BSI Entry: Zuppa Toscana alla Mara

If you’ve ever been to the Olive Garden (or the O.G. as we call it), you’ve probably seen Zuppa Toscana on their menu. It’s one of the things they’re famous for there, in addition to the oh-so-fabulous breadsticks and salad. Adam LOVES this soup. I’m new to it, and I absolutely LOVE it. Too bad that it has heavy cream, pork Italian sausage, bacon…and all sorts of other goodness that isn’t exactly healthy.

When Beadie revealed this week’s BSI contest, I figured that there was no time like the present to attempt to recreate this soup with a healthier twist. After looking over a few recipes online, I thought I had a good idea as to what was in the “real” version of the soup. Off to the store I went, and I have to say, I did a fantastic job!

Even better than the O.G.!

Even better than the O.G.!

Zuppa Toscana alla Mara (serves 6)


1 lb. turkey hot Italian sausage

5 small potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces

5 slices center-cut bacon, cut into small pieces

1 onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

6 cups chicken stock

5 kale leaves, deveined and cut into small pieces

1/4 c. fat free half & half


Remove the sausage from its casing and brown in a large pot, stirring to crumble. Once it’s cooked, drain and set aside. Then, add the bacon and cook until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan, reserving about 1 Tbsp. fat in the pan. Add the garlic and onion and cook until nearly caramelized. Then add the potatoes, and chicken stock to at least 1/2″ above the potatoes. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer about 20 minutes or until potatoes are done. Return bacon and sausage to the pot and add the kale. Cook another 10 minutes and then stir in the half & half. Serve and enjoy!

This had a nice kick to it, and was just as rich and hearty as the restaurant’s version. Here’s some nutrition comparison:

Olive Garden Version (serving size 1 c.): Calories: 335, Total Fat: 23.7g, Fiber unknown

Mara’s Version (serving size 2 c.): Calories: 331, Total Fat: 12 g, Fiber: 4.3 g

So needless to say, my version is significantly healthier and even tastier! There’s nothing like making something yourself and having it taste better than out!

Yesterday, Miss Eating Bender gave me my very first blogger award! It originated with Julz, whose blog I just found. She is truly a talented writer and has one of the most genuine spirits I’ve ever had the pleasure of “knowing.” So thank you Julz for starting this award, and thanks to Eating Bender for passing it along!

Thanks so much! I'm honored!

Thanks so much! I'm honored!

It’s now my duty to pass this fantastic award on to more people, and I’m choosing:

  1. Lindsay at Love of Oats for hosting my first guest post.
  2. Biz at Biggest Diabetic Loser for being my most local blogger buddy
  3. Michelle at LuckyTasteBuds for leaving me the sweetest comments!
  4. Hallie at HealthyTwists for loving obscure Jewish holidays as much as I do!
  5. And finally, to Beadie at What I Ate Yesterday, for being a true and sincere friend, always being there to be a helpful ear, and sharing my successes and failures without judgement.

You have all impacted me in some way, and I’m truly grateful for each and every one of you, mentioned above or not! Thank you for welcoming me into this blogger community and helping me re-find my love of writing.

Being Thursday night, I’m off to immerse myself in the truly unrealistic Grey’s Anatomy/Private Practice crossover episode finale! Have a great night!



An Old Favorite: Tamale Pie

When I first started Weight Watchers back in 2006, I was living alone and not cooking very much. I discovered Heather’s Recipe Site and started a fun cycle.

  1. Make Tamale pie
  2. Eat Tamale Pie for dinner and lunch for a week.
  3. Pick a new recipe.
  4. Eat that recipe for a week.
  5. Repeat.

I continued this cycle for some time, even after moving in with Adam. Needless to say, Adam got VERY sick of tamale pie. He pretty much outlawed tamale pie in our house. When he went out of town last year for 4 days, you can guess what I made for dinner that week! YUP! Tamale Pie!

It has been well over a year since my last tamale pie, and I finally convinced Adam to try it again. There were stipulations, one of those being that the lovely polenta crust needed to be thinner than the last time. I was SO EXCITED all day to make this for dinner, and told about 20 people about it!

There's a polenta crust, I swear!

There's a polenta crust, I swear!

Simply Filling® Tamale Pie


1 c yellow cornmeal
2.25 c cold water
1 cube chicken bouillon
1 lb lean ground beef (or equal amount of veggie crumbles)
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
4 tsp chili powder
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
Dash pepper
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
1 can Ro-Tel original
1 can whole kernel corn
1 can dark red kidney beans, rinsed
FF or soy cheddar shreds

Preheat oven to 350*. Spray a 9 x 13″ casserole pan with Pam. Bring 2-1/4 cups water plus bouillon cube to a boil. Stir in polenta, and whisk until fairly thick and most lumps are gone (just a few minutes). Spread into bottom of casserole pan and set aside. Brown beef, onion, and green pepper. Add chili powder, garlic, salt and pepper, and mix well. Add tomato paste, Ro-Tel, corn (with juice; do not drain), and kidney beans. Spread over the cornmeal crust and top evenly with cheese. Bake 20-25 minutes at 350*.

This was seriously just as good as I remembered! I did have a side of fat free sour cream, and will be going back for seconds!

Just a quick note before I sign off for the night: I’ve been feeling really guilty that I haven’t been commenting on many of your blogs lately, especially during the day. I’m a teacher, and therefore work in a school (duh!), and we’re at the mercy of what the district thinks is appropriate content. Unfortunately, the district thinks that all WordPress and Blogger blogs are inappropriate, so therefore I can’t see them. Some of them, I can see, but then the comment forms are blocked. I can read though, because Google reader is not blocked. So please know I am reading!!!

Be sure to check out Beadie’s Blog for this week’s BSI!!

Have a fabulous evening!


Seafood Stew and an Interview

With an extra day off today, Adam and I decided to make the trek to the nearest Trader Joe’s for groceries instead of just going to the local store. My first thought went to all the wonderful sweets and treats they have there above all the frozen foods… and then my thoughts went to the weight I’m gaining, and how I really need to NOT eat that stuff! THEN a thought went to their wonderful frozen fish. I remembered that my mom had a stellar fish stew recipe when I was growing up, so I of course, called her. She gladly gave me her recipe, and we set out to Trader Joe’s.

You can use any type of seafood you'd like!

You can use any type of seafood you'd like!

Mom’s Seafood Stew


1 green pepper, diced

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 c. dry white wine

2 big cans crushed tomatoes

1 bottle clam juice, strained

1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes

salt and pepper to taste

1 lb. firm-flesh frozen fish, such as cod (I used mahi-mahi), cut into chunks

1 tbsp. olive oil

(the following is what I put in my stew, you can use any seafood you like!)

1 lb. frozen scallops

1 lb. frozen shrimp

1 can chopped clams, drained


Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the onions, garlic, and pepper. Sautee until aromatic and onions are soft. Add wine, tomatoes, clam juice, salt, pepper, and red pepper. Simmer over low heat about 30 minutes. About 10 minutes before serving, add in the frozen fish. Simmer until the fish is cooked. Add the clams. Before serving, add just enough of the remaining fish for the people you are serving, as the shrimp can get very tough. Heat until the shrimp and scallops are heated through, and serve.

My mom usually added a sprinkle of fresh parsley on the top, but that was the ONE thing I forgot! It was just as good as I remembered it, and seriously satisfying! I’m glad we have bunches of leftovers so I can bring it for lunch…and have it for dinner… and then bring it for lunch again!

OH, and I also had a lovely green salad with sesame ginger viniagrette and avocado:

lovely shades of green

lovely shades of green

Now, the Interview portion of the post! Krista sent me these interview questions to answer on my blog, along with some rules for participation. If you want to be interviewed by me, leave a comment expressing interest! I’ll randomly pick 2 people, and send you questions.

1)  If you could be any animal, what would you choose to be?

Any animal? I’ve always said that I’d love to be a house cat. I swear, they have the best lives! They sleep, eat, bask in the sun, get taken care of by doting humans… oh, and find simple things like yarn and paper bags truly amusing.

2)  What season is your favourtie and why?

I’m a huge fan of summer! I work as a director at a day camp, and have for the last 10 years, and have seriously grown to love the summer. While I truly love my teaching job, I love being outside and influencing year after year of 4-year-old campers to be brave and adventurous. My first group of campers will be entering 8th and 9th grade this coming school year. My summers are full of happiness and simple pleasures, and of course, I love eating outside too!

3)   Name one food that you would never eat and explain why.

I can’t say that there’s really anything I’d NEVER eat, but there’s definitely a few things that I don’t eat if I can help it! One of them is veal. I just can’t bring myself to eat it after I found out at about age 11 how veal is bred/kept. Another one is okra. I can’t bring myself to eat something thats hairy on the outside and has snot on the inside!

4)   What was your motivation for starting a blog?

I’ve always loved to write and Lord knows I’ve always loved to eat! A few people, ok, Beadie, had mentioned that I really should write about all these dishes I’ve been cooking, so I started one for the heck of it. Next thing I know, I’m writing every night, getting hundreds of hits, getting free products from companies… I’m really glad I did it!

5)   If you were given $5000 to use for a good cause, how would you spend it?

I think I would give the $5000 to a needy family that I teach. As they always told us in college, there’s always more going on at home than we originally think, and there are so many families that need much more than they have. I’d love to keep the money local, and help children I truly care about.

WHEW! That was a LONG post… thanks for reading!

Make sure you check out the BSI Winner post, and let me know if you’d like to be interviewed!


…The BSI: Orange Winner is…

I’m going to pull a Brandi and not tell you the winner right away.

I had a TERRIBLE time figuring out what recipe to pick! They all sounded SO incredible, the pictures were fantastic, and I seriously could not decide. I also didn’t want to pick my winner based on whose blog it came from. I’d be far more likely to pick a friend’s blog, or a new blog I thought could use traffic… I originally enlisted Adam’s help to pick the winner, but he flat out said “I’ll be no help, I don’t have a great palate!” So then I called my sister. Some of you know this, but my sister is one of the pastry chefs at Tru Restaurant in Chicago. Tru is one of the fanciest and highest rated restaurant in Chicago, and by far, one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life. I went once many years ago before my sister worked there, and it was unbelieveable.

Sorry, tangent… So I called my sister. I had her go look at all of the recipes, and let me know what she thought. Our conversation went something like this:

Leigh: Ooh cardamom, I like cardamom.

Me: Yeah, its good.

Leigh: OH orange stir fry? YUM!

Me: Yeah, thats good too.

Leigh: Ok, I really like this one.

Me: Which one?

Leigh: [tells me her pick for BSI winner]

Me: Ok, cool, thanks. I’ll write about you on the blog now!

Leigh: Oh really? Ok!

You’re all DYING now, right? It’s driving you CRAZY!

Alright, I guess I can tell you now.

The BSI: ORANGE Winner is:

Beadie from What I Ate Yesterday with her recipe for Orange-Miso Tofu Stir-Fry!!!!!!

My sister had SUCH wonderful things to say about your recipe! She said that the baked tofu was something she’d never made, and she loved that your recipe included miso, balsamic vinegar, AND sriracha. She added that it was creative!
So, Miss Beadie, you will have to let me know your 3 Penzey’s picks, and everyone else, you’ll have to check Beadie’s page for HER BSI announcement tomorrow!

Congrats Beadie!!


Only 3 Hours Left!

You only have a mere 3 hours until the deadline for your BSI: Orange recipe entries! I know you’ve thought of something!


I’ll be back tomorrow to announce the winner and recipient of his/her choice of 3 bottles of Penzey’s Spices!

A Day to Remember

Today was a fantastic Valentine’s Day! I remember thinking during many a Valentine’s Day in college that I’d never love V-Day, I’d just think of it as “Singles Awareness Day” for my entire life. Today was the kind of V-Day that I’d always hoped for!

Rather than boring you with all the details, I’ll show you the day in pictures!

I hope you all had a wonderful day too, whether or not you celebrated Valentine’s Day! The winner for the sushi scarf will be announced in the morning and comments are now CLOSED! Don’t forget to get your BSI entries in by tomorrow night!

Have a great night all!


Fun and Fabulous Friday!

Today was a fantastic end to a very long week. I had far too many days where I was up too late and got up too early, and with the full moon on Tuesday, my students were INSANE!

I left work today at 2:15 and made a 45-mile drive southeast to my old stomping grounds to pick up Jenn and another blog reader for my first-ever Blogger meet up! I was SO EXCITED! I spent most of my drive out there antsy and nervous… what if they don’t like me?! What if I’m overdressed? What if they laugh at my food? Then, I met them, and PHEW! They were SO very nice and normal! We headed down to the Chicago Loop to Thai Spoon and Sushi and met up with Rose. She too was so nice and fun! It was really nice to hang with a group of girls.

Let me tell you, there was a LOT of tofu on our table! I got sushi (of course) and my Friday night treat of a Diet Coke.

Yup, Friday Night Sushi!

Yup, Friday Night Sushi!

Also on the table was age-dashi tofu (a Japanese fried tofu dish), fried tofu sticks with peanut sauce, and 2 types of pad thai, one with tofu! The sushi was great, and the conversation was even better!

After dinner, our reader friend took a pic of the 3 bloggers:

EatingBender, OnALobsterPlacemat, imadedinner (thats me!)

EatingBender, OnALobsterPlacemat, imadedinner (thats me!)

After dinner, we dropped Rose off at another restaurant to meet up with her friends, and we headed back to the suburbs. On the way home, I stopped at a childhood favorite (ok, its still a favorite) restaurant to get carry out for Adam. This place is one of my favorites for an exceptionally inexpensive dinner out, and it’s fantastic Mediterranean food. If you’re ever in the Chicagoland area, you MUST go to Pita Inn! (Don’t forget your promise, Jenn!) ANYWAY, I got Adam his food, and got a small babagannouj (roasted egplant dip) for me.

There was warm pita bread too!

There was warm pita bread too!

Then Adam and I split the cupcake that Jenn so generously got for me, and I’ll be hopped up on the sugar for a while!

HOW freaking cute is that?!

HOW freaking cute is that?! Thanks Jenn!

ALSO, there was a package for me when I got home from my mom! She’s on a short vacation visiting her husband’s family, but still managed to send me a Valentine’s present! There was a bright green ProFlowers box on the counter, and when I opened it, there was the most GORGEOUS bouquet of pink, red, and white tulips! Thanks Axor 🙂


Now, some blogger business!

  • Are you having a hard time coming up with BSI recipes? Check here for some inspiration! Don’t forget to get your BSI entries in by SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 15!!!!
  • I’ll be picking the winner for my 100th Post Giveaway TOMORROW evening at 9 p.m. CDT, and the winner will be announced Sunday morning, so get those entries in!!! I know you want to win the cutest scarf in the world 🙂

Thanks for such a fun night ladies, I had a seriously great time. It was worth every minute of time and every ounce of gas!!!