Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Recipes for a Hungry Girl (or guy)!

YAY!!! Looks like I'll be making a trip to the bookstore later.
As some of you know, I'm a huge fan of Hungry Girl - a Web site that provides fun diet tips and tricks, dee-lish low-cal recipes, food reviews and more. Well, Hungry Girl has finally gone and released a cookbook packed with some of the site's best recipes. And from what I can tell on-line, it looks like there will be lots-o tasty treats buried in those pages.

Need proof? Just check out this 108-calorie, sucralose-sweetened cupcake recipe.

Death by Chocolate Cupcakes

Ingredients:
2 cups moist-style chocolate cake mix (half of an 18.25-oz. box)
Two 25-calorie packets diet hot cocoa mix
1/2 cup fat-free liquid egg substitute (like Egg Beaters Original)
2 tbsp. semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
1 tsp. Splenda No Calorie Sweetener (granulated)
1/8 tsp. salt

Directions:
Place chocolate chips and the contents of both cocoa packets in a tall glass. Add 12 ounces of boiling water, and stir until chips and cocoa mix have dissolved. Place glass in the freezer to chill for 25 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Once cocoa has chilled, give it a stir, and mix with all other ingredients in a mixing bowl. Whip batter with a whisk or fork for 2 minutes. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick spray, or line it with baking cups. Evenly spoon batter (which will be thin, but don't worry, your cupcakes will puff up!) into the pan. Place pan in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Cupcakes will look shiny when done.
MAKES 12 SERVINGS

Who can resist this?! Not me, that's for dang sure. Anyhow, I have a feeling I'll now be doing a lot of cooking over the next few weeks - minus any guilt thanks to the low-cal nature of said recipes.

Thanks Lisa, aka Hungry Girl!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Comedic Cooking


I rarely tune into Bravo's "Top Chef" - mostly because it airs at 10 p.m. on Wednesday nights, a schedule that isn't particularly convenient for me. And then there's the fact that unlike Project Runway - where you can see the designs and draw a logical conclusion - it's far less easy to armchair quarterback when you can't taste the meals being judged.
That being said, I have watched the past two episodes after the previews drew my attention. And while I doubt I'll become a loyal viewer, I admit I've been pleasantly surprised. Last week, for example, the contestants were charged with concocting upscale, tasty tailgate food appropriate to feed hungry Chicago Bears fans. Fun, right? And in last night's episode, they attended a show at the famed "Second City" only to find out they had to make dinner for the improv troupe and judges the next day based on a random trio of colors, feelings and ingredients the audience was asked to provide. Hee!
Anyway, there were more than a few meals mentioned last night that I'd love to add to my recipe rolodex, beginning with the pastries featured in the dessert challenge. Hellooo, yogurt puree with fried wontons? Chocolate cake with salted basil ganache? Sign me up! And then there was the absolutely dee-lish sounding "banana scallops with banana guacamole" and chocolate ice cream. Wow.
Moving on to the dinner portion. The five courses were yellow vanilla love, depressed purple bacon, drunk magenta Polish sausage, green perplexed tofu and orange turned-on asparagus. While some struggled with the challenge, others rocked it. There were two dishes that I particularly coveted. First, the squash soup with vanilla creme fraiche that was apparently so good one of the judges said she would "lick the bowl" if she wasn't in front of the camera. And then there was the tofu steak with green curry marinated in beef fat. How better to represent perplexed tofu than to give the veggie-friendly item a meaty flavor?
I was thrilled to discover you can find all of those recipes on the Top Chef Web site. Unfortunately, some of them are a little too, shall we say, complex for my cooking abilities. Bummer.
I'll keep trying, but in the meantime, here are two sucralose-sweetened dishes that -although less fancy than the afore-mentioned vanilla squash soup or banana scallops -will certainly please the tastebuds.

Spicy Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

Banana and Chocolate Bread Pudding

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Do you have a spare bowl of candy beans?

"You can tell a lot about a fellow's character by the way he eats jelly beans."
Ronald Reagan


All you "Arrested Development" fans will recognize my oh-so-witty headline referencing the Bluth family's love of a certain jelly bean-type confectionary. For those of you that missed out on that fabulous show, rent the DVDs. It's worth it.

Continuing in the tradition of weird food-related holidays, today is National Jelly Bean Day. Now, I don't know about you, but this is certainly a celebration I can get behind...particularly now that Jelly Belly has gone and whipped up a yummy sugar-free version using Splenda. And they taste just as fabulous as the original version, but with 40 percent fewer calories. Holler!
Anyhoo, while the sucralose-sweetened bag doesn't feature all of the Jelly Belly flavors, it still has a number of the most popular and lip-smacking ones including Very Cherry, Tangerine, Green Apple, Juicy Pear and Licorice.

By the way, here is some jelly bean background information to satisfy your inner history geek. The interior jelly apparently traces its origin back hundreds of years to a candy called Turkish Delight. However, the earliest known appearance of the modern jelly bean was during the American Civil War when William Schrafft of Boston promoted sending the candy to soldiers in the Union Army. It was not until 1930 or so that jelly beans became a hugely popular Easter item, presumably from their resemblance to Easter eggs.

So I might have to do some Jelly Belly mix and matching tonight to whip up new recipes. Did any of you used to do that as a kid? We'd simultaneously munch on three or four different flavors at once in an effort to taste different concoctions - such as combining Chocolate Pudding, Cappuccino and Peanut Butter for a Mud Pie flavor or mixing Very Cherry & Dr. Pepper together to get Cherry Cola.

In case I hadn't mentioned it, Jelly Beans are awesome!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Gesundheit!


Okay, so I've been hacking, sniffling and sneezing up a storm for the past two weeks. You know who I blame for this one? Mother Freakin' Nature! Yes, pollen season is whipping my behind here in the ATL. In case you didn't know - and I sure didn't until I moved here - lovely Atlanta has one of the highest pollen counts around...which blows when you happen to be allergic to the stuff. Today, for example, the
pollen count is about 691
. Although that number is much lower than the 3,332 count we saw earlier this week, it's important to remember that anything over 120 is considered extremely high.
According to a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, experts say this pollen season could be particularly long and miserable thanks to a mild winter and recent rain. BLARGH!
Anyway, I've been trying to get rid of the sniffles and itchy eyes with packets of Emergen-C, Mucinex tablets and Claritin. Earlier in the week, when my scratchy throat nearly hindered conversation, I gargled saltwater every night and guzzled down cups of tea spiced with honey, cayenne pepper and ginger. So I now feel better than I did, but continue to have that icky "hay fever" feeling.
Well, after spending a few minutes today searching the Internet, I found some tips aimed at reducing the pollen-related allergy misery. Whatever helps, right?!

Around the House
• Wash hands and rinse eyes in cold water to clear residual pollen.
• Keep windows closed and the car sunroof shut.
• Change air filters once a month; wash electrostatic filters.
• Attic fans suck pollen into the house; don't use them.
• Outdoor pets are covered in ragweed; wash them frequently and don't let pets on the bed.
• Allergens linger in carpets and rugs; Vacuum frequently.

Outdoors
• Don't dry your laundry outside.
• Shower after spending extended time outdoors.
• Wear glasses or sunglasses outdoors to prevent pollen from irritating the eyes.
• Minimize your activity between 5 and 10 a.m when pollen is usually emitted.
• A prolonged rain scrubs pollen out of the air, but a brief downpour may cause settled particles to become airborne, raising pollen counts.
• Avoid mowing the lawn or raking leaves; if you cannot avoid yardwork, wear a pollen mask

Another interesting point, apparently up to one-third of people with seasonal allergies may also wind up with "pollen-food" syndrome - or itchiness, tingling or swelling of the mouth, tongue and throat after eating fresh fruits, veggies and other kinds of food. Experts say cooking these foods - rather than eating them raw - can help reduce or prevent any allergic reactions. Cooking veggies really isn't much of a stretch, but what to make with cooked fruit? Hmmmmm...Guess I'll just have to bake some sort of pie! WOO HOO! See? There's a silver lining to everything! So in an effort to follow doctors' orders, I think these two low-calorie, sugar-free recipes may be on the weekend's menu.

Baked Apple Turnovers

Berry-Cherry Pie

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Jonesing for some low-fat java

Whew! It's been a long week so far, but at least it's Wednesday/Hump Day! Hope everyone was able to get their taxes finished and turned in to Uncle Sam on time.
Whenever I have a particularly arduous week, like this one, I figure I deserve some sort of tasty treat for my troubles. Sometimes that involves baked goods, other times a froofy coffee drink bearing a name like frappuccino or caramel macchiato. And yes, sitting down with those beverages IS quite the indulgence. For example, a tall (12-ounce) Starbucks Double Chocolate Chip Frappuccino Blended Creme has an insane 430 calories and 17g of fat. So thank you Hungry Girl for once again providing me with a healthier, sugar-free alternative! Their sucralose-sweetened Frozen Fudge Chip Freeze has a third-less calories than the Choco-Chip Starbucks Frap and a quarter of the fat grams. And it's, as Hungry Girl says, even tastier than the original.

Ingredients:
1 packet diet hot chocolate mix, dissolved in 4 oz warm water
1 Tbsp sugar free chocolate syrup
2 oz. light vanilla soy milk
3 Splenda packets
1 Tbsp of mini chocolate chips
7-8 ice cubes
Fat Free Reddi-Wip

Directions:
Place dissolved cocoa, chocolate syrup, Splenda, chips, soy milk and ice in a blender. Blend on high speed for 30-45 seconds. Pour into an attractive cup and top with a little Fat Free Reddi-Wip. Enjoy!

Speaking of coffee, we were snickering over this vintage Folgers video in a "Oh no he di-int!" kinda way earlier. Times certainly have changed, ey? Check it out.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Wake up with some sucralose-sweetened juice!

I don't know about the rest of you, but I tend to get a wee bit sleepy every afternoon right after lunch. And then I typically have to go chug a cup of coffee or caffeinated tea to perk up. When it's really bad, I bust out the sugary, unhealthy energy drinks (hangs head in shame). Well, move over, Red Bull. There's a new competitor in town. And I'm digging it - big time - and with much less buyer's remorse.
Ocean Spray recently unveiled Cranergy (TM) Energy Juice Drink, a sugar-free, low-calorie beverage made with green tea extract, five B-vitamins and vitamin C. Sweetened with Splenda, it contains only 35 calories per eight-ounce serving - which is 50 percent fewer calories than other leading energy drinks.
Still not sold? Well, look at the health benefits. The vitamin C helps boost immunity and improves iron absorption, while cranberries and green tea are known to be high in antioxidants that help the body fight free radicals.
Cranergy(TM) is available in two flavors - Cranberry Lift and Raspberry Cranberry Lift. Next time you start yawning and nodding off at your computer screen, hit the closest grocery store and buy one of these. It's worth a shot, right?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

OMG! How kewl! ;-)

Do you remember back when you were young - and hip - and your parents would say something completely oblivious or ignorant while trying to demonstrate their street cred? Like, 'Gee, kids, that Puff Diddlee-doo throws down some mad rhymes." And you'd just roll your eyes and snort at how uncool they are.
Well, I think some of today's big marketing firms need to take notes - and stop acting like those parents trying to be their childrens' contemporaries.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, marketers are increasingly embracing "text-message lingo" in an attempt to cater to the tween set. For example, I recently saw a new ad for "Gossip Girl," some show about rich teens. The image depicts two characters making out, with a tagline reading "OMFG." For the uninitiated, that stands for "Oh my (insert swear word here) God!" At the same time, a new line of Degree deodorant for teen girls features a series of ads highlighting "OMG! Moments."
"We wanted to show the teens that we understand them and know how they communicate with their friends," says David Lang, president of WPP Group's MindShare Entertainment, which created the print, TV and online effort for the deodorant company.
Sigh.
That's not all. Frito-Lay, McDonald's, AT&T and several more companies have all utilized text-message abbreviations in their commercials in recent months. Apparently MTV is also on the bandwagon (of course), rolling out a new reality show called "Paris Hilton's My New BFF" - or best friend forever. Don't even get me started on this one.
Look, I get it. Cell phone texting has taken off, blah blah blah. And sadly, it's given birth to now well-known abbreviations like "ooc" (out of control) and "lol," or laughing out loud. I understand why people use it for text message - even e-mail - purposes. But do I have to be beaten over the head with it every time I flip through a magazine or put on the television?
Maybe because I grew up reading the classics and writing short stories and news articles, I find all this text-message short-hand so offensive. I mean, it now appears that New Zealand high school students are allowed to use "text speak" in their written national exams. The article then gave the following examples of text speak in school papers; "We shal fite dem on d beaches" (Sir Winston Churchill) and "2b or nt 2b" (Shakespeare's Hamlet). Seriously??? If this is the way our younger generation operates, well, we're in trouble, folks.
But back to the advertising...while there may be one or two firms able to pull this type of marketing off - such as the somewhat entertaining Cingular commercial with a mom questioning her daughter about her texting - I see most of them failing spectacularly. Remember, teen lingo changes quickly. By the time I was in college, I could barely understand my 15-year-old brother. IMHO (in my honest opinion), companies who try to "speak the language" just might wind up evoking the disdain of their target market.
Anyhoo, I'm done venting and I'm off my pedestal. I'll be back tomorrow with recipes. As a finale, here is the more entertaining AT&T ad I referred to earlier.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Jamba that!

Not knocking Smoothie King or anything but...where's a Jamba Juice when you need one?!
As someone who keeps a close eye on food and drink specials at area restaurants and stores, I'm super bummed I won't be able to take advantage of this. To help promote their new line of breakfast items, a number of Jamba Juice spots nationwide are giving out FREE 12-ounce smoothies and juices tomorrow (April 8) until 10 a.m. Did you hear that? Free, I tell ya! Unfortunately, there are no Jamba Juice stores in Atlanta. BOO! But far be it for me to deny others...so in case any of you are J. Juice first-timers and hoping to score a freebie, I suggest the Jamba Light smoothies, which have about 1/3 less calories and sugar than the regular versions. More specifically, I love Berry Fulfilling, which mixes strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, Splenda, non-fat milk and whey protein for only 150 calories of 16-ounce deliciousness. Since I'm not particularly familiar with the chain's newer breakfast lines, I asked friends in-the-know for their recommendations. Responses seemed to center around the Sunrise Strawberry, which blends soymilk, non-fat yogurt, strawberries and bananas, and the Mango Peach Topper, which features mangoes (duh!), bananas, peaches, soymilk, low-fat yogurt and organic pumpkin seed flax granola. Yum!
That being said, don't be fooled into thinking every item on the Jamba Juice menu is healthy. Take the Peanut Butter Moo'd smoothie, for example. A 24-ounce cup has 840 calories, 21 grams of fat and 122 grams of sugar, according to the company's nutritional information. To put things in comparison, a McDonald's double quarter-pounder with cheese is 740 calories, 42 fat grams and 9 grams of sugar. Wowza. Men's Health Magazine even recently named the chocolate version of the Moo'd smoothie one of the 20 worst foods found on American menus these days.

Finally, for those of you that want to save your money - but still enjoy a tasty smoothie - here's one that I've been whipping up in recent weeks. Combine 8 fl. oz. of unsweetened vanilla Almond Breeze and two tablespoons of Better'n Peanut Butter - both of which can be bought at Trader Joes - with a banana, packet of Splenda and a little sugar-free Hershey's chocolate syrup. Voila! A tasty, low-calorie liquid dessert awaits!

Friday, April 04, 2008

I said freeze!

I was checking out CNN online earlier, as I pretty much do every day, and noticed that they had footage of "freeze events" in Belgium and Beijing, the latest of many to host such a prank. Don't know what I'm talking about? Well, earlier this year, about 200 "agents" from Improv Everywhere - a comedy group based in New York City - froze on cue in Grand Central Station, raising confused eyebrows among the typically unflappable New Yawkers. Video footage of the event has since been viewed more than 10 million times and has inspired similar events in about 60 cities - and 29 countries - across the globe.

I've actually been a fan of the Improv Everywhere folks for a couple years now, ever since I saw coverage of their awesome U2 hoax. That particular event entailed dressing up like the band and performing on a rooftop across from Madison Square Garden only hours before the real U2 was scheduled to perform there. They drew a substantial crowd before police caught on and detained them.

Some of my other favorite IE skits include the annual No Pants subway ride, the Best Buy uniform prank and, of course, "The Moebius," where a group of agents carried out a short sequence of events in a Starbucks cafe every five minutes for an hour. I suggest you look these up on YouTube and watch them. Not only are they insanely entertaining, but I also like that they are not demeaning to viewers. No one, other than perhaps the actors, is made to look the fool.

I'm including a clip of the original Grand Central Freeze. Pretty cool, ey? Let me just add how bummed I am that I missed Atlanta's version of the freeze a month or so ago. Sigh. Next time!



And no, I'm not forgetting about food. Tomorrow is National Caramel Day, so be sure to celebrate. Here's a low-calorie, sucralose-sweetened recipe for Caramel Sticky Buns sure to delight all caramel (or should I say, cahrrrr-mul) lovers.

Happy weekend!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

This just in!

According to a new study, eating several pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream each day not only won't cause weight gain, but also helps to build stronger bones. JUST KIDDING! Sorry, y'all, but since it is April Fool's Day and all, I thought it was only fitting. Speaking of B&J, though, that reminds me...I need to find out if they're ever going to resurrect Festivus ice cream, which was quite possibly my favorite kind EVER, despite the fact that it was sent to the flavor graveyard after two short years. I mean, how can you not want brown sugar cinnamon ice cream loaded with gingerbread cookies and featuring a ginger caramel swirl? Oy - I am salivating just thinking about it.
Back to April Fool's pranks, a few friends have pointed out that YouTube is actually "rickrolling" anyone viewing their Featured Videos list today. What, you might ask, is rickrolling? Well, according to the ever-accurate Wikipedia, it's when someone provides a link they claim is relevant to a certain topic which instead redirects people to Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" music video.
For those unfamiliar with the 80s crooner, this is the song in question.


For additional giggles, I'm including a YouTube clip of one of the most famous April Fool's Day pranks of all time...the spaghetti tree. Back in 1957, a BBC program ran a three-minute spoof reporting on the harvesting of spaghetti trees in Switzerland. Hundreds of people later phoned in to ask how they could grow their own spaghetti trees.


On that note, here is a sucralose-sweetened Fresh Spaghetti Sauce recipe to try out the next time you whip up a plate of pasta. And yes, this recipe is for real - no pranks involved. Enjoy!