'est la vie.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Healthy Kettle Corn? You bet!

This one is so easy and delicious, it's sinful.

1/4 to 1/2 cup yellow popcorn
Butter flavored non-stick spray
1 T Splenda
2 t salt

Air-pop the popcorn.  Spray withe the butter spray.  Sprinkle liberally with salt and splenda.  Toss to coat.

Enjoy.  Try to avoid making a second batch.

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

This Week's Meal Plan: New Recipe

I spent the major part of my weekend going through boxes of mementos from my school days and books and culling and clearing out
stuff as part of my "I'm not moving all this stuff" project.  Great progress.  Very happy.  Two large garbage bags  thrown out, and the remaining stuff condensed into two small containers.  I also had a visit from my brother Don, who was fishing over at Rend Lake.  So the only cooking that I got done this weekend was to make Pioneer Woman's cinnamon rolls for my brother and his 10 closest fishing buddies.

As I look to begin the work week, I'm also looking forward to cooking some new recipes. I have some quinoa I'd like to use in a salad.  One choice I have is to make a savory salad, in particular a quinoa salad with pine nuts, green onion, and cilantro recipe I found.  The alternative is a sweet salad of quinoa with dried fruit and nuts with a lemon vinagrette.  I haven't decided which to make yet, but since I've had to piece together the sweet recipe from sources scattered around the net, I'm going to post it here if for nothing else so I don't have to piece that together again from scratch.

Quinoa salad with dried fruit and nuts

1 cup quinoa
1.5 cups water
pinch of salt
1/2 cup dried apricots, diced
3 mission figs, dried, and diced
1/4 cup dried dates, diced
1/2 cup raisins, golden and dark
1/2 cup nuts (possibilities include pecans, slivered onions, or walnuts)
Salad greens
Lemon vinagrette

Rinse quinoa to remove the glycoside.  Rinse until no more foam appears.  In a medium saucepan, bring quinoa, water, and salt to a rolling boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and let simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes with the lid on.  Remove lid and fluff with fork.  Add dried fruit and nuts.  

Place greens on a plate and drizzle with lemon vinagrette.  Top with quinoa and dried fruit.

Lemon vinagrette

2 tablespoons neutral oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
sprig of mint
pinch of salt

Mix together and allow flavors to meld in the refrigerator for several hours before eating.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How The Pioneer Woman lost her groove

I'm a fan of The Pioneer Woman blog.  Over the years, I've gotten so many ideas for meals from that site that I could honestly be thought of as some sort of groupie.  But lately, I find myself skipping over more than 90% of her posts.  Why the change?  As her blog has become more popular, as she has become more of a media darling with guest spots on The Bonnie Hunt Show, Good Morning America, and The View, she has let her blog slip.  A few weeks ago, she flatly stated that she was going to be doing a lot less posting on her blog.

That's a shame.  Because what she has chosen to do to fill in the gap is invite others to post on her blog.  There is a much greater portion of posts devoted to home schooling, which matters to me not at all.  There are reviews of meals others have posted on other food blogs.  There are posts by people I don't know, don't care about, and have never heard of.  It's like The Pioneer Woman has turned into the Huffington Post.  Lots of content, exceedingly little of it by the person who attracted me to the place, and most of the rest of it is just noise.  Unfortunately, The Pioneer Woman blog doesn't speak to me anymore.

The Pioneer Woman is now doing book tours and writing children's books and doing television.  You know what?  More power to her.  She deserves success.  But.  While she insists when she does write on her blog, that she is ever so much happier if she never had to leave her ranch and slip out of those holey yoga pants,  I'm really not buying it anymore.  The Pioneer Woman is no longer little ol' Ree Drummond from Nowheres, OK.  She is now THE PIONEER WOMAN, media maven.

I'm glad she's growing as a person.  I'm glad she's getting money for her efforts.  But I still feel a pang in my heart for the old Ree.  I'm going to miss her old site.  I'm really going to miss the recipes.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Deviled eggs three ways

Today being Easter and all, I thought I'd do something traditional and eat eggs. But I wasn't much in the mood for the whole dying the eggs and hiding them.  So I decided to make eggs my favorite way:  devil them!

But even then, I was in the mood for something different.  So I went with some different ideas.  I ended up with chipotle deviled eggs with adobo, yellow curry deviled eggs, and bacon and chive deviled eggs.  All were delicious.  And here's the process, I used.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Venison roast and cheesy polenta

I'm the first to be straight up with you.  I'm not a fan of salt.  Sure, I'll shake a little on popcorn.  Maybe on fried chicken.  But that's about it.  Salt started getting a bad rap about the time I was in junior high school, and my junior high school answer to bad health news was to stop using salt altogether.  It has literally been decades since I was a regular salt user. Before I became interested in cooking, my salt shaker would gather dust on the shelf.  I think I carried the same one-pound Morton salt container through four different moves.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

My turn as a chicken farmer

One day back toward the middle of February, a package arrived at Bek's house. It contained three dozen chicks. Two were destined for the chopping block.  The last was destined for the chicken coop and life as a laying hen.  Mind you, you can't sex chickens easily as chicks.  So, you aren't really sure if you are getting hens or cocks.

You have to raise them and hope for the best.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Saffron rice

Sorry I haven't been posting.  Believe it or not, I've been eating out of my freezer for weeks now due to high work demands.  Oh well, clearing out the old so I have room for the new.  Bek and Matt let me partner with them and a few other families on a chicken ranching endeavor.  Last Saturday we harvested our crop!  I promise I will post on that soon, but for now I'd like to tell you about the first dish I made with one of our chickens.

It was a six-pound chicken, by the way.  That's a lot of chicken.  I deboned the breasts and they weighed a pound each!  That's three meals worth of meat from just one breast!  Owing to the large size of this chicken, I only used half the chicken (and the wing I mostly fed to Scout).  But the rest of this wonderful, savory dish is mine.  All mine I tell ya.

Saffron chicken and rice.

It is golden and delicious. Sweet with a subtle flavor that reminds you of something that you can't quite put your finger on.  I came upon this recipe recently and remembered that I had some saffron in my spice cabinet.  Yes, it was several years old, but maybe it would still do the trick.  (Spoiler alert:  use your saffron in a timely manner.  What are you waiting on?  You paid a fortune for it, use it while it's still fresh!)

So with chicken and saffron in hand, I embarked.

I'm not going to repost the chicken recipe, since I followed the recipe for Saffron Chicken from Kalyn's Kitchen nearly exactly.  Except that I used a cup and a half of chicken broth and allowed it to reduce for added flavor.

For the saffron rice, I would have liked a long-grain rice like jasmine, but I only had botan.  So botan is was.  It is really very simple.

Put a half cup of water in the microwave and heat to boiling.  Remove it from the microwave and add about 1/8 teaspoon of saffron threads.  I used Spanish saffron but you can also use Indian saffron.  I steeped the saffron in the boiling water for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, I put a teaspoon of butter in a pan on the stove to melt.  When melted, I added a cup and a half of rice.  Ok, so I didn't wait until the butter had melted.  Sue me.  In any event, it was on high and as soon as the butter melted, I stirred the rice around and coated every piece in lovely butter molecules of tastiness.

I went back to the microwave and heated to boiling one and a half cups of water with one vegetable bullion cube.  (You could also just use vegetable or chicken broth.) When that was boiling, I added the vegetable broth and the steeped saffron water to the rice.  It began to boil immediately.  I stirred the dish once well, covered it and set the flame to low.  I set the timer for 20 minutes.  Twenty minutes later, I had lovely saffron rice from heaven.  Finally, I thawed some frozen peas (thawed, not cooked!) and added them to the finished rice as a kind of quickie pilaf.

Serve with the chicken, onions, and fresh parsley and you have a dish sure to make any man swoon.  I promise a picture tomorrow.  I meant to take a picture, but I couldn't stop eating my dinner long enough to focus.  :-)

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Meal Plan In Action

Ok, so I know I'm a novice at meal planning and I've not yet mastered the plan that uses leftovers of one meal for new meals in the coming days, but for me, meal planning is simply having a plan for meals.  My objective is to use up the food I have in my freezers, eat the food I have fresh in my fridge, and throw as little away as possible.  My progress has actually been quite good.  My spreadsheet that I mentioned in an earlier post has come in very handy if for no other reason that it tells me what is in the freezer and available for my meal plan!

The thing I am finding out through sticking with my "eating it until it's gone" or freezing it approach is that food takes you through a lot more meals than you expect. So from last week, I am still working on the last of my curry chicken salad and peanut stew.  That will be gone today.  But, I'm still working on a large batch of gumbo, which has at least 2 servings left.  And, true to my word of thawing something unlabeled in the fridge and eating it, I thawed (wouldn't you know it), gumbo broth!  So now this meal that was already stretching into it's fourth day, is now going to stretch another three.  Luckily, I still have another pound of frozen shrimp and won't have to buy anything there.  Oh, and I have tofu.  I have no idea why I bought the tofu or what I should do with it now.  Any ideas?

So here's my Meal Plan for this week.

Today, I boiled 6 eggs.  I have 4 servings of prepared steel-cut oats in the fridge, a bag of grapefruits, a bag of carrots, and zucchini.  Tonight, I'll make hummus and start portioning out the week's food into containers.  Oh yeah, I do that, too.  It helps with portion control if all you have to do is grab and go.

Grocery List:  green grapes, green peppers, other fresh fruits and vegetables, cottage cheese, yogurt, chickpeas, salad greens, tomatoes, butter, walnuts, lime, and oven roasted chicken breast. I hope to keep the bill under $40. If it is on the meal plan and not on the grocery list above, I already have it.  Oh, and keep in mind, I'm on a weight-loss diet.  This may not sound very interesting, but it will work.

Sunday:  Breakfast:  grapefruit, cottage cheese and peaches.  Lunch: Senegalese peanut chowder and curry chicken salad.  Dinner: shrimp gumbo and brown rice.  Dessert:  yogurt.  Snacks:  grapes and carrots.

Monday:  Breakfast:  grapefruit, steel-cut oats.  Lunch:  hard-boiled egg sandwich with dill-yogurt spread, pretzels, carrots and grapes. Dinner:  shrimp gumbo and brown rice.  Dessert:  yogurt.  Snacks:  grapes and carrots with hummus.

Tuesday:  Breakfast: grapefruit, cottage cheese and peaches.  Lunch:  hard-boiled egg sandwich with spicy brown mustard, fake peanut butter and wasa crackers, carrots and a pear.  Dinner:  shrimp gumbo and brown rice. Dessert:  fruit.  Snacks: carrots and grapes.

Wednesday:  Breakfast:  grapefruit, steel-cut oats.  Lunch:  chicken breast (deli-meat) sandwich (or shrimp gumbo if there's any left), carrots, and grapes.  Dinner:  boca burger with lettuce and tomato on whole wheat bun, baked doritos and salsa, and grilled zucchini.  Dessert:  Weight Watchers mini bar. Snack:  hard-boiled egg, wasa with hummus.

Thursday:  Breakfast:  grapefruit, steel-cut oats.  Lunch:  chicken breast (deli-meat) sandwich (or the last of the gumbo if there is any left), carrots, grapes, and cottage cheese with walnuts.  Dinner:  Curry chicken pizza with onion and bell pepper.  Dessert:  Weight Watchers mini bar. Snacks:  carrots and hummus, and yogurt.

Friday:  Breakfast:  grapefruit, cottage cheese and peaches.  Lunch:  chicken breast (deli-meat) sandwich, grilled zucchini, and hard-boiled egg.  Dinner:  Boca burger smothered in onions and peppers on a whole wheat bun, side salad of tomato and lettuce, baked doritos and salsa.  Dessert:  Weight Watchers mini bar.  Snacks:   yogurt and fake peanut butter and wasa cracker.

Saturday:  Breakfast: grapefruit, steel-cut oats.  Lunch:  Boca burger with tomato and lettuce on whole wheat bun, vegetable barley soup.  Dinner:  Chicken tacos with lettuce, tomato, salsa, bell pepper and lime, baked doritos and salsa, and black beans.  Dessert:  yogurt.  Snacks:  pear and cottage cheese.

So yeah, I realize that I have a heavy dependence on carrots as a snack and sometimes as a vegetable source, but the gumbo has a lot of vegetables in it.  If anyone has any ideas for spicing up a weight loss diet, I'm all ears.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Low-Cal Fettccine Alfredo

I've had a craving for pasta lately. I found this recipe at Food Network and added chicken to it. I thought I'd share it here. Usually, alfredo sauce is way too rich for me to eat more than a few bites, but this one is lighter and had a very good flavor.

This is the recipe I used. I don't know about it being especially that "low calorie", especially if you used this as 4 servings. I think it would easily make 8 reasonable sized servings, as 3 of us ate it and I have a huge bowl of leftovers.

I baked one large boneless, skinless chicken breast (sprinkled w/ garlic powder, salt and pepper at 350 degrees for 30 min.) and chopped it and added it into the sauce at the end. It really made it good.

I also highly recommend having the sauce ingredients measured out and ready to go. It is a fast process and it helped to have everything ready. Even then, I almost scorched the garlic.

I also did not use "fresh" pasta. I used boxed fettuccinne and cooked for 14 min.

Don't forget to use the pasta water for thinning. I did need it and was glad I didn't miss this step.

Low-Cal Fettuccine Alfredo

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (about one lemon)
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 cup low-fat (2%) milk
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons Neufchtel or low-fat cream cheese
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
12 ounces fresh fettuccine
Freshly ground pepper
Make the sauce: Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and lemon zest and cook until the garlic is slightly soft, about 1 minute. Add in the flour and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon,1 minute. Whisk in the milk and 3/4 teaspoon salt and cook, whisking constantly, until just thickened, about 3 minutes. Add the Neufchatel and parmesan cheese; whisk until melted, about 1 minute. Stir in the chopped parsley.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fettuccine and cook until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes. Reserve 1 cup cooking water, then drain the pasta and return to the pot.

Add the sauce and 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking water to the pasta and gently toss to combine, adding more cooking water as needed to loosen. Season with salt. Divide among bowls and top with parmesan and pepper.

Per serving: Calories 490; Fat 15 g (Saturated 8 g); Cholesterol 48 mg; Sodium 734 mg; Carbohydrate 66 g; Fiber 3 g; Protein 20 g

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cajun Cookin'

I found some shrimp in the freezer.  Two pounds of it that I refuse to let go bad.  I decided to make perhaps my favorite shrimp dish: seafood gumbo.  So I pull out my trusty Paul Prudhomme cookbook and open 'er up and got busy.

Gumbo is deceptively easy.  Sure, if you are going to make your own stock, you will have to start the day before  But you don't have to do that. I'll tell you about the short-cuts later.

First you chop some veggies.  I used two medium green bell peppers, a couple stalks of celery and at least two onions and about four cloves of garlic.  I was using rather large cloves, so if you have a normal-sized bulb of garlic, you might want to use six.  You'll need about two tablespoons worth.  I like the vegetables diced fairly small and  try to make all the cuts uniform.  Not quite a mince, maybe just a smidgen larger than a fine dice.

Next you need some shrimp stock.  Now under normal circumstances, you'd buy shell-on shrimp and peel the shrimp and use the shells to make your stock.  Making stock takes time, but it's actually a lot of fun. When else do you get to throw in halved unpeeled onions and an entire bulb of unpeeled garlic?  It is fun to watch the stock come together.  So much more fun that making chicken stock.  Unfortuantely, since I bought only tail-on shrimp, there wouldn't be enough shells to flavor a stock.  So I used some of this....

It really has decent flavor for bouillon.  These are large, oversized cubes.  Make a very dark, very pungent stock.  With stock ready, shrimp thawed, and vegetables chopped. I can get busy.  This dish takes a lot less time than you'd think for how great it tastes.

You create a spice mix, which is a combination of white, black and cayenne pepper, paprika, oregano, thyme and some salt.  Oh, and you'd better get the file and Tabasco ready.  This is Louisiana cooking after all.

Melt a stick of butter in a stock pot over medium heat.  When to temperature, add the chopped vegetables and cook for 6 minutes stirring constant.  Add two tablespoons of file, and the spice mix and a full tablespoon of Tabasco.  Heat over medium heat for 5 minutes.  The file will become very sticky, so you must stir the pan regularly.  Over time, the file will begin to stick to the bottom of the pan, make sure you scrape off any brown bits.  They add flavor and reduce the ability of file to thicken the final product.

Now all you have to do is add your stock and bring it to a boil over medium heat, then simmer over low heat for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Look at that nice rich color!

Now is a good time to put on some brown rice.  You don't need a lot.  Gumbo isn't a rice dish.  The rice is an accompaniment.  After 45 to an hour, turn the heat off the stock and add the shrimp and crabmeat and cover.  Ha!  I didn't mention the crabmeat, did I?  But you can't just have one kind of seafood in gumbo.  You can also throw in oysters if you are made of money, which I'm not.  In any event, when the shrimps turn bright red, the meal is ready!If at all possible, you should only put in as much shrimp as you can eat in one meal.  If you cook the shrimp and let it sit in the broth, it will get tough.  This meal is so fluffy I think I'm gonna die!  Oh wait. Wrong movie.

Wow this was good.

Here's the full recipe from Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen

1 lb medium shrimp
5 cups basic seafood stock
Seasoning mix:
1.5 teaspoons ground red pepper (cayenne)
1.5 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt
0.5 teaspoon white pepper
0.5 teaspoon black pepper
0.5 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
0.5 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
1 bay leaf, crumbled

0.5 cup margarine
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped green bell pepper
3 tablespoons gumbo file (file powder)
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1-2 tablespoons minced garlic
1.25 cups canned tomato sauce
1.5 cups, packed, crabmeat (about 0.5 lb)
1 dozen shucked oysters (about 0.5 lb) (optional)
1.33 cups cooked brown rice

Peel shrimp, rinse and drain.  You can use the shells and heads to make shrimp stock if you want.  Otherwise, refrigerate shrimp while you make the rest of the dish.  Combine the seasoning mix ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.  In a 4-quart heavy soup pot, melt the margarine over medium heat.  Add the onions, celery and bell peppers.  Turn heat to high and stir in the gumbo file, Tabasco, garlic, and seasoning mix.  Cook 6 minutes, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat to medium and tir in the tomato sauce; continuing cooking 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the stock and bring gumbo to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the shrimp, crabmeat and oysters (if desired); cover and turn off the heat. Leave the pot covered just until the seafood is poached, about 6-10 minutes.  Serve immediately.

For a main course, place about 1/3 cup rice in a bowl and top with about 1 cup gumbo.  For an appetier, serve about half that amount.

This is rich folks.  Rich, rich, rich.  And delicious.  And I gotta go eat.  :)

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Update: Weight Loss

Well for those who have been watching my weight loss progress, I wanted to provide an update, since there have been some changes lately.  Unfortunately, those changes haven't been in my weight.  Which is exactly the problem.  I joined Weight Watchers under a program called "Momentum".  That program was extremely effective for me.  But in mid-December, Weight Watchers switched to a more "scientifically accurate" program called PointsPlus.  I bought all the materials (food guide, dining out companion, recipe book, and pocket PointsPlus calculator) and dove in.  Only the program doesn't work for me.  In effect, my weight loss stalled.  Completely.  For three months.  The leader at my meeting told me to give it a chance.  To focus on the weight I have already lost.  But honestly, three months with NO weight loss?  Despite following the program to the letter?

I'm a scientist.  If a regimen isn't working, waiting and expecting that same regimen to give you different results is pretty darn stupid.  So.  My big news?  I'm switching back to the old program.  I have quit Weight Watchers on the payment plan that I was using because there is no real sense in me paying for access to the food information on their website if their website only supports the new program.  My sister quit for a month or two and Weight Watchers ended up enticing her back with a few free months offer.  Maybe they'll do the same for me.  It's not that I don't like Weight Watchers.  I actually like my meetings.  It's just that the meetings and the program now no longer support the program I'm going to be following.  Although I have told myself that if I feel I need the accountability of weighing in on someone else's scale and the group support, that I will go back for meetings on a week-to-week basis.

So that's my big news.  I have dropped 36 pounds on Weight Watchers.  And a total of 46.2 pounds since I began this odyssey on Jan 3, 2010.  I only have 22 pounds to get to normal weight and 27 pounds to get to my goal.  I'll keep you updated on my progress.

For now, good eating!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Update: Meal Planning

So I wanted to check back in on the meal planning and offer some thoughts.  I really got a little militant about the whole deal and did something that I think was tremendously overboard, but if I keep it up, might just come in handy.  I made an inventory of my food.  Fridge.  Freezers.  Pantry.  If nothing else, this should help with grocery lists or when I'm too tired to cook.  Now I know what ready-to-eat meal I can thaw from the freezer when I'm really too tired to think.

Another great thing about meal planning is that I know what I'm going to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Sounds remarkably easy, but even on a diet, I usually open the refrigerator door to decide what I'm eating next.  Now at least, that ambiguity is replaced with two or three options from which I can select.  Although, honestly, I sort of miss the mystery of the way I used to live.

Finally, I've been pretty strict in trying to finish up the food I have before it goes bad.  For instance, I am often ready for fresh food and wanting to cook something new before I've cleaned out what I already prepared.  Which is how things get rotated to the back of the fridge and become science experiments.  So, I say to myself, "You can have those things when you finish X and Y."  I cook less often.  Yes, that makes me sad, but to think that in my race toward novelty, I was usually costing myself money.  Ugh.  For the next several days, I have to work on the beef from the bourginon (using as taco filling) and turkey (bbq shredded turkey that I'm using for sandwiches at work).  I am thinking I'd like to clear out those four remaining green stuffed peppers I have in the freezer soon.  I won't feel like eating them once the weather turns.  I still have wild rice soup and white chili to work on.  I have a LOT of nice cuts of venison, chicken, and shrimp to finish up over the next couple of months.  Looks like it may be time for some gumbo!  Maybe it will be time soon to drag out the bbq grill.  I'd love to say that this new dedication to eating what I have and eating it until it is gone is saving me money, and surely it is even if it is difficult to put a price tag on, but the cost of fresh vegetables has skyrocketed (gas prices and bad weather, I'd guess), and I'm going to have to make a switch to frozen soon.  I am NOT happy about that.  Luckily, local produce will start coming in soon.  Not soon enough in my mind.

Oh, and on a final note, my inventory pointed out that I have more of some things than I can possibly eat in a year and I'm getting rid of them.  I have two pounds of breakfast sausage in my freezer that belongs to my brother (Christmas present of all things) and another two pounds that I didn't eat myself last year.  So I'm giving some of this stuff away.  Along with some other canned goods from the pantry.  If you aren't going to eat it, I say get rid of it to someone who will.

So how is meal planning working in your house?  I'd love to hear new ideas.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Creamy Mexican Crockpot Chicken

Here is a recipe I tried this weekend. We used it to make soft tacos. Please see the notes at the bottom of the recipe. It can really be tailored to your personal taste. Enjoy!

Creamy Mexican Crockpot Chicken
6 servings

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 small onion, diced
½ cup salsa
1 bag frozen corn (I used half bag)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can Rotel tomatoes and chilies
Chili powder, salt and pepper to taste
½ block light cream cheese

Put chicken in crock pot, cover with all ingredients except cream cheese. Cook 3-4 hours on high or 7-8 hours on low. Shred chicken and mix back in with light cream cheese until melted. Cook 15-20 min. until heated.

Serve as soft tacos (with lettuce, tomato, cheese, cilantro, onion, etc.) or over rice.

181 cal./2 g. fat/24 carbs/17 g. protein/5 g. fiber (Unsure of accuracy on these.)/per serving.

NOTES: Recipe is as originally copied. It makes much more than 6 servings. I would use an envelope of taco seasoning instead of chili powder, salt and pepper. Maybe use less onion and add a clove or two of garlic. Also, stir in some chopped cilantro at the end.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Half a Batch o' Hummus

I have raved before about The Schamle's Favorites hummus recipe.  I love it.  Love it, love it, love it!  But it makes a mess o' hummus. So here, I just want to repeat the recipe - halved - for my own convenience.

Half a Batch O' Hummus

1 can garbanzo beans, drained, reserve liquid
1 tsp minced garlic
1 + 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
a little less than 2/3 cup tahini
1/8 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp table salt

Combine all ingredients (except bean juice) in food processor and puree.  Add bean juice until mixture takes on a smooth texture.  Or use an immersion blender.  Or a hand mixer.  I don't think this would do well in a blender.

Nutritional Info:
Serving size, 1/4 cup
Kcals: 193
Fat: 13g
Carbs: 16 g  Dietary fiber: 3 g
Protein: 5 g
Weight Watchers PointsPlus: 2

Notes:  I use the full amount of olive oil, but only 1 T lemon juice and I make up the difference with the reserved bean juice by eyeballing how the texture looks.  I also add two pinches of salt instead of the 1/2 tsp since I'm overly sensitive to salty foods.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

White Turkey Chili

Ok.  Made this recipe today from Mel's Kitchen Cafe with some modifications, so I'll reprint here and go through it.  I'm going to warn you.  I eyeballed some of the stuff in this, so the measurements are not exact.  Still, I think my estimates are going to be pretty close.

My turkey was pre-cooked, but if yours isn't, get busy.  I also made the northern beans last night.  I'm a little long on beans around here, and true to my promise to myself, I'm trying to use up my food and not just take the easy way out all the time.  Actually, I was really proud of myself.  I made the turkey and wild rice soup, and made some homemade refried beans, and the northern beans for this dish.  But you can certainly cut corners and use canned if you don't have the storage issues I do.  Oh, the yogurt wasn't in the original recipe, but I wanted to know what kind of flavor that would add.  I really couldn't tell it was in there at all after the fact.  So if you want to substitute yogurt for part of the sour cream, you can do so without too much fear.  I wouldn't substitute yogurt for all of it though.  I think that would give a weird flavor.

1 T olive oil
3 cups of turkey, chopped bite-sized, mostly dark meat
2 onions, diced
4 garlic cloves, diced
1 sweet red pepper, diced
1 can New Mexico green chilis
1 jalapeno pepper (from can), diced
3 heaping cups of northern white beans, rinsed and drained
28 oz. chicken (or turkey) stock
16 oz. fat-free sour cream
4 oz. fat-free yogurt, plain (totally optional, this was my experiment)
1.5 t cumin
.5 t cracked black pepper
.5 t salt
1 t oregano
.25 t cayenne pepper

Put olive oil in a pan and heat it.  Add onions, garlic, and bell pepper and cook until soft.  Add spices and stir through vegetables for at least a minute to develop some flavor.  Add the chicken stock, beans, green chilis and turkey and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in sour cream, yogurt, and jalapenos.  Serve immediately.  Those little salad tortilla strips are really good on top.

Nutritional Data based on 10 - 1 cup servings:

KCals/serving: 256
Fat: 5 g
Carbs: 32 g  Dietary Fiber: 7 g
Protein: 21 g
Weight Watchers PointsPlus: 5

This is a pretty darn good meal.  At 5 points, I'm going to enjoy this pretty much every time I sit down to eat.  But.  I think it was only marginally close to the kind of heat I like in my chili.  I may end up doctoring this recipe a little, mostly upping the pepper content. Perhaps more cayenne.  A few more roasted jalapenos.  But still, a very solid, tasty white meat chili.  Now let's just hope that that was cultured sour cream I used!
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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Turkey Overload: Meal Planning and a Call for Ideas

I have been trying to do some better meal planning.  When I started thawing a turkey last week, I thought that I would be ready to tackle turkey dishes around Thursday of  last week.  It took significantly longer than that for the turkey to thaw in the fridge, so I moved on to other dishes.  Unfortunately, those dishes lasted me longer than I anticipated.  When I finally got around to cooking the turkey on Monday, I was still working through other leftovers.  Now, I'm faced with an entire 13-pound deboned, skinless turkey sitting in some premium turkey broth  that HAS to be processed this weekend or thrown away!


So, meal planning for this week is heavy on the turkey.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I like brussel sprouts

Following up on my earlier post, I was true to my word and bought and prepared brussel sprouts.  I followed the recipe suggested by Mama Bee from over at Smitten Kitchen, and guess what?  I liked 'em.  Okay, the recipe did call for a few slices of pancetta, which I didn't have, but bacon I did, and it didn't exactly explain whether one should drain the bacon fat before preparing the sauce, which leaves me with a rather tasty, but way expensive vegetable dish, points-wise, calorie-wise, and any-which-wise you look at it.  It was, however, good.

For starters, I thought brussel sprouts were a winter vegetable.  Nonetheless, I had to pay $3.69 for 12 oz. of sprouts.  I was shocked to have to pay that much for a simple vegetable in season.  That is as much if not more than asparagus.  Perhaps it wasn't fear of the sprouts that kept me away all this time. But, I kept the cost down by having a number of the items requested on hand.  I had some frozen bread loaf-ends in the freezer, which I gave a spin in the food processor, mixed with a small amount of olive oil and toasted in the oven.  Swell.  No out of pocket cost there.  I had the onions, garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and bacon on hand as well.

This is how it looked when prepared as directed.  I had to move one of those sprouts on top so you'd actually believe I made the things.

I paired this vegetable with some turkey thigh and some of the leftover vegetable lasagna.  (Yes, I am STILL eating on that stuff and it is still HO-HUM.)

And I would be willing to try brussel sprouts some other ways.  For instance, I thought the pan smelled mighty good when all it held was brussel sprouts, bacon, onions, and garlic.  If I didn't add the balsamic vinegar and beef stock, I'd have probably enjoyed those sprouts just as much, if not more.  (I'm coming to the sneaking suspicion that many recipes should be discarded at the point where the smell of it  makes your mouth water--recipe be damned!)

So I'm glad I tried the sprouts.  Maybe when I win the lotto, I can have them more often.

Balsamic braised brussel sprouts a la Smitten Kitchen
4 servings
Kcal:  231
Fat: 15 g  Saturated fat: 6 g
Carbs: 18 g
Protein: 8 g
Fiber: 4 g
Weight Watchers PointsPlus: 5
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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Saturday Brunch

 Breakfast today was a nice, hearty huevos rancheros.  Just a pair of corn tortillas topped with some leftover northern beans I was given, generously sprinkled with jalapenos, then topped with New Mexico salsa an two poached eggs.  Fantastic and what a way to wake up the taste buds.
Then for lunch, a little of this.  A lovely split pea soup.  Can you tell I was feeling a little in need of comfort food today?  Oh well, it's all tracked on the diet.  I have to go exercise now.  :)

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bloody Breakfast

Would you eat this for breakfast?

I do.

Raspberries over steel-cut oats with a side of grapefruit and a slice of spinach quiche.  Two cups of black coffee.

My morning ritual.

Man, it's good to get up in the morning.
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Lemon Cake

I had found a recipe on a cooking forum I belong to and it sounded really, really good! I copied it and worked on trying to reduce the caloric content a bit. Here is the end result. I was a little disappointed I didn't reduce the calories more, but am happy with the result. If you can stick to one serving you won't do too badly. It is a delicious cake.

Lemon Cake (my version)
by Leanne D
9 servings
248 cal./serving
~11 grams fat/serving

Preheat gas oven to 350 farenheit (325 for electric oven)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup Splenda sugar blend
1/2 cup Egg Beaters (equal to 2 large eggs)
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 tsps baking bowder
1/2 cup milk (I used 2%)
Zest of 1 or 2 lemons, depending on how lemony you want it to be. (I used zest of two.)

Cream butter and Splenda together, beat Egg Beaters in one half at a time. Sift 1/2 of flour and baking powder into the butter/Splenda mixture. Stir and pour in 1/4 cup milk. Stir until well blended. Repeat with last half of dry ingredients and then the rest of the milk. Stir in the zest.

Pour into a 9x9 or 8x8 cake pan or round pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Bake for 35 min. at 350 derees or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.

1/4 cup sugar (I did not replace the sugar here as I was afraid it would affect the glaze.)
2 Tbsp lemon juice

Mix sugar and lemon juice and pour over hot cake in oven. Turn oven off and let cake sit in oven for about 10 minutes.

Cut into 9 servings.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Anyone Else Ever Do This?

When I was a kid and my mother made chicken or turkey, my sister and I got to break the breastbone.  Or wishbone as we liked to call it.  Whomever scored the keel bone got their wish.

It's weird, but I can't make myself throw these things away.  So if you ever come to my house and are in need of some luck, some mojo, or just want a bit of friendly competition, Just ask.  Seriously.  These things are starting to pile up.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

They Don't Make 'Em Like This Anymore

This is one of my most trusted cookbooks. A gift from my Gram.

I love this cookbook.

I would guess that it was put together in the early 80s by the American Baptist Women of the Twenty-Sixth Street Baptist Church in Huntington, West Virginia.

My Gram is in her 90s. Lady Elsie May, we call her. Like the rose. She was born, I believe, in 1918. She was married and a mother during the Great Depression.She still attends the Twenty-Sixth Street Baptist Church, to which she drives herself every Sunday when she feels up to it and the weather is decent. She also goes to the church to quilt on Wednesdays. When I was a kid, sometimes she would take us to church with her on Sundays. I didn't understand the Baptist church. It was a lot different than the church we attended.

It was a rather modern building. Probably built in the 60s. They had these GIANT murals depicting different scenes from the Bible. And honestly, they had the most intimidating paintings of Jesus I had ever encountered. I think it was because they were so big. It was just GIANT Jesus. And every mural was painted in the same sleepy shades of blue and grey. Like it was perpetually overcast wherever Jesus went. That's what I remember about the Twenty-Sixth Street Baptist Church.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Creamy Potato Soup

I have made this soup several times and everyone loves it. I wanted to try a "lighter" version, so I tried that this past Sunday. I had worried it wouldn't be as creamy without the heavy cream, but it turned out great! I will post the original recipe and note my substitutions in parentheses.

Creamy Potato Soup
by Leanne D
Serves 6

2 tablespoons butter (I did not substitute here, but you could use canola or olive oil.)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
2 large carrots, peeled, chopped
2 to 3 cups diced ham, about 1 pound (I substituted chopped smoked turkey.)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth (Vegetable broth can be substituted if you prefer.)
1 cup water
4 to 5 cups peeled and diced potatoes
1 cup heavy cream (I substituted fat free half-and-half.)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup half-and-half or whole milk, more if needed to thin (I used fat free half-and-half.)
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

In a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add onion, celery, carrots, and ham. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute longer. Add broth, water and potatoes; cover and cook for about 25 minutes, until potatoes are tender.

Whisk flour into the heavy cream until smooth; stir into the hot mixture. Stir in the half-and-half or milk. Taste and add salt and pepper, as desired. Mash slightly with potato masher to thicken and add more milk if needed. Stir in the chopped parsley and serve.

We like it topped with shredded cheddar jack cheese.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Zucchini Bread - Two Ways

Leanne D got me to thinking about zucchini bread.  I had some zucchini in the fridge and decided to treat the kids at school tomorrow, who, I'm sure, will be sorely disappointed when they find out they aren't getting a snow day.  So I pulled out my trusty cookbook and went to one of my favorite recipes.

Since Leanne insists that her zucchini bread is a favorite because she uses whole wheat flour, I decided to give it a try.  I made one batch for the kids the traditional way with white flour and whole sugar.  I made a second, heart-healthier version with whole wheat and half the sugar.  Both versions worked well. This is my favorite zucchini bread recipe and it comes from a church cookbook my grandmother gave me when I was in my early 20s.  But more on that later.

In both recipes, I substituted applesauce for the oil.  In the whole wheat batch, I substituted sucralose for half the sugar, and since I was a bit low on zucchini by that point, I added a few carrots to round it out.  The first batch was just as expected.  It produced a nice, high loaf.  The whole wheat batch looked a little different.  It didn't rise as high and I attribute that to the decreased sugar.  Sugar creates texture as well as taste.  Sucralose just dissolves and offers no structure at all.  Because the sugar didn't react with the zucchini as much in the second batch, it was much thicker and the crust is a bit craggy looking.  The loaf is denser as well.  Although applesauce will never recreate the tender crumb that you get with oil, it is a small price to pay for the decreased calories.  In any event, both batches produced great looking and great tasting loaves.  Thanks for the great suggestion, Leanne!

3 cups flour (all purpose or whole wheat)
3 whole eggs, beaten
1 cup applesauce, no sugar added (or oil, depending on your preference)
2 cups sugar (or one cup sugar and one cup sucralose)
1 T cinnamon
2 T vanilla extract
1 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
1 t salt
2 cups shredded zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Beat eggs, add sugar, vanilla, and zucchini.  Sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well.  Pour into two greased and floured loaf pans and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour until a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean.  Allow to cool completely before cutting. 

Nutritional Information.
Servings size: 2 loaves, 8 slices per loaf or 16 servings
Kcal: 204
Fat: 1 g
Carbohydrates: 48g  Dietary fiber: 4g
Protein: 4g
Weight Watchers PointsPlus: 4 (made with whole wheat, 1/2 sucralose, and applesauce)


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