Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Taste Test Challenge: Special K Lowfat Granola

This week's taste test spotlight is on Special K's new lowfat granola. I had a $1 off coupon, so I decided to buy a box and give it a try. I don't usually eat granola as cereal since you don't get much bang for your caloric buck. But...I like to sprinkle it on top of a bowl of fresh fruit and yogurt...and it can be a great snack right out of the box!

Granola has long been touted as a healthy, tasty food. It usually contains oats, honey, nuts, and dried fruit...all healthy foods to be sure. The trouble is that most granolas pack a TON of excess fat and sugar in a fairly small serving size. The average granola contains 10 grams of fat per serving, especially if it contains lots of nuts or coconut! Thankfully, the folks who make Special K have come to the rescue with a lower-fat granola that tastes GREAT!

The crunchy granola clusters are sweet, but not overly so compared to many other granolas that I've tried. You can definitely taste the oats and a hint of a vanilla in each bite. A half-cup of this crunchy, honey-kissed granola contains 190 calories, 3 grams of fat, and a whopping 5 grams of fiber (or 3 WW points). Beware: the 1/2-cup serving size is smaller than most cereals. If you were to eat a full cup of this granola with a cup of skim milk for breakfast, you'd consume nearly 500 calories (8 WW points!!). So, it's VITAL to measure a correct portion size of this granola to make sure you don't inadvertently overdo it!!

I'm planning to serve 1/4 cup of this yummy granola sprinkled on top of a fresh strawberry and yogurt parfait for dessert tonight. It should add lots of crunchy goodness for only a few calories and points!!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday Special Edition: Alexia House Party...and the Winning Dip Recipe

I'm taking a break from my usual Monday banter to give you the scoop about the Alexia House Party that I hosted last night. We invited my brother-in-law and sister-in-law over for dinner to try some yummy, healthy Alexia products. We ate spicy turkey and provolone burgers and tried three different Alexia sides: Spicy Sweet Potato Fries, Waffle Fries, and Onion Rings. All three were delicious, but it was especially nice to find a healthier, lowfat version of onion rings that bake up super-crispy in the oven in less than 30 minutes.

I served three dipping sauces on the side as well: salsa ranch, spicy chipotle ketchup, and the winning dip recipe from last week's contest. The salsa ranch is super simple: stir together 1/3 cup each medium chunky salsa and lowfat ranch dressing in a small bowl. The chipotle ketchup was a snap to whip up as well: it was 3/4 cup ketchup with chipotle chili powder, grated garlic, and Crystal hot sauce stirred in until the desired spice level was reached. The winning dip recipe was Zesty Lime Dip. This tangy dip went very well with the fries and onion rings, but I think it would be great with baked chips or crudite as well. As promised, here's the recipe:

Zesty Lime Dip

  • 8-ounce container light sour cream (I prefer Daisy brand)
  • Juice and zest of two key limes
  • 1 tablespoon dried cilantro
  • One clove garlic, finely chopped (I grated it with a microplane)
  • 1/2 teaspoon each salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 2-3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • Garlic Tabasco to taste
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours to allow flavors to combine. This dip can be made the day before as it tastes even better the next day.

I have some of this delicious dip left, so I'm using it as a topping on tonight's dinner of chicken fajita tacos...yum! Stay tuned for more giveaways and contests in the coming weeks. In the meantime, let me know if you try any Alexia products and what you think about them!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

These Things In My Head...

So...what thoughts are swirling around in my head this weekend? Well...I went to my local Weight Watchers center for my monthly weigh in this morning. The results were good: I'm down 4.8 pounds for March and a total of 8.8 pounds since the first week in February. Go me!! Since I'm a Lifetime member (meaning I've been to the Promised Land of "at goal weight" before), I only have to go to a center to weigh in once a month, which is totally FINE with me.

I have what you might term as a love-hate relationship...mostly on the side of hate...with scales. In my younger days, I used to obsess over seeing a certain number on the scale and fret over minor daily weight fluctuations. Over time, I've managed to break my dependence on the scale.  I still know women who weigh themselves daily...or even several times a day. I decided a long time ago that I didn't want to be a slave to the scale and base my weight loss success solely on its whims.  So...I have a confession to make: I don't even OWN a scale, and I haven't for several years.

Eegads...the horror!! My monthly weigh in is perfect for me because it helps me gauge how my weight loss efforts are going over the course of a month. I no longer fret over daily fluctuations in my weight. It's a hard habit to break, but the scale isn't my only measure of success! I also go by how my pants are fitting...much looser these days, thank you very much! I also have more energy in the evenings since incorporating more fruit and veggies and lowfat dairy products into my eating.

I know my approach may seem a bit radical, but I have to tell you that it is SO LIBERATING to not be mentally tied to the messages that the scale gives me when I step on it at any given time.  While I was excited to hear that I had lost nearly 5 pounds this month, I knew that I had lost some weight before I even stepped on the scale. That's because I comfortably wore a pair of pants this morning that were too tight in February, and I can feel my jawbone starting to become more defined when I put on my makeup in the mornings.

I know that not everyone reading my blog is at the point where they feel comfortable tossing out their bathroom scale...and that's ok. I just wanted to give y'all some food for thought and encourage you to reflect on your relationship with the scale and the messages it gives you. If you weigh yourself daily, maybe reduce that to once a week for a start. But, in my opinion, it's vital for us to break our reliance on the scale as our sole measure of weight loss success.

Yep...that's what's on my mind today! I'd love to hear your thoughts on this fascinating topic of scales and our relationship with them. Be sure to come back tomorrow for the scoop on my Alexia Home Party and the announcement of the dipping sauce recipe contest winner. Think cilantro lime...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Taste Test Challenge: Special K Blueberry Fruit Crisp

This week's Taste Test Challenge features a fantastic new product from Special K...Blueberry Fruit Crisps. These crisps are basically a sweet, crispy cracker that's filled with a smear of fruit filling and drizzled with some icing. I've heard them described as similar to a pop tart, which they are...sort of. This is a great little snack or after-dinner treat that's perfect for satisfying that craving for "a little something sweet" without costing you a ton of excess fat or calories.

Each box contains five individually wrapped two-crisp servings, which helps make portion control a snap. Each two-crisp serving contains 100 calories, 2 grams fat, and a trace of fiber (2 WW points). would be nice if they had a bit more fiber, but I don't sweat that so much since I get my daily fiber intake from plenty of other sources.

Some of my friends who have tried these crisps find them to be a bit on the sweet side, but I don't personally think they're too sweet. These fruit crisps pair great with a small container of light yogurt. They also go well with a small bowl of sliced strawberries. These fruit crisps are also available in strawberry, but I prefer the flavor of the blueberry variety. If you go to the Special K website, you can download and print a $1.00 off coupon on your first purchase:

Now...a quick word about my Alexia healthy dipping sauce contest. I've received a few recipe entries, but I want to see MORE!! Tomorrow evening is the deadline. You still have time to submit your recipe to me at

If your recipe is chosen, I'll prepare it and serve it with yummy Alexia oven fries at my Alexia House Party on Sunday evening. In addition, your recipe will be featured in this blog next week for all to see and try. In addition to these kudos, you'll also win a coupon for a FREE Alexia product of your choice + a wooden serving spoon with the Alexia logo imprinted on it.  So...what are you waiting for?!?!? Get those dipping sauce recipes to me ASAP!!!!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tuesday Food Find Corner: Alexia Oven Fries

This week's spotlight food is Alexia Oven Fries. As I mentioned yesterday, it's important to keep eating the foods that you enjoy in a healthy way while you're losing weight. French fries are one of those comfort foods that I refuse to give up. But...a medium serving of McDonald's french fries contains a whopping 380 calories and 19 grams of fat...yikes! That's where Alexia products come in. All Alexia products are 100% natural, with no preservatives and zero trans fats. Best of all? They taste FAB! I serve Alexia products at least once a week, and I highly recommend them!

They introduced their yummy oven fries first, and I've been cooking and eating them for several years. They have since expanded their product line to include even more flavors of oven fries, mashed potatoes, lower-fat appetizers, garlic bread and artisan rolls, and -- most recently -- potato and veggie side dishes. Their other products are just as tasty as their oven fries!!

Alexia's Oven Fries average 2-3 WW points per generous serving. They cook up crisp in a hot oven in 20 - 25 minutes. My favorite flavor is the new Spicy Sweet Potato variety. They are spicy from a sprinkling of chipotle pepper on the outside, but then the sweetness of the sweet potato kicks in and cools the spice. Delish! They go especially great with turkey burgers and pulled pork sandwiches.

Most grocery stores carry at least a few varieties of Alexia products, but in my experience Whole Foods carries the widest range of the entire Alexia product line. To make it easier for you to try these fantastic products, I'm going to give away a coupon for one FREE Alexia food item to one of my blog readers!!!!

Here's the scoop...

I was selected to host an Alexia house party this weekend. I'm serving turkey burgers and several varieties of Alexia Oven Fries, along with a trio of dipping sauces. One dipping sauce will be my lowfat salsa-ranch, and another will be a spicy chipotle ketchup. But...I need one more dipping sauce to round out my trio. That's where YOU come in!! My readers have until Friday to send me their best recipe for a healthy dipping sauce. I'll pick the winner on Saturday. The winning dipping sauce will be featured at my party...and the winner will receive a coupon for one free Alexia product. Two other entrants will win an Honorable Mention coupon for $1.00 off any Alexia product.

Please e-mail your dipping sauce recipes to me at One last thing: make sure to put your full name and Alexia Dipping Sauce Contest in the header so I don't delete your e-mail by mistake. Good luck...I can't WAIT to see what creative ideas y'all come up with!!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tricks of the Trade: Enjoy Your Favorite Foods...Wisely!

I'm back in San Antonio after a weekend away from the computer visiting our families back home in Houston. I certainly had ample opportunity to practice what I preach when it comes to moderation! I'm heading into the final week of March and looking forward to a successful monthly weigh-in this Saturday! I actually had a Lean Cuisine from Mom and Dad's freezer for dinner on Saturday to make up for the small serving of cake and ice cream that I had eaten earlier in the afternoon. Balance and moderation, my friends...balance and moderation ;)!

This week's tip is to enjoy your favorite foods like fried chicken, french fries, and hamburgers. Yes indeed...but it's important to do it in a healthy, responsible way. Instead of eating greasy fried chicken nuggets, coat chicken tenders in bread crumbs or crushed crackers and bake in a hot oven until crispy. Make your hamburgers using wheat buns, lowfat cheese, and ground turkey or extra-lean beef. You'll still enjoy the flavors of the foods you love, but for just a fraction of the fat and calories.

It's important to not give in to the diet mentality that says you have to eat celery sticks and plain broiled meat in order to lose weight! That sort of deprivation leads to binges, which ultimately lead to falling off the wagon. To be successful at losing and keeping weight off long term, it's VITAL that you incorporate your favorite flavors and textures. Like chips and dip? Then eat baked tortilla chips and fat-free salsa. Or is something sweet more your thing? Then have some, but in portion-controlled servings. I love 100-calorie packs for sweet treats...allowing myself a small portion of something that I'm craving is key. It's the flavor I'm looking for, not necessarily a huge serving!

Here's a recipe for some very yummy turkey burgers that I made last week. The original recipe came from Cooking Light magazine, but I modified it quite a bit using ingredients that I had on hand that night. Enjoy...

Turkey Feta Burgers
  • 1 pound 93% lean turkey breast
  • 4 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese 
  • 1 tablespoon Chef Paul Prudhomme Meat Magic seasoning (can sub any Cajun/Creole seasoning)
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • Four Nature's Own sugar-free wheat hamburger buns
  • Lettuce, tomato, and red onion
  • 2 tablespoons light ranch dressing
  • 4 tablespoons salsa (I used Frontera Grill medium roasted tomato)
Step 1: Combine ground turkey, feta, spices, breadcrumbs, egg white, and green onion in a large bowl.

Step 2: Shape mixture into four patties. Cook the burgers in a large non-stick skillet sprayed with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Cook for approximately 7-8 minutes per side.

Step 3: While the burgers cook, make a sauce by combining the salsa and light ranch dressing in a small bowl.

Step 4: For each burger, spread 1 tablespoon of salsa-ranch sauce on the bottom half of each bun. Add lettuce, tomato, and red onion slices. Top with a burger patty and the top half of the bun.

Each burger = 7 Weight Watchers points...or approximately 350 calories, 8 grams fat, and 6 grams fiber.

Make SURE to come by here tomorrow evening...I have a very special announcement to make concerning a giveaway in connection with an Alexia foods house party that I'm hosting this weekend!!!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Taste Test Challenge: Kashi Mayan Harvest Bake

Time for the Wednesday Thursday Taste Test Challenge...I took the day off yesterday to have dinner with my cousin, who's in town for her Spring Break. I decided to give my "tool box" a rest this week and tell you about a fantastic Kashi frozen meal that I had for lunch today instead: Mayan Harvest Bake.

I REALLY stepped outside of my comfort zone with this one, but decided to give it a try after reading about it on Hungry Girl's website recently. Mayan Harvest Bake is a vegan meal that has plantains, sweet pototoes, black beans, kale, seven-grain polenta with amaranth, ancho chili sauce, and pepitas. It may sound like a strange combination...but the flavors actually work really well together. I'm so glad I gave this meal a try, because I totally LOVED it!!

If you've never had plantains, they're related to bananas...but they're a bit more starchy and less sweet than a banana. The plantains paired very well with the sweet potatoes and the creamy polenta. I had to look up amaranth because I wasn't exactly sure what it was. Turns out that it's a seed that is high in protein (approximately 15-18%). It's also high in fiber and contains calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, and Vitamins A and C.  

I didn't see a ton of black beans or kale in my meal today, but the overall flavor of the dish was wonderful. The meal was topped with a spicy ancho chili sauce that reminded me a bit of enchilada sauce. It had just enough kick to please my palate without overwhelming the plantain and sweet potato. I especially enjoyed the sprinkle of crunchy pepitas (pumpkin seeds) on top. This was a very filling meal as contains 340 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 8 grams of fiber (or 7 Weight Watchers points). I found it very satisfying, and it kept me feeling energetic all afternoon at work. 

Next time you feel like trying something a little exotic, I seriously urge you to step outside of YOUR comfort zone and give this tasty frozen meal a try. I rank this one right up there with Amy's Organic's amazing Mexican Tamale Pie. It's rather ironic that two of my favorite frozen meals also happen to be vegetarian. Bottom line: I'm a foodie who loves eating amazing food. When it's good for me and furthers my weight loss goals? Well, that's even better!!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesday Food Find Corner: Clementines

"Oh my darlin'..."

One of my all-time favorite fruits is the oh-so-yummy clementine. A clementine is a variety of mandarin orange. Unlike its cousin the tangerine, a clementine is totally seedless. Clementines are a portable, easy-to-peel snack that pack a ton of nutrition into a small package! The thing I love best about clementines is that they are so juicy, and the flavor is a nice balance of sweet and tart. Clementine season begins in November and generally runs through spring, so now's the time to run out and try this juicy little treat before they disappear from the produce department until fall.

Clementines are often sold in the produce department of your local grocery store in 5-pound boxes. However, I'm usually able to buy them individually at Central Market and Whole Foods. I prefer to buy clementines this way so I can pick the best fruit. I like to buy the ones that feel heavy for their size, which means they'll be extra juicy. Buying 10 or so at a time also guarantees they'll stay fresh until I have a chance to eat them all.

The nutrition stats for clementines are VERY impressive. An average-size clementine has about 35 calories, zero fat, and 1 gram of fiber (that = 0.5 WW points). Even more impressive, one little clementine contains 60% of your RDA of Vitamin C!!! All of that nutrition crammed inside a tiny package that tastes so fantastic makes me a very happy indeed.

I love clementines so much that I never think to do anything other than peel and eat them for a quick snack...I actually ate the last one in my kitchen just before I sat down to type this post. However, I recently saw a website that says clementine segments are excellent in salads and pair especially well with blue cheese. Hmmm...I think I need to go buy some more clementines this weekend and and experiment with using them in a healthy salad!!

Monday, March 15, 2010

We've established that one of the most important things to do when you're trying to eat healthier and lose weight is to make sure the food you're eating still tastes good! I don't care how healthy something is for me, I won't eat it if I don't like how it tastes. Two words: wheatgrass juice...enough said! Keeping the taste while reducing fat and calories CAN be a challenge. C'mon...butter tastes great...admit it! Fat also carries flavors in foods; that's why reduced-fat recipes can taste bland and boring if you're not careful. Thankfully, there are plenty of things that can you do to keep the flavor in your recipes while reducing the fat and calories.

I've started using more herbs and spices to boost the flavor of my recipes...and I've been incorporating bold tastes with flavored vinegars and gourmet salsas. All of these ingredients have little to no fat and are full of big flavors. In plain speak, they give you a lot of bang for your buck, calorie-wise! I love to use fresh herbs like basil, thyme, and rosemary in my recipes...but I love to browse the bulk spice section at Central Market (a Texas-based gourmet grocery store) to find new dried seasoning blends to try as well.

I haven't posted many recipes in here yet, which is ironic considering how much I love to cook!! I'm going to rectify that situation starting now, though. The following recipe is a perfect example of packing a TON of flavor into a recipe while using only a small amount of healthy fat (olive oil in this case). This is my personal spin on a salad recipe that I found on the Cooking Light website this weekend.

Panzanella Salad With Mozzarella and Basil
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes (I used baby heirloom tomatoes, but roma would work)
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 5-6 leaves basil, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped romaine
  • 2 ounces ciabatta bread
  • 2 ounces FRESH mozzarella
Step 1: Combine the first five ingredients in a bowl, stirring well. I find chopping garlic to be tedious, so I grate it directly into the bowl with my microplane. 

Step 2: Add the red onion, basil, and cubed mozzarella. Stir well to combine. At this point, your salad will look something like this:

Step 3: Place the salad in the fridge until you're ready to serve so the flavors can combine. You can do this for as little as 1 hour or as much as overnight. I chilled my salad for 2-3 hours. 

Step 4: When you're ready to serve the salad, cut the ciabatta in half horizontally so you have two pieces. Cut into 1-inch cubes and toast in a 350 oven for about 10 minutes. Just before you're ready to serve, add the chopped romaine and the toasted bread cubes. Stir to combine so the bread can soak up the dressing and the tomato juices.

The flavors in this salad really pop: the tangy balsamic, the brightness of the fresh basil, a bit of acidity from the fresh tomatoes, the slightly pungent red onion, the chewy bread, and the creamy fresh mozarella! This salad was a symphony of tastes and textures...DEFINITELY not boring or bland!

This recipe makes two generous servings. I served it as the side dish with a marinated London broil on Saturday night. Each serving is 5 Weight Watchers points (253 calories, 8 grams fat, and 5 grams fiber). 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

These Things In My Head: Lose the Diet Mentality!!

What's on my mind today is related to my post earlier this week about the importance of moderation when it comes to eating/losing weight. Unfortunately, when many people think about losing weight, they equate that with being "on a diet." In my experience, restrictive diets usually bring some short-term success. However, they often lead to boredom, deprivation, and eventual resentment in the long term. That's why most diets are ultimately not successful.

What if I told you that this week for dinner I had shrimp scampi, roasted pork tenderloin with fingerling potatoes, homemade meat loaf and mashed potatoes, and grilled fish tacos with cilantro-lime crema? You might think that I went totally off the rails after my weekend food splurges in Austin and ditched my healthy eating plan. I didn't...I promise!!! These foods are all a part of my healthy eating plan thanks to moderate portions and swapping high-fat ingredients and cooking techniques for healthier options. The food tasted great, so there was no boredom, deprivation, or resentment on my end. Bottom line: as long as this foodie likes what she's eating, she's happy! The fact that my pants are getting loose is pretty awesome too!!!!!

One of my goals with this blog is to help people lose the diet mentality, the notion that some foods are "good" while others are "bad." In a healthy lifestyle, there's room for a few treats and splurges now and then. We should look at eating healthier and moving more as a lifestyle change that is permanent rather than a short-term quick fix. Sure, the weight may come off a bit slower this way...but I GUARANTEE that you're much more likely to keep the weight off long-term if you take this approach.

In case you're wondering, tonight's dinner is grilled marinated London broil and panzanella salad with tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella. The salad is a new recipe for me, so I promise to take pics and post it in here tomorrow if it's as yummy as I'm hoping it will be. Until then...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Wendy's Toolbox: The Incredible, Versatile Spoonula

I have a riddle for you: When is a spoon not a spoon...and a spatula not a spatula? Give up? The answer is this: when they're combined into one nifty little hybrid kitchen utensil called a spoonula. Part spoon, part spatula...and uniquely wonderful!! Spoonulas are excellent for stirring, scraping, folding, and mixing. I love that I can stir my side dishes in the pot and then use the same utensil to serve when it's finished cooking. One less thing to clean up is always a good thing! I use my spoonula every night when preparing dinner. It's one tool that does the work of two...and who doesn't like to multi-task when it comes to getting dinner on the table at the end of a busy day?

You can find a good basic spoonula in the kitchen department of most discount stores for about $6, but my personal favorite is the one you see pictured above from Williams-Sonoma. The handle is made out of maple wood, and the silicone head is heat-resistant to 800 degrees. One of my favorite features of this spoonula is that the head comes off so it can go into the dishwasher. These spoonulas are very durable...if you take care of them, they'll last for years. I couldn't resist adding the red one to my collection recently since that's my favorite color! Expect to spend about $10 for a medium spoonula at Williams-Sonoma.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wednesday Taste Test Challenge: Luna Chocolate Cherry Almond Protein Bar

This week’s Taste Test Clallenge features Luna's new Chocolate Cherry Almond Protein bar. I’m a long-time fan of Luna bars. I like to keep a couple in my desk at work for those days when all I have time to do for breakfast or lunch is open up a package and eat something fast at my desk. Not ideal perhaps, but it’s a healthier option than the choices offered in the vending machine in my break room! I recently bought some Luna Protein bars and tried the Chocolate Cherry Almond flavor last Friday after work. We had late dinner plans in Austin, so I needed a snack that would tide me over until dinner. This bar definitely did that!

First off, it’s covered in chocolate…which is never a bad thing in my book! The inside of the bar is chewy like nougat and quite tasty! I could taste small pieces of dried cherry and almond in every bite. The portion size was quite filling, and it was a very satisfying snack. I ate the bar around 630, and I wasn't the least bit hungry until we had dinner in Austin three hours later! Luna Protein bars come in two other flavors: Cookie Dough and Chocolate Peanut Butter. I haven’t tried the peanut butter one yet, but the cookie dough flavor was yummy as well. The Chocolate Cherry Almond is my favorite of the two.

This is one treat that you don’t have to feel guilty about eating, either! According to the fine folks at Luna, these bars are 100% natural and contain no artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, or trans-fats. Each yummy bar contains 12 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and less than 200 calories. The peanut butter flavor is 4 Weight Watchers points, while the other two flavors are only 3 Weight Watchers points. They’re also high in calcium and folic acid, two things that women need to include in their daily food intake.

So…if you’re looking for a great snack or breakfast-on-the-run, I can enthusiastically recommend Luna Protein bars to you. You can find them where the other health bars (Luna, Clif, etc.) are located on your grocery store shelf.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tuesday Food Find Corner: Hummus

Whenever I tell someone how much I love hummus, I'm always curious to see their response. A lot of the time, they scrunch up their face or look at me like I'm crazy. But sometimes they tell me how much they love hummus too, which always makes me smile. I guess I shouldn't be so surprised at the number of hummus haters out there since I used to be one of them. I'd never actually tasted hummus, but the idea of a Mediterranean dip/spread made from garbanzo beans, tahini, olive oil, and a bit of lemon juice sounded quite unappetizing to me! Of course, that was until I actually stepped outside my comfort zone and TASTED it!! Now I love hummus, both plain and flavored. I always have a container or two in my fridge. Sometimes I prefer the clean, direct flavor of plain hummus. However, flavored varieties with olives or roasted red peppers can be fun too. The container that's currently in my fridge is a garlic-scallion variety from a company called Cedar's.

If you've never tasted hummus, you may be wondering two things: what does it taste like, and what do you eat it with? The taste can vary among flavors...and even brands...of hummus that you buy. To me, it tastes a bit like any other bean-based dips you may have eaten, with a bit of zing from the lemon juice. For me, hummus makes an excellent substitute for high-fat peanut butter (just not with jelly!). It's salty and savory and just plain yummy. I like to eat hummus with pita chips for a snack after work, and it's a great dip for baby carrots and celery sticks. It also makes a fantastic base for a sandwich on either a high-fiber wrap or whole wheat tortilla.

I especially love it when something that is so healthy for me also happens to taste great! Hummus is high in soluble fiber, which can help reduce bad cholesterol in your blood. It's also high in protein and a great source of iron. As much as I love ranch dip, it certainly doesn't boast nutrition credentials like that. If you've never tried hummus, pick up a container and give it a try. It's available in most grocery stores, and Walmart carries the Sabra brand pictured above.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Tricks of the Trade: Moderation...It's More Than a Buzz Word!!!

Sorry there were no posts from me the past few days...but I was in Austin for the weekend with Michael, my "partner in crime" on most of my adventures in life. We arrived on Friday evening and came back yesterday in time to watch the Oscars. One of the things I thought a lot about this weekend was the importance of moderation...a good idea in all aspects of life, but especially important if you're going to have long-term success losing weight and keeping it off. So...I practiced what I preached this weekend. I splurged a little (a lot?), but I didn't lose control. I had fun, and I came home and got right back on track counting points this morning.

I've learned that moderation means this to me: deciding ahead of time what I PLAN to eat, enjoying it completely, and refusing to feel guilty about it. Then the MOST important part? Not letting it become an excuse to NOT get back on track once the special occasion is over. Most of the time, people get into trouble when a planned splurge leads to falling off the weight loss wagon completely. For me, I find that this doesn't happen when I make the conscious decision to splurge a little...and to keep my splurges within certain limits.

For example, we went to Berryhill's Baja Grill for lunch on Saturday. They serve wonderful tortilla chips and fantastic jalapeno ranch (not lowfat!) to eat while you wait for your food. So we had one small basket of chips and one little bowl of dip. We declined offers to bring more to the table and saved room for grilled fish tacos on steamed corn tortillas. The entree was very healthy, so the chips were our splurge for that meal. When we had dinner that night at Threadgill's, it was tempting to order their famous chicken fried steak. I opted to have mesquite chicken breast, garden salad, and grits instead. It's a matter of deciding which splurges are worth it and which aren't. For me, fried meat and cream gravy was too much of a splurge this time.

Yesterday, we had a late brunch at the South Congress Cafe. Instead of ordering a full-size order of their special carrot cake French toast, we asked for one piece a la carte and shared it. We were able to each savor a few bites of this amazing, unique dish without feeling too guilty. My other splurge yesterday? A cupcake from a mobile cupcake vendor across the street. Did I enjoy it? To quote a certain Alaskan ex-Governor: "You betcha!!" Did I feel guilty? Not one bit. But...did I buy another half dozen cupcakes to bring back to San Antonio? Nope. One and done was my motto for the day. 

Our brunch yesterday was fantastic, and we enjoyed every morsel. No regrets and lots of great foodie memories. Now I'm back home, counting points, and eating my normal weight loss food. Rather than let a few planned-for splurges pull me off track, I find them energizing. They help me stay committed to my weight loss efforts long term. I think that moderation is something that everyone should practice. One of my mottos is that there aren't bad foods, just bad choices. Each day is filled with food-related hope each day is that I make more good decisions than bad. 

How do you practice moderation in your daily eating plan, and what insights has experience taught you? I'd love to hear more about what moderation means to my readers...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Wendy's Toolbox: Oxo 4-Cup Angled Measuring Cup

To have a kitchen that turns out consistently excellent meals takes a lot of gadgets and tools. Hands down, my favorite recent addition to my kitchen collection is Oxo's Good Grips 4-cup angled measuring cup. Once you buy one, you'll wonder how you ever used an old-fashioned measuring cup. It's sort of like my DVR: I never knew how much I needed it until I got one and started using I can't imagine living without it!!

Why is this measuring cup so cool, you ask? A patented angled presentation allows you to easily read measurements by looking down into the measuring cup. This eliminates the need to constantly fill, check, and add more/pour out liquid to adjust the amount you're trying to measure.

I had never seen anything like this before wandering into Crate & Barrel in Houston over the Christmas holidays. As soon as I saw this measuring cup, I knew that I HAD to buy one and make it part of my kitchen ASAP! It's the best $10 I've spent in a very long time. I can't recommend this tool highly enough as an essential component for any kitchen. It's made of lightweight plastic and washes up very easily. The padded handle is a nice touch too...very ergonomic!

Oxo also offers this nifty measuring cup in 1-cup and 2-cup sizes. However, I really like the 4-cup version because one measuring cup easily handles all of my cooking needs without having multiple measuring cups cluttering my small kitchen!, don't walk, to your nearest kitchen accessories store and GET ONE OF THESE MEASURING CUPS!!! I just know you'll love it as much as I do mine!!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Wednesday Taste Test Challenge: Near East Wheat Pilaf...Don't Be Afraid of the Bulgur!

One of the changes that we've been making at Casa Garcia as we try to eat healthier and lose some weight is to reduce the amount of refined carbohydrates that we eat. Namely white bread, white rice, pasta, and potatoes. I'm a big believer in moderation when it comes food, so we do eat potatoes once a week or so. The rest of the time, I'm focusing on cooking and eating more brown rice, high-fiber pasta, double-fiber wheat bread, and other whole grains. The "other whole grains" category is where this week's Taste Test Challenge comes from.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a box of Near East Whole Grain Blends Wheat Pilaf on the grocery store shelf. The nutrition info looked promising: 200 calories, 4 grams of fat, and a whopping 8 grams of fiber per one-cup serving (that = 4 Weight Watchers points)! All Near East products are 100% natural and contain no artificial ingredients, no preservatives, and no artificial flavors. The ingredients listed on the box seemed simple enough as well: bulgur wheat, orzo, salt, onion, garlic, and spices. I could pronounce all of the ingredients, which is always a positive sign! I had never actually tasted bulgur before, but I was determined to step outside of my comfort zone and give it a try.

I bought a box and cooked it for dinner that night. It made a FANTASTIC side dish with marinated grilled chicken breast and a simple salad. The bulgar was really tasty...the texture is a bit chewy and the flavor a bit nutty. There was just enough of orzo in the blend to make the dish seem familiar. The spices were well balanced and tasty, and the serving was very filling. In fact, we liked this pilaf so much that I bought another box last week. I think that Near East Wheat Pilaf will become a standard part of my regular dinner side dish rotation.

I especially love it when something that tastes so good is also good for me...that's a win-win scenario in my book! This healthy side dish is PERFECT for those busy work nights when you want to get a healthy meal on the table pronto. It cooks in 25 minutes, which is just enough time to grill some chicken or fish and toss together a salad or steam some veggies.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tuesday Food Find Corner: Laughing Cow Cheese

The old adage goes, "Laughter is the best medicine...". If so, then Laughing Cow cheese is the PERFECT antidote to rubbery, tasteless fat-free cheese when you're trying to eat healthier and lose weight. I love this stuff and eat it several times a week. But you  may have wondered what exactly IS Laughing Cow cheese? It's a soft, spreadable cheese made from Swiss cheese and a bit of's shelf stable and totally easy to spread. The best part? It doesn't taste "light" at all, so I don't feel like I'm sacrificing taste in exchange for eating healthy. Laughing Cow Original Swiss is only 50 calories and 4 grams of fat per delicious wedge.

Laughing Cow also comes in a Light version in Swiss, garlic and herb, and French onion flavors. Each light wedge is only 35 calories and 2 grams of fat and also very tasty. But...I'm sort of a purist: for only a few more calories, I generally stick with Original Laughing Cow. Both the Original and Light varieties are only ONE Weight Watchers point per wedge, which is a bargain for something that tastes so rich and flavorful!

I use Laughing Cow cheese in lots of different ways. My favorite way to eat it is with a serving of's a great low-fat snack. Because it's so easy to spread, it's also great on a tortilla as a base for a healthy wrap sandwich. Laughing Cow happens to melt very well, so it's great scrambled in eggs or melted into some steamed veggies. My favorite broccoli and cheese is made with frozen chopped broccoli and a wedge of Laughing's only ONE Weight Watchers point for a large serving of this tasty side dish.

Do you love Laughing Cow too? If so...tell me how YOU use it. I'm always looking for more ways to enjoy this healthy, versatile cheese!!!

Monday, March 1, 2010

I'm back...

Some of you might remember that I started a foodie blog last summer. Things got super busy for me, and I let that blog go dormant. But...I really miss writing, so I thought I'd blow the dust off and start blogging again. So...I'm back with a new look and new ideas...this is still going to be a foodie blog, but with a slightly different focus. 

After indulging in a few too many foodie splurges, I gained a bit of weight. I hated how I looked in pictures, so I challenged myself a few weeks ago to lose 20-30 pounds while staying true to my inner foodie. Let's face it...I love good food and I always will, so any weight loss plan has to allow me to eat food that tastes good along the way! If I feel deprived or bored, I'll never stick with it...and sticking with it is what brings long-term success. I'm hoping that this blog will be an impetus for me to uncover lots of great food finds, tools, and recipes to keep things fun and fresh. I'm glad you've decided to join me on this journey.

I hate being ruled by the scale, so I only weigh once a month to gauge my progress. Believe it or not, I don't even have a scale at home! For the month of February, I lost 4 pounds without feeling deprived or bored. I'm following Weight Watchers, but you don't have to be a Weight Watchers member to follow this blog. For any recipes that I post, I'll list complete nutrition information as well as Weight Watchers points information. Here's where I see this blog going, starting tomorrow:

Monday: Tricks of the Trade...I'll share ideas and lessons that I've learned during my weight loss journey.

Tuesday: Food Find Corner...I'll share yummy foods that are helping me stay on track with my weight loss journey.

Wednesday: Taste Test Challenge...I'll commit to try at least one new food each week and share my thoughts on it in here.

Thursday: Wendy's Toolbox...I'll share the gadgets and tools that I use in my kitchen to help make eating healthier easier.

Friday: Recipe of the goal is to try at least two new recipes each week. I'll share my favorites in here. I especially love to lighten up recipes to make them healthier. Tell me your ideas and I'll see if I can find a way to make your favorite foods healthier too!!

Saturday/Sunday: These Things In My Head...what's on my mind as far as food, weight loss, etc. There's a definite mind/body component to losing weight, and I want to explore that and share a dialogue with my blog followers.