Blush Mac and Cheese with Tomatoes

Pasta? What’s pasta? I haven’t had it in so long, I think I’ve almost forgot. How crazy it is to me that I eat so little pasta these days when it was my dinner EVERYDAY when I was a vegetarian ten years ago. When people would ask what my favorite meal was? The answer was easily pasta. Now? I don’t even consider it. How did this happen? I don’t even recognize myself anymore. It’s amazing how when you are careful with what you eat, your tastes can change when you aren’t looking. I’ve dabbled in low-carb diets for years. Initially, they were impossibly hard. But now, I’ve found that I feel better and have fewer cravings so it’s easier. I still eat carbs, clearly, but now I can have pasta once in a while and truly enjoy it. This Blush Mac and Cheese with Tomatoes is a fun way to make an old classic pasta dish new again.

A creamy cheese sauce is made vibrant with additional flavors of tomato, shallot, garlic, thyme and spinach before being mixed with corkscrew pasta and topped with juicy, roasted grape tomatoes. The cheese sauce isn’t as cheesy as typical mac and cheese but the addition of the tomato paste and spinach make this feel more like a grown-up version of our childhood classic. I used quinoa pasta instead of regular pasta (but only because I couldn’t find whole-wheat) so my overall texture was a bit different than expected but still good nonetheless. The roasted grape tomatoes add a burst of sweetness and the spinach provides a nutritional boost. While I wouldn’t necessarily consider this mac and cheese, it didn’t disappoint.

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Preheat broiler to high. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain. While pasta cooks, place tomatoes on a jelly-roll pan lined with foil. Broil 8 minutes or until tomatoes are beginning to blacken.

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While tomatoes cook, heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add canola oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add diced shallots, minced garlic, and thyme; sauté 2 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently.

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Add tomato paste; cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add flour; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in milk, black pepper, and salt; bring to a boil. Cook 4 minutes or until thick and bubbly, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

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Add spinach, stirring constantly until spinach starts to wilt.

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Add shredded cheddar cheese, and stir until smooth.

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Stir in cooked pasta.

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Top with the roasted tomatoes.

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Additions: None

Omissions: None

Substitutions:

  • Quinoa pasta

Overall Rating: Like It

Source: Cooking Light magazine

Vanilla-Spinach Shamrock Protein Shake

Does anyone else get nostalgic for minty shakes from their childhood around St. Patty’s Day? I hadn’t yet thought about it until I saw this Instagram photo from Food Network last week. And just when I convinced myself that I was going to get ice cream to make the recipe in the photo, I decided that I could probably make a similar tasting shake in a much healthier way. The result was this Vanilla-Spinach Shamrock Protein Shake.

Almond milk, vanilla protein powder, spinach and peppermint extract are all combined in a blender resulting in a healthy, low-calorie, minty shake. The spinach provides a natural bright green color and the vanilla protein powder adds just enough sweetness to keep this shake just under 150 calories. If you prefer a slightly thicker shake, just add some ice. Whether you are watching your weight or not, this is one guilt-free way to celebrate St. Patty’s Day.

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Vanilla-Spinach Shamrock Protein Shake (makes 1 shake)

  • 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (I love Silk)
  • 2 scoops vanilla protein powder (I used Tera’s Whey rBGH Free Bourbon Vanilla Whey Protein)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract, to taste
  • 1 cup (or large handful) fresh spinach or baby spinach
  • whipped cream and sprinkles, optional

In the jar of a blender, combine almond milk, protein powder, and peppermint extract. Blend until combined, about 10 seconds. Add spinach to the milk mixture, pressing lightly down into milk if need be. Blend for 30 seconds until spinach is thoroughly combined. (If any spinach is left unblended, use a spoon to push it down into the jar further and blend a few seconds more.) Top with whipped cream and sprinkles, if desired.

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Sriracha BLT Avocado Salad

Well, after a few indulgent dinners last week in Atlanta and those cookies I brought you on Monday, I figured it’s time to pay the piper and eat some salad. Actually, I’ve been doing pretty good eating well and I’m enjoying it. Instead of eating a plate of cookies, I allow myself one a day. When I need another snack, I’m pretty into eating apples and pears lately. But salad? Not so much. Sure, I should probably have a salad loaded with carrots and broccoli and peppers but this Sriracha BLT Avocado Salad not only looks good but is also healthy and has tons of happy flavor.

Chopped tomatoes and avocado are mixed with crunchy bacon (I used turkey bacon) and laid over baby spinach. A spicy dressing of sriracha, a little bit of mayonnaise and lemon juice is drizzled over the top, packing a punch. The creamy coolness of the avocado pairs perfectly with the sriracha dressing, the bacon adds flavorful crunch and the spinach gives a lot more nutritional value than iceberg lettuce which is typically in BLTs. This salad may not be loaded with veggies but it’s still low-calorie while not being low in flavor. Isn’t that the point of a salad? Being healthy and flavorful? Now this is a salad I can get behind!

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Combine onion, mayonnaise, Sriracha, and lemon juice in a small bowl; stir with a whisk.

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Combine tomato, avocado, and bacon in a medium bowl; toss to combine.

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Divide spinach among 4 plates; top evenly with avocado mixture.

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Drizzle with Sriracha mayo; sprinkle with pepper.

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Additions: None

Omissions:

  • Red onion

Substitutions:

  • Turkey bacon

Overall Rating: Love It

Source: Cooking Light magazine

Chocolate Pretzel Cookies

I was in Atlanta last week for work (hence my silence) and when I’m there, I like to go to a cute little spot called The Cookie Studio. The first time I was there, I immediately proclaimed “This is the kind of place I want to own.” This time when I was there, I said the same thing to the owner who handed me some tea and told me how hard it is. I always say that when I’m done working, I just want to make cookies. And while my dreams aren’t dashed, I realize owning my own cookie place will probably never happen. BUT, that doesn’t mean I can’t make cookies anytime I want to. A day after flying home, I was eager to make some cookies. These Chocolate Pretzel Cookies were exactly what I had in mind.

Chocolatey cookie dough is mixed with pretzel pieces and semi-sweet chocolate chips before being dropped onto a cookie sheet and topped with a whole mini pretzel. Chocolate and pretzels? Mmkay! The only thing that would be better? A little peanut butter. My wheels are turning. Anyway, these cookies are a perfect treat when that after dinner sweet tooth starts talking. The worst part is trying to just eat one. Making cookies is so satisfying to me. Whether I ever make cookies for a living or just make cookies at home, making cookies will always be the sweetest thing I do.

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Heat oven to 350 degrees F. In a bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, beat butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar for 2 minutes, until fluffy.

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Beat in egg and vanilla extract until just combined. Pour in flour mixture and beat on low until just combined. Carefully fold in chocolate chips and chopped pretzels.

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Drop tablespoonfuls of batter on baking sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Press down lightly to flatten. Gently press a whole pretzel on top of each cookie.

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Bake at 350 degrees for 11 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Additions: None

Omissions: None

Substitutions: None

Overall Rating: Love It

Source: Family Circle magazine

Peanut-Butter Banana Bread

Is February, and winter for that matter, over yet? Since it snowed all day on Saturday, I had no motivation to do anything but watch a Parks and Recreation marathon and bake. I’ve been on a random peanut butter kick lately and realized that I have four – yes, four – different kinds of nut butters in my cabinet. And that isn’t even counting the powdered peanut butter I put in my protein smoothies everyday. Since there were a couple of bananas hanging out on my counter and today is National Banana Bread Day, I pulled out one of those jars of peanut butter and decided since it was cold and snowy outside that I needed to bake this Peanut-Butter Banana Bread.

Peanut butter is not just mixed into the batter but it is also mixed into the sweet drizzle that coats the soft, warm banana bread. I mean, bananas and peanut butter isn’t just for Elvis. This banana bread was insane. And I say was because I may or may not have eaten the entire loaf over the coarse of the weekend. Good thing I’m hitting the gym today. But seriously, since most people have peanut butter hanging around, next time you make banana bread, give this a try. And just try to eat only one piece. Elvis knew what he was doing.

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Preheat oven to 350°F.To prepare bread, combine peanut butter, yogurt, bananas, butter and eggs in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed. Add granulated and brown sugars; beat until blended.

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Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, flaxseed, baking soda, salt and spices in a small bowl. Add flour mixture to banana mixture; beat just until blended. Stir in nuts.

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Pour batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350°F for 1 hour and 5 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven; cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove bread from pan; cool.

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To prepare glaze, combine powdered sugar, milk, and 1 tablespoon peanut butter in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Drizzle glaze over bread.

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Additions: None

Omissions:

  • Flaxseed

Substitutions: None

Overall Rating: Love It

Source: Cooking Light magazine

Chunky Turkey and Veggie Chili

I think I’m a little bit obsessed with this chili. I’ve been eating a bowl of it every single day. And when it ran out? I made another batch. And another. All of this started because I had one lonely zucchini sitting in my produce drawer that I wanted to do something with. After taking a look around, I realized all the other vegetables I had on hand and decided right then and there to throw them all in a chili. I happened to have canned tomatoes and ground turkey on hand anyway so it was a no brainer. The result is this Chunky Turkey and Veggie Chili.

Onion, green pepper, red pepper, zucchini, and carrot are all sautéed with ground turkey until the veggies are soft and the turkey is cooked through. A few spices are added along with canned tomatoes and chipotle in adobo sauce and then the whole pot simmers until the flavors meld and the chili is hot and bubbly. I’ve made this chili with both ground turkey and ground chicken and have no preference. Want to use ground beef? Go right ahead! Chili is so easy to make and easily adaptable to accommodate picky eaters. Make it with beans, or don’t. Make it with meat, or don’t. Make it spicy, or don’t. I’ve been making a batch every single week for the last month. I portion it out immediately into containers to keep in the refrigerator so that I can grab one at lunch and heat it up quickly. What I love about chili (especially in the winter) is that it’s satisfying. I’m never let down and always feel warm and comforted when I’m done. Chili, you have my heart.

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Chunky Turkey and Veggie Chili (makes 5 servings)

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 medium green pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium, red pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrot
  • 1 lb. ground turkey (or ground chicken)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ancho chile powder (or regular chile powder)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 28-ounce can petite diced tomatoes
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped

Melt coconut oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, green pepper, red pepper, zucchini, and carrot. Cook until vegetables soften, approximately 6 minutes.

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Add ground turkey, salt, and pepper and cook for 10 minutes or until turkey is no longer pink.

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Stir in chile powder and dried oregano.

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Add tomatoes and chipotle pepper in adobo sauce; stir. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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Top with sour cream, cilantro, cheese, green onions or any of your favorite chili toppings.

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Pita Pizzas with Kale Pesto, Tomatoes, and Bacon

Pita pizzas…you are my savior. I’ve been trying so hard lately to track my food which means watching my calories and everything I eat. This can be tough when you have a food blog but the real key (as they always say) is portion control. I don’t know about you but it’s hard for my to control myself around pizza. There is a thin crust frozen pizza at my grocery store that I have eaten all by myself in one sitting before…more than once. Not good. My new obsession: pita pizzas. Specifically, these Pita Pizzas with Kale Pesto, Tomatoes, and Bacon.

Whole-wheat pitas are the base of these personal-sized pizzas which are topped with a bright kale and basil pesto, tomatoes, and bacon. With both Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses and a light dusting of nuts, this pizza is packed with flavor and perfectly portion controlled. The pesto is the real star. Making pesto out of kale is a perfect way to get a ton of flavor into this nutrient-rich vegetable. I’ll admit, I made this pizza nearly everyday for lunch last week until I ran out of pitas. Any leftover pesto was eaten with eggs at breakfast and on top of roasted chicken at dinner. I couldn’t get enough of it. The pesto – and the pizza – is a real winner.

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Place a baking sheet in oven. Preheat oven to 400°F. (Keep baking sheet in oven as it preheats.) Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add kale; cook 1 minute. Drain and plunge kale into ice water. Drain; squeeze excess liquid from kale.

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Place kale, basil leaves, 2 tablespoons nuts, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, and garlic in a food processor. Process until chopped. Add 1 tablespoon water, juice, and salt; pulse 5 times. With processor on, slowly pour oil through food chute; process until well blended.

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Spread about 2 tablespoons pesto over each pita. Top evenly with tomatoes and bacon. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses; top evenly with remaining 1 tablespoon nuts. Remove pan from oven; place pitas on pan.

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Bake at 400°F for 12 minutes or until crust is browned and crisp.

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Additions: None

Omissions: None

Substitutions:

  • Slivered almonds
  • Turkey bacon

Overall Rating: Love It

Source: Cooking Light magazine

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