Zuppa Toscana: Karen’s Recipe

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My sweet friend and co-worker, Karen, shared her Zuppa Toscana recipe with me because she knew I had been craving it. (Pretty bad when you have been talking about soup so much at work!)

To honor Karen’s fiery personality (she’s a saucy firecracker, I tell ya!), I used hot and spicy Italian chicken sausage from Trader Joe’s. The sausage also had some vino in it so I didn’t need to add the wine, which was optional in Karen’s recipe. Nor did I add the pancetta, but I bet it would be delicious!

Here’s what you need:
2 oz. pancetta or 1 T. real bacon bits
1 c. chopped onion (I used sweet)
1 T. garlic, chopped
1 lb. turkey Italian sausage (or whatever)
1-1/2 c. sliced potatoes
4 c. chicken stock
2 c. chopped kale (I used 2-1/2 c.)
1 c. fat free half and half (or fat free evaporated milk)
3 T. white wine (optional)

Here’s what you do:
1. Sauté pancetta, add garlic and onion. Add sausage, sliced. Cook until browned through. Drain, if needed.
2. Add chicken stock and potatoes. Cook 3/4 way till potatoes are done.
3. Add wine and kale, simmer 10 minutes then reduce heat and add half and half. Do not boil.
4. Serve immediately.

Note: Karen adds more oregano, parsley and fennel seed if wanted.

Fortunately, I didn’t need to add more seasonings because of the well-flavored chicken sausage I used. And, I didn’t drain the small amount of grease before I added the rest of the ingredients but I did add the first cup of broth and deglaze the pan. All of that savory goodness mixed in perfectly!

Yum! Thanks so much, Karen! You are a culinary goddess. ;)

On a workout note, I completed Day 30 of the Ab/Squat Challenge: 40 sit-ups, 100 crunches and 100 squats.

Woohoo! Hurts so good.

I also met my personal goal to increase my workout and desire to workout during the month of January. As a reward, I joined a local gym that I had been eyeing for a little bit. I have been twice since I joined Friday and this Friday I will have an assessment with a trainer. I am excited to see how I am assessed. To say the least.

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Here’s a selfie from Saturday night’s date night. Hubby and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary Sunday. More about what I have learned (and need to learn) about marriage next week.
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I think it’s time to take my measurements again. :)

Quiet morning snow

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I couldn’t help it. I had to go look.

Yep, still snowing! I also woke my hubby up. Our second day off from work for snow, and it was 6:45 a.m. Sorry, honey.

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It started snowing about 8 yesterday morning, continuing until it started sleeting at 3 p.m. We’re fortunate that despite all the snow and ice we still have power. Over 400,000 people in Georgia and South Carolina are reported to be without power. Some of my friends in middle GA and SC have been without it for 10-12 hours.

This is my first time ever experiencing this much snow, and I love it!

What to do today?

I am thinking: read more of a novel I started last week, hang a few more pictures, drink coffee by the fire and possibly take a nap. And, make a snowman.

What do you like to do on a snow day?

Banana Blueberry Oatmeal Breakfast Cups

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I have been known to eat these for a snack, too. Don’t let the word breakfast fool you.

I improvise with the fruit I have on hand or in the freezer, as happened with this batch: 3 frozen bananas, some frozen blueberries and a fresh, chopped banana.

Now that I think about it, I may not have needed to add the oil with all of the bananas. Great sub: some applesauce if you have it on hand.

I got the general recipe and idea from this awesome blog: http://www.momables.com/baked-oatmeal-muffins/

Here’s what you need:
2-1/2 c. old fashioned oats, uncooked
2 c. fat free skim milk
3 bananas, ripe, mashed (with juice)
1 banana, not so ripe, chopped
1/4 c. pecans, chopped
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 c. frozen or fresh blueberries
2 t. olive oil
1 T. honey (or sub some stevia)
1 t. baking powder
1 egg

Here’s what you do:
1. Combine dry ingredients in one bowl. Add in fruit.
2. Combine wet ingredients and add to mixture. Batter will be loose and wet.
3. Pour equally into muffin tins (to rim) either prepared with nonstick cooking spray or paper muffins cups.
4. Bake in preheated, 375 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.
5. Cool completely before freezing.

I eat two for a breakfast serving. I calculated these to be 3 PP (Weight Watchers) per muffin. Heat them in microwave for about 15 seconds, wrap in paper towel, add a to go cup of hot coffee, and there you go: oatmeal on the go.

P.s. The awesome poem in the background was given to me by our couples Sunday School class. While it is intended to apply to marriage, I believe it is perfect for everyone no matter one’s stage in life.

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P.s.s. The forecasters are calling for another major Southern Snow for our area Tuesday. Thought I would share a photo from when it snowed earlier this month. Tuesday is hubby’s birthday, too. Is it wrong for me to hope we get snowed in again??

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Week 2: Ab/Squat Challenge and my first pot roast

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I am sitting here not watching the Super Bowl, my hubby snuggled up next to me.

We spent the morning and evening at church, worshipping our Savior together. God’s challenging me to step out of my comfort zone; tried out some of that challenge tonight by striking up conversations with some new individuals I have been praying for this last week. God would reveal that I should talk to so and so for the last few weeks, but instead of talking to them, I would stick to myself and just leave without talking to them. Chronic shyness wins… but not anymore. Going to step out of my comfort zone more often.

Then, this afternoon I turned the pot roast I made yesterday into beef stew for lunch and dinner this week. I was afraid the beef eye round would turn out too tough, but 4.5 hours on low heat was the perfect temp and time. It was an easy meal I will definitely make again.

Here’s what you need:
1.5-2 lb. beef eye round roast
2 c. Reduced sodium fat free beef broth
3 sprigs thyme
4 cloves garlic chopped
1 T olive oil
4 carrots, cut into fifths
2 big sweet onions, sliced
Package white mushrooms
A few splashes Worcestershire and soy sauces
Ground black pepper to taste

Here’s what you do:
1. Heat oil in nonstick pan over medium high heat, then brown meat on all sides.
2. Make bed of one sliced onion in bottom of crock pot then place meat on top. Pour in 1-3/4 c. broth, sauces.
3. In nonstick pan, sauté garlic, onion, mushrooms in drippings for about 5 minutes. Add thyme, pepper and rest of broth. Simmer, stirring bottom of pan to makes sure all drippings absorbed into “jus”. Pour contents of pan into crock pot, cover, cook on low for 4.5 hours.
4. Take meat out to rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving. I made baked sweet potatoes and served roast, jus and veggies over top.

And…

As for the ab/squat challenge, I did six of the seven days. I am up to 35 sit-ups, 50 crunches and 70 squats. Goal is to get to 100 of each. I think I can, I think I can…

Our first wedding anniversary is two weeks from today. Mini-goal: lose another 2 pounds. Can’t help but smile because I am really starting to feel healthier with the Simply Filling plan combined with regular exercise.

How are you doing on your goals?

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P.s. Notice I am wearing flip flops in the above photo, not too unusual for this Lowcountry girl. But here in the Upstate we had a snow day on Wednesday. Today the high is a spring-like 63 degrees. I took a walk with the dogs and hubby and dozed on the porch swing in the sun, listening to the birdsong in the backyard.

Altogether it has been a great week!

Ab/Squat Challenge: Week 1 update

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Here’s a Health(ier) update:

I started the Ab/Squat Challenge a week ago, and today I finished Day 6. I can tell I have been focusing on working out my lower body when I climb the stairs at work.

I am doing the challenge with two of my friends who live on opposite sides of the country: one is in Colorado; the other in Savannah, Ga.

Being accountable through daily texts when we complete the day’s challenge makes it not only rewarding but enjoyable!

I also met one of my weekly goals for January: exercise 3 times a week/:30 per workout. I am proud I completed these at-home workouts as well as the challenge. After a week, I feel I can keep up and meet my goals.

The above image is a pic of my new workout journal. I just grabbed a medium sized 2014-2015 planner and started jotting down my workouts as I complete them. Keeping it on my coffee table helps me motivate myself to workout, especially after work when all I really want to do is sit on the couch and stare at TV.

What helps motivate you to workout?

It’s that wet kind of cold!

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You may have to scroll to see this view of tonight’s sunset.
I survived the Arctic blast #1 a few weeks ago, 9 degrees when I left the house and 20 degrees at lunchtime. Therefore, I am sure I’ll survive what they are calling Arctic blast #2. The low tonight is 16 in our area; no telling what the wind chill will be.
I may look like this when I leave the house tomorrow morning, though.

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Workout update: I am just completed Day 5 of the ab/squat challenge.
How are you doing? Bracing for the cold weather?

Quick Ricotta Spaghetti

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I present to you, Quick Ricotta Spaghetti, and I can eat as much of it as I want, without guilt.

How is this you say?

Because of Weight Watcher’s new Simple Start plan. Each item is a non-trackable item. I have lost 5.2 pounds since I started using Simple Start with the Simply Filling plan. After months of sitting on a plateau, I can proudly report this plan is working for me again! Woohoo!

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Here’s what you do:
Chop half sweet onion and four cloves garlic, sauté in one tablespoon of olive oil. Add frozen basil cube (equal to one teaspoon), 1 tablespoon garlic salt with parsley, chopped yellow and red pepper. Sauté until cooked through. Add medium size can of crushed tomatoes seasoned with basil. Heat through while boiling package of whole wheat noodles; I prefer thin spaghetti noodle. Drain noodles, add to sauce and toss with 7 oz. of fat free ricotta cheese. Top your serving with steamed broccoli florets, for extra bulk.

Alternatives: use less peppers and add ground chicken to the sauté. Some red pepper flakes would be good to spice it up a bit if you desire.

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These frozen basil cubes were a shopping surprise one day, and this is the first time I’ve tried them in a meal. I was wondering, as I smelled the fresh basil scent as it melted: what about a ricotta, basil and onion sauce? I could even add some roasted almonds and make it a bit like pesto, but without the oil. I think the answer will be: Mmmmmm!

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Tonight I started the above workout challenge with two of my friends. I will let you know how it goes. I am committed to workout three times, thirty minutes each this week; the week begins today. I plan to post a weekly update each week, along with the results of weigh-in.

After a month, I’d like to celebrate achieving my 50 pound weight loss star from Weight Watchers. That’s six more pounds to go!

What goals are you working toward today?

Tomato-Squash Sauce

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I am doing my best to follow the Weight Watcher’s Simply Filling plan. After two devout years of tracking Points Plus, I needed a change in my diet, mainly because I have been spending way too many points on peanut butter and granola bars.
When I realized I could eat oats, brown rice, potatoes, and corn to satiety without having to dish out anywhere from 3-6 points per serving, and I realized how much more satisfied I was after a bowl of homemade oatmeal for breakfast (at no points) than after a rinky-dink granola bar, I was sold. I couldn’t even eat the whole bowl of oatmeal!
This is my take on marinara. I needed more chunk than just tomatoes, and I had five yellow “spinster” squash waiting their culinary debut in the crisper.

Here’s what you do:
Chop half a Vidalia sweet onion into small dice and sauté with three cloves smashed, chopped garlic and about on tablespoon olive oil. Medium high heat is good.
While onion and garlic sweat it out, chop five yellow squash (small-medium) to a medium chunk – add to pan. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning, salt and pepper to taste.
Cook until almost tender, add 9-10 halved Campari tomatoes. Cover and reduce heat to medium low.
About ten minutes later, check on the dish and if tomatoes are ready, they will easily pop and smash. Stir and heat over low simmer to cook off some of the water, about five minutes.

Now it is ready.
You can serve over some brown rice rotini or whole wheat pasta tossed with some fat free Feta. It would be good mixed with some ground chicken and brown rice, or topping a potato with some fat free Greek plain yogurt.
I made it two ways: my take on a chèvre chaud salad as a sandwich last night and mixed in tonight with a chili starter, black beans and a quick sauté of diced onion and carrot.

Chèvre Chaud Sandwich

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Here’s what you need:
1 oz. chèvre Brie (I used Trader Joe’s)
1 T. Shredded Swiss or mozzarella cheese
1 light English muffin
Olive oil non-stick cooking spray
Tomato-Squash Sauce
Red Wine Vinegar

Here’s what you do:
1. Toast English muffin in toaster, then place on baking sheet, spray with oil, top with Brie slice and pinch of shredded Swiss. Broil until cheese melts.
2. Serve with sauce and splash of vinegar.
3. Enjoy!

(Approximately 3 Points Plus for the cheese if you are doing Simply Filling; 6PP if you are straight Tracking.)

Foggy Sunday

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Monday night the temperature is supposed to plunge to 8 degrees with a 60 percent chance of snow. I bought a fleece lined jacket and a pair of sweatpants. Both were my first real pair of fleece that I bought with the intention of wearing out of the house.
This Upstate winter is breaking in this South Georgia girl.
Above is the view off my kitchen porch.
Highs today are mild, low 50s. This is the warmest it is forecasted to be for at least the next five days.
Maybe it will snow or ice us both in. That would be my first-ever snow day.
I am making progress on the puzzle I started New Year’s Day.
What is your favorite cold weather/snow day indoor activity?

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Favorite Quotes: Abe Lincoln on being happy

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Happiness quote from Abe Lincoln

Favorite happiness quote from Abe Lincoln.

The first time I read this quote it was captured in a Mary Englebreit painting with two little girls looking out the window at the world. The circumstances were the same for both girls yet one had a big, healthy smile and the other was a grump.

It is our choice to decide how we deal with our circumstances. We can allow them to pull our emotions down into the mud at our feet so we can waller in it or we can choose to think the best of the situation, or person, or circumstance, and choose to be happy. Happiness for me is letting go of those things I cannot change, and focusing on changing what is within my power to change, while living from a cheerful heart.

As a Christian, I have a book full of verses that instructs me with practical and faithful guidance about how to live joyfully regardless of what or who is pursuing me and wanting to steal that joy.

And, guess what? It’s not their joy to steal; it’s ours. And we have every right to defend it, and in most situations, to “defend it” is to maintain it with a cheerful heart. I pray and ask God to take that worry and release it to Him so I can maintain that peace. I choose to be as happy as I make up my mind to be.

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