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!



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!


Holy Fritatta, Batman!

I can remember my mom making fritattas when I was a little kid. I would watch her throw a bunch of stuff in a pan, cook it a few minutes, put the pan in the oven and then POOF yummy breakfast (or dinner) served with sour cream. Not too long ago, I asked my mom to actually show me step by step how to make one of these delicious dishes, and she happily did. I made them at friends’ houses for brunches, and for my mom on Mother’s Day, but I had yet to make one in my own home, in my own kitchen. Adam had never even had one!

At our engagement party, my good friend Josh and his wife Anna gave Adam and I a 10″ cast iron skillet. My first thought was “FINALLY! I can make something that goes from the stove to the oven… FRITATTA!” Tonight there was a dilemma: frozen pizza or fritatta? I counted up my Points® for the day and realized that I did NOT have enough for pizza. Fritatta it was!

According to Wikipedia, a fritatta is:

A frittata is a type of Italian omelette that frequently features fillings such as meats, cheeses, and vegetables. Like a traditional French omelette, a frittata is prepared in a skillet. However, whereas an omelette is cooked on a stovetop and served folded, a frittata is first partially cooked on a stovetop but then broiled (grilled) to finish and served open-faced.

So, thats what I did!

It's like a beautiful landscape!

It's like a beautiful landscape!

Fritatta Delizioso


3 eggs

3 egg whites

1/4 c. skim milk

4 or 5 small red potatoes

1 box frozen chopped spinach

2 c. frozen broccoli

2/3 c. fat free cheddar cheese

1 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp. olive oil

salt and pepper to taste


Pre-heat the oven to 375*. Pre-cook the potatoes in the microwave for about 5 minutes. Then, cut the potatoes into small chunks. Heat your oven safe pan on the stovetop, and add the potato chunks to the pan. Add the frozen spinach and broccoli, and cook until the vegetables are thawed and softened. The frozen vegetables provide enough water to finish cooking the potatoes, but fresh vegetables can be used as well. Sprinkle the vegetables with the garlic powder, salt and pepper and then stir. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and egg whites together with the milk until frothy. Add the cheese to the vegetables, then pour the eggs into the pan. Cook until the eggs are partially set, then tranfter the pan to the oven. Cook until the eggs are fully set and the top is browned. Cut into slices and serve with sour cream. Makes 4 4-Point® servings or 8 2-Point® servings.

This recipe can be made with pretty much any vegetables or any fillings you like. I’ve had them with peppers, tomatoes, bacon… anything! Of course the Points® value would change with different fillings. Adam said that the best way to describe the taste was like a combination of a quiche and a breakfast skillet.

I’m thrilled with the fact that if I happen to get hungry later tonight, another slice of this will only be a small dent in my daily Points®!

Stay tuned for some changes in my food photos in the next few days… see if you can spot the changes!!

Albóndigas y Espaguetis (Spaghetti and Meatballs)

I started teaching my students food words today, and I have to say, talking about food for an additional 97 minutes today sure got my appetite going! My students were fascinated by so many of the words they learned today, so I thought I’d share a small sample list of the ones that cracked them up:

  • Albóndigas – Meatballs
  • Espaguetis – spaghetti
  • Gofre – waffle
  • Budín – pudding
  • Manteca de cacahuate – peanut butter

The talk of Italian foods during our vocabulary lesson got me thinking… hey! I have the stuff for spaghetti and meatballs! Then I had the thought that if I make spaghetti and meatballs, I can have a fun Spanish title for my blog entry tonight, and that sealed the deal!

I know I just made meatballs a couple weeks ago but I decided to make a different recipe that were a bit more sturdy so they could hold up cooking in some sauce. The key to these meatballs (and keeping them at a Point® a piece) is to use super-lean ground beef and ultra fluffy Panko bread crumbs.

Cooking meatballs is a cinch in my new cast iron skillet!

Cooking meatballs is a cinch in my new cast iron skillet!

Simple Italian Meatballs


1 lb. lean ground beef

1 C. panko breadcrumbs

1 tbsp. dried oregano

2 tsp. garlic powder

1 egg

1 jar of your favorite jarred pasta sauce


In a mixing bowl, gently mix the ingredients (except the sauce) together until well combined. Form into about 15 meatballs, and place into a hot skillet. Cook about 5 minutes on one side, then gently turn. Cook another 5 minutes, then add 1 cup water (watch the steam!) and the jar of sauce. Simmer on low heat about 25 minutes. Serve on pasta.

I had mine on high-fiber pasta with fresh broccoli!

I had mine on high-fiber pasta with fresh broccoli!

It was a fantastic and satisfying dinner, and I’m so excited that I have leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

Happy almost Friday everyone!

Gnocchi with Tomato-Basil Sauce

Don’t get all excited… I didn’t make gnocchi! Adam made a trip to Super Target yesterday and came home with a delicious looking package of rainbow gnocchi, so literally, all I did was boil water and open a package and a jar (of tomato-basil sauce). It was quite simple and delicious though!

Tomato-potato goodness!

Tomato-potato goodness!

I also pan-roasted a broccoli-cauliflower mix with some olive oil and garlic. BIG FAN OF THIS ONE!! There’s something about the crunchiness of a roasted vegetable that I completely love. I have broccoli to roast tomorrow, and then maybe some sweet potatoes…and I need some brussels sprouts.

Look at that roastiness!

Look at that roastiness!

Did everyone see my post on Love of Oats today? What did you think?? I had such fun writing it, thanks for the opportunity Lindsey!

Layers and Layers: Spinach Lasagna

It’s cold here. REALLY cold. Like, -20 wind chill cold. Darn Chicago! SO my title is two-fold: Layers as in the amount of clothing necessary to be comfortable, and layers in my lovely lasagna. (And parfaits. Everyone likes parfaits! Name that movie?)

I’ve wanted lasagna for about 2 weeks now. Sometimes, people will talk about making something at home, usually my coworkers, and it will be ALL I can think about until I can get around to making it myself. Sure, I could’ve ordered lasagna at the Olive Garden last night, but I would’ve been sorry because it wasn’t MY lasagna. So, tonight, darn it, I was making lasagna!

This recipe is the result of a LOT of trial and error, and a lot of watery lasagnas. This one though, was perfect.

LOOK at that layering action!

LOOK at that layering action!

Fantastic Spinach Lasagna


1 package whole wheat lasagna noodles

1 jar pasta sauce

2 boxes frozen chopped spinach

1 15 oz. container fat free ricotta cheese

1 c. fat free cottage cheese

2 cups reduced fat mozzarella cheese, divided

1 tbsp. garlic powder

2 tsp. oregano

1 egg


Preheat oven to 375* and spray an 11″x14″ pan with non-stick spray. Pour about 1/4 c. pasta sauce in the bottom of the pan. Thaw the spinach in the microwave and drain VERY thoroughly. Mix all the ingredients besides the noodles in a large bowl. Layer noodles, 1/3 of the spinach mixture, more noodles, sauce, spinach and so on, finishing with sauce. Top with cheese, cover and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes, or until the cheese is brown and bubbly.  Let sit about 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

This was such comfort food for me, and I’m beyond thrilled that there’s so much leftover! Adam went right back for seconds, and I’m going to dig into a second piece in a minute.

A few announcements!

Happy thoughts are working!!! Thanks for sending them our way!

Make sure you check out the Honest Foods giveaway over at one of my favorite blogs, Oh She Glows!

Be watching for a special guest post tomorrow night… someone else is cooking ME dinner!!

Aunt Della’s Meatballs

This whole going back to work thing is NOT getting any easier! When my alarm went off at 5 a.m. today, I just about threw my cell phone across the room! Luckily, the kids are getting more used to being back, as are the teachers, so the environment at work is much more “up” than is was the last 2 days.

After watching far too many episodes of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” on Food Network, and watching dozens of cooks make amazing-looking meatball sandwiches, I decided tonight was meatball night! Then I remembered, Adam’s Aunt Della gave me her meatball recipe after I raved about them at Thanksgiving! I’m not sure I remembered it exactly, but I knew it was simple, and we had all the ingredients. Her original recipe uses all kosher ingredients, and does not mix milk and meat. My meatballs tonight would not follow these rules, but they were still good! Adam said they tasted like Aunt Della’s, so I think that’s a seal of approval. I also made some sweet potato fries and creamy polenta to go with the meatballs.

Meatballs, on top of creamy polenta, topped with sauce, and surrounded by SP fries

Meatballs, on top of creamy polenta, topped with sauce, and surrounded by sweet potato fries

Aunt Della’s Meatballs (or close enough!)

2 lbs lean ground beef (90% lean or more)

1 c. seasoned bread crumbs

1 c. jarred tomato sauce

2 eggs


Pre-heat the oven to 375. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients until well combined. Form into 24 (or so) meatballs and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until tops are brown and the juices run clear. Serve as desired.

Yup. That’s it. Seriously a simple recipe! It works well with turkey, and I’d be willing to bet it would work well with TVP or other “meat”.

So, Aunt Della, if you’re reading… Thanks for the recipe! I’ll be making these again for sure!