Monday, July 30, 2012

Chicken Tortellini ... With Low-Fat Sun-Dried Tomato Alfredo Sauce

Chicken Tortellini ... With Low Fat Sun-Dried Tomato Alfredo Sauce
(Serves 6) 
(Difficulty Level:  Intermediate)

Healthy eating is a choice ... a mindset ... a way of life.  The beauty of it is that, even when you get off-track on a particular day or weekend, you can start anew the next morning.  Even making part of a meal lighter (i.e., the sauce or some key ingredients) is a genuine step you can take right now for you and your loved ones toward achieving a healthy eating lifestyle.  90 pounds ago, I would have said that you absolutely had to avoid anything labeled Alfredo if you had any good sense at all.  Not true.  This recipe is hot off the presses, folks.  When sitting in court one day (yes, I'm an attorney), I envisioned a hearty pasta meal laced with a "skinny" but flavorful Alfredo sauce and veggies.  My "Chicken Tortellini With Sun-Dried Tomato Alfredo Sauce" is a culmination of almost everything I strive to put in my quick and healthy dinners ... low in fat and full of proteins and vegetables.  Not only is this dish pleasing to the palette, but it's also vibrant in color and texture and can be made in 30 minutes or less!  Add this one to your power rotation tonight!

2 "family size" packages of fresh, refrigerated chicken tortellini (any brand will do)
1 package/6 links of sweet Italian sausage (I prefer Premio)
1 large zucchini, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 package of pre-sliced mushrooms
4 tbsps low-fat margarine
3 tbsps minced garlic
4 tbsps all purpose flour
4 cups fat-free milk (I prefer Skim Plus)
1 cup non-fat or low-fat cream cheese (any brand will do)
1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese (pre-packaged)
1 jar (8 oz.) of julienned sun-dried tomatoes
2 tbsps of canola oil (or any cooking oil including olive oil, corn or safflower)
Paprika (just a sprinkle)
Red pepper flakes (just a sprinkle)
Salt and pepper to taste

The Basics
- Gather all of your sauce ingredients and measure them out.
- Start a large pot of your pasta water boiling.  Lightly salt the water.
- Place the sausage links in another pot.  Fill the pot with water just high enough to cover them, and bring the water to a boil.  Cook the sausage about 90% through, which should take about 5 minutes at a rumbling boil.
- Remove the sausage from the water and slice them into bite size pieces.  Drain the water from that pot and hold it aside because you will use it to make your sauce.
- In a large pan, add the canola oil and saute the sliced sausage, zucchini and mushrooms over medium high heat until the vegetables soften and the sausage starts to brown.  Lightly salt this mixture.

- Start boiling the chicken tortellini.  You want to cook it to al dente.

The Sauce
- While your pasta is boiling, saute the margarine and garlic for about 1 minute over medium heat.
- Whisk in the flour.  Then, slowly whisk in the milk
- Cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thick, about 3 minutes.
- Whisk in cream cheese and Parmesan cheese, until smooth, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the sun-dried tomatoes and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes and paprika.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- Remove the sauce from heat.

- Strain the cooked tortellini and put it back in its pot.
- Toss the sausage and vegetable mixture in.
- Lightly pour the delicious sauce over the pasta, sausage and vegetables, toss, and serve.

- According to my father, this meal is best served with some crusty Italian or French bread and a nice, crisp side salad.
- If you are planning to make enough of this dish to eat as leftovers, I recommend making and reserving a little extra sauce to moisten up the tortellini the following day as it can absorb some of the existing sauce overnight.
- You can add any vegetables of your liking, as some people do not prefer mushrooms.
- You do not have to use chicken tortellini ... regular cheese or other meat-filled pasta will do.
- If you can get the cream cheese close to room temperature before hand, the better.

Real Meals for the Working Woman

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Ultimate Side: Crispy Loaded Potato Hash

(Serves 4)

Time and time again, I hear comments from women telling me that their husbands or kids are the "meat and potatoes" type.  Well, so is my husband, but it doesn't stop me from putting new and tasty twists on the good old potato when it comes to dinnertime in our household.  I created this quick-n-easy recipe about a month ago once the weather was conducive to all sorts of outdoor grilling.  My "Crispy Loaded Potato Hash" can be made in under 15 minutes, complements any main protein, and will leave your family licking their plates!  Chock full of bold flavors and veggies, this dish is in a league of its own.  The potatoes come out crispy and savory and, I dare say, you won't even need to put ketchup on the table for them.  I've even made these potatoes with eggs on Sunday morning.  Your family will think you slaved away in the kitchen for hours on them, or that you went to cooking school!  Either way, that's a win for the busy working women and moms out there.  I hope you enjoy this ultimate side tonight (or tomorrow morning)!      

1 bag of shredded frozen potatoes (I prefer Ore Ida)
3 tbsps of canola oil
3 tsps of Philadelphia Italian Cheese and Herb Cooking Cream
3/4 cup shredded carrots (buy them pre-packaged)
1/2 cup freshly chopped parsley or Italian parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (buy this pre-packaged)
Salt and Pepper to taste

  • Thaw the shredded potatoes on your counter for a few minutes to loosen them up.  Striking the bag gently with the ball of your hand can also achieve this.
  • In a large skillet, warm the canola oil on medium high temperature for about two minutes.  Lightly salt and pepper the oil.
  • Add the potatoes in an even layer over the sizzling oil in the skillet.  Lightly stir to coat the potatoes.
  • Add the carrots.
  • Add the Philadelphia Italian Cheese and Herb Cooking Cream in 3 separate corners of the skillet.  Lightly toss the melting cream into the potatoes and carrots.
  • Continue cooking the mixture in an even layer on medium to medium high heat until the potatoes start to brown and crisp up.  Occasionally flip the potatoes over with a spatula. 
  • Stir in the freshly chopped parsley and again continue to brown the mixture, flipping occasionally with a spatula. 
  • Stir in the Parmesan cheese, lightly stir and remove from heat.  
Serving Suggestions:
This dish should be made right before you are ready to serve it to keep the potatoes crisp and piping hot.  I also prefer serving the potatoes in a nice white, shallow rimmed bowl.  The colors of the dish play off nicely against the white of the bowl, and this serving vessel keeps the dish from getting mushy.  Enjoy!

Friday, May 25, 2012

"You're Kiddin' Me" Chicken & Rice

(Serves 4)

I created this recipe after joining Weight Watchers two years ago when I was desperately searching for a filling but healthy dinner that I could make quickly and could be toted to the office for a satisfying lunch the next day.  I call it "You're Kiddin' Me" Chicken & Rice because if I told you how few calories and fat are in each serving you'd say that I actually WAS kidding you.  Made with ground chicken and brown rice, this wholesome and healthful meal can be made in approximately 15 minutes (or less if you are good at preparing the two components simultaneously). I love this dish just as I've described it below, but feel free to experiment by adding vegetables, herbs or even white beans!  You can even use this entire mixture and fill whole grain wraps with it for a healthy spin on the burrito.  The possibilities are endless.  Recently, I threw together this quick and easy meal for a family member recovering from surgery who's been begging me for the recipe ever since!  Well, here it is.  I hope you busy working women and moms on-the-go try it for your families tonight.  Enjoy!

  • One lb. ground chicken (I prefer Perdue)
  • One packet of Ortega Taco Seasoning
  • Two bags of Success Boil-in-Bag Brown Rice
  • 2-3 tbsp Margarine
  • Grated Parmesan Cheese (to taste)
  • Fully cook chicken in a skillet over medium heat until no longer pink.  Do not brown it because it will dry out.
  • Simultaneously boil water for rice.
  • Put bags of rice into boiling water and boil per directions (approximately 8 minutes).
  • Once chicken is no longer pink, add 1/4-1/2 cup water to skillet over medium heat and empty contents of seasoning packet.  Continue cooking the mixture over medium heat, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes.  The "sauce" will reduce and thicken slightly.  Turn off heat when done. 
  • When rice is done, grab the bags with tongs or a fork, remove from water, drain the water from the pot, and empty the drained rice back into the pot.  (You will have to cut the rice bags open with scissors).
  • To the rice, add the margarine and a healthy shaking of Parmesan.  Mix together.
How To Serve
  • Scoop rice into a bowl or a nice rimmed plate.
  • Dig a little "well" in the middle of the rice and scoop the chicken therein.  No need to mix it up.  Let your diners do that!
  • This meal makes for terrific leftovers or lunch the next day.  Simply microwave for 1-2 minute and viola!!
Real Meals for the Working Woman

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"And the Oscar for Best Supporting Side Dish Role Goes to ..." Savory Pasta Bake

Quick & Easy Savory Pasta Bake

Nowadays, when pressed for time, it's easy for a busy working woman or stay-at-home mother to turn to side dishes that come in a box when trying to complete a meal for her family.  Mark my words ... Nothing good for you comes in a box!!  There's no need to worry though, because there are healthy and creative ways to "home cook" side dishes for your loved ones that are healthy, creative, fast and fun.  Below is my recipe for my Quick & Easy Pasta Bake.  It's a snazzy side dish that can be prepared quickly, easily, and to perfection every time.  I created this dish when living in my first apartment and have made strides to improve it ever since.  Vibrant in both color and flavor, you'll absolutely love to serve this as a delicious complement to any main protein for those everyday dinners and may even make tray-fulls of it when entertaining on the holidays.  Like I do.  Yum!

1 lb. of any whole grain pasta
Fat Free Italian Dressing (1 bottle of any brand)
Grape or Cherry Tomatoes (1 container)
Basil (a fresh coarse chop is preferred)
1 1/2 cups of Parmesan Cheese (freshly grated is preferred, but packaged works fine too)

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and start your salted pasta water boiling.
- Pour 3/4 of the bottle of Italian Dressing into a casserole dish and throw it right into your preheating oven.
- Cook the pasta to al dente on the stove top.
- While the pasta is boiling, slice the tomatoes into halves or quarters and coarsely chop a medium handful of basil.  When in a pinch, dried basil works fine with this dish.
-  Deposit the sliced tomatoes into the casserole dish and continue to let them bake.  They will soften quickly and become even more of a rich, red color.
-  Strain the pasta and toss it into your casserole dish, stirring the dressing and tomatoes throughout for even coverage.  Add the basil and 1 cup of the grated Parmesan cheese, and give it another stir before placing it back in the oven.
- Bake the casserole for 10-15 minutes.  
- Once it's done, give a quick stir, sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese across the top, and serve.  

Serving Suggestions
I prefer to bring the whole casserole dish to the table when serving it because it looks absolutely beautiful and smells fantastic.  I also prefer to add grated Romano cheese and freshly toasted pignoli (pine) nuts too, but they are completely unnecessary to complete this inspiring and satisfying side dish.  Enjoy!!

Monday, January 23, 2012

"7 Minutes In Heaven" Stir Fry

"7 Minutes in Heaven" Stir Fry
(Serves 4)

Last year, I lost almost 90 pounds, primarily by eating the right foods, sensibly, at the right times of day.  Working long hours has always posed a challenge for me when it comes to creating quick, easy and satisfying meals for my family.  The best advice I can give all of you busy working women and mothers out there is to keep it simple, be creative and always remember to incorporate (1) a protein, (2) vegetables and (3) a whole grain with your dinners.  If you stick to that mantra, you will not only achieve a healthy eating lifestyle for yourself and your family, but also you will likely lose a little weight and feel the satisfaction of knowing that you have placed yet another quick and delicious meal on your table.  Below is my recipe for my "7 Minutes In Heaven" Stir Fry.  The whole meal takes about 7 minutes to prepare, with one extra minute if you simultaneously prepare boil-in-bag brown rice.  Just chop, wok and roll.   

2 tbsp. canola oil
1 1/2 lbs. boneless chicken breasts, cut into slices
1 medium red onion,  coarsely chopped
8 asparagus, chopped into bite size pieces
3 bell peppers, chopped into bite size pieces
10 baby corn
10 sugar snap peas
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
Low-sodium soy or teriaki sauce, to taste

- In a wok or large frying pan with a lid, heat the canola oil under medium high heat.
- Toss in chicken and cook 3/4 way through, turning occasionally (about 3 minutes).
- Toss in all of the vegetables with a few splashes of soy or teriaki sauce, give a quick stir to mix it with the chicken, and cover (about 3 minutes).
- Uncover, give a final toss for the last minute, and serve.

Serving Suggestion
I prefer to serve this stir fry in a decorative, bold colored bowl over brown rice.  So simple and easy to prepare.  Enjoy!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Thanksgiving Treat: Show Stoppin' Sausage Apple Stuffing

Show Stoppin' Sausage Apple Stuffing
(Serves 15)

As if I don't spend enough time in my kitchen already, around Thanksgiving I pretty much set up a bed there.  Nothing gives me more satisfaction than to put my heart and love into preparing foods for loved ones to show them how truly thankful I am to have them in my life.  This year especially has presented me with some very wonderful events that have inspired me to infuse my feelings into my food.  Thanksgiving isn't just a day for me ... it's a whole week of cooking!!

Below is my recipe for cornbread stuffing with sausage and cinnamon dusted apples.  It can be prepared days ahead of the big day and warmed either in the bird or in a large casserole dish.  The flavor combinations and textures are music to your mouth, and you WILL be asked for this recipe, as I am every single time I make it.  I hope you whip this up for your loved ones this year!

- 2 packets of cornbread stuffing cubes
- 1 loaf of unsliced multi grain bread - slice it yourself into large cubes
- 1-2 lbs of ground sweet Italian sausage
- 6 pink lady apples, cored and sliced into bite size pieces
- 1 pack of celery, coarsely chopped
- 1 extra large white onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 large cartons or cans of chicken stock
- Margarine
- 2 tsps of sage
- 2 tsps of poultry seasoning
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon

- Over medium heat, lightly brown sausage in the bottom of an extra large pot.
- No need to drain the sausage once done.  Simply add and melt 3 tbsps of margarine to the meat and toss in all of the chopped celery and onion until lightly softened over medium heat (about 8 minutes).
- Sprinkle ground cinnamon over the chopped apples and toss them into the pot.
- Pour in both packs of the stuffing cubes and stir the entire mixture.  Turn heat to low.
- Pour in one carton of chicken stock, and continue to lightly toss the mixture.
- Add the hand cubed loaf of any multi grain bread, and toss again.
- Lightly sprinkle in the sage and poultry seasoning.
- Stir in the remaining carton of chicken stock, and do the final toss.
- With a large spoon, transfer the stuffing into a large casserole dish, cover with aluminum foil, and bake on the middle rack at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Then uncover the stuffing, turn heat up to 400 degrees, move to the top rack, and continue baking for 10 minutes.  This gives your stuffing that crispy top ... the best part!!

If you want to warm the stuffing in your turkey, simply prepare the stuffing as set forth above, and, instead of putting it in a casserole dish, scoop it in the bird!  Cooks perfectly every time.  Enjoy!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

"Salted Caramel" Grilled Shrimp

"Salted Caramel" Grilled Shrimp
(serves 4-6)

With the end of Summer approaching, it's not too late to fire up that grill!  Autumn is one of my absolute favorite times to barbecue ... crisp, cool air and no humidity make for comfortable and perfect grilling conditions.  In fact, did you know that meats and seafood grill better and faster in cooler weather?  Well, they do.

As a busy professional who prides herself on putting a healthy dinner on the plate each night, shrimp are always on my power rotation.  They are high in protein, low in fat, and cook in lightning speed.  Shrimp also take on the flavor of any interesting marinade, rub or glaze that you can think of.  With so many flavor combinations out there, you're really only limited by the bounds of your imagination.

Below is my recipe for "Salted Caramel" Grilled Shrimp, which I've been working on for some time now.  The sweet & salty glaze is music to your mouth, is so simple to make and will keep your family coming back for more.  But, the best part about this recipe is that, start to finish, you can make this flavorful culinary delight quickly.  Now that's a Real Meal for the Working Woman!!

- 2 packages of Kraft caramel squares
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of ground Kosher salt
- Approx. 18-20 large, peeled and deveined raw shrimp 
- Wooden skewers

- Wooden skewers, soaked in water for 20-30 minutes.
- Preheat your grill on the medium setting.
- In a saucepan, gently warm and melt 2 packages of Kraft caramel squares over medium low heat all at once.  Stirring frequently. 
- Once melted, add the ground Kosher salt and keep stirring.
- Dip each shrimp with tongs into the caramel.
- Spear 3-4 shrimp on each wooden skewer.  I prefer spearing the shrimp on 2 skewers each to prevent spinning while grilling.
- Grill the shrimp on the barbie, mate!  They take about 3-4 minutes total depending on your grill’s capabilities.  Do not overcook shrimp or they get chewy.  Flip them once about half-way through cooking.  (If no grill is in sight, heat a ridged grill pan over medium heat and spray with olive oil cooking spray.  Place skewered shrimp in the pan, and cook the same way, turning half-way through.)
- Generously brush the remainder of the caramel sauce all over the shrimp while grilling. 

Serving Suggestion:
I like to serve my shrimp over warm saffron or wild rice with fresh grilled asparagus on the side.  My friend likes to serve them over a chopped salad with crispy Chinese noodles and sesame dressing drizzled on top.  As you can see, the possibilities are endless.  I hope you WOW your loved ones with this one tonight!!