winter minestrone ~ slow cooker

(*this recipe was inspired from another i found via pinterest.  personally, when i make it again, i will use sweet italian turkey (or chicken) sausage in place of the pancetta.  pancetta is not very flavorful in my opinion and i believe the sausage would add a nice flavor).

winter minestrone
printable recipe
recipe adapted via crave by random house

6 oz pancetta*, diced
1 large yellow onion
3 large carrots, peeled and diced
3 large stalks of celery, diced
2 large red sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp thyme
26 oz can crushed tomatoes, no salt added
4 cups lower sodium chicken broth (swanson's)
4 cups no-salt added chicken stock (kitchen basics)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 15 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp store-bought pesto
parmesan cheese, for top

using a heavy bottomed stock pot or preferably, a slow cooker with a stove-top option for browning, brown pancetta (6-8 minutes).  - my slow cooker is a non-stick stove top cooker so i did not use any oil to brown the pancetta or cook the veggies (there was plenty of fat from the pancetta to cook the veggies).  if you're using a pot that is not non-stick, you might want to add some oil while pre-heating.

turn the heat up to medium-high and add the onions, carrots, celery, sweet potatoes, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper.  cook until beginning to soften, about another 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

add the tomatoes, chicken stock, beans and bay leaf.  at this point, you can either leave the soup on the stovetop and simmer over medium heat for at least an hour (for vegetables to fully cook) or, transfer everything to the slow cooker and cook over low heat for 4 hours (up to 6) or high heat for 2 (up to 4). don't want those potatoes to get too mushy.

about 20 minutes before serving, stir in the pesto and wine (i did hear my daughter say to her brother as a warning, "i saw mom put green throw up in that."  nice).

drink the rest of the wine.

top with bruschetta (or a nice garlic loaf) and parmesan cheese.

yields 6-8 servings
calories: 326
fat: 9.3g
saturated fat: 3.4g
cholesterol: 15.5mg
sodium: 790mg
carbs: 37.5g
fiber: 8.5g
sugar: 10.8g
protein: 13.1g

chicken "cordon bleu" ~ lightened up version

chicken cordon bleu
printable recipe
recipe adapted via skinny taste

parchment or wax paper
olive oil cooking spray
4 chicken breasts, halved and then butterfly sliced
kosher salt and cracked pepper
8 slices deli ham
8 slices swiss cheese
1 cup whole wheat seasoned bread crumbs (winco)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 eggs (no need to shy away from whole eggs, folks)

preheat oven to 375 degrees.

spray 9x13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray

line cutting board with parchment/wax paper. slice each chicken in half and then butterfly slice each breast (take care not to cut all of the way through when butterfly slicing, keeping the breast in one piece).

cover the chicken with more parchment/wax paper.  using a rolling pin or mallet, flatten the meat by pounding each piece through the parchment paper.  remove paper, season each piece with kosher salt and cracked black pepper.

whisk eggs in a shallow dish/bowl.  combine bread crumbs and parmesan cheese in another shallow dish/bowl.

place one slice of ham and one slice of swiss cheese on each breast (use thin sliced deli cheese if you're worried about fat grams).  roll tightly and then dip rolled chicken in egg mixture (use 1 egg and 1 egg white if you're worried about cholesterol).  roll chicken in bread crumbs and then place, seam down, in prepared baking dish.  repeat with each piece of chicken.

bake for 35-40 minutes at 375 degrees.

yields 8 servings
calories: 406
fat: 12g
sat fat: 5g
cholesterol: 201.8mg
sodium: 597mg
carbs: 8.1g
protein: 63.9g

honey lime chicken enchiladas

(not even remotely "healthy" but soooo delicious)

honey lime chicken enchiladas
recipe via my lovely friend melissa

6 tbsp honey
5 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder

4 chicken breasts (1 1/2 lbs), cooked and shredded (i poached the chicken seasoned w/kosher salt and cracked pepper).
8-10 flour tortillas
1 lb monterey jack cheese, grated
16 oz green enchilada sauce (i only had red so it's what i used and it was still delicious)
1 cup heavy cream

whisk the first 4 ingredients and toss with shredded chicken in a zip-loc bag.  let marinate in the fridge for at least 1/2 hour up to 24 hours (i let mine marinate overnight).

preheat oven to 350 degrees.

pour about 1/2 cup of the enchilada sauce on the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.  fill tortillas with chicken (saving whatever marinade is leftover) and shredded cheese (save 1 cup of cheese for top).  put rolled enchiladas seam side down in dish as you go.  mix the remaining enchilada sauce w/remaining marinade and heavy cream.  pour sauce on top of the enchiladas.  top with remaining cheese.  bake, uncovered for 30 minutes (until edges browned and crispy).

this dish is perfect for freezing before cooking and pairs well with cilantro lime rice.


pumpkin protein muffins

today i tried to make some pumpkin protein pancakes without following a recipe.  epic fail! it's embarrassing how badly they turned out and how horrible they tasted.  not even remotely palatable.  so there i was, on a rainy day, in my kitchen with not one extracurricular activity to have any particular person(s) to and an open can of pumpkin puree.  what more could a girl ask for?

pumpkin muffins, that's what.  a girl could ask for pumpkin muffins and these did not disappoint.  totes healthy and plenty palatable.

pumpkin protein muffins
printable recipe

1 3/4 cup quick cooking oats (i prefer "mom's best" brand)
1/4 cup vanilla whey
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup truvia baking blend
1 whole large egg
2 large egg whites
1 cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
1/2 cup low-fat yogurt (i used vanilla but plain would be just as good and greek, even better)
1/4 cup coconut oil (melted)
1 tsp vanilla

preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a muffin tin by using liners or spray.

using a food processor or blender, process the oats into oat flour.

in a small bow, mix all of the dry ingredients in exception to the truvia baking blend. set aside.

add all of the wet ingredients and the truvia blend to a larger bowl and mix until combined (fluffy).  add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until blended.

pour batter into prepared tin, filling each full.  the batter will be thick.

bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until tops are golden.

yields 12 muffins


italian turkey over spaghetti squash

our noodle-less version of spaghetti.

spaghetti squash is tasty and incredibly easy to make.  this is a simple weeknight meal and it saves well for leftovers and for meal prepping but i make it up as i go so i might be guesstimating the ingredients a little bit.  you'll get the general idea.

italian turkey over spaghetti squash

1 decent sized spaghetti squash
{garlic powder
onion powder
kosher salt
ground pepper}
1 tbsp olive oil
1.5 lbs lean ground turkey
24 - 32 oz marinara sauce*
2 tsp italian seasoning
s&p to taste
1 yellow onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
3-4 zucchini, sliced
8 oz button mushrooms, sliced

first, prepare the spaghetti squash (cut the squash in half, remove the seeds and "guts," season with garlic powder, onion powder, kosher salt & ground pepper, wrap in plastic wrap and microwave for 7 minutes):

while the squash is cooking, brown the onions in a skillet pre-heated with olive oil until they are soft.  add crushed garlic and saute until fragrant (30-60 seconds).  add turkey, italian seasoning and continue cooking until brown.  add zucchini, mushrooms and season with salt & pepper.  saute veggies for a few minutes before adding marinara.  after a few minutes, add the marinara (sometimes i add small amount of water if the marinara is too thick). reduce heat and cover.  let mixture steam for another 10 minutes or so until veggies are soft.

*i use bottled marinara rather than making my own (lazy?) but, i always look for whichever brand has the lowest grams of sugar which, in this case, was a 25 oz jar of delallo marinara.

once the veggies are cooked through, serve over spaghetti squash with a pinch of grated parmesan. yum!

(no, my kids won't eat this without actual spaghetti noodles)


meal prep :: one

the blog is back!  i hadn't posted since november 2011, eek.  i remember why too, it's a lot of work.  for my favorite people, here is my breakdown of the meal prepping.  i also added a handful of recipes to the blog.  you're welcome.  :)


menu for the week (four meals per day for four days = two for each my husband and myself): (1) korean barbecue beef with steamed veggies and cauliflower mash, (2) marinated chicken (two flavors) with steamed veggies and baked sweet potatoes, (3) basic turkey meatballs with steamed veggies and short grain brown rice, (4) boiled eggs, (5) cleaned and cut fruit, (6) egg souffles, (7) protein pancakes.

hopefully this will be as un-overwhelming as possible.  i'll be as specific as possible but there will be some self-motivation and guidance required on your part if you decide to give meal prepping a try (i hope you will and if you do, let me know how it goes!).

before prep day

your first step is to plan ahead by preparing a grocery list.  decide how many meals you want to make and prepare a list for the appropriate amount of food needed to make those meals.  this is just a sample of what i made for this week (there are a bunch of ideas for various meat dishes and side dishes in the "recipe index" section of this blog).  this does not include any kind of macro-nutrient planning or a specific caloric intake for either myself or my husband. it's simply a means for us to eat balanced and "clean" as often as possible as we juggle busy schedules but planning around macro's and calories is easy if you take the time to write down your goals and prepare accordingly (email me if you have more questions about breaking down macro's and caloric needs).

back to the grocery list.  i buy the majority of my meat and fresh veggies from costco.  the veggies can be spread out to last for two preps total before going bad (i.e.  i can use 1/2 a bag of costco's fresh broccoli florets, asparagus, carrots or green beans for one prep and the other 1/2 the next week as long as i keep the it in the produce drawer in the fridge). variety combats the monotony that can sometimes be associated with food prep.  choose more than one protein, carb, veggie and fat combo.

obviously containers are a must.  the more universal the size, the easier to store. 

day of prep

first start with whatever will take the longest to prepare/cook.  in this week's case, i started the korean barbecue beef marinating first thing in the morning before i went to the gym.  the week before, i prepared cilantro lime chicken in the slow cooker so i had that started early in the morning as well.

this prep took me just under 4 hours which is pretty good considering i documented the entire prep and did several loads of laundry and a lot of dishes during the prep (have i ever mentioned that i'm without a dishwasher?).

(1) prepare korean beef marinade
(2) wash, cut chicken breasts and weigh (here i have just over 2 pounds of chicken.  each breast i cut through the middle lengthwise to make 3-4 oz pieces.  when grilling chicken, i find the thinner the breast, the better it cooks without drying out).

3) divide breast into two freezer gallon ziplock bags.  i used two different "grill mates" marinades.  we've tried all of the flavors and the two below as well as the tomato garlic one are our favorites.  

(4) prepare marinades and pour into bags.  below you see the two chicken marinades as well as the korean barbecue beef.  put in the fridge.

(5) pre-heat oven for sweet potatoes (375)
(6) start brown rice in rice cooker.  my rice cooker takes about 2 hours to cook the brown rice.  lundberg's short grain brown rice is by far the best brown rice i've had so far (i get a big bag from costco and i will last several months if i keep it sealed tight and stored in a cool area).  this week i kept it simple and cooked the rice in water and 1 tbsp of coconut oil. 

(7) wash and wrap the sweet potatoes in foil (puncture with fork before wrapping).  two things here; i prefer red sweet potatoes to yams or golden sweet potatoes and, they tend to sweat while they're cooking so i always line bottom rack in the oven with foil.  bake at 375 degrees for 70 minutes.

(8) start the boiled eggs.  cover eggs with cold water and set burner to high.  bring to a boil, boil for 5 minutes and then turn the heat off.  leave pot on burner for 20 minutes.  

at this point we have meat marinating in the fridge, rice in the cooker, potatoes in the oven and eggs boiling.  watch the timer on the eggs, only 5 minutes of boiling before you need to turn off the heat. 

(9) wash fruit and set aside to be cut. (if it's clean and cut in your fridge, you're far more likely to grab it "on the go.")

(10) start the cauliflower mash. now you have three timers going (sweet potatoes, eggs and cauliflower).  the eggs should be just about done.

(11) make the batter for the protein pancakes.  it needs to sit for at least 10 minutes to thicken up before you make the pancakes.

(12) by now you've removed the eggs from the hot water and transferred them to the fridge.

(13) the potatoes are done soon too.  i just set them aside until it's time to build the meals.

now we have the pancake batter "resting," the meat marinating, the rice still cooking and the cauliflower boiling.

(14) the oven is ready for the turkey meatballs.  make the turkey meatballs and bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes.  i weigh each meatball so i know that a serving size of 3 meatballs is exactly 6 oz.

(15) at this point the cauliflower should be soft and can be drained.  once drained, "mash" the cauliflower and mix in the parmesan cheese.  move to a sieve that has been placed inside a large bowl (so the liquid will continue to drain) and put it in the fridge while you continue prepping.

(16) the rice is done now and the pancake skillet can be pre-heated over medium heat.  while the pancake pan heats, make the egg souffle mixture and pour into muffin tin sprayed with non-stick spray.

(17) take the meat out of the fridge to set at room temp for 20 minutes or so.  pre-heat the grill (low heat for both the beef and the chicken).

(18) start cooking the pancakes and soon, the meatballs will be done.  once the meatballs are done, put the egg souffles in the oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.  after 25 minutes, top each souffle with a small amount of reduced fat cheddar cheese and continue cooking for 10 minutes.

(19) the grill should now be ready for the beef.  i cooked the beef first, cleaned the grill, and then cooked the chicken together.  the beef needs to be cooked over low heat for 7 minutes per side (turning only once).  once it's cooked, let rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing against the grain.

this is another moment when you need to be watching the timers closely with the meat cooking, the eggs and the pancakes.

(20) some of the meals have steamed broccoli and carrots and some have steamed broccoli and a bell pepper mixture that i love.  basically, i saute red, yellow and orange bell peppers in coconut oil, add mushrooms, garlic powder, onion powder and continue to cook until softened.  once soft, squeeze the juice from 1/2 a lemon over the top and let cook for another 30 seconds or so. yum!

start the pepper mixture by chopping the peppers, washing and chopping the mushrooms, and heating the oil.

how are your pancakes? eggs (are they ready for cheese)? beef?

(21) at this point i start steaming veggies (add one more thing to the timer that needs to be watched carefully, you're welcome).  overcooked veggies are gross and you need to keep in mind that everything will be re-heated at some point so don't over cook the veggies.  carrots take the longest.  broccoli and asparagus cook relatively quickly.  once they are cooked, i transfer them to a large bowl and just set aside.  it's almost time to start building meals.

(22) the beef should be done now.  turn the grill up to high heat to burn off the beef marinade before starting the chicken.  keep watching the veggies and the eggs souffles.

(23) remove the cauliflower mash from the fridge and dump the drained liquid.  by now you should have been able to steam quite a bit of veggies (broccoli and carrots for us this week).

(23) remove the egg souffles and set aside to cool for about 5 minutes before transferring to a tupperware.  (i've been slicing the strawberries up and doing dishes in between everything else).

(i forgot to buy cheese this week)

(24) clean the grill and turn heat back down to low.  slice the beef and start the chicken (6-7 minutes per side, turning only once).

build your meals! (exclamation because this is so much fun)

i have enough extra pieces of grilled chicken and steamed rice left over for the kids to eat several dinners.  i buy individual veggie steamers for them. they also eat a lot of grilled cheese. ha!

(korean barbecue beef, cauliflower mash and steamed veggies)

(marinated, grilled chicken, sweet potato and steamed veggies)

(turkey meatballs, brown rice and steamed veggies) 

stack and store!

but first, a few things: 
  • heating food in plasticware is bad, bad, bad.  don't do it unless you absolutely have to.  instead, flip the food onto a real plate before heating it.  
  • sweet potatoes take longer to heat than the meat and veggies so i heat them first and then add the rest.
  • the egg souffles tend to "sweat" in the tupperware so every time i take one out, i drain any liquid from the container.  
  • the older your eggs are, the easier they will be to peel after boiling.  
  • this is not all i eat all week.  it's just the main meals and those items that i prefer to have ready-to-eat. i keep a lot of fresh fruit on hand as well as other healthy "snack" foods. 
  • we put real butter on our sweet potatoes and veggies (in moderation). 
  • if the chicken seems dry (mine never is), add a few drops of water to it before re-heating.
  • all of this can be done on a much smaller (or larger) scale.  consider the amount of time you put into thinking about what to eat and then having to prepare it.  this takes all of the guess work out of it and sets you up for greater success. 
here's a few other weeks i took the time to photograph:

i hope this will help a few.  if you decide to give it a try, i'd love to hear about your prep.  maybe we can swap ideas? 

good luck!
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