5 Meals to get you back into your pre-holiday jeans

Over the past week, we’ve spent a lot of time cooking, and even more time eating.

What’s more?  It’s only the beginning of our holiday season eating extravaganza that ends with New Year’s resolutions meant to undo the damage.

That rattling in your closet is all of your buttons shaking in fear of what you intend to consume over the next month. 

I’m not going to ask you not to eat at parties or enjoy the many holiday treats that will surely show up at your home or office this season. Instead, I’m going to suggest some meal options for the days in-between the butter, cream cheese, sugar, mayonnaise, icing, eggnog-laden gatherings.

Below are five meals you can feel good about. Not only are these dinner ideas healthy and tasty, they are also easy. You’ve already slaved over a turkey. Now you’re off the hook for the rest of the year.

After the holidays, I will absolutely help you get back in shape even if you break every rule in my book; but, success will come sooner and easier if we can temper the damage on the front-end.

What’s for dinner?

1) Meatloaf (using oatmeal instead of breadcrumbs) with cauliflower mash instead of taters

For the meatloaf, use 1 lb of lean ground meat, 2/3 cup of oatmeal, 1 egg, 1/4 cup of chopped onion, 1/2 tsp of minced garlic, 1 drained can of diced tomatoes, 1 Tbsp of worcestershire and 1/2 tsp of pepper. Mix and bake at 350 for 40 mins, top with Heinz 57 and bake for an additional 10 mins.

For the cauliflower mash, steam or boil fresh or frozen cauliflower until tender, then process with your favorite mashed potato ingredients.

2) Lentil sauce over quinoa

Cook 1/2 lb of sausage or ground meat in a pot with 1 tsp of olive oil. Once the meat cooks, add 1 can of lentil soup and 1 can of Rotel. Heat through so some of the liquid evaporates, and serve over quinoa.

3) Taco salad

Cook ground meat with 1 tsp each of the following: chili powder, onion powder, paprika, garlic salt, cumin and red pepper. Add 1/2 cup of diced onion and cook until translucent. Serve over torn up lettuce and top with grated cheddar, diced tomatoes, diced peppers, a dollop of plain yogurt (greek is best because the flavor mimics sour cream) and a sprinkle of crushed tortilla chips.

4) Steak and salad with blue cheese dressing

Marinate steak in 2 Tbsp worcestershire, 1 tbsp dijon mustard, 1 Tbsp of orange or apple juice and 2 tsp pepper for at least 30 mins. Grill to desired doneness, and serve with romaine, diced red onion and a dressing made of the following: 1/2 cup of cottage cheese, 1/2 cup of yogurt, 2 tsp chopped onion, 1/2 tsp minced garlic, splash of red wine vinegar and 1 Tbsp of blue cheese – process till smooth and salt & pepper to taste.

5) Roasted chicken and veggies

Heat oven to 400F. Mix juice of 1 lemon, 2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp pepper, 1 tsp sea salt, 1 Tbsp freshly chopped herbs (basil, thyme, rosemary or sage will work) and 1 tsp minced garlic. Baste chicken breasts, and use the rest to toss with vegetables of choice (broccoli, carrots, onion, fennel, sweet potato chunks, bell peppers, cauliflower, etc.). Bake chicken and vegetables for about 20 minutes, or until done.


Crock Pot fall soup with butternut squash, chicken, coconut milk and… peanut butter

Just so we’re clear, I love peanut butter and would use it in/on everything if that was an acceptable option. From this information you can derive that I was more than excited to add it to this batch of soup. You can omit it if you’re dealing with allergies, but “hint of pb” goes a long way in it if you are cleared for peanut consumption.

I made this soup the same day I had the pleasure of staying late at the gym to workout with Tony Horton. What an excellent excuse to work late, and a wonderful dinner to come home to.

Before I start with the recipe, I’ll cover some variations for this soup. You can use rotisserie chicken (pulled/chopped with skin removed) as a shortcut, dark or white meat will work equally well – you could even use turkey to make it taste more like Thanksgiving; the cayenne is optional if you’re not into spice; you can puree the squash (or use frozen butternut squash puree) rather than cube it depending on your desired consistency.

This soup is perfect for fall and full of protein, good carbs, and spices that will make you feel warm from the inside out.

Spiced Butternut Squash and Chicken Soup

  • 1 3lb butternut squash cubed (Click here for instructions on peeling and chopping these tough buggers!)
  • 1 pkg (just under 2lbs) boneless, skinless chicken thighs/breasts
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small red onion chopped
  • 1 red pepper chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup light coconut milk
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp of each of the following: ginger, cumin, cinnamon, paprika (smoked paprika, preferably)
  • 2 tsp curry
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1 Tbsp peanut butter
  • salt and pepper

Add cubed squash, red pepper and dried cranberries to the slow-cooker /crock pot. Salt and pepper the chicken and cook with red onion in olive oil until you can’t see anymore pink on the outside of the chicken. While chicken and onion cook, mix all remaining ingredients in a small bowl or measuring cup. It’s okay if peanut butter doesn’t separate while stirring. It will blend easily by stirring once the soup is hot from cooking. Add chicken and onion to crock pot and pour liquid-spice mixture over it. Mix with a wooden spoon, and don’t worry about the liquid not appearing to be enough. It will all cook down and magically turn into soup.

Cook on med-high for 4-6 hours (medium if all day). Before serving, scoop out about 1.5 cups of the squash and mash it up with a fork. Stir the mashed squash back in to make the soup thicker and creamier. Give it a taste and add more s&p if your tastes say it needs it.

Serve on its own, or you can top soup with a spoonful of yogurt, cilantro, basil, toasted squash seeds or parmesan.


Carrot, apple, nut muffins

I’m currently obsessed with making (and eating) uber-healthy muffins. The idea is to pack as much of the stuff my body needs, with as little of what it doesn’t, into little baked goodies I can eat on the go.

I’ve been playing with fruit, veggies, nuts, grains, spices, etc., and I encourage you to do the same.

The recipe below is from today’s batch (I’m actually eating one while typing) where I made a point of writing down measurements. I work off of what we have in the house when I’m cooking, so things rarely come out the same twice, but who cares as long as it tastes good, right? The trouble is, I’ll mention having made something yummy recently and, of course, the common response is to ask for the recipe.

I say all of this so you’ll realize that you can make a gazillion variations of the muffins below. You can substitute any dried fruit for the dates, applesauce for the apple, pumpkin or sweet potato for the carrot, use any kind of nut, any kind of milk, etc.

The sweetness from the natural sugars in the carrots, apple and dates mean you only need a touch of actual sugar, and using oatmeal cuts down on the amount of flour required. Real sugar and whole grains mean you’ll stay full longer and keep your blood sugar level stable.

If you do make the muffins according to the recipe below, you can feel good about getting a boatload of vitamins, potassium, fiber, folic acid, beta carotene, calcium and omega-3, just to name some of the goodness. Whether you have these for breakfast, a treat, or a snack, you will be making a better decision than you will with most alternatives. I love to have one (or two) with a cold glass of skim milk. So yummy!

Carrot, apple, nut muffins

  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 cup baby carrots
  • 1 apple (quartered)
  • 3/4 cup pitted dates
  • 1/4 cup raw almonds
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats (not instant or quick oats)
  • 2 Tbsp wheat germ
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ea baking soda and powder
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
Preheat oven to 350/180. Combine first 9 ingredients in the food processor and let it do its thing. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Transfer wet ingredients from the processor to the dry mixture and stir. Grease a muffin pan and fill up the cups. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Enjoy!

Mashed sweet potato with roasted banana

Mashed sweet potato with roasted banana is easy to make, delicious, and healthy to the nth degree. One sweet potato and one banana is all you need. One large potato is usually large enough to feed two, or you could do a small one per person. You’ll need one banana to each potato.

Sweet potatoes are nutritional rockstars. They’re lower on the glycemic index than other potatoes, making them the “good carbs,” and they’re loaded with carotenoids, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Unfortunately, we love them with butter and sugar, which add back in the same things we were trying to avoid.

Bananas are low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, and they’re also a great source of fiber, vitamin C, potassium, manganese, and vitamin B6. They are higher in sugar than some fruits, but natural sugar is better for you than refined and bleached sugar or artificial sweeteners.

When you roast a banana the skin turns black, and the inside becomes sweet and gooey, like sweetened butter. Thus, sugar and butter, without the actual sugar and butter. Get excited.

Try this recipe next to a spicy steak, chicken/pork with a peach-balsamic sauce, or even as baby food. It’s a very versatile dish.

Mashed sweet potato with roasted banana (You’re not going to believe how easy this is!)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Scrub potato(s) and pierce a few times with a fork. Bake for one hour. Forty-five minutes into baking, place banana(s), skin on, in oven. After the final 15 minutes, remove potato(s) and banana(s). Slice potato and scoop out filling. Mash in a large bowl. Make a slit in your banana and scoop contents out with a spoon over the potato. Mash and mix together. That’s it! Enjoy!


BBQ pork loin and cucumber, black bean, quinoa salad

Here’s a delicious, healthy recipe for you. It’s full of the things your body needs, and light on what it doesn’t. This dish has protein, loads of veggies, whole grain, citrus and fiber, while budgeting fat, sodium and sugar content. The bit of kick is an added bonus for your metabolism and circulation, if you can take the heat.

This meal is easy to make and convenient to prepare since you can make the salad ahead of time and let it chill while the pork marinates, leaving only the final step of grilling the pork loin. I knew I’d be in the gym all day, so it was nice to have almost everything done already when I got home. We will definitely be adding this one to the dinner rotation.

Pork loin rub

  • 0.3-0.5lb/pp pork loin

Ingredients below are per each pound of pork loin.

  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • 2-3 tsp olive oil (just enough to make a paste)
My husband looked up how to grill the pork loin in a way that keeps it juicy and tender, and it came out perfect. He seared it for three minutes, or until it has black grill marks on either side, then turned the grill down to med-low to finish cooking (time will depend on thickness). Remember that it will continue to cook a little when you remove it from the heat, so take it off and let it rest for about 3 minutes before cutting. Use the rub recipe below at least 2 hours prior and let it marinate in the fridge, but bring it back to room temperature before you grill it.

Cucumber, black bean, quinoa cold salad

  • 1 chopped cucumber
  • 1 chopped shallot
  • 1 chopped, seeded red pepper
  • 1 diced, seeded tomato
  • 1 chopped avocado (optional)
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 can rinsed, drained black beans
  • 1 cup prepared quinoa
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp agave nectar or honey
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp Tony Chachere’s creole seasoning
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp pepper
Cook the quinoa according to package instructions and set aside to cool. Rinse and drain canned black beans. Chop up all of your fruits and veggies and add them to a large bowl with beans. Mix all of your liquids and spices and pour them over the veggies and beans. Finally, stir in the quinoa, cover, and put in the fridge to cool until ready to serve.
Serve pork with salad. The hot pork right off the grill is great next to the cool salad. Enjoy!

Recipe: Jerk pineapple pork chops with black beans, lime yogurt and arugula

This recipe combines sweet-heat with some cool lime yogurt and peppery greens. It’s pretty much a party in your mouth. Although, unlike some parties, this one won’t leave you with a hangover. Low fat, low carb, high fiber, high protein, lots of vitamins and even some calcium means you can feel good enjoying every bite.

 

Jerk pineapple pork chops with black beans, lime yogurt and arugula

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 can pineapple chunks in 100% juice
  • 1 can crushed pineapple in 100% juice
  • 2 stalks of scallions chopped
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1.5 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 de-seeded habanero / 1 de-seeded jalapeno / 1/2 tsp cayenne (choose your heat)
  • 4 bone in pork chops
  • 1 tsp each salt and pepper
  • 1 can black beans
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp agave nectar or honey
  • 1 small container of plain yogurt
  • bag/bunch of arugula
Instructions:
In food processor, pulse crushed pineapple, scallions, thyme, garlic, allspice, and habanero/jalapeno/cayenne. Sprinkle pork chops with salt and pepper on both sides. Pour canned pineapple chunks (with juice) into a 9×13 glass baking dish, add pork chops and top with mixture from processor. Cover and marinate for 2-4 hours.
Preheat oven to 375/190. Bake uncovered for 35 minutes. Turn off oven, but don’t remove for 5-10 minutes. Use that time to finish your plate prep as directed below, then take it out.
In a small bowl, mix yogurt, lime juice and agave/honey.
To each large salad/pasta bowl (or on a dinner plate) add a handful of arugula, 1/4 of the black beans and 1/4 of the yogurt mixture. Top with one pork chop and some pineapple chunks. Enjoy!

Recipe: Reconnecting with the Muffin Man

The problem…

The Muffin Man has let himself go.

Seriously, you’d think muffins were using steroids or had been exposed to some bad nuclear waste considering how large they are now.

Along with their size growth, they’ve also increased in calories, fat and sugar content by preposterous proportions.The only thing that hasn’t grown about the muffin is its nutritional benefit.

Come on! There are places that only sell “muffin tops” now (as if any of us needs anything by that name). Anytime you can sell only a portion of something because it’s so large in its entirety, you have to suspect something is amiss.

I grew up on bran muffins and blueberry muffins, but today you’d be hard pressed to find the bran or the blueberries buried beneath all the sugar. We managed to take an innocent, healthy muffin and corrupt it, and now it only poses as healthy.

The solution…

Here is a muffin recipe you can feel good about.

Fiber and protein dominate, and it’s a blank enough slate that there is room for you to add in some of your favorite, healthy muffin ingredients (i.e. ripe banana, pureed carrot, blueberries, lemon and poppyseed). I’ve skipped the butter, eggs, flour and refined sugar; opting instead for applesauce, yogurt, almond meal, oats and honey. The honey, applesauce, vanilla and orange zest combine to create a light sweetness, and although I’m not a big fan of “fake” substitutes, I did opt for some Molly McButter to add a bit of the rich, buttery taste I like in a muffin.

These are gluten-free, and you can also make it vegan by using soy yogurt. I hope you’ll try it and let me know if you come up with any yummy suggestions to add to it.

This recipe yields exactly twelve muffins, and they make great snacks as well as a yummy breakfast. Eat up, and feel good about it!

Almond-Applesauce Muffins

  • 12 oz. natural applesauce (unsweetened)
  • 1 small, single-portion container of plain, greek yogurt
  • 1 Tbsp Molly McButter / Butter Buds
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. orange zest
  • 2 cups almond flour/meal
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
Mix all of your wet ingredients in one bowl, and dry ingredients in another. Combine wet and dry ingredients to create batter, and spoon muffin batter into a greased muffin pan. Bake at 350 (180 C) for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Recipe: Aromatic Pork Loin, Northern Beans, and… Jello

What could be better than a great meal of protein and fiber, followed by a dessert you won’t regret eating?
I ran across a rub recently that called for zest and fennel seed and, because I normally reach for garlic and herbs, I was excited to try out something different. You can never go wrong with a pork loin – they’ll always come out tender, and leftovers make for great sandwiches, so I decided it would be my test subject. I’m also on a bean kick right now, and I wanted a meal that would all end up in one dish, thus the beans going in with the loin.
The dessert portion of this recipe came to me after I made the rub. I was staring at a juicy orange that had just been stripped, but I wasn’t hungry enough at the time to chow down. Not wanting to waste it, I looked for another way to use it. I had a box of lemon jello mix in the pantry and 1/2 cup of leftover coconut milk in the fridge, so I decided to put them altogether. I like cream and citrus together, so I liked my odds.
In the end, the meal turned out great, and I felt great after eating it. What more could a person ask for?
Ideally, you should marinate your pork and make the jello at the same time. That way, they’re both ready to go when you’re ready to put together your meal.
Pork Loin with Zest-Fennel Rub and White Beans
  • 1 Tbsp fennel seed
  • 3 garlic cloves – minced
  • zest of one orange (save the insides for your jello)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsps chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pork loin (the one I used was just under 2 lbs)
  • 2 cans of northern beans
  • juice of one lemon
Rub your pork loin with salt and pepper. Work the first 5 ingredients into a paste and rub all over the pork loin. Cover and marinate for at least 3-5 hours. Preheat oven to 400. Combine beans and lemon juice, and set aside. Bake pork for 30 minutes, remove from oven, add beans to the same pan/dish and stir around so that some of the juices mingle with the beans. Return to oven for another 15 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes once done. Serve hot and enjoy!
Alternatively, you could cook the pork loin in a crockpot and add the beans just before serving.
Not Bill Cosby’s Jello
  • Pulp from orange you zested for the pork (I used blood orange, but they’re more easy to come by in Italy)
  • 1 package of sugar-free lemon jello mix
  • 1/2 cup of coconut milk
  • 1.5 cups of cold water
Combine coconut milk with 1/2 cup of water and bring to a boil. Add jello mix and stir until dissolved. Add 1 cup of cold water. Spread pulp in jello mold dish. Pour jello mixture over the pulp. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours so it has plenty of time to solidify.

Recipe: Apple, Coconut Curry

My mother and I just finished eating our way from Naples, Italy up into Paris, France over the course of the past two weeks. Although I loved every bite of my chocolate filled croissants, crepes, pizza, pasta, foie gras, escargot, creme brulee, etc., I was itching to get back into my kitchen by the end of it.

Any neighboring passengers on my flight home could have seen me napping with a dreamy grin on my face. Perhaps they thought I was dreaming of romance and unicorns, but I was actually imagining what I would cook first – that and getting to see and feed my husband.

I show love by feeding people, I really love my husband, and he and I both love curry dishes with coconut milk. While soaring high above the clouds, I decided I would make our favorite curry dish recipe to welcome us both back home.

As with most of our favorite dishes (hello, pancakes), the first time was not the charm for curry. I tried using the little melting blocks you can get at the store, but they have a ridiculous amount of sodium in them, so I moved on to playing around mixing different flavors and seasoning blends. Try; try again, and eventually you taste what you know wins the ribbon.

The recipe below uses chicken broth and coconut milk rather than oil or butter. It’s low in sodium with a little spice to kick up your metabolism, and it incorporates fruit, veggies and protein, so it will fill you up and hold you for a long time.

I like a bit of sweet mixed in with my savory dishes. The apple, basil and coconut milk give an aromatic sweetness to the entire dish, while the golden raisins give a sweet surprise when you bite into them.

I mentioned the dish having spice, but it is not hot. Other ingredients cool it down, so I would only call it “warm.” If you aren’t into spice, omit the creole seasoning. Although the madras curry powder is labeled as being hot, it is not the spicy culprit in this dish.

The trip with my mom was priceless, but it’s good to be home.

Just as the flavors of this dish intermingle, we intermingle, and it all combines so that even Goldilocks would call it “just right.”

Apple, Coconut Curry

Serves 2 football players, or 3 normal adults – to get to 4 servings, add another chicken breast and up everything else by 1/4

  • 3/4 cup of chicken broth
  • 2 Chicken breasts – cut into strips/diced/cubed, depending on your preference
  • 1 diced apple
  • 1/4 cup of golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup of garbanzo beans
  • Couple handfuls of spinach (can also use about 1/3 bag of frozen)
  • 1 tsp of creole seasoning (Tony Chachere’s)
  • 1 Tbsp of dried basil (fresh would be even better)
  • 1 tsp of ginger
  • 1 tsp of cumin
  • 2 tsps of regular curry powder
  • 2 Tbsps of hot madras curry powder
  • 1/2 can coconut milk

Partially cook the chicken in the broth, then add everything except for the coconut milk. Stir frequently over medium heat until there is almost no liquid remaining. Add the coconut milk and serve over quinoa or brown rice.

Buon appetito; Bon appetit; and welcome home.


Recipe: Slow cooker turkey breast soup

Mother Nature is trying to push Spring our way, but so far the weather seems pretty indecisive. Between the pollen and the random chilly days it’s tough to stay healthy.

At the first sniffle of a stuffy nose, my soup craving begins. The trouble is I know now how much sodium is in the old chicken noodle soup I used to eat. I don’t really want to be stuffy AND swollen, so I have to be choosy with anything canned. Soup is a great option for a healthy diet, as long as it isn’t brimming with preservatives, cream, etc.

Organizing the refrigerator (yes, I do that, and I enjoy it) this past weekend I found a frozen turkey breast and had a Clueless moment as I said, “Project!” They sell frozen turkey breasts year-round, we just don’t think to make turkey except for on Thanksgiving – when it’s a major task.

The recipe below turned out to be one of the best, easiest soups I’ve ever made. Whether you’re in perfect health or not, it will make you feel good. Because it’s cooked in a slow cooker, it’s also an easy meal that requires minimal hands-on time.

Slow cookers, crockpots, whatever you prefer to call them, are wonderful because they do the work for you. You get to come home to a house that smells like someone’s been cooking for you all day. I should add that my husband thinks this must be torture for our dog.

In conclusion, this is, indeed, turkey soup for the soul – just not the dog’s soul.

Slow Cooker Turkey Breast Soup…for the soul

Serves 4

  • Defrosted turkey breast
  • 1 Tbsp. prepared pesto
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 2 14oz cans of chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup frozen diced onion
  • 1 cup frozen sliced carrots
  • 1 cup frozen edamame
  • Optional: any frozen veggies of your choice, low sodium crackers for topping

Remove excess fat/skin from the turkey breast, but leave the main piece of skin over the top. Combine pesto, olive oil and pepper and rub all over turkey and under skin. Put turkey breast in slow cooker and pour half a can of broth around it (around, not over, as you don’t want to rinse off the seasoning). If you’re in a hurry, cook on med-high for 4 hours. If you’ll be gone all day, leave it on med-low for 7 hours. After the initial cooking time, you should be able to pull the turkey breast apart with a large fork easily without removing it from the cooker. Once it’s well separated, add frozen vegetables and remaining chicken broth. Turn up to high and cook for another 30-45 mins, or until it has reached and held a simmer for at least 15 minutes.

Serve hot with crumbled crackers on top. Whoever is served the piece of turkey skin can just discard it.

Turn your cooker back down to med-low to keep it warm for seconds. Save leftovers in fridge or freezer.