Chicken sausage and veggie stuffed manicotti

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When it comes to losing weight, I’ll be the first one to admit that it’s rarely as easy as knowing what to do and just following through. Our lives get in the way, our emotions get the best of us, and then there are these cravings that seem to come out of no where (you haven’t had pizza in years and all of a sudden that’s all you can think of, now that it’s “off limits.” <– this is of course hypothetical because I eat pizza at least once a month ;) ) So yes, it’s a journey. Sometimes on a long and winding road. We, I,  may fall and backtrack but it’s important to get back up and keep moving forward. My favorite way to do that is by preparing something crazy delicious that tastes completely sinful but is actually quite good for you!  And of course I believe that no matter your health goals, it’s really important to satisfy cravings! Always and forever. No carrot sticks for dinner in this household (although I am having carrot fries with oven fried chicken tonight)!!

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This (chicken) sausage and veggie stuffed manicotti was Italian comfort food at its best without the artery clogging or calorie busting properties (by the way, I’m back to calorie counting to get into tip top summer… or 30th birthday… shape). I started following the above linked recipe from Cooking Light but decided to cut the amount of sausage down by 1/3, and then ramped up the veggies. Italian food is good like that – once you cover it in cheese and sauce, it will all be gobbled up in no time!

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So after browning the sausage for a few minutes, in went a whole container of chopped mushrooms, one yellow bell pepper and a few minutes later – 2 cups of baby spinach. The hardest part was not eating this whole mixture before stuffing it into manicotti! I persevered (even though it was a bit time consuming) and eventually dinner was on the table. Man, this was goooood!

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My changes created even lighter manicotti (220 cals/pop) full of delicious nutrients. Between the spicy sausage, loads of veggies, tangy tomato sauce, creamy bechamel (made with skim milk!) and cheese, it definitely felt like a treat. Adam said this was the best meal I’ve made in a while (although he says it often ;) ). This dish would be a great contender for my cooking parties because it would be fun to make as a team while chatting away (perhaps with a glass of red wine!). I’m thinking an easier and quicker version may be coming next though for those of us that don’t find an hour+ of hands-on cooking relaxing.

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Oh and did I mention this meal is freezer friendly and reheats beautifully? All that time paid off for sure! :)

How much time do you usually spend making a meal?

PS- There is just one day left of the thinkThin giveaway – make sure you enter it! :)

Pantry staples quick pasta dish

Happy New Year!!! I have a very good feeling about 2012. It’s going to be a great one. For all of us. Open-mouthed smile

I know that January is a month of healthier resolutions. We’ve all used the excuse of the holidays to indulge in too many desserts, cheese and wine (You did, right? Don’t leave me here confessing to sins all on my own). The beginning of a new year is a good time to reassess what worked and didn’t the year before, to get a bit of a kick to recommit to old goals or start fresh with a “clean slate.” It’s like the ultimate “Monday.” I dig it.

And while I’m not really into New Year’s resolutions (at least not this year) in recent weeks my fire for healthy cooking and exercise has been reignited. And I’m hoping the newness of the year will keep it up. Even on days when “there is nothing in the fridge,” I keep at it. Last night the digging turned up a crazy delicious pasta dish, created from pantry staples and a few random bits in the fridge. I have an archive of recipes to share with you, but this one wins today. 

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Pantry staples (and a few random bits) pasta

Adopted from the Eating Well cookbook, serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 8oz dry whole wheat pasta
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 15-oz can of diced tomatoes with chiles
  • Two 15-oz cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed.
  • 1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes
  • 2T finely shredded pecorino cheese

Directions:

  • Boil pasta according to instructions on package
  • Fry bacon and blot on paper towels (reserve bacon grease).
  • Heat 1T of reserved bacon grease on medium heat, add garlic.
  • When garlic is golden brown, add cannellini beans, basil, spinach, diced tomatoes, olives and grape tomatoes and stir.
  • When the spinach has wilted, add cooked pasta, crumbled bacon and pecorino cheese.
  • Taste for seasonings (a little more salt or pepper may be needed) and enjoy.

This was so quick and easy and the flavor blew us away. I love the smokiness of the bacon, the saltiness of the olives and the slight heat from the chiles in the tomatoes (if you just have diced tomatoes and want a bit of heat, add a sprinkle of hot pepper flakes). I’m adding the recipe to my favorites list!

Here is to keeping at it. Always. And eating delicious and healthy meals! Open-mouthed smile

What do you make on nearly bare-fridge days? You can say make a phone call for delivery Winking smile

Entertaining the family for dinner

Hi y’all (apparently I’m turning Texan)! lol Thank you SO MUCH for all of your feedback on my clearing out the closet post. Going through it, combined with stress at work and the feelings e-course I’ve been taking, has put me in a bit of a funk for a few days. I tried going shopping too and wasn’t too successful. Nothing was looking quite right (and was several sizes larger than I was before) – it’s tough to embrace your “new body” when that happens.

Anyways, I’m cool now and I want to tell you about the dinner I cooked for my dad’s birthday last weekend (sticking to my 30 by 30 list and hosting dinner parties left and right. haha)! His birthday happens to be on my wedding anniversary. Adam and I celebrated the night, just the 2 of us, but I had plans to make it up to my dad soon enough.

When hosting a dinner party do you pick a theme or just go with delicious recipes?

I wanted to make sure this was really really delicious so for my main course I chose a recipe I’ve made (and loved!) before – chicken thighs on the grill (btw, I always tag my favorite recipes so you can find them easily… on the right hand side).

Next up were these lovely ravioli with prosciutto, sundried tomatoes, basil and mozzarella in Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef cookbook. The pictures have been enticing me for weeks and a special birthday dinner seemed like the right time to break out my pasta roller! [PS – you can find the entire recipe on this blog]

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Seriously, such cuties! Smile

It appears that I had an Italian theme developing so I went with it! Doesn’t strawberry ricotta cake sound kind of Italian? [If you say ricottttte like Giada, it definitely will Winking smile]

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OH YEAH!

Add a few Russian cheesy profiterole-like puffs (recipe coming to Russian Bites next)…

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Some green beans with wild mushrooms

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And we have dinner!!

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My mom was a giant help with executing the menu. I got a little ambitious planning this… happens every time! Open-mouthed smile

I was hoping this would turn into delicious comfort food, fit for a hole in the wall restaurant. I don’t know if I hit the bar quite that high (I’m pretty critical of my own cooking) but every single item turned out absolutely delicious… I can tell you that!

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Happy birthday, dad!!

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[Ha, he was trying to make a funny face when I pulled out the camera… I say that worked!]

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Hope your dreams all come true! Smile

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The angel food cake meets Italian grandmother was so light and the perfect ending to our Italian feast. Adam asked that I add it to our rotation of desserts (which means I should start a rotation of desserts! Yessss). I’m adding more strawberries between each layer next time!

Have you entertained recently? Do you have go-to items for dinner parties?

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