Sunday, June 5, 2016

Cheesy Shrimp and Grits with Tasso

Shrimp and Grits is one of those dishes that I’ve always wanted to try, but somehow just never got around to (I know…seems impossible right? J ). I’ve had a lifelong love of grits thanks to my Army brat cousins; growing up in New England they weren’t exactly a common breakfast item, but the girls brought them to Maine one summer and I came home absolutely hooked. Warm, comforting, doused with plenty of butter, salt, and pepper…like a warm hug for your stomach. What’s not to love?

The addition of spicy shrimp to the buttery goodness of grits might seem a little strange at first, especially to Northern palates. Shrimp and Grits actually started as breakfast food in the Lowcountry marshes of the southern coast of the US; as these states had both of these items in plentiful supply, it would make sense to combine them into a hearty breakfast to fortify a day of farming or fishing or what have you. Over the last few decades, the dish has become standard dinner fare; first in the South, then moving slowly northward to places like…Kansas City. Yes, it was on a trip to KC (sadly, for a memorial for a dear friend) that I finally ordered myself some Shrimp and Grits; after a  4 AM start in Boston and no food until about 2 in the afternoon, I was in desperate need of breakfast and lunch all at the same time. Shrimp and Grits seemed like it would fit the bill; the version I ended up having at the Classic Cup Café was the perfect introduction: loads of juicy, perfectly cooked shrimp flecked with andouille in a spicy tomato broth over creamy, delicious grits. Kind of a mashup between jambalaya and grits, really; absolute heaven. I left there fortified for my sad task ahead…my stomach, at least, was happy.

Happier stuff…so, when I went to recreate this dish at home I had a few requirements. One was that I really wanted to use some tasso that we had picked up on a road trip a few months back. Tasso is a Louisiana version of ham; Cajun spiced, super flavorful, and a common ingredient in New Orleans versions of shrimp and grits. I also wanted a dish that would fit into my new healthier way of eating; from the basic components I knew it wasn’t something that was going to need a lot of fat or high calorie ingredients to bring the flavors out, a few quick swaps that no one would notice and reasonable portions of cheese and pork and I’d be able to keep the calories and fat under control.  Third is that I really wanted to use my slow cooker; I knew it wouldn’t make sense to slow cook shrimp all day, but I figured the grits at least could come to creamy nirvana in the old crockpot. And did they ever…I have to say, I am SUPER proud of how this one came out on my very first attempt. Sometimes it even looks like I know what I’m doing in the kitchen.

A few last notes…for those who count WW points, I ran this through MyFitnessPal’s recipe builder to get the nutrient totals and then plugged that data into the WW recipe builder to come up with 10 SmartPoints per serving…long story, but ever since the plan change I’ve been more of a calorie counter than a point counter, so I needed the full nutritional data.  If you come up with a different point value I encourage you to use it; always do what works for you. 10 points works for me. I also always encourage you to make substitutions; this dish would be delicious with andouille sausage or even hot Italian if that’s what you have, can find, or like; if you have fresh tomatoes to use up throw them in instead.   Remember, it’s your kitchen!!

Cheesy Shrimp and Grits with Tasso

Makes 8 servings, 1 ½ cups per serving

1 ½ cups old fashioned grits (not instant)
6 cups chicken stock, lowfat if available (I actually used Knorr’s bouillon cubes; the only kind I do use!)
6 ounces tasso ham or andouille sausage, diced
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium red pepper, chopped
Old Bay seasoning, to taste
¾ cup fat free half and half
2 pounds shrimp, shells removed and deveined (large or extra large work best)
1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar, 2%
Chopped scallions, for garnish

Combine grits and chicken stock in slow cooker; cook for 2 ½ hours on HIGH, or 5 – 6 hours on LOW until just about done. 

Sauté the tasso in a large frying pan over medium heat for a couple of minutes, or until you can really smell it and some of the fat has escaped out into the pan. Add the onions and pepper and cook for 5 -10 minutes until they start to get soft.  If you are using raw shrimp add them at about 5 minutes in; if your shrimp are already cooked, add them at the end (they only take about 5 minutes to cook). Season the contents of the pan with Old Bay and cook another minute; then add the contents of the pan to the slow cooker along with the cream, cheese and tomatoes. Stir well, and cook on LOW another 30 – 60 minutes until everything is well heated through. Garnish with scallions. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Two Books That Changed My Life – and Andie Mitchell’s “Pad” Thai

Normally, I’m not one for any kind of book that even vaguely resembles “self help”…not that I don’t think I’m in need of help, of course; I’ll take all the help I can get ! It’s just that I’m naturally skeptical and tend not to believe everything I read, and while I very much enjoy reading other people’s stories I don’t automatically find relevance to my own life in them (I’m secretly convinced everyone is more fabulous and together than I am; definitely a sort of “imposter syndrome” .) There are some books, though, that are the exception to that rule; here are two that have profoundly changed my life over the last year. Maybe because they’re not really self help…more memoirs. Whatever you call them, they both really, really spoke to me – so I’d like to share them here.

The first one – the one that really set me on my journey – was Brittany Gibbons' “Fat Girl WalkingBrittany Gibbons is a blogger (I’ve followed her for a long time;, body image advocate, and basically all around gorgeous hella-cool chick; I devour every word she writes like it’s going out of style. Her first book came out a few weeks after I had joined Weight Watchers…of course, I already had it on pre-order since well before my decision to join WW. As soon as I got it I immediately stayed up late to read it, alternating between tears, exclamations, and not a small amount of smiling. Here was someone who had gone through so many of the same things I had – not feeling good enough or worthy enough, sabotaging my own health and happiness to do what I thought other people wanted just so they would (I hoped) love me and accept me. Things that I thought I was the only person that did…turns out it wasn’t just me. It was a revelation, and a wake-up call, and - I firmly believe - a huge reason I was successful in my weight loss journey.

At first, it seems like it would be counter-intuitive – how could a book about learning to accept my body at the size it was help me on the path I had chosen to lose weight ? Well, funny thing about that…it turns out that was exactly what I needed in order to make it different this time. I needed to learn to love myself at any size; to know that even as big I as I was I was beautiful, sexy, and deserving of love (especially - and most importantly - from myself.) That even if I never lost another pound I was worthy of being out there in the world (in a bikini if I wanted, a la Brittany) and that I didn’t have to compare or compromise myself to anyone. There were people in my life that already loved me like I was; time for me to join their ranks. And as a result of this massive bit of self-introspection I allowed enough love into my life to carry me through the past year of weight loss; it was so strong that it finally helped me to make my health a priority in a meaningful way. Not to improve my looks – because I now truly understand that my looks were perfectly fine before, and I’ve loved how I look every step of the way – but my health. I feel confident enough to have picked a goal weight well above the WW range (with my doctor’s input and approval), because it’s the right weight for me – it’s where I feel the most beautiful. Plus, I still get to eat the food I love (in moderation)…which brings me to the next book.

The second book that changed my life – the perfect bookend to Brittany’s, at least for me – was Andie Mitchell’s “It Was Me All Along”. Like Brittany, Andie is a blogger (; however, in her case I read her book before discovering her blog. The book had been mentioned in my WW meeting and I had dutifully written it down and forgotten it – until I happened upon it by chance at a bookstore in the Detroit airport during a layover this past February. Once again, I found myself reading this whole book immediately, then reading it again…because, like Brittany’s, this book spoke to my life. Very similar upbringings (only the Boston suburb was different) and relationships – and pretty much EXACTLY the same relationship with food; a love of not only eating it, but cooking it in large quantities (especially, rich, indulgent, sigh-inducing foods) as a way of showing my love for other people. This whole blog is a love letter to that very principle; the idea of a Culinary Orgasm. My appreciation of good food – and love of sharing it with others – was such an ingrained, treasured part of my personality; I was so scared of changing it long-term in order to maintain my weight loss...not just could I do it,  but did I truly want to ? I was also incredibly disappointed with the changes to the WW program (not to bash them here, but the new SmartPoints retool is just AWFUL for me, anyway; I lost my first 75 pounds under PointsPlus without ever gaining, so I know that one works; I’ve lost only a few since and have actually gone up a few times. SmartPoints is just not for me.)  I was despairing of getting through the last couple of pounds to my goal, and maintenance didn’t sound nearly as doable with the flexibility of the program now shot (anything remotely like a treat is now so high in points that it’s nearly impossible to fit in – at least not regularly, like you could before. Occasional treats are so important- it makes it a lifestyle, not a diet. And eating them works for me – see above. But I digress…)

And then…like magic, just when I needed her…enter Andie Mitchell.  Andie had lost 135 (!!!) pounds by basically changing her relationship with food…she had started on WW, but then transitioned to basically calorie-counting, which sounded much more reasonable (to me, anyway!) – at the end of the day weight loss is really about more calories out than in. Just math, really…which WW seems to have lost track of in their push to get us to make better choices. So I started counting calories in addition to points, to make sure I was really in the range I needed to be to continue losing weight…and wonder of wonders, it started coming off again and I’m now less than five pounds from goal. (Short version of why I’m doing both; I really want to get to Lifetime WW Status so I can go to meetings for free; while I don’t love the plan, I LOVE my meeting and my leader, and can’t see how I’d maintain without that support. Basically, with the calorie counting I don’t freak out about using weekly / activity points or coming in under my point total for the day as long as I stay within my calorie goal for healthy weight loss. I won’t track both forever, but it works for now...I’m hoping to get to the point where I just mentally tally without having to physically track. Unless I start to gain, of course –then I’ll track everything until I get back to where I need to be. That’s my plan, anyway…I know, it wasn’t really the short version !)

Anyway – Andie’s “Pad” Thai – I’m getting there! Andie still enjoys good food in moderation, which is exactly what I wanted to be able to do too. Her website / blog ( ) and just released cookbook, "Eating in the Middle" are both chock full of delicious recipes; some for everyday eating, and some once-in-a-while treats. Exactly the way I want to live my life. The first dish I made from the website was the Tamale Chicken Pot Pies -  these were so insanely delicious that we wolfed them all down before I could take a picture and blog them. (You should definitely go make them NOW. I’ll wait J ) )

I paused long enough with the second dish in order to get a picture for you. Believe you me; it took a lot of restraint!

The magic of this dish is in the “noodles” – there are actually no noodles in this dish. Andie substitutes shredded cabbage, which is absolutely brilliant; cabbage is super low in calories / has zero SmartPoints, so it makes this dish super helpful when you’re trying to take in less. I love Pad Thai and was stoked to find a way for it to easily fit my plan. Andie actually has two versions of this, one on her website and one in her book; I basically mashed them together, taking the parts I liked from both. I’m linking to both below; I have no doubt that each recipe exactly as written would work perfectly, so do what works for you. (I’ll also note exactly what I did at the bottom – mostly so *I* remember !! ). Basically, I used the technique from the website version as it was simpler, but incorporated some of the ingredients from the cookbook version as I liked those better (as well as working in my beloved Sambal Oelek chili paste, which just makes everything yummy.)  I’ll also note that I used preshredded cabbage (like for coleslaw) as I was in a rush – which worked, but next time I’ll chop my own so I can get it longer and thinner and more noodle-like. I topped mine with some cooked shrimp to up the protein content and make it more of a main dish; this is not noted in my directions, but any cooked protein would work on this if you want to go that route (traditional Pad Thai often has shrimp, tofu, and/or chicken. As always, use what you like – or just go with the veg.)


Website Version:

Cookbook Version (from Oprah’s website, actually. I KNOW.) :

Andie Mitchell’s “Pad” Thai – Culinary Orgasm’s Mashed Up Version

Serves 2

1 ½ T soy sauce
1 ½ T fish sauce
2 t sugar
2 large eggs
1 t (or to taste) Sambal Oelek (or your favorite chili paste)
1 very small onion, thinly sliced
1 very small green bell pepper, seeded, ribs removed and thinly sliced
2 – 4 garlic cloves, minced
5 cups finely shredded green cabbage (about half a medium head)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro or Thai basil, chopped
2 T finely chopped peanuts
Lime wedges, for serving


In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar

In another small bowl, beat the eggs.

Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and spray with cooking spray or oil (or add a small amount of vegetable or peanut oil.) Add the onion and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until tender but still crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer the vegetables to a plate.

Spray or oil the skillet again, and add the cabbage and cook, stirring frequently, until tender but still crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs and cook, stirring constantly, until just set, about 2 minutes (scramble them right into the cabbage)

Add the soy-sauce mixture and stir well to combine.  Stir in the onions and peppers. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the fresh cilantro.  Top with the chopped peanuts and additional Sambal, if desired.; serve with lime wedges.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Potato, Ham, and Bell Pepper Frittata

Frittatas have to be one of the most wonderfully adaptable and forgiving of all foods.   They are good for any meal from a casual breakfast to a fancy dinner party; they are delicious hot or cold; and they cheerfully accept just about anything hanging out in your fridge or pantry that needs a good home. They’re like a less-fussy quiche, or an omelet that serves everyone at the same time instead of having to bother with individual breakfasts. They also store well; make a frittata all for yourself on a Sunday and not only will you have a special weekend breakfast, you’ll have a few weekday ones as well.  Got a pile of people to feed but only a few eggs, odds and ends? Make a frittata. Your victims guests will think you’ve gone to all kinds of effort, when in reality you’re basically feeding them leftovers because you were too lazy to go shopping. That’s what we call a win-win.

One of the other great things about a frittata is that it’s very easy to lighten up, if you find yourself wanting or needing to go that route. By decreasing the number of eggs, using a measured amount of higher-calorie, flavor packed ingredients (meat, cheese), and increasing the proportion of lighter components (i.e. vegetables) you can tweak it so that it fits your needs and still tastes amazing. You just want to make sure you have enough eggs to almost cover your solid components; eggs will puff up during cooking so you don’t need to bury them, you just need enough to stick everything together so you can slice it.

The proportions I give here work well for six whole extra large eggs. If your eggs are smaller you may want to add an extra egg, or a few egg  whites;  you can also cut down on the number of whole eggs by substituting 3 eggs whites for each whole egg, or supplementing with EggBeaters if that’s your thing.  

Consider the ingredients here a jumping-off point; whatever kind of meat, cheese and vegetables you have can all be successfully incorporated into your frittata. How about cubed chicken, feta cheese, and spinach? Or shrimp, Monterey Jack, and salsa Verde? The sky’s the limit!  

 A few notes for my WW friends; I ran this one through the WW Recipe Builder and came up with 3 SmartPoints per serving (if cut into 8 servings); your mileage may vary depending on what ingredients you use, always check for yourself (I definitely do NOT work for WW).  I would recommend serving something else along with it if you’re really serving eight; fresh fruit (0 SP) and toast (varied SP) would be divine.  Otherwise you’ll probably want two servings; well worth the 6 SP.


Potato, Ham, and Bell Pepper Frittata
8 small or 4 large servings

Ingredients : 

Cooking spray
½ small onion (or 1 large shallot) chopped
1 cup red potato, raw, diced 
4 oz cooked lean ham, diced
1 small bell pepper, diced (I used half red, half green)
6 extra large eggs, beaten
¼ cup 2% milk
½ cup (2 oz) reduced fat cheddar cheese, shredded (I used Cabot 50% reduced fat)
Salt and black pepper to taste

Optional: a few pinches of your favorite fresh or dried herb(s), to taste (dill is especially nice; tarragon is also nice, but potent – be careful!)

10 inch ovenproof skillet (oven proof is important here as it will actually be going into the oven!)

Directions : 

Preheat oven to 375

Heat the skillet over medium-high heat; spray with cooking spray. Add the onion and sauté for a minute or so, then add the potato. Reduce heat to medium; let cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until potato is almost tender (dicing the potato quite small will help it cook quicker). Turn the heat back up to medium-high and add the ham and pepper and cook for two more minutes, until everything is heated through and peppers start to soften a little. Season with a little salt and black pepper.

While the potatoes are cooking whisk the eggs and milk together until smooth, then stir in half the cheese along with some more salt and pepper (and herb[s] if using.).  Pour the egg mixture into your skillet and check to see that everything is more or less distributed. Let cook on the stovetop undisturbed for about two minutes, or until the edges start to set. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of the frittata and pop the skillet (uncovered) into the oven. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until eggs are completely set and frittata is beginning to lightly brown. Remove from oven ; cut into wedges and serve.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Slow Cooker Chicken Korma

O-M-G, you guys. Seriously .  We ate this so fast that there wasn’t time for any other pictures …sadly, this was the only photo I could snap; it’s of the leftovers being packed for my son’s lunch. That kid is lucky I like him so much !!

I’ve made no secret of my love of Cooking Light recipes over the years; I’ve adapted many of them, and made many more just as they read (or with very slight tweaks.)  I think the reason they usually work so well is that they’re not “light” recipes; they’re real, honest to goodness recipes that use real ingredients and tested, normal cooking methods. They’re lightened up just enough to fit into a healthy lifestyle, but not so much as to be rendered flavorless. (No, they’re not paying me to say any of this…I wish !)

Korma, if you’re not familiar with it, is an Indian dish of Mughal extraction that is basically a type of curry; it’s an excellent gateway drug for people that don’t think they like Indian food….creamy, silky, warm and comforting.  It’s very easy for this dish to go off the rails calorie-wise; traditional recipes usually call for the chicken to be sautéed in butter, and for full-fat yogurt to be stirred in at the end. Nuts and/or cheese are added to some recipes as well, just adding to the calorie load (and overall deliciousness, I’m sure !). The good news is that korma also adapts itself extremely well to slightly lighter ingredients; between the spice level and all the time getting happy in the crockpot the finished product is so flavorful and tender you’ll never realize there could be more fat in it. 

I did tweak this recipe very slightly, of course…this is me we’re talking about, after all J (link to the original recipe is provided below). The biggest change I made was to up the amount of curry powder as well as use a spicier version; my now-extensive experience with the crockpot has taught me that flavors can really get muted after spending all day under low heat. If you are spice-adverse by all means use a milder curry powder and/or cut down on the amount of chili paste…not looking to kill anyone with fire here. (Conversely, if you love the heat then pump that @#%& up !) . I swapped in sambal oelek because I absolutely love the stuff, but crushed red pepper would work just fine; these can also be added to each individual bowl at the discretion of the diner, if you’re cooking for a mixed crowd. 

The other important change I’ve made here concerns the yogurt. The original recipe calls for fat-free yogurt and did not specify Greek style, but I really think a thicker yogurt is called for…plus, let’s just be frank :  I am not a fan of the aftertaste of fat free yogurt (when they take something out, they put something in…and whatever it is, I don’t like it). The difference in calories and fat (and WW points) between half a cup of 2% and half a cup of 0% is negligible, particularly when spread out over eight servings; the results are so much better with the creamier yogurt that it’s well worth making the swap. I’ve also included a step for “tempering” the yogurt, which simply means bringing up the temperature slowly before adding it to the final dish. This easy, quick step will prevent the yogurt from curdling when you add it; there’s nothing wrong with curdled yogurt, it just doesn’t look all that great (and you won’t get a smooth, creamy sauce). 

Naan bread (optional) is basically the Indian version of pita bread, but lighter and fluffier; it’s available in many supermarkets (Stonefire is a pretty good brand, easy to find and mighty tasty. No, they don’t’ pay me either J ). This dish already involves rice and potatoes so bread is kind of overkill…but it does make the perfect vehicle to sop up the last bits of the lovely sauce. If you can find it and don’t mind the extra carbs it’s a nice addition; definitely not necessary though. 

We really enjoyed this one…hope you do too ! 

Slow Cooker Chicken Korma
Adapted from Cooking Light :

2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 cups coarsely chopped onion (1 onion)
Pan spray
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon Madras (or other spicy type) curry powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sambal oelek chili paste (or crushed red pepper)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups red potatoes (cut in quarters if large, halved if tiny)
1 teaspoon salt
1 (14.5-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes, undrained
2 bay leaves
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
1/2 cup plain 2% Greek yogurt (such as Fage)
4 cups hot cooked rice (long grain, jasmine, or basmati work well)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Optional : warmed naan bread (warm according to package directions).

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; spray lightly with pan spray. Add chicken; sauté 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove chicken from pan; place in a 5-quart electric slow cooker. Add onion to skillet; sauté 3 minutes. Add ginger and next 5 ingredients (through garlic); sauté 2 minutes. Pour mixture over chicken in slow cooker. Stir in potato and next 4 ingredients (through cinnamon stick).

Cover and cook on LOW for 6 hours. Discard bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Turn slow cooker off; let stand 15 minutes. 
In a small bowl, combine the yogurt with a few spoonfuls of the hot liquid from the crockpot. Once this is combined, stir the yogurt mixture back into the crockpot, and sprinkle with cilantro. 
Serve chicken mixture over rice, with optional warmed naan bread on the side for dipping.

Serves 8; serving size, 1/2 cup of rice and 1 cup korma

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Recipe Renovation : Italian-Inspired Vegetable Soup

I know, I's been ages. I have my reasons, though - honest !

About a year and a half ago, I made the very difficult decision to leave a job I loved. Leaving was absolutely heart-wrenching, but I had no choice - it had become imperative that I focus on my family and my health, both mental and physical.  The job, while interesting and exciting and challenging and something I daresay I was pretty good at (and full of people who I loved dearly - still do, in fact) was too demanding, insanely stressful, and just took up way too much of my time...I was working nights and weekends, and even when I wasn't there I was working via my phone or thinking about working or feeling bad that I wasn't working. I couldn't focus on anything else; I quit my chorus, never saw my family, and just focused on getting through each day. So - with plenty of tears and not a small amount of fear - I walked out the door. And somehow, incredibly, against all odds I walked into another job that I love, with new people I adore, exploring a part of my field I hadn't really worked in much that turned out to be really interesting and a great challenge - but something I could definitely do. The new job not only gave me back my nights and weekends, but left me with enough mental energy to enjoy them. My family prospered, my chorus welcomed me back with open arms, and I was living more of the kind of life I had always envisioned for myself. Well, except for one little thing...actually, not so little.

My weight.

When I walked out that door so reluctantly my weight was the highest it has ever been in my life - including when I was pregnant. (Yes, 9 months pregnant me was smaller than new job and newly minted family woman me. ) I have always struggled with my weight; most members of my family are not small, and I'm definitely an emotional eater - and my emotions were in overdrive. Food was my main comfort - something that made me feel better, something I was good at making and talking about, and something I could use to make others around me feel good too. So I walked through another scary door..,,into a Weight Watchers meeting. I had done WW before and knew it worked; it's pretty much the only plan where you can eat absolutely anything as long as you keep track of it all...with my foodie predilections I have to have that flexibility or I can't do it. (No, I am no Oprah and this is not turning into a WW ad...the program has definite issues, especially with the newest revamp...but the basic premise is sound. The thing just works.)

I already knew how to cook and eat just that I didn't. I ate (and drank) all the time, like there was never going to be enough to fill me. Occasionally I made good choices, but not consistently enough to matter, I was going to need the accountability of someone weighing me every last April I finally took the plunge and walked in to my local meeting, I  cried hard when I got on the scale because I couldn't believe it really had gotten to that point, and I think I cried through my first few meetings too. But somehow, incredibly, my lucky streak with scary life choices was still with me. The meeting I walked into was not only full of supportive people with the same issues I had, but was led by an absolute dynamo of a woman who has cheered me on every step of the way. Her  no-nonsense take on what the program does and does not do is exactly my cup of (unsweetened) tea. And with her support, I have now lost over 80 pounds, Eighty. It's a ridiculous number, isn't it ? I barely recognize pictures of sad, stressed out me, I'm a new, happy woman - with knees and a back that don't hurt anymore - who has energy to get things done. And one of the things I want to get done is writing in my blog about all the exciting cooking I'm doing, And that, dear readers, is why we're here :)

If you've made it this far (yeah, I do go on :) ) you're probably thinking "Well, no wonder she was approaching maximum density - look at these recipes !! Butter ! Cream ! Cheese ! Pork fat !!" I assure you, I have not given up on any of these lovely things. I just keep track of how much of them I eat....and I don't eat them all the time. (And I definitely haven't quit drinking !)  I plan to keep blogging all the good things we love, as well as the good things that are good for us. Today's recipe is definitely in the latter category.

Each week at WW we get a weekly handout - usually consisting of some sort of pithy "yay us" articles and tips (this week's was all about an app with 1 minute workouts that we can download...of course, it didn't mention that it isn't available for Android. Because apparently screw us if we're not drinking the Apple Kool-Aid...wonder how many points that is ? See, I told you they have issues ! But I digress...). It also usually has a WW recipe...and herein lies the problem. While I cook a lot of Cooking Light recipes (for the most part they are pretty flavorful , filling, and work well with minimum tweaking) , I find most of the WW ones lacking - way too watered down, not enough flavor, too many points for not enough of a serving, This week's actually looked promising, though -a 0 point Italian-ish veggie soup that looked like it would actually work. With me spending most of Valentine's weekend alone I thought I might need the extra points for treats (and sure enough I woke up to caviar and chocolate...mmm !) , so I figured a pot of 0 point soup would fit the bill perfectly...I just had to fix it a little, Lose the fennel (personally can't stand the stuff), add in some other filling 0 point veggies to replace it...eggplant and mushrooms, that would be just the thing, Oh, and cook the onions a little first (really, WW - that's a soup making basic !) , and cook the firmer vegetables a little longer than the greens. Yup - minimal fuss, maximum taste...this stuff is awesome, Excellent flavor, perfect broth to veg ratio, just the thing for the sub-zero weather this weekend.. Eating a bowl while I blog, actually :)

The great thing about a soup like this is that it's so adaptable. As written, it truly is 0 points - meaning you can really eat your fill, as much as you want - and it's actually pretty satisfying just as is. You can definitely change around the vegetables - go ahead and put the fennel bulb in (thinly sliced), add some leeks, use up the green pepper you have hanging around - whatever you like. You can also add pretty much anything as a garnish or mix in and it would work; the bowl in the picture had 2 oz of cubed cooked polenta stirred in at the end (2 points - you can get it ready made in tubes, though we happened to have some made already) and 1 tsp of grated Parmesan sprinkled on top (0 points). Cooked white beans would be outstanding (nothing wrong with canned - 1/4 cup is 2 points), as would your favorite cooked pasta (points vary); adding some fish with the greens or adding cooked chicken or shrimp at the end would turn this into a main course for not a lot of points. Bread would of course be wonderful - just make sure you know what and how much you're eating if you're tracking,

Bottom line : eat what you like; then it isn't a diet, and that's the only way it works (for me, anyway),

So...if you've really really made it this far...thank you for reading, and staying with me, I promise moving forward I won't be quite so...soul-baring; not that there's anything wrong with that, this is just not that kind of blog. Usually :)

Enjoy !

Italian-Inspired Vegetable Soup 

loosely based on "Weight Watchers Weekly" recipe of Jan 24-30

1 cup chopped onion
olive oil spray to lightly coat bottom of pot (or use 2 tsp of olive oil - adds 3 points)
1 tsp kosher or sea salt
couple grinds black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 small zucchini or yellow squash )or both), cubed
2 small eggplant, cubed
1 medium red pepper, chopped
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
6 cups vegetable stock
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp (or to taste) crushed red pepper
2 cups chopped escarole or kale, chopped (packed tightly)
2 cups fresh baby spinach (packed tightly)
28 oz fire roasted chopped tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat; lightly spray with cooking spray. Add onion and cook until it starts to get soft and a little translucent, stirring occasionally - 10 minutes is plenty. Add the salt and pepper after it's been on about 5 minutes,

Add the garlic, zucchini, eggplant, red pepper, mushrooms and stock; bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Add the thyme, oregano, basil and red pepper. Let simmer for 10 minutes; add the escarole and simmer another 5 minutes, then add the spinach and tomatoes. Simmer another 5 or 10 minutes, or until all the vegetables are done to your liking, Stir in the parsley and additional salt and pepper to taste.