Friday, March 27, 2009

Bippity...Boppity...Bacon!

"Bacon tastes gooood."
Vincent Vega, Pulp Fiction

"I'll have the smiley face breakfast special. Uhh, but could you add a bacon nose? Plus bacon hair, bacon mustache, five o'clock shadow made of bacon bits and a bacon body."
Homer Simpson, The Simpsons

I had planned to keep it low-key this weekend - maybe run some errands, catch up on phone calls and do some household chores that I've been putting off week after week due to an insanely busy schedule of late. But then I found out about Bacon Fest. Yeeeeahhhhhh. Turns out a local improv group is hosting a fund-raiser tomorrow featuring beer, bacon and bands. Even better, said improv group is located directly next door to my apartment complex. I'm so flippin' there! I HEART bacon! (Yes, there is a blog out there bearing that exact same phrase.) I actually blame this sweet meat for my tumble off the vegetarian bandwagon back in high school following a lengthy stint without meat, fish or poultry. And it seems I'm not the only one. Even Anthony Bourdain, the famous chef and TV personality, has called bacon the "gateway protein" for its astounding ability to lure vegetarians back to the carnivorous fold. By the way, I'm now a full-fledged meat eater. Just couldn't give it all up again! And I'm totally dreaming of the day I get to try out the infamous "Bacon Explosion" - which features two pounds of bacon woven through and around two pounds of sausage and slathered in barbecue sauce.
Seriously, though...despite the fact that many people equate bacon with "pigging out" and high-fat foods, it doesn't have to be that way. Here are a few low-cal, sucralose-sweetened recipes that put a healthier spin on everyone's favorite pork product.

Sweet and Spicy BLT

Sweet Potato Bisque with Apple-Bacon Chutney

Baby Spinach 'n Bacon Salad

Before I let you go, check out this humorous bacon flow chart.

And for another Friday chuckle, watch this bacon-oriented standup routine featuring the always hilarious Jim Gaffigan. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pecans and me, and sugar free recipes!


So I've previously mentioned my penchant for nutty snacks, whether it be cashews, macadamias or pistachios. One of my faves, though, is the pecan. Not only does it taste great, it's also pretty nutritious. Seriously! According to the National Pecan Shellers Association, research shows that adding just a handful of pecans to your diet each day may help inhibit unwanted oxidation of blood lipids, thus helping prevent coronary heart disease. In addition, landmark research published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that pecans are among the top category of foods to contain the highest antioxidant capacity. Finally, research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that pecans may aid in weight loss and maintenance. The review cited studies indicating that nut consumption may increase metabolic rates and enhance satiety. Soooo...isn't it wonderful that I just so happened to write about this topic on National Pecan Day?! Grab yourself a handful of pecans to enjoy today - guilt-free, of course! And yes, I'm including a few low-cal, sucralose-sweetened pecan recipes for you to try out. Enjoy!

Spicy Texas Pecans

Caramel Apple Pecan Cheesecake

Black Bottom Pecan Pie

Cinnamon Pecan Monkey Bread

Fun Facts:
* There are over 1,000 varieties of pecans. Many are named for Native American Indian tribes, including Cheyenne, Mohawk, Sioux, Choctaw and Shawnee.
* Some of the larger pecan shellers process 150,000 pounds of pecans each day. That’s enough to make 300,000 pecan pies!
* The U.S. produces about 80 percent of the world’s pecan crop.
* Pecans could improve your love life? If the body does not get enough zinc, it may have difficulty producing testosterone – a key hormone in initiating sexual desire in both men and women. Pecans provide nearly 10 percent of the recommended daily value for zinc. So, pass on the oysters and reach for a handful of pecans!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Mad for March

Well, it's official guys and girls. It's now spring. YAY! And what better way to usher in the warmer weather than with a little March Madness! For any folks reading this from overseas, this is the time of year when employers across the U.S. notice a dip in staff productivity, all because workers nationwide are frantically plunking down money, filling out brackets and eagerly watching to see which college basketball teams make it the farthest in the tournament. The Big Dance, you see, is probably almost as popular as the crown jewel of American sports - the Super Bowl! Anyhoo, I'm still doing pretty well in my office pool. As of last check, I had 20 out of 24 picks correct so far. Then again, it's only the first round. And my team has yet to play, (ON WISCONSIN!!!) so it will only get more interesting in the days to come. Moving on, though...I know many of you might not want to dig into a salad when it comes time to watching sports. It's all about the burgers and hot dogs, right? But that doesn't mean you have to blow out your calorie count in one sitting. Here are a few low-cal Hungry Girl recipes to enjoy while watching your favorite b-ball teams compete.

Cheesy Dog Tortilla Roll-Ups
Ingredients:
2 97% Fat Free Hebrew National Hot Dogs
1 La Tortilla Factory 95% Fat Free Low Carb Tortilla
1 slice Kraft Singles Fat Free Cheese
Directions:
Microwave hot dogs according to directions on package. Slice tortilla in half. Fold cheese to create two halves. Place each half cheese slice on top of each tortilla half. Roll cooked hot dog in cheesed-up tortilla. Toast in toaster oven until desired golden color is reached.

De-Pudged Pigs in a Blanket
Ingredients:
1 fat-free (or nearly fat-free) hot dog (like the ones by Oscar Mayer, Hebrew National and Ball Park)
1 portion Pillsbury Reduced Fat Crescent roll dough
Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut hot dog into 4 even pieces. Stretch or roll out the triangle-shaped dough slightly, to make it a larger triangle. Cut dough into 4 long, narrow triangles. Beginning at the base of each triangle, roll a piece of the hot dog up in the dough until the point of each triangle wraps around the center. Place dogs on an ungreased baking pan and cook for about 12 minutes (until dough appears slightly browned and crispy).

Ooey Gooey Chili Cheese Nachos
Ingredients:

1 bag (7 oz.) Guiltless Gourmet Tortilla Chips, Yellow Corn flavor
1 package Boca Chili
4 oz. 8th Continent Light Vanilla Soymilk
3 oz. fat-free block cheddar cheese
2 oz. Velveeta made with 2% Milk
2 tbsp. fat-free cream cheese
2 tbsp. fat-free sour cream
3/4 cup Newman's Own All-Natural Bandito Salsa
Directions:
Melt all three cheeses in a saucepan with the soymilk; stir to combine. Prepare chili according to the directions on the box. Microwave chips until warm, and place on a large platter. Pour your low-fat cheese sauce all over your chips. Cover your chips with chili. Spoon salsa on top, along with a few dollops of fat-free sour cream, and, voila, there you have it! Makes 5 servings.
*Feel free to use other brands as desired. Nutritionals will vary.

Awesome Whopper Stopper
Ingredients:-Wonder Light (or other light) Hamburger Bun
Boca Burger Patty, Original Vegan
1 slice Kraft Singles Fat Free Cheese
1 Tbsp. Miracle Whip Light
3 pickle slices
tomato slice
lettuce
onion slice
1 Tbsp. ketchup
Directions:
Cook Boca Burger as per instructions on box. Toast bun (optional). Lay burger on the bun’s bottom half, followed by the cheese, tomato, onion, and lettuce. On the top half, slap on the mayo, ketchup, and pickles. Put two halves together and enjoy!

Finally, to get you in a basketball state of mind, here are a few clips from some of the best b-ball movies ever made. Have a great weekend!





Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Slainte! Good Food and Drink, Low Calories!

* May your pockets be heavy and your heart be light,
May good luck pursue you each morning and night.
* There are many good reasons for drinking,
One has just entered my head.
If a man doesn't drink when he's living,
How in the hell can he drink when he's dead?

Irish Toasts

Happy St. Patty's Day! So I'm currently debating between attending my first official kickball game (yes, I'm a dork - I joined a league) or celebrating my favorite holiday of the year with friends. Any insight from the peanut gallery? I think it's going to be a last-minute decision, y'all. I mean, technically, I did celebrate all things Irish this past weekend...and I'll be attending yet another St. Patty's Day party this coming weekend. Then again, today is the actual holiday. And I do have Irish roots. What to do?! I can tell you one thing that I will definitely be doing...whipping up my own, low calorie recipe version of that always delicious Mickey D's Shamrock Shake. Why bother making my own, you might ask? Because the fast food version clocks anywhere from 420 to 1,110 calories and 10 to 26g fat, depending on the size. GULP! So a big thanks to Hungry Girl for this low-fat version.

HG's Shamrock n Roll Shake

What? Were you hoping for something a little more traditional? In that case, here are a few more Irish recipes to indulge in on this fine evening.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Irish Lamb Stew

Whole-Wheat Irish Soda Bread

Now to really get you into the mood, I'm including a clip of The Dubliners jamming out to Whiskey in the Jar, as well as scenes from two awesome, Ireland-based movies; The Quiet Man and The Commitments. Tip: Look closely at the band in The Commitments trailer and you'll spot 2008 Best Song Oscar winner Glen Hansard (Once) on guitar. Have a fabulous - and safe - night!





Friday, March 13, 2009

Sho'nuff!

Sho'nuff: Am I the meanest?
Sho'nuff 's Goons: Sho'nuff!
Sho'nuff: Am I the prettiest?
Goons: Sho'nuff!
Sho'nuff: Am I the baddest mofo low down around this town?
Goons: Sho'nuff!
The Last Dragon

Since I just dumped such a serious topic on you, I figured I should end the week with a more light-hearted item. It is Friday, right?
So...do any of you remember "The Last Dragon," a so-bad-it's-good martial arts film from the mid-80s? Well, there is going to be a special late-night screening of it at a theater in Atlanta tonight. Already, I've heard talk of people showing up in costume - a la Rocky Horror - and there are rumors that Mr. Bruce Leroy will be there in person to do the meet-and-greet. And yes, I will be in attendance. I'm certainly not one to turn down watching a cult classic on the big screen. For those unfamiliar with this gem of a flick, the plot follows a black teenage martial arts student named Leroy Green (aka Bruce Leroy) who goes on a quest to possess the "glow" - which can only be achieved by reaching the "final level" of martial arts accomplishment. On his journey, he must confront various villains including the evil Sho'nuff, the Shogun of Harlem. It's all sorts of awesome!

Here's a taste.



And because I love you so much, I'm also including a sucralose-sweetened dessert recipe perfect for the weekend. Happy Friday!

Cinnamon Swirl Coffeecake

Stop the Madness

As most of you know, I tend to keep this blog pretty light and fluffy - with only the occasional foray into more serious topics. After reading this Boston Herald article earlier - news that has managed to totally depress me all afternoon, I might add - I decided it was time for a more sobering entry. To sum it up, a recent survey by the Boston Public Heath Commission found that almost half of the 200 teenagers surveyed thought Rihanna was responsible for her alleged beating at the hands of Chris Brown. I'm sorry...(rubs eyes)...did I read that right? Say HUH? And the responses get even more outrageous. For example, only 51 percent thought Brown was responsible for the incident, 44 percent thought that fighting was a normal part of a relationship, and a significant number said 'Rihanna was destroying Chris Brown’s career.' I just...I'm almost speechless, guys, and that's a rarity for me.
Here's the deal: I know I was fortunate to have been raised by loving parents who were able to instill in their children a strong sense of self-worth - as well as the ability to comprehend right from wrong. I have never dated an abusive man. On the flip side, I've seen first-hand how seemingly strong and confident women can get sucked into violent relationships. A beautiful, intelligent, college friend continually returned to her abusive boyfriend, despite all of our pleas for her to leave him. So I know this sometimes happens. Still, I guess I'd always believed, up until recently, that most people understood that if someone - male or female - punches you in the face, or physically pushes you around, or threatens to kill you...that's not love...or a normal relationship. It's violence, plain and simple. Statistics show that one in three teens will be involved in an abusive relationship, so we have clearly done a lousy job of educating young women and men about dating violence. And maybe that should come as no surprise, considering I've seen and heard EDUCATED ADULTS describe how Rihanna must have provoked Chris Brown - and that we shouldn't "crucify" the poor boy, since he's young and stupid. UGH. And now, even though Brown has been charged with two felonies for allegedly attacking Rihanna, rumors continue to swirl that the duo are back together again, secretly recording a "sweet and sentimental" duet for his next album. DOUBLE UGH.
Oprah Winfrey this week warned Rihanna and women everywhere that if a man hits you once, he'll hit you again. "If you go back with a man who hits you it's because you don't think you're worthy of being with a man who won't," she said. True that!
So here is my plea: Parents, teachers, brothers, sisters, etc. Please talk to your children, friends and loved ones about dating violence. Teach them that it's not okay to hit someone. Remember, love shouldn't hurt - not physically or mentally. It might hurt your heart but it should never leave a bruise.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pop goes the world!

Omigosh, y'all. Somebody in my office just ate popcorn and it smelled SO.FREAKING.GOOD!! I was literally walking around, nose in the air, trying to sniff out who was holding that bag of buttery goodness. And now, I may have to fix up some of my own popcorn tonight - because the little handful I just scored from my co-worker was so not enough!

Do any of you remember a short-lived but wonderful sitcom called Knights of Prosperity? It aired on ABC back in 2007 and was easily one of the most hilarious shows I'd seen in recent years - right up there with The Office and 30 Rock. Long story short, the plot involved a bumbling a group of misfits — the titular Knights — who attempt to rob various celebrities, the first being Mick Jagger. After their effort to burglarize his luxury apartment failed, the team moved onto new targets including Kelly Ripa and Ray Romano. And yes, all of the previously-mentioned celebs had cameo appearances on this show. By the way, I'm still royally bummed this show got pulled off the air. Thanks for nothing ABC!
But I digress...during the Jagger apartment break-in scene, the gang winds up taking a little time to enjoy some of the amenities...including a box of popcorn topped off with butter pumped out of a a machine shaped like a mouth with a protruding tongue...just like the Stones logo. Hee!



Now that looks like fun! But don't worry my little calorie counters. You don't have to pile on the pounds eating that movie theater-style popcorn, as good as it may be. There are low-fat popcorn options. So give a big round of applause to Weight Watchers for providing the low-cal recipes I'm featuring below.

Southwestern Spiced Popcorn
8 cup(s) plain air-popped popcorn
1 serving(s) butter-flavor cooking spray
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Instructions
Place popcorn in a large bowl; spray with nonstick spray, tossing well. In a small bowl, stir together the chili powder, cumin, paprika, salt and garlic powder. Sprinkle over the popcorn, tossing all the while, until well coated. Yields about 2 cups per serving.

Ranch Popcorn
8 cup(s) plain air-popped popcorn
1 serving(s) butter-flavor cooking spray
2 tbsp dry buttermilk (can be found in the baking aisle of most supermarkets)
3/4 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp white pepper, freshly ground

Instructions
Place the popcorn in a large bowl; spray with nonstick spray, tossing well. In a small bowl, whisk together the dry buttermilk, salt, onion powder, dry mustard, garlic powder and pepper. Sprinkle over the popcorn, tossing until well coated. Yields about 2 cups per serving.

Cinnamon-Spice Popcorn
8 cup(s) plain air-popped popcorn
1 serving(s) butter-flavor cooking spray
1/4 cup(s) powdered sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice

Instructions
Place the popcorn in a large bowl; spray with nonstick spray, tossing well. In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Sprinkle over the popcorn, tossing all the while until well coated. Yields about 2 cups per serving.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Magical Margaritas

All my friends in the Midwest and Northeast may want to stop reading...because this blog entry is about sipping cool drinks in the warm sun. Yes, folks, the weather here in Atlanta ticked up to a balmy high '70s over the weekend - and to celebrate that glorious temperature, several of us strolled over to a local Mexican restaurant Sunday afternoon to enjoy some margaritas on the outdoor patio. I couldn't have asked for a better, more mellow day! Now keep in mind, I had spent the previous day hiking at a state park commonly known as Little Grand Canyon,"" so it's not like my entire weekend was dedicated to all things debaucherous. There's just something so refreshing about a margarita on a warm day, though, isn't there? If the weather holds up this weekend(crosses fingers!) you just may spot me lounging on the patio, sipping a margarita...on the rocks...with salt. Any other 'rita fans out there? Here are a few delicious, low-cal recipes, courtesy of Hungry Girl.

Magical Low-Calorie Margarita
Ingredients:
6 oz. Sierra Mist Free (or Diet Sprite Zero, or your other fave no-cal lemon-lime soda)
*1.5 oz. tequila
1/2 tsp. Crystal Light powdered drink mix, Lemonade
1 oz. lime juice
Optional: lime slice for garnish and salt or no-calorie sweetener for rim of glass
Directions:
Run some lime juice along the rim of the glass and dip into a dish of salt or sweetener. Mix all ingredients together. Pour over 1 cup of crushed ice. Optional: Garnish with lime slice.

Rockin' Razzy Rita
Ingredients:
*1.5 oz. tequila
1/2 tsp. Crystal Light powdered drink mix, Raspberry Ice
5 oz. water
1 oz. lime juice
Optional: lime slice for garnish and salt or no-calorie sweetener for rim of glass
Directions:
Run some lime juice along the rim of the glass and dip into a dish of salt or sweetener. Combine all ingredients, mix well, and serve over ice. Or, for a frozen one, place all ingredients (dissolve Crystal Light in water first) in a blender with 1 cup crushed ice, and blend on high until well mixed. Optional: Garnish with a slice of lime.

Fruitylicious Margarita
Ingredients:
*1.5 oz. tequila
5 oz. SoBe LEAN; Diet Mango Melon, Energy Diet Citrus, or Diet Cranberry Grapefruit
1 oz. lime juice
Optional: lime slice for garnish and salt or no-calorie sweetener for rim of glass
Directions:
Wet the glass rim with juice from a lime and dunk it into a dish of salt or sweetener. For frozen sips, combine all ingredients in a blender with 1 cup crushed ice, and blend on high until well mixed. Or, mix ingredients well and serve over ice. If desired, garnish with a lime wedge.

Friday, March 06, 2009

It's not what you eat, but how much...

Atkins. South Beach. The Lemonade Diet. The Cabbage Soup Diet. The Hollywood Diet. Fat Smash...The list of fad diets goes on and on. And if national statistics are to be believed, I'm guessing many of you, dear readers, have tried at least a few of these in your quest to shed some pesky pounds. Well, according to a report recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, it isn't what you eat, but how much you eat. In other words, weight loss is all about calorie and portion control. Results from the two-year study, which assigned 811 overweight participants to one of four reduced-calorie diets, found that from a weight loss perspective it didn't matter what foods the participants ate, but how many calories they consumed. Let's put things into perspective, shall we? A nationally projectable survey by the Calorie Control Council found participants who were currently dieting made an average of 3.6 dieting attempts in 2007, with many searching for the diet most likely to produce rapid weight loss. This new study, however, "really goes against the idea that certain foods are the key to weight loss," said Frank Sacks, principal investigator and a professor at Harvard School of Public Health. "It gives people a lot of choices to find a diet they can stick with."
The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), grouped participants into one of four diets: two low-fat and two high-fat. All four included either a high-protein or an average-protein component. Typical diets in the study had between 1,400 and 2,000 calories a day. All the diets were low in calories and saturated fat while high in fiber, and participants were instructed to exercise for 90 minutes per week. Participants who attended counseling sessions initially lost an average of 13 pounds after six months and, after two years, had lost approximately nine pounds and two inches off their waist lines, regardless of diet grouping. Study co-author Catherine Loria notes that, in addition to making healthful food choices, "all you have to do is count your calories." So what does this mean for dieters? For starters, plan on adopting more low-calorie foods. Even cutting 100 calories per day - such as using a low-calorie sweetener instead of sugar - can mean big changes in your waistline and health. And to put things into pounds - eliminating 100 calories per day can result in a more than 10-pound weight loss by year's end. YAY!

On a different topic, I've been jonesing for "fried green tomatoes" lately. Ever had any? They're dee-lish! I've been a big fan of them ever since I moved to Atlanta in fall '06 and tried them for the first time. So I was thrilled when I recently discovered that Hungry Girl had a low-cal (140 calories, 1.5g fat) recipe that I will totally be checking out this weekend. See below!

Faux-Fried Green Tomatoes
Ingredients:
1 medium green (unripe) tomato, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/3 cup Fiber One bran cereal (original), ground to a breadcrumb-like consistency
1 1/2 tbsp. cornmeal
2 tbsp. fat-free liquid egg substitute
2 tbsp. low-fat milk
1/4 tsp. seasoned salt
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. onion powder
dash salt
dash pepper
Optional: additional spices, ketchup (for dipping)

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the ground cereal, cornmeal and spices in a sealable container or plastic bag. (For a more flavorful coating, add extra spices.) Pour the egg substitute into a small dish.
Pour the milk into another small dish. Dip a tomato slice in the milk, and place it in the cereal/cornmeal mixture. Seal the container or bag, and shake until the slice is coated. Remove the slice and set aside, and then repeat with the remaining slices. Next, repeat this entire process using the egg substitute in place of the milk, coating your tomato slices with the crumb mixture a second time. (Before coating the slices in crumbs again, give 'em a shake so they're not dripping with excess egg substitute.)
Place the double-coated slices on a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick spray. Pop 'em in the oven for 15 - 20 minutes, flipping the slices about halfway through cooking. Tomatoes are done when the outsides are nice and crispy. Enjoy! These are great by themselves, but they're also excellent dipped in ketchup!


And finally, since it's Friday, let's take a moment to enjoy this awesome scene from Fried Green Tomatoes. TOWANDA!!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

I could use a pound of that!

Oooh! A quick glance at my trusty food calendar shows that tomorrow is National Pound Cake Day. YUMMY! Pound cake is one of my favorite desserts, especially topped off with some fruit. So here are a few sucralose-sweetened, low-cal pound cake recipes to test out in honor of the big day.

Velvet Pound Cake

Sour Cream Pound Cake

Lemon Pound Cake

Sweet Potato Pound Cake