Sunday, November 27, 2011

Quick & Hearty Orzo Soup

Happy Thanksgiving, my loyal readers! Sorry for the delay in posting. I didn't make many healthy recipes during the holidays, I have to admit. Thanksgiving was spent at my parents' house in Maine. My parents and sisters don't really cook much, but we had the usual standards for the holiday. They consider me to be a bit of an overly adventurous chef, but I did bring some good stuff to the table. I made homemade gingersnaps to serve with Pumpkin Mousse Dip, the not-really-Thanksgiving-y, but nonetheless always requested Cooking Light Spinach Artichoke Dip, and a big spinach salad with roasted sweet potatoes, feta, and candied pecans. I made some delicious Brown Sugar Rosemary Pecans to add to my salad. Any weight I gain this week is likely due to my inability to keep my hand out of the pecan jar. 

After several days of utter gluttony, I needed to get back on track and cook something healthy. I also organized my overflowing cupboards and realized I had several open boxes of orzo. A little recipe hunting and voila - a healthy, incredibly easy orzo soup for this chilly Sunday night! I'm giving you two topping options below for both the spice lovers and the wusses out there. 

Original Inspiration:  101 Cookbooks
Serving Size: 6 servings
WW: 7 pointsplus (1 1/4 cups of soup, 2 tablespoons of tomato mixture, 1/2 ounce of either feta or parmesan)


7 cups vegetable broth (I used low-sodium Kitchen Essentials chicken stock, as it was all I had on hand)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat orzo
3-4 cups spinach or chard, chopped
3 egg whites
sea salt (to taste)

Topping options:  For either choice - make sure that your olive oil is good quality. In my opinion, the greener, the better. This soup is so simply flavored that you want the best quality ingredients you can find. Also, I recommend the Muir Glen Organic fire-roasted diced tomatoes. I stock up on them when I find them on sale. Great product. 


14 ounces fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons harissa
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese


14 ounces fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 - 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
3 ounces fresh, grated parmesan cheese


Bring the broth to a boil in a soup pot or medium-sized dutch oven. Stir in the orzo and cook until tender, which should take around 8-10 minutes. Add the raw, chopped spinach. 

In a separate, small saucepan, add your tomatoes, evoo, and red pepper flakes or harissa and cook on low until warm. Taste and add salt, if needed. 

Right before you are ready to eat, whisk the egg whites into the soup quickly. The whites will give the soup almost a creamy consistency. Taste and add salt to the soup, if you need to brighten up the flavors a bit. I added a few turns of fresh ground black pepper as well. 

Serve in individual bowls each topped with the tomato mixture you chose and about a tablespoon (1/2 ounce) of cheese. 

This is such a quick and easy recipe - I had a hearty soup perfect for the cold weather on the table in less than 30 minutes. I served the soup with a heat and serve mini baguette that I had in the freezer. Fresh rolls or bread would be even better. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Not Your Grandma's Bran Muffins

I have been hesitant to try this recipe as I always envision bran muffins to have the texture of a hockey puck and the taste of cardboard. The carton of buttermilk sitting in my fridge just waiting to go bad gave me the inspiration to broaden my horizons. I was able to make some WW-friendly tweaks without losing the amazing whole grain goodness of these babies!

Original inspiration: Super Natural Every Day
Serving Size: 12 muffins
WW: 4 pointsplus per serving


  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
  • 2 Tablespoons melted, unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup unprocessed wheat bran (I bought mine for 10 cents in the bulk bins at Whole Foods)
  • 1.5 cups (4 ounces) plain, unsweetened bran cereal (I used lightly sweetened Nature's Path Organic SmartBran cereal, because that is all I could find at my grocery store)
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) whole wheat pastry flour 
  • 3 Tablespoons natural cane sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 ounce chopped walnuts (optional; other nuts or dried fruit would also work well)


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Either butter a standard 12-cup muffin pan or place paper or silicone liners in the muffin cups. 

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, apple sauce, melted butter, and maple syrup. Sprinkle the wheat bran and cereal across the top of the bowl, stir, and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes. 

While the wet ingredients are sitting, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. After the five minutes has elapsed, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Immediately fill each muffin cup almost to the brim. If you are adding nuts, top each muffin with the chopped walnuts before you put them in the oven. 

Bake until the edges of the muffins start to brown and the tops are set, which should take between 18 and 22 minutes. Let the muffins cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then cool the rest of the way on a wire rack. Delicious served warm with butter or jam!

Slow Cooked Apple Butter

I've been making apple butter for years. I love to set the crock pot at night and then wake up to the smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, and apples all throughout my house. This is easy as can be and you can slather it on fresh bread, scones, muffins, or even roasted chicken or pork chops. I love a few tablespoons in my morning oatmeal. The possibilities are endless. Enjoy!

Original inspiration: Cooking Light
Serving Size: 2 tablespoons (around 32 servings per pot)
WW: 1 pointsplus per serving

  • 10 medium apples, peeled, cored, and cut into large chunks (around 2.5lbs cut up)
  • 1/4 cup local honey (the generic stuff is disgusting and mostly just corn syrup)
  • 1/4 cup apple cider 
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (unpacked)
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves


Combine all ingredients in your slow cooker and set on low for 10 hours. The apples should be very tender at the end of this time.

If you have an immersion blender, blend the cooked down apple mixture until smooth. If not, you can press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve and discard the apple pulp. The immersion blender saves time and is much less messy. Either way, return the smooth apple mixture to the slow cooker. Turn it up to high and cook uncovered for 90 minutes or until the mixture is thick, stirring occasionally.

Transfer into a bowl or mason jar and refrigerate for up to a week (it won't last that long). If you double your recipe, jarred apple butter with a cute, crafty label makes a beautiful hostess gift for holiday parties!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Spicy Slow Cooked Pork Carnitas

I love my slow cooker. There is something immensely satisfying in knowing that when you come home from work your dinner will be all ready for you. Here is a great, versatile pork carnitas recipe to try out. It makes a lot and this picture is from meal 3 of using the carnitas. So far, I've served it in warm corn tortillas with fresh cilantro and avocado slices, eaten over cilantro-lime rice with guacamole, tomatillo salsa, and Mexican cheese (Chipotle burrito bowl style), and today I added it to corn tortillas with the leftover rice, guacamole, salsa, AND cheese. YUM! Tomorrow, I'm planning on making baked potatoes and putting a remaining portion of pork carnitas right on top. I think it would also be a delicious topper for nachos while watching a game with friends. If you aren't as willing as I am to eat pork for multiple days, this would freeze well in individual sized portions.

Original Inspiration: SkinnyTaste
Serving Size: approximately 8 four ounce servings
WW: 5 pointsplus per serving

  • 2.5lb lean boneless pork shoulder blade roast, all fat removed (My butcher only had boneless pork picnic roast, so I had to do A LOT of trimming - try to find Boston or blade roast if you can)
  • 6 cloves of garlic, cut into slivers
  • cumin (to taste - probably around 1 tablespoon)
  • dry adobo seasoning (I used about 1 tablespoon of Goya Adobo seasoning)
  • garlic powder (approximately 2 teaspoons)
  • 3/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 2-4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (to taste - more peppers, more heat)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • juice of 1/2 a lime

Generously season the roast with salt and pepper. Preheat a saute pan on medium-high and add the pork roast. You want to brown each side for about 3-5 minutes. You should be able to get a good sear if your pan is hot enough. Remove from heat and let cool.

Using a paring knife or other sharp, thin bladed knife, cut small holes in the roast and insert your garlic slivers. Once your roast is fully studded with garlic, season it liberally with cumin, adobo seasoning, and garlic powder.

Add the chicken broth, bay leaves, and chipotle peppers in adobo sauce to your slow cooker. Place the pork roast in your crock pot and cover.  All of your prep is done at this point. You can put your dish in the fridge overnight if you are cooking the carnitas all day while you are at work as I did.

Cook on low for 8 hours. Now (or when you get home from work), shred the pork roast using two forks and combine the meat with all of the juices. Remove the bay leaves, add lime juice, and adjust your seasoning (you may need more salt and cumin). Cook for about 15-30 minutes on low and then serve with any base (tortillas, rice, salad, tortilla chips, baked potato, etc.) and toppings you like. Fresh chopped cilantro, avocado, or guacamole are excellent additions!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Heirloom Bean & Farro Stew

There's nothing better than a hearty vegetable stew bubbling away on the stove once cold weather hits. This one is excellent and a great base that can accommodate a variety of different greens, beans, and grains. I cooked a mixture of organic heirloom beans from scratch, but I think you could use canned kidney or pinto beans if you are short on time.

You could top the stew with a healthy amount of freshly grated parmesan cheese or another salty cheese. I followed one of the original blog's suggestions and mixed together 1 tablespoon of harissa, 1 teaspoon olive oil, and .5 ounces feta cheese to dollop on top of each bowl. Exceptional.

Original Source: 101 Cookbooks
Serving Size: 10 servings (approximately 1.5 cups each)
WW: 6 pointsplus per serving


1 pound (16 ounces) red beans (or mixture of heirloom beans, if available), soaked for at least 4 hours, then drained
10 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
28 ounces canned whole, peeled tomatoes, drained and chopped
8 ounces new potatoes, chopped (I used organic fingerling potatoes)
2 cups (13 ounces) pearled farro
2 cups vegetable stock or water
1 large bunch kale, destemmed and chopped (you could use chard, spinach and/or savoy cabbage)
sea salt & pepper


Cook the beans in a large pot with 10 cups of water according to the directions on the package (mine required boiling unattended for 2 hours). When they are tender, remove a big scoop of them from the pot, mash them up in a bowl, and then return the mash to the pot.

In a separate pan, saute the onions in the olive oil over medium-high heat and add them to the bean broth when they just begin to brown. Stir in carrots, celery, potatoes, farro, and tomatoes. Bring the liquid to a boil again, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the farro and vegetables are cooked through.

Add vegetable stock to the stew one cup at a time until it is the consistency you prefer. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and taste - you may need to add more based on your own taste preferences. I also added a good amount of fresh ground pepper.

Stir in the greens and cook for a few minutes more. Serve topped with harissa and feta mixture or fresh grated parmesan.