angie food cake

Sweet, salty and a whole lotta carbs.

Copycat Olive Garden Minestrone

Happy Thanksgiving Eve! I hope you have plans to stuff yourself silly with turkey, gravy and (my personal favorite) mashed potatoes! I know I do.

My recipe for you today has nothing to do with Thanksgiving or leftovers. I’m so great at staying topical. Nonetheless, this  is a perfect copycat of Olive Garden’s signature minestrone soup. This is an easy recipe that’s full of hearty, good-for-you vegetables, which you just might be craving after eating your body weight in pumpkin pie. Hey, maybe I am topical after all!

 
Copycat Olive Garden Minestrone
from Food.com
Makes about eight 1 1/2 cup servings

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup minced white onion (about 1 small onion)
1/2 cup chopped zucchini
1/2 cup frozen cut Italian cut green beans
1/4 cup minced celery (about 1/2 stalk)
4 teaspoons minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
4 cups vegetable broth (Swanson is good *note ( Do not use chicken broth!*)
2 (15 ounce) cans red kidney beans, drained
2 (15 ounce) cans small white beans or 2 (15 ounce) cans great northern beans, drained
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup carrot (julienned or shredded)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cups hot water
4 cups fresh baby spinach
1/2 cup small shell pasta

Directions

  1. Heat three tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large soup pot.
  2. Saute onion, celery, garlic, green beans, and zucchini in the oil for 5 minutes or until onions begin to turn translucent.
  3. Add vegetable broth to pot, plus drained tomatoes, beans, carrot, hot water, and spices.
  4. Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Add spinach leaves and pasta and cook for an additional 20 minutes or until desired consistency.

Cinnamon Churro Chex Mix

A big thing happened this week. I. Turned. Thirty. I know many women freak the bleep out when they turn 30, but I’m totally cool with it. I love my life, and turning 30 for me was just an excuse to have a great big party with everyone I love.

My day started out with gifts from my sweet husband. He bought me a massage pillow because I was drooling over them a few weeks earlier.

I love how this picture makes the pillow look like a robot!

He also treated me to a few of my favorite things.

This was the most chocolaty cake I have ever seen, and it was fabulous! My husband knows me so well. Which brings me to the next treat he bought me.

Who doesn’t love Reese’s, right? But don’t be fooled, this ain’t no ordinary pack.

That’s a ONE POUND pack of chocolate peanut butter goodness. Ahhh I can’t wait to get home and take a giant bite out of one of those cups!

After the gifts, we started to prepare for my party. We had some friends over to eat, drink and watch the Vikings game.

We had a great spread, including Dr. Pepper pulled pork, spicy jalapeno slaw, meatballs, taco dip, jalapeno popper dip, limoncello cupcakes, red velvet cake cheese ball and more, but my most favorite recipe from the whole day was the Cinnamon Churro Chex Mix.

I die! I inhaled about 50 cups of this stuff. The recipe is a breeze, and it’s a fun and different party food. It’s easier to make than puppy chow and a million times more delicious. This coming from the girl with the one pound Reese’s on her kitchen table!

Cinnamon Churro Chex Mix
from Just Another Day in Paradise

Ingredients

9 cups rice Chex cereal
3 cups cinnamon chips
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions

  1. Pour Chex into a bowl and set aside
  2. Combine sugars and cinnamon in a small bowl. Divide sugar mixture into two gallon-size freezer bags. (You can estimate here.) Set aside.
  3. Pour cinnamon chips into a microwaveable bowl, heat for 1 minute and stir. Heat for 30 seconds and stir. If your chips are not melted at this point, continue heating and stirring in 30 second intervals until the chips are completely melted.
  4. Pour melted chips over cereal and toss until well coated.
  5. Scoop half of the cereal into each freezer bag and zip up. Shake each bag until the cereal is well coated.
  6. Pour the mix into a bowl and enjoy!

Stuffed Acorn Squash

The other day I was grocery shopping, and I passed a rack full of squash. Spaghetti, butternut and acorn. I’ve gone down the spaghetti squash route, and honestly I just can’t do it. Spaghetti squash is so not spaghetti, no matter how hard it tries to be. But since squash is a superfood, I decided to give another variety a chance and scooped up an acorn squash.

I am not the biggest fan of squash (the texture is off…), but I love  a challenge, so I did a little Googling and threw together this stuffed acorn squash recipe. It turned out pretty great!

Stuffed Acorn Squash
Serves 2

Ingredients

1 acorn squash
1 Tbs butter
Salt and Pepper
1/2 cup couscous
1/2 lb ground turkey
1/2 an onion, chopped
3/4 cup chopped carrots
1/2 Tbs dried oregano
1/2 Tbs dried thyme
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the pulp and seeds. Place both halves in a baking pan, flesh side up. Pour 1/4 cup of hot water into the pan. Add 1/2 tablespoon of butter to the center of each squash and season with salt and pepper. Bake the squash for 60-70 minutes, or until it is tender.
  2. When you have about 30 minutes left on the squash, prepare the couscous according to package directions and set aside.
  3. Saute ground turkey, onion and carrots, in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add salt and pepper, oregano and thyme. Cook until turkey is no longer pink. Drain excess water and grease.
  4. Combine meat mixture with the couscous.
  5. When the squash is ready, fill both halves with the mixture. You can stuff them all the way to the top. You may have extra filling.
  6. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of shredded mozzarella on each half and bake for an additional 5-7 minutes or until cheese is melted.

The great thing about this recipe is it combines the sweet, tender flavor of acorn squash with the salty, savory flavor of ground turkey, oregano and thyme. I thought this really worked well, and it was so filling. Definitely a great fall recipe!

 

 

Taco Pasta

TGIF! Who has big weekend plans? I have a busy day tomorrow. My city hosts a clean up day, so my husband and I get to drop off a truckload of crap! I. Cannot. Wait. Our garage is full of random things the previous owner left for us, and it’s finally time to say goodbye!

I’m also spending Saturday afternoon with my sister-in-law and mother-in-law having a soup cooking extravaganza! We’re making chicken chili, steak chili and minestrone. We’re all looking forward to having freezers stocked full of soup for the upcoming winter.

I’m planning to make an Olive Garden copycat minestrone recipe, so I’ll share it with you next week.

This week has been a good one. Kicked it off with tailgating at the Gopher Homecoming game. I didn’t go to the U, but it’s still fun to dress up in Gopher gear and show our support. Plus day drinking is always a blast!

I’ve also just been enjoying the weather. I feel like we often miss out on fall in Minnesota (official seasons are winter and road construction), but this year has been really great. I love this tree in our backyard.

Too bad there’s already 5,897 leaves on the ground and another 6,324 still on the tree. Yay raking.

We also got to dog-sit Amery, Scott’s parent’s dog. It’s so fun for Luke to have a friend in the house.

 

I also spent a lot of time on Pinterest this week, looking for new recipes. This recipe contains two of my favorite words – taco and pasta. Sold!

 

Taco Pasta
From Overworked Supermom

Ingredients

1 pound ground beef (I used ground turkey)
8-12 ounces medium pasta shells  (I used whole wheat penne)
1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 packet (4 tablespoons) taco seasoning
3 ounces cream cheese (I used 1/3 less fat)
1/2 cup sour cream (I used light)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional – I didn’t have this, so I didn’t use it, but would’ve been great.)
Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water. Set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, cook the ground meat and onions over medium-high heat until the meat is done. Drain any excess water or grease.
  3. Add the diced tomatoes, garlic and taco seasoning and let simmer over medium heat, about 3-5 minutes.
  4. Stir in the cream cheese, sour cream, cooked pasta and a little of the pasta water. Continue stirring until the cream cheese is melted and the sauce is well blended. Simmer for a few minutes over medium heat to reduce the sauce.*
  5. Salt and pepper to taste. If using cilantro, toss right before serving.

*I am unsure if the pasta water is essential to this recipe. You wouldn’t need to simmer to reduce the sauce if you didn’t use it, but it might add flavor. Like I said, I’m unsure! Next time I make this, I’ll skip the pasta water to see what happens.

Slow Cooker Chili

It’s hard to believe that it’s already October. The weather in MN is so crazy that it’s tough to tell what season it is, but Google Cal tells me it’s October 10th, and I have no other choice than to believe it!

I love  fall. Cozy sweaters, scarves and boots! Apple cider! Pumpkin-flavored everything! And of course the beautiful color-changing leaves.

Colors Along the St. Croix River

My cute husband and me on a fall colors boat cruise.

No two things go more hand-in-hand than fall and your slow cooker. When you see this recipe you’re going to laugh. It is so stupid easy that it’s barely a recipe, but you know what? I don’t care! This was so belly-warmingly delicious that you just have to make it.

Slow Cooker Chili

Ingredients

1 lb lean ground beef
1 lb lean ground turkey
1 large yellow onion, diced
Cooking spray
2 cans diced tomatoes, undrained (14.5 oz each)
2 cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed (16 oz each)
1 can tomato sauce (15.5 oz)
1 package chili seasoning mix (I used this because it was easy, but I fully understand if you are anti-seasoning packets. If you want to use your own seasoning, go ahead. Here’s a link  for inspiration.)

Directions

  1. Spray a large skillet with cooking spray.
  2. Saute the onion and ground meat until the meat is cooked and the onion is soft. Drain grease and add the meat into a large slow cooker.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until combined.
  4. Cook the chili on low for 8 hours (or high for 4).
  5. Serve with sour cream and shredded cheese.

Trader Joes Product Love – Part Two

If you read my first Trader Joes review, you know how much I love their products. I took a recent trip and bought a whole bunch of great new things.

First up, Chocolatey Cats Cookies.

I love these cute little treats. They are crunchy and have a great chocolate flavor. They remind me of Teddy Grahams, but better! Plus, they’re low fat. Meow!

Next we have the Roasted Gorgonzola Crackers.

If you like Gorgonzola cheese, you will like these crackers. They are teeny tiny, so you will want to eat a million, but be warned, the flavor is quite pungent. To be honest, I don’t love these. I mostly enjoyed them dipped in sour cream spinach dip (which was delicious), but they are too strong for me on their own.

I may not love the crackers, but I adore this next item!

Pretzel Rolls. Soft, chewy, carby pretzel rolls! I fell in love with pretzel rolls when I had a burger served on one at the St. James Hotel in Red Wing, MN. These rolls are excellent, but definitely just a treat for me, as they have over 300 calories each. My husband and I made roast beef and cheddar sandwiches on these, and smothered them with this next product.

Yum! This hummus is perfect. It has just the right amount of kick to it, so it made a perfect sandwich spread. It’s also excellent on crackers and raw veggies.

Finally we have Soyaki.

The name says it all for this one. It’s the perfect combination of soy and teriyaki sauces. I’ve used this sauce as a marinade and in stir fry. It’s sweet, savory and a great mix of Asian flavors.

I could go on and on about all the other great TJs products I love, but I won’t. I’ll save that for part three. ;-)

Cherry Breeze No-Bake Dessert

I’m back! And I have a super easy no-bake dessert for you lovely folks. Since most of my readers are my family members (Hi, Mom!), y’all already know this recipe, as it has been a family favorite for years. This dessert has shown up at every family holiday celebration since I was a little girl. Made famous by my mom’s Aunt Aida, this dessert is definitely the most requested treat in her arsenal. Aunt Aida and her daughters are known for their rich, interesting and always delicious desserts, so I always assumed Cherry Breeze was an Aida original, but guess what? Go ahead and Google Cherry Breeze. Seriously, go ahead, I’ll wait.

The first result you see is Aunt Aida’s exact recipe! Not such a family secret after all. Oh well, no worries, this is still the best!

I made this Cherry Breeze today for Scott’s dad’s birthday dinner. I introduced Cherry Breeze to my other family, and it has quickly become a family favorite on their side as well! And why shouldn’t it? It’s basically a quick and easy version of cheesecake without the springform pan and hours of work.

Start by beating an eight ounce block of softened cream cheese until light and fluffy. Be sure you take the time to soften your cream cheese, or you WILL have lumps.

 

Next, add in the sweetened condensed milk and beat until well combined. The filling will be really sweet and sticky.

Add in the lemon juice and vanilla, and mix until well combined. Mix on a low speed at first so you don’t splash juice all over the place. Once the filling is ready, it should look like this. Creamy, smooth, no lumps. If you are using a KitchenAid, make sure you scrape the cream cheese that’s stuck to the bottom.

Pour the filling into the graham cracker crust and chill in the fridge for at least two hours.

Finally, pour the cherry pie filling on top and refrigerate for our hour. This step isn’t necessary, but I prefer the cherries to be cold.

Cherry Breeze
From Aunt Aida

Ingredients

1 8 oz package of cream cheese, softened
1 14 oz sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 9 inch graham cracker pie crust
1 can cherry pie filling

Directions

  1. Beat cream cheese until light and fluffy.
  2. Pour in sweetened condensed milk and beat until combined.
  3. Add lemon juice and vanilla, blend until ingredients are smooth.
  4. Pour the filling into the graham cracker crust and chill in the fridge for at least two hours.
  5. Pour the cherry pie filling on top, using almost the entire can. Chill for one hour.

The filling will firm up a bit, but it will still be a looser, messy-ish pie. Don’t worry about the appearance, it will still be tart, creamy, sweet and delicious!

Arroz con Pollo

I’ve realized that I’m really bad at making recipes “in season.” Most people take advantage of the fresh veggies growing in their gardens by making big, beautiful salads. But, for some reason, I don’t do that. I see a recipe that looks good, and I make it. I learned last week that this is not a smart way to cook. People make salads in the summer so they don’t have to turn their ovens on and make their already-hot homes even hotter. Duh.

Lucky for you, the weather seems to be turning a bit cooler. I’m currently sitting on the couch with the windows open and a blanket on my lap. Fall is in the air, so make this recipe – NOW – before it gets too hot again!

 

Arroz con Pollo
From Weight Watchers Simply the Best cookbook
Makes 4 servings
9 Points Plus per serving

Ingredients

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup long-grain rice
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
One 10-ounce can tomatoes with green chiles
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups cubed cooked skinless chicken breasts
1 cup thawed frozen green peas

Directions

  1. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil. Add the rice, onion and garlic; cook, stirring as needed, until the onion is softened and the rice is lightly browned, 5-6 minutes.
  2. Add the broth, tomatoes, oregano and cumin; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, stirring once or twice, until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes.
  3. Add the chicken and pears; cook, covered, stirring as needed, until the peas are cooked and the chicken is heated through, 3-4 minutes. Fluff the mixture with a fork before serving.

 

Cheese and Tomato Strata

Is there anyone out there that doesn’t enjoy breakfast for dinner? I loved those nights growing up when my mom would make pancakes and bacon for dinner. It was such a treat! When paging through the Weight Watchers cookbook, I came across a cheese and tomato strata that sounded so easy and really good, so I added it to my weekly meal plan. Breakfast for dinner! I also noticed that this recipe made six servings in a 13×9 pan, which is HUGE. I really appreciate that with WW recipes.

 

Cheese and Tomato Strata
From Weight Watches Simply the Best cookbook
Makes 6 servings, 6 Points Plus/serving

Ingredients

12 slices reduced-calorie whole-wheat bread
2 cups shredded nonfat sharp cheddar cheese
2 tomatoes, sliced
1 tsp oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cups skim milk
1 cup fat-free egg substitute
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
3 slices crisp-cooked bacon, crumbled

Directions

  1. Spray a 13×9 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange 6 slices of bread in the baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with one-third of the cheese and one-half of the tomatoes. Repeat layers. Top with the remaining one-third of the cheese.
  2. In a small nonstick skillet, heat the oil. Add the onions and cook, stirring as needed, until softened, about 5 minutes.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the onions, milk, egg substitute, mustard, salt and pepper; pour over the bread mixture. Refrigerate, covered, at least 1 hour or overnight.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the strata until puffed and golden, about 1 hour. Sprinkle with bacon; serve.

Notes:

  • Be careful which low-calorie bread you buy. I used Sara Lee 45 calorie bread, and it was sweet. This bread made the whole casserole taste overly sweet, which is not appealing in this dish. I had to add a lot of salt and pepper on top to balance it out. Not good.
  • I didn’t have time to refrigerate this for an hour before I baked it, so I only did about 20 minutes, and it still turned out great!
  • I used four slices of turkey bacon (instead of 3) because this is what I had left in my fridge. I would recommend using even MORE bacon!
  • The leftovers made a perfect breakfast!

Skinny Spinach Dip

For the most part, I eat a pretty well-balanced diet, but sometimes I go through slumps. Weeks when I think to myself, did I eat a vegetable today? How about a piece of fruit? No? Oh, ok then.

You can tell I’m having one of these weeks when you see me slurping several of these.

 

Iced. Coffee. I only buy these tasty drinks on days when I’m just dragging. I finally realized that poor diet = poor energy (and -$2.75 in my bank account!), so I’ve stocked my fridge with tons of colorful produce that I plan to enjoy all week.

Since eating carrot sticks and celery stalks can get kinda boring, I decided to make a creamy, low-fat spinach dip to accompany them. This dip is packed with healthy spinach and scallions and silky sour cream and ricotta.

Skinny Spinach Dip
from Weight Watchers Simply the Best cookbook
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

1/2 cup non-fat sour cream
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta
2 tsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Half a 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/4 cup water chesnuts, chopped
4 scallions, thinly sliced

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the sour cream, ricotta, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Whisk until well combined.
  2. Stir in spinach, water chestnuts and scallions until well combined.
  3. Refrigerate, covered, until the flavors are blended, at least one hour.

Serve with veggies and crackers.

Nutrition Information: 83 calories, 3 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 360 mg sodium, 8 g carbohydrates, 1 g dietary fiber, 7 g protein

2 Points Plus per serving

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