Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Skinny Homemade Alfredo Sauce

I know what you are thinking - the words skinny and alfredo just don't go together. You may be right, but I am about to change your mind. Like you won't even know it's "skinny" good. You know I don't joke about that. This guiltless alfredo sauce couldn't be simpler or easier to whip up. You can do it on a weekend or weekday - it takes under 10 minutes to whip up. Now that's my kind of dish. For this sauce you will need just a few things - low fat milk, parmesean cheese, light cream cheese, lots of garlic, a bit of butter, flour and a dash of salt. The little bit of light cream cheese makes this dish so rich and creamy and makes you think you are having the real deal.

To get this sauce started, you first want to put the milk, softened cream cheese, flour and salt into a blender and blend until nice and smooth. Just a few seconds. Once everything is nice and blended, melt the butter in a pan on medium heat and soften up the garlic. Just be careful not to burn it. Your garlic can go from perfect to burn in a blink of an eye, trust me. When the garlic is smelling delicious, add in the blended cream mixture and stir around until it becomes thick and bubbly. Once it's nice and alfredo-y (is that a word? If not, it is now), add in the cheese and stir. Now comes the hardest part. Once the cheese is all melted, turn off the stove and wait for about 10 minutes. This extra time allows the sauce to thicken and get ooey gooey. Just what you want in an alfredo. Right? Right!

Once the sauce is ready to go, you can pour over your favorite pasta, use it as a pizza sauce or if you are like me, just eat it straight with a spoon. 1/4 cup of this yummy sauce comes in at just about 100 calories. A quarter cup may not seem like much, but when you toss it with a serving of whole wheat pasta, some fresh veggies and some chicken or shrimp, you have a totally satisfying meal. Even better, you have one that cuts calories like you wouldn't believe. If you go to your favorite Italian restaurant, once pasta alfredo dish comes in at almost 1000 calories. Can you believe it? I sure can. Especially when the real deal sauce is loaded with heavy cream, tons of butter and heaps of cheese. As much as it's delicious, it's not so good for the scale. I promise you this new lightened up version will become one of your favorites and if you gave someone a taste test, I am willing to bet they'd never know it was "skinny".

skinny ingredients!
blending the cream mixture
nothing smells better than butter and garlic
add in the cream mixture
stir until nice and thick!
add in the cheese
let sit until nice and thick
I enjoy my pasta with a side of business law lecture

 Skinny Homemade Alfredo Sauce (from Our Best Bites)

2 cups low-fat milk
1/3 cup (3 oz) low fat cream cheese, softened
2-3 Tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon butter
3 garlic cloves
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Place milk, cream cheese, flour, and salt in a blender and blend until smooth.  In a non-stick sauce pan, melt butter on med-high heat and add garlic. Let the garlic saute for about 30 seconds, you don’t want to burn it.Then add milk mixture to the pan. Stir constantly for about 3 or 4 minutes or until it just comes to a simmer. Keep stirring and let it cook for a few minutes more. It should be much thicker now.

When it’s nice and thickened remove the pan from the heat. Add the cheese, stir it up and then cover immediately. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before using. It will continue to thicken upon standing. Season with additional salt if needed.  Also, if you have leftovers in the fridge, the sauce will thicken almost into a solid. Just re-heat and add a little milk and it will be back to normal again.

Skinny alfredo? Who knew it would be so good!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Protein Brownies

I am not joking around when I say that these are my all time favorite brownies. Now, don't get me wrong, I love brownies in every form - with frosting, from a box, caramel swirled in, chocolate chips or no chocolate chips. I could go on forever. There hasn't really been a brownie I haven't liked. Maybe if it had cucumber in it. That would be disgusting. The bad thing about brownies is that although they taste so darn good, they really aren't all that good for you. Okay, let's be honest - they are not good for you at all.They are loaded with sugar and are always high in fat and calories. At least the ones that taste good are. I know you know what I am talking about. Now, I'm drooling.

I have been on a mission to find and make the best tasting low fat, good for you brownie around for years, but haven't come across the best one - until now. The first thing I ever tried was replacing the oil for apple sauce. While the brownies are still moist, they just aren't the same. I've tried black bean brownies, which are good, but if you don't blend the beans enough, you get bean skins in every bite. That's just not appetizing. And, not a good luck when they get stuck in your teeth. I've tried the mixes where you just add yogurt and even lighted up my own homemade recipe. Although all the ways I have made them, I have eaten them, they just weren't amazing. There is nothing like brownie disappointment. In fact, it makes you cry a little. Little brownie tears. Several days ago, I got an email from one of my favorite food bloggers, Skinnytaste. If you haven't checked out her website, you must. I have yet to make a bad recipe from her blog and they are all low calorie and totally fabulous! Her most recent post was for brownies - flourless chocolate brownies. I was intrigued. Especially when I saw that I had every ingredient in my pantry. I had to make them!

Let me just tell you now - I will never go back to making brownies any other way. They are moist, sweet and so, so, so chocolaty. They are flourless, contain no white sugar and are virtually dairy free (if you don't add the chocolate chips!). I know what you are thinking - without all that good stuff, how are they even good? I thought the same thing at first, but I was wrong. The mystery ingredient in this recipe is PB2. If you have never heard of it, get on the wagon! It's the next best stuff next to sliced bread. Okay, maybe not, but it's so darn good that you need to keep your pantry stocked with it. PB2 is powdered peanut butter. Nothing funky or fancy about it. It's just ground peanuts where the oil has been removed. Good 'ol regular peanut butter is 100 calories a tablespoon. PB2 has only 45 calories for two tablespoons. Now that's a serious calorie savings. And if you are anything like me and are watching your caloric intake, this stuff is for you. It's great in lots of other things - dipping apples, smoothies and these brownies! You can find it at most stores these days, but it's a bit pricey as peanut butter goes. So, my recommendation to you is to buy it off Amazon. You get a larger amount for a much better price. And again, if you are like me, you'll need a ton of this because you will want to make these ALL the time.

I am not afraid to admit that I sometimes have two a day - one for my morning snack and one in the afternoon. They are 130 calories each, have 7 grams of protein and three grams of fiber. The brownie is sweet, dense and curb my chocolate craving while keeping me in control. These brownies will change your life and help the scale go down too!

the line up
Amazon is the best place to order this amazing stuff
the dry
the wet + chocolate chips
Protein Brownies (slightly adapted from Skinnytaste)

non-stick cooking spray
2 large egg whites 
1 cup PB2
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp water
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line with foil and spray a nonstick 9 x 9 inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Beat the egg and egg white in a small bowl with a whisk. In a large bowl combine the PB2, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda and mix well with a spatula. Add the egg and egg whites and stir. Add water, honey, vanilla and stir with a spatula until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan and bake about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool, then cut into 12 bars cutting 3 rows x 4 rows.

You'll never look at brownies the same way again!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Slow Cooked Ranch House Pork Chops

These are probably the best pork chops I have ever made. No joke. You know how pork can dry out in a blink of an eye? Ya, well, I am one that is so worried about under cooking it, that I always tend to overcook it. I don't meant to. It jut happens. And that is even when using a meat thermometer. Either something is wrong with my oven or it's user error. I am going to go with the latter. Nevertheless, I am not ready to give up on cooking a tender and moist pork chop. If there is a will, there's a way!

These ranch house pork chops could not be easier or taster. And the best part - only three ingredients. Well, four if you are like me and don't think three seems like enough. All you need are pork chops (I used about 1 inch thick ones with no bones), a can of condensed cream of chicken soup and a packet of ranch seasoning. I am working on perfecting my homemade ranch seasoning (stay tuned!), so for now, I went with the packet. Bad, I know, but if I can live with it, so can you. That is all you need. Now, if you want to get fancy like me and add a fourth ingredient, you can add a cup or so of sliced sweet onion to the bottom. For some reason I felt this was necessary. I don't like my meat to touch the bottom of the crock pot. I always get this gut instinct that if I do, it will burn. You don't have to add the onions, but it adds a nice touch of flavor if you do. In just about four hours, you will have the most tender pork chops that are smothered with this gravy. I am not sure how it works, but the condensation along with the pork juices, soup and seasoning make this very simple sauce. I could have eaten it with a spoon. Don't tell anyone I said that. You know how I know this recipe is good? The captain went back for seconds and then had the left overs for lunch the next day. That has to tell you something right there.

If I haven't already convinced you to make this recipe, I think the next part will win you over - you can make these pork chops for a family of four for under $10. Seriously! Even better, for under $15, you can add in garlic mashed potatoes (oooh, fancy!) and veggies. Talk about a delicious and budget friendly meal! And one that your family will probably as you to make again and again.

onions + chops 
smother the chops with the soup and seasoning
parsley makes everything better

Ranch House Pork Chops (slightly adapted from Picky Palate)

4 pork chops, boneless (about one inch thick)
1 packet dry Ranch Dressing Seasoning
10 oz can Cream of Chicken Soup

1 cup sliced sweet onion, options

Place onions in bottom of slow cooker (optional), then pork chops, Ranch seasoning and soup into a medium sized crock pot over high heat for 4 hours or low heat for 6 hours.

Serve over mashed potatoes, rice or just by themselves. Don't forget to ladle over that gravy!

Who would have ever thought just a few ingredients would make such a delicious meal!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Homemade Taco Seasoning

I bet you had no idea you could make your own taco seasoning at home, did you? These days, I am all about making things at home instead of buying them directly from the store and this taco seasoning is one of those things. I know it may seem silly to make something when you can so quickly run to the store and pick up one of those foil packets in the spice isle, but have you seen what is really in those packets? There are ingredients I can't even pronounce! You'd think it would just be a bunch of spices, but nope. Those cute little foil packets are loaded with salt and all kinds of preservatives. Ick. I don't think you want those in your body, and I know I don't. Thus, I bring you homemade taco seasoning you can make at home that is salt free and preservative free!

To make your own seasoning, you'll need a handful of spices that you probably already have. Nothing funky here. Just chili powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin, and onion powder. See, told you nothing too funky. Mix it all together, store in mason jar and you are good to go. Here is a tip - if you are planning on making this in bulk, Costco has the best prices on spices in large quantities. Trust me, you don't want to have to buy five or six of those little spice container from the store. One, they are expensive and two, it's just silly. And wasteful. Okay, that was three reasons. Two tablespoons and half a cup of water will season one pound of ground beef. You don't just have to limit this to ground beef thought. You can use it on shredded chicken, marinade for fajitas or even in your favorite enchiladas. It's even great on shrimp! Just think of all the things you can use it for. Even better, it makes a great gift! Simple. Easy. Delicious. It doesn't get much better than that.

Homemade Taco Seasoning (Brown Eyed Baker)

4 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon paprika
3 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mix all the spices together and store in an airtight container

You'll never go back to store bought taco seasoning again!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Girl Scout Cookie Thin Mint Gooey Cake Bars

Girl scout cookie thin mint gooey cake bars. Now that's a mouthful to say, isn't it? Well, let me just tell you, it's a delicious mouthful. I am not sure how many of you have girl scout cookies still laying around (I know, who am I fooling?), but if you are like me and still have a box or two in the back of your pantry, then this recipe is just for you. Simple. Easy. Delicious. Addicting.

When girl scout cookies first became available this season, I was a strong girl and did not buy a single box. I felt so bad saying no to everyone at work who asked me to order some, but I knew if I did, I would eat them all. Let's be real - who can just eat one girl scout cookie? I know I can't. I know most people can't. There must be something in the small cookies! I waited and waited and waited and then I finally decided I wanted to make thin mint ice cream. Not sure why that popped into my head, but I was determined to make it. When I finally decided to hunt them down, I couldn't find a single box! By the time I actually found a box (thank you little girl scouts selling in front of my local CVS!), I had come across this recipe and completely forgot about the ice cream. Plus, it's a little too cold for ice cream right now and who doesn't love a gooey cake bar?

Now, I am going to tell you a little secret, but promise me you won't tell anyone- pinky promise? Okay. Get ready. Here is comes. This recipe starts off with a boxed cake mix. I know you are shocked, but just go with me on this one, okay? You know I rarely used boxed cake mixes, but sometimes, they are just so handy and you honestly would never know the difference. Especially with all the yummy ingredients you put in the recipe. So, don't run away just yet and trust me on this one. You won't regret it. I promise you. So, to get these ooey gooey cake bars started, you take a yellow boxed cake mix and add it one egg and a stick of softened butter. Mix it really well with your hands (your hands are the best kitchen tool!) and place in the bottom of a large pan to create a "crust". Then sprinkle (more like pour!) a cup of chocolate chips over the top, then chopped andes candies. Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, top the chips and candies with a can of condensed sweetened milk. Then, to finish is all off, top everything with broken up thin mint cookies. I didn't  say these were good for you, but I did say that they were super ooberly delicious. Just be warned that you may not be able to just eat one. There is just something in those girl scout cookies!

look at those cookies
one stick of butter - how bad can these bars really be?
lining the pan with foil makes the bars easier to get out
chocolate chips are way too addiciting
just when you thought it couldn't get better - top the chocolate chips with andes candies
 I could eat sweetened condensed milk with a spoon
not to forget the cookies!
baked all gooey and delicious!

Girl Scout Cookie Thin Mint Gooey Cake Bars (Picky Palate)

1 Yellow Cake Mix
1 stick softened butter
1 large egg
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup Andes Mint pieces
1 small can Sweetened Condensed Milk
20 Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies, broken into pieces
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 9×13 inch baking dish with non stick cooking spray or line with foil.
Place cake mix, butter and egg into a large bowl, mix until dough forms. Using hands is easiest to mix together. Press dough into bottom of prepared baking dish. Top evenly with chocolate chips and Andes mints. Drizzle sweet milk over top and top with broken pieces of Thin Mint Cookies. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until baked through. Immediately after removing from oven, take a plastic knife around edges to loosen. Let cool completely. Cut into squares and serve. Enjoy!
If you don't have thin mints, you can make these bars with any of your favorite girl scout cookies!