Friday, October 1, 2010

Squeamish about Squash?

It's that time of year again.  Fall brings us a bounty of all types of squash for a whole new flavor and texture to enjoy!  Today I created a lower calorie comfort classic and used spaghetti squash to bulk up the recipe with great results.  I'll be sharing it soon so be sure to check back or subscribe to future posts.  In the meantime, let's focus on what the heck we do with a spaghetti squash in the first place.

First of all I need to caution you to be careful when cutting into a winter squash.  Their outer skins are super hard and if you're not careful you can hurt yourself in the process of getting into them.  You'll have to use some force so just be sure to keep fingers out of the way in case there's a slip-up.

Slice your squash in half lengthwise and use a large spoon to scrape out the seeds.  It's a little like cleaning out a small pumpkin but I find spaghetti squash to be drier and less messy.  Once you've removed the seeds and their connective fibers you can spray the flesh with cooking spray or lightly coat it with olive oil.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the squash with the cut side down.  Slip it into a preheated 400 degree oven and find something else to do for 45 minutes to an hour.

Test the squash for tenderness with a knife.  You'll want to bake until the knife slides through the skin and into the flesh of the squash easily.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.  You'll be rewarded with something like this:

At this point you can scoop the cooked squash out of the skin very easily.  In fact, with very little effort mine just lifted right out of the skin!
I was toying with the idea of using the squash skins as serving "boats" but the particular recipe I was working on really didn't need that type of presentation.  I might just have to revisit that idea in the future though . . .

Now, I will admit that these babies probably could have baked for a shorter period of time because the flesh was super soft.  For the recipe I was developing this was a plus but if you would like to take advantage of the threadlike characteristic of spaghetti squash as a substitute for pasta you'll probably want to check for doneness beginning around the 30-minute mark.

My small fruit (yep, I said fruit!) yielded a little over a cup and a half of cooked squash.  At this point it can be used as is or pureed.

Incidentally, the way I prepared this spaghetti squash is exactly the same way I treat a pumpkin.  It's really easy to bake like this and puree for use in recipes for pie, soups, muffins, cookies, breads, etc.  I like to puree the squash and place 2-cup portions into freezer bags.  If you squeeze out the air in the bags and lie them flat in the freezer, your pureed squash will thaw later in no time.

Oh, and did I mention that spaghetti squash is a ZERO POINT food on the Weight Watchers program?!

If you've never bothered with winter squash I really encourage you to give it a try.  If you're baking something in the oven anyway it makes sense to multi-task and let your squash bake, too.  If you don't feel like scooping it out or pureeing right away, that's fine.  Let it cool, place it in the fridge overnight and come back to it the following day when you're able.

Leave a comment if you have a favorite squash recipe.  I want to hear what YOU'RE going to do with YOURS!

See you to the left of heft . . .

Friday, September 24, 2010

Y'all should check out Gina's Skinny Recipes for a simply scrumptious breakfast idea!

How's everyone doing with their weight loss goals?  So far I've taken off 11.8 lbs.  My goal for next week is to get back to tracking each and every portion of food AND to get myself over to the gym at least twice!

I'd love to hear about your triumphs.  Go ahead and toot your horn by leaving a comment!

Catch you later, a little more to the left of heft!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Staying the Course

What a busy week I had last week!  And tomorrow is the start of our first FULL WEEK of school for my 3 active kids so I know that means I need to be prepared for the crazy afternoons and evenings.  I've said before that preparation is one of the keys to success and that's why I re-stocked my kitchen with fruits and veggies.  I also boiled several eggs for use throughout the week and prepared another batch of that health salad I posted awhile back.

Last Thursday's weigh-in was terrific.  I'd taken off 1.4 lbs for a total so far of 8.8 lbs lost!  I don't miss 'em at all.  They can find someone else's jeans to fill, right?!

So, what will you do to be prepared this week?

See you soon, a little farther left of heft,

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Oh, my barley

Are you ready to shake up your routine?  When was the last time you had barley?  I'll bet it was in a bowl of soup, right?  I'm not talking about an incidental occurrence in your diet.  Have you ever considered creating a dish that celebrates this chewy good-for-you grain as the main ingredient?  Give my Mexican Barley Salad a try and you'll look at barley in a whole new light.

Start off by cooking your barley in beef or chicken broth much like you would prepare rice.  I place 2 cups of barley in a pot with 4 1/2 cups broth.  Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and cook on low for 30 minutes.

Mexican Barley Salad
4 cups cooked barley
2 cups frozen whole kernel corn, thawed
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 colored bell pepper, chopped (I used an orange one this time)
3 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeds and membrane removed, finely chopped
salt and cayenne pepper to taste
2 t ground cumin
1 T chili powder
1 T olive oil
juice of 1 or 2 limes

Preparation couldn't be easier.  Simply throw everything together and stir well!
Muy bien!

Yields 12 servings
3/4 cup = 2 POINTS on the Weight Watchers plan

See you to the left of heft, everyone!

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Better Burger Bet

Did you have a nice Labor Day weekend?  I have no complaints.  The weather's been a delight and it's been nice to have no commitments, no taxiing kids to their activities, and the luxury of free time to do as I please.

I was planning to have a burger tonight until I calculated the POINTS it would cost me.  9 POINTS for the patty alone!  Mind you, I could have done it and still been within my daily and weekly allowance but something in me just insisted that I find an alternative.  I came up with this:

I remembered that I had individually frozen salmon fillets in the freezer so I thought I'd grill one alongside the burgers and shave off 7 POINTS in the process!  Then I checked the nutritional information for the frozen fries I was preparing and was pleasantly surprised to find that a 3 oz portion of these babies baked in the oven came to only 2 POINTS!!!  I was psyched!  So, I ended up with an enormously satisfying 8 POINT meal when all was said and done.

So, I ask you, when faced with this choice,

it's a no-brainer, isn't it?!

I'd love to hear what you're doing this week to achieve your goals.  What choices are you particularly proud of?

Until next time,

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Reducing Body Fat

I stumbled upon this video, part of a series, that seems realistic to me.  I like the trainer's calm, matter-of-fact demeanor.

Which reminds me . . . this week my Weight Watchers Leader challenged us to MOVE MORE.  Her plan for the week was to dance in the kitchen while the music is on.  Cute, huh?

Honestly, when someone asks me what I plan to do to move more I tend to think of a structured workout activity.  However, this idea has been percolating for a few days in my head and I've come to realize that I can increase my activity very simply by choosing to do tasks on my own instead of telling my kids to run upstairs and fetch my phone or check under all the sinks and find the Windex, etc.

So, what will you do this week to move more?

Until next time,

Saturday, September 4, 2010

5 POINT Brunch

"Wow!  That looks like something from a gourmet restaurant!"

That's what my 11-year-old daughter said. And you know what?  It was heavenly.

What you're looking at is a vegetable hash that I topped with a slice of fat free cheese and two over-easy eggs.  I like my eggs a little crispy around the edges but gooey on the inside so that when you take a fork and knife to them you end up with luxuriously creamy-but-crispy goodness!

No oil was used in preparation, either.  Here's how you can replicate this dish yourself:

Roughly chop half a small onion, half a yellow bell pepper and half a zucchini.  Begin sauteeing the veggies with a bit of cooking spray.  When they still need more cooking time but seem to be getting too dry that's when you hit 'em with a splash of chicken stock.  That's my secret ingredient for sauteed veggies without butter or oil.  Give 'em little splashes as needed until your veggies are to your liking.

Once the veggies are nearing their desired level of "done-ness" throw in some minced garlic, a handful of chopped kale and some fresh thyme.  Normally I'd salt and pepper at this point but I'm realizing as I write this that I didn't add seasonings this time and didn't miss a thing!  Hmmm.  Who knew?

Okay, scrape your lovely veggies onto a plate and place a slice of fat free cheese on top.  It'll start melting while you cook the eggs.  Mmmmmmm.

I'm assuming you know how to fry eggs . . . I use cooking spray for mine and season them with a blend of garlic powder, salt and black pepper.  Lay them gently on top of that melty cheese and, voila!  You have a scrumptious, satisfying brunch!

Of course, you can substitute the vegetables with whatever you have on hand.  Mushrooms are wonderful, any color peppers are divine and spinach can stand in for the kale with no problem.  I like to make a large batch of veggie hash on the weekend and keep it in the fridge for use like this or as a quick omelette filling throughout the week.  It's a wonderful way to get two servings of vegetables in at the very beginning of your day.

Bon Appetit!


Friday, September 3, 2010

Sweet Slaw!

Hey Folks,
I hope you've been having success in your efforts to get healthier.  Since our last visit I've shed 4.4 pounds! 

We have a lot of catching up to do and I'm hoping to carve out some time this weekend to post some things that have been rolling around in my head to share.  But, until then I wanted to direct you to this terrific recipe I discovered on the Weight Watchers website.  If you need to bring a dish to a Labor Day party it's a crowd pleaser!  A half cup of this sweet slaw is zero POINTS!

Have a great weekend and remember:  
"Nothing tastes as good as thin feels."


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Better Mood and More Energy!

I really don't know where the week has gone.  I do know that I've been treating my food choices and exercise as high priority items, right up there with caring for the kiddos.  Since our last visit I've worked out at the gym 3 times and my knees are thanking me for making the extra effort!  It's amazing what happens when you strengthen the quads and hamstrings.  It takes so much stress off the knees.  I also feel like I have more energy, enabling me to keep up with my busy household and my outlook is currently very positive. Must be those workout endorphins.

On another note, I've been wanting to share a fantastic recipe with you that I found in my latest Better Homes and Gardens magazine.  This Slow Cooker Indian Chicken Stew is packed with flavor and consists of really healthy ingredients!  It was developed by Irene Goodall of Loxahatchee, FL and her submission won a $400 prize!  Here you go:

Slow Cooker Indian Chicken Stew
2 lb. skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 tsp curry powder
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper and/or cayenne pepper
2 15-oz cans garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
2 14.5-oz cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup chicken broth
1 bay leaf
2 T lime juice
1 9-oz pkg fresh spinach (optional)
Hot cooked rice (optional)

  1. Lightly coat a 6-qt slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray or oil.  Add chicken, onion, and garlic to the slow cooker.  Add curry powder, ginger, salt and pepper to the slow cooker.  Toss to coat.  Stir in drained beans, undrained tomatoes, broth, and bay leaf.  Cover and cook on high-heat setting 4 to 5 hours or low-heat setting 8 to 10 hours.
  2. Stir lime juice into cooked stew.  Stir spinach leaves into stew and let stand 2 to 3 minutes to wilt.  Serve with rice.
Makes 8 (about 1 1/2 cup) servings (5 POINTS on the Weight Watchers plan)

My notes:  

First of all, my slow cooker is currently in storage so I sauteed the onion in a large soup pot then added the rest of ingredients from step1.  I brought it to a boil then left it to simmer, covered, for a couple of hours on the stove.

Instead of ground ginger I used the fresh stuff.

Instead of spinach I used fresh, chopped kale.  

This dish is divine!  It's definitely one I will be making again very soon.  I think sometime I'll also try increasing the broth (and adjust seasonings accordingly) to make a soup rather than the thicker stew.

Well, I'll post results of my upcoming weigh-in in the next day or two.  Until then I'd love to hear what others are doing to meet their weight loss and fitness goals.  Keep up the good work, everyone!

Friday, August 20, 2010

That's a lot of butter!

Last night was my first weigh-in at Weight Watchers since re-joining a week ago and I was down 12 sticks of butter.  Oooops, I mean 3 pounds!  Yay!

You see, I like to express my weight loss in sticks of butter because, well, butter's fat . . . and it's just more satisfying to me to be able to picture all those sticks of butter in my mind.

A great start, wouldn't you say?

Thursday, August 19, 2010


I'll share with you a favorite recipe I developed by accident.  My hubby and I call it "jumble".  I came up with this dish one night after I'd prepared tacos or burritos for the rest of the family and I was trying to throw together something for myself that wouldn't use up too many Weight Watcher POINTS.  Basically, I took the leftover chopped veggies, added some of the spicy ground beef and stirred in some leftover brown rice I had in the fridge.  The juice of half a lime and a bit of olive oil along with some extra spices completed the concoction.  Don't worry about precise measurements -- just use the following as a guide and tweak it to your taste.

Chopped vegetables:  cucumber, tomato, onion, lettuce, fresh jalapeno and cilantro are all wonderful.

Protein:  I don't typically use a prepared taco mix when I make tacos or burritos.  I simply brown the ground beef, drain the fat and add the following seasonings to taste:  salt, garlic powder, chili powder, ground cumin and cayenne pepper.  A little water or broth is helpful to get everything melded together.  Just let that simmer on low (covered) while you're chopping your veggies.  On occasion I've made a vegetarian version with black beans and corn.

Starch:  Brown rice is nice but I encourage you to give barley a try!  I pre-cook a couple of cups of barley almost weekly just to keep on hand for this type of dish.  Instead of water I use broth (chicken or beef) and use the same ratio of liquid to grain as you would when cooking brown rice.

Seasonings:  Fresh lime juice and a bit of olive oil are wonderful in jumble.  Sometimes I go with Ken's Creamy Lite Caesar Dressing instead of the oil for a slightly different flavor.  I also like to add more chili powder, cumin and either fresh garlic or garlic powder.

So, that should get you started.  I gravitate to the Mexican seasonings but have often thought about trying to come up with a Greek inspired jumble or maybe one with an Asian twist.  I'd love to hear how you like "jumble" and look forward to reading about your own variations.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Food Prep is a Key to Success

What helps you stay on track with your diet?  I've found that having healthy, appetizing food ready to go in my refrigerator increases my success.  I'm not just talking about having pre-chopped vegetables ready to assemble into a salad.  That's helpful, to be sure, but I challenge you to go a step further in anticipating your meals and to carve out a little time to prep in advance.  This way, when your stomach is rumbling you're not tempted to eat something you shouldn't just because it's easier.

Here are a few things I try to keep in my refrigerator, beyond fresh fruits and veggies:

  • cooked brown rice or barley
  • sauteed vegetables (my current fave is zucchini and onions with a little pesto mixed in)
  • cooked, lean protein (usually grilled chicken breasts, taco meat, or leftover meat from a night or two before)
  • boiled eggs
  • tuna salad (made with lots of minced onion, celery and bell pepper, light mayo and/or Ken's Light Creamy Caesar Dressing)
The other day I threw together 1/2 cup of barley, a healthy portion of the sauteed zucchini mixture and a handful of chicken breast strips.  After a mere 2 minutes in the microwave I had a warm, comforting lunch that rivaled any spa cuisine, if I do say so myself!  My online tracking tool at tells me it only "cost" me 4 POINTS.  It was gorgeous, to boot!  Next time I'll snap a picture for you.

So, I'll ask again:  What helps you stay on track?

What's in a name?

So, you may be wondering what "left of heft" means . . .  It's simple, really.  First, imagine a number line like we all worked with in grade school.  Okay, now that you have that visual, pick a number on the number line that you consider a hefty weight.  Can you see that image in your mind's eye?  Now, if you scan to the left of that number the digits are lower, right?  Well, that's what I'm looking to achieve.  I'm striving for numbers to the left of heft.

Let's get healthy together.

I don't know about you but I've been dieting since I was 11 and have had a few successes over 30+ years but haven't ever maintained weight loss.  Add to that the fact that I've always gained back more than I lost in the first place.

That's about to change.  It has to.  I refuse to be obese for the rest of my life!  Earlier this year I began to have pain in my knees and was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and torn menisci in both joints!  Did you know that every unwanted pound you carry around is like 3 pounds to your knees?  I found myself yearning for a handicapped parking permit and shopping for a "cute cane".  Luckily, I've come to my senses and have decided to make my health a priority.  I won't resort to those aids without a fight!

I hope you'll check back often to join me on my trek.  I'll be sharing my experiences and since I'm a pretty awesome cook you can count on some tasty healthy recipes.  So, what are you waiting for?  Let's get healthy together!