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!


Where the Buffalo Roam…

Ok, that title is kind of morbid…sorry Veg*ns!!!

I made buffalo burgers tonight, using the same recipe as the turkey burgers from the other night and remembered the bread crumbs! They were absolutely fantastic, and had a nice little kick to them. My favorite thing about cooking buffalo is that it’s similar in nutrition to chicken breast, rather than ground beef.

As a side dish, I made a simple cucumber salad with red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and a little sugar. It was delicious! I also had half of a small avocado, and sweet potato fries.

AMAZING burger!

AMAZING burger!


  • Don’t forget to get your BSI entries in! The deadline is SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 15!
  • I finally decided on a prize for the BSI contest! The winning entry will receive his/her choice of 3 herbs/spices/blends from my FAVORITE spice store, Penzey’s. Go peruse their online store, figure out what you want in case you win, and I’ll order for you upon selection!!
  • You need to enter my 100th post contest! Go to this post and leave a comment. Those of you with blogs, do me a favor (not a requirement) and please link back to that post on your blog! I know more than 34 people want the amazingness that is that sushi scarf!

Have an excellent night all! I’m off to have more sweet potatoes and watch my favorite shows! I’m SO VERY EXCITED for tomorrow night!

Food Network: Causes Bursts of Cooking!

About 2 weeks ago, Adam and I did nothing but watch Food Network for about 3 days straight. Episode after episode of Ace of Cakes, Iron Chef America, Good Eats, Unwrapped… but one show in particular caught my attention and has lingered in my mind for the whole two weeks. One particular episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay featuring the traditional Venezuelan dish, arepas.

According to Wikipedia, arepas are:

a bread made of corn originating from the northern Andes in South America (Colombia and Venezuela), and which has now spread to other areas in Latin America (e.g. the Dominican Republic, where it is now popular). It is similar to the Mesoamerican tortilla.

The word “arepa” may originate from the language of the Caracas Indians (north coast of Venezuela) that meant “maize.”

I was bound and determined to make arepas. They seemed easy enough, but I was sure there was a secret to making really good ones. I asked my Venezuelan student to tell me what her mom does when she makes them, and she said “I dunno, its just masa and water and a little salt.” (Can you tell she’s an 8th grader?) I started looking up recipes. She was right, its just masa (corn flour), and water, and a little salt! I went to the grocery store today and bought the necessary supplies, and decided on a filling.

The thing with arepas is that they can be filled with anything. Cheese, meat, vegetables, seafood… I decided on steak, cheese, avocado and sour cream. It sounds like a lot, but there was only about an ounce or two of meat, and small bits of the other stuff.

You’re getting 2 photos today (don’t you feel special?) because neither view I took gave the full effect of this Venezuelan sandwich. The arepas were about the size of a regular English muffin.

The view from the top

The view from the top



2 cups masa harina

2.5 cups warm water

1/2 tsp. salt


In a bowl, pour the 2.5 cups of water, stir the salt in, then gradually stir in the flour until it forms a smooth dough. Let the dough sit about 5 minutes, then form into 3″ patties. Heat an oven safe griddle, and pre-heat the oven to 400*. When the griddle is hot, place the arepas gently on the surface, turning once. Transfer the griddle to the oven and bake about 10 minutes. Split and stuff with filling of your choice.

Now you can see the filling!

For my WW friends: these are 6 Points® a piece!

Spicy Tomato Steak


1 lb. top sirloin, trimmed

1 can Ro-Tel or other tomatoes with chiles

1 can broth

salt to taste

1 tbsp. chili powder

1/2 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp. oil

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar


In a pot or pan with a cover, heat the oil. Then add the onion and garlic. Cook until lightly browned. Lightly salt both sides of your steak, then add to the pan. Pour the can of Ro-Tel, NOT drained, vinegar, and the can of broth over the steak, then stir in the chili powder. Cook, covered, about 50 minutes until steak is tender. Remove from the pan and allow to sit a few minutes before chopping into small pieces.

I was so skeptical of this dinner. I had no idea if the arepas would come out, and no idea how the steak would turn out. I assembled the sandwiches, and warned Adam, “I have absolutely no idea how these will taste. Please be honest.” He took a bite. I waited. Then he took another bite accompanied by a “mmmm” sound. That was a good sign. I finally tried mine and I couldn’t stop “mmmm”-ing! What a great treat! This is something that will for sure be on our regular rotation! Well, some permutation of this meal… I want to try a vegetarian roasted veggie one, a chicken one, a plain cheese one… maybe arepas will be dangerous.

In any case, you must try arepas! They are: vegetarian, gluten-free, wheat-free, and DELICIOUS! I’m still basking in the truly delicious surprise that was my arepa dinner. I gave one to my stepdad when he came to drop off Stella, and he called about 5 minutes later to rave about how great it was!

Speaking of, this is Stella, my mom and stepdad’s goldendoodle!

She's really quite fluffy!

She's really quite fluffy!

A couple of blogger news bites!

  • PLEASE go bid on baked goods at Meghann’s site! All proceeds go to benefit Team in Training’s fight against Leukemia and Lymphoma.
  • Check out ZestyCook’s Grill Charms Giveaway! They’re these cool little things that go into steak or burgers so you can tell whose is whose. Cool stuff!
  • I sent my Secret Cupid gift out this weekend, so if you haven’t gotten yours yet, you might be getting mine!

I’m extremely proud of myself also. I walked 1.5 miles today in 25 minutes with my work friend. Now, for those of you that run miles upon miles, walking 1.5 miles isn’t a big deal. For me? Yeah. A big deal.

Have a great night!

Old Clothes for Dinner?

What were you doing at 6 a.m. today? While you may have been sleeping or working out, I was up, in the kitchen, slicing vegetables for tonight’s dinner. I got too tired last night to throw together tonight’s crockpot meal, so I got up early this morning and got to chopping! It really didn’t take long, but it was about 4:15 when I finally realized that I didn’t need to cook!

Now you may be wondering what the heck I mean in my title… Dinner tonight was a traditional Latino dish called “ropa vieja” which literally means “old clothes” and this is because, when made properly, it looks like a pot of wet, old clothes! I’d always heard about this dish, and was curious, and until a few years ago, I had no idea what it was. My friend Anna and I went to a Cuban restaurant for dinner, and I saw Ropa Vieja on the menu! Of course I had to order it…and I was hooked. I had just started cooking, and I went about trying to recreate the recipe, but I couldn’t get the meat as “fally-aparty” as it had been in the restaurant. I had just joined Weight Watchers and had found Heather’s Recipe Site, and I was DELIGHTED when I found the recipe for crockpot Ropa Vieja! One problem…no crockpot. I went out not long after that, and bought a crockpot and made the recipe and I was thrilled…it was BETTER than the restaurant’s!

I’ve made it several times since then, and it seemed like just the thing for a cold day today. I ate mine in a low-carb flour tortilla with a touch of fat free sour cream. DELICIOSO!



Crockpot Ropa Vieja (From

1 large onion, sliced into thin rings
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c red wine vinegar
2 TBS Worcestershire sauce
1.5 TBS ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
9 dashes hot pepper sauce
1 (2 lb) flank steak
1 c vegetable broth
3 bay leaves
1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro

Combine onion through pepper sauce in a large bowl. Transfer half of the mixture into 5 or 6 qt slow cooker (crockpot). Place steak on top. Spoon remaining mixture over steak. Pour broth around steak and then tuck in bay leaves. Cover and cook until steak is tender. 5-6 hours on high or 8-10 hours on low.**

I cooked this for literally 11 hours, and when I went to take the bay leaves out of the pot, the meat fell apart. I overdid the veggies a little bit and used twice the amount of peppers. If I do that again, I’ll cut the broth a bit because there’s too much liquid in the pot. It was still delicious, and only 5 Points® per serving, plus tortillas!


I’ve had a couple of you ask me about this stuff called PB2, so I thought I’d just talk about it here.


PB2 is a powdered peanut butter that has 75% less calories and fat than regular peanut butter, but with all the taste. It’s fantastic in smoothies, oatmeal, other hot cereals, puddings… yeah, just about anything that normal PB would go into! I love normal peanut butter, and as much as I love it, I can’t really have it in the house. I tend to take spoons to it and just go to town. If I want a spoonful of peanut butter, with PB2 I can mix it with water and it gives me PB2  the flavor and texture satisfaction without the calories or Points. I’m working on getting some jars to send out as a giveaway…more to come on that!

From the Bell Plantation Website:

Ingredients: Roasted Peanuts, salt, and sugar

Serving Size: 2 tablespoons (12 grams)

Servings Per Container: 16

Amount Per 2 Tablespoon Serving (*when mixed with water):

Calories                             53.2

Calories from Fat           16.8

% Daily Value*
Total Fat

1.87 g

Saturated Fat

0.34 g

Trans Fat

0 g

Unsaturated Fat

1.53 g


0 mg


77.6 mg

Total Carbohydrate

3.4 g

Dietary Fiber

0.48 g


1.66 g


5.65 g

Vitamin A (IU)


Vitamin C (mg)


Calcium (mg)


Iron (mg)


On that note, a QOTD: What’s your favorite “almost” food that helps you stay on track? For me, its either PB2 or Morningstar Farms corn dogs. They taste so “bad” but they’re seriously healthy!

Steak and Spinach Almost Rolls

I don’t know if my iron levels are low or something, but all I’ve been wanting the last couple days is steak. Ground beef just wouldn’t cut it! I searched around today for ideas with steak, and I found a couple interesting recipes, most featuring steak and spinach. Being the weirdo that I am, I of course couldn’t just follow a recipe, so I took a few bits from a few different recipes and created my own. Alas, mine didn’t look as pretty as the ones I found online, but it was still a delicious dinner! I call them “almost” rolls because the steak didn’t quite stay rolled up. It was more like 2 layers of steak with spinach between them…

Definitely not my prettiest meal

Definitely not my prettiest meal

Steak and Spinach Rolls


1 lb. sirloin steak

1.5 c. chopped cooked spinach, kept warm

3 wedges Laughing Cow Light Cheese

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 c. tomato puree

salt and pepper to taste


Pound the steak to a 1/2″ thickness. Sprinkle each side with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, mix the cooked spinach with 2 of the laughing cow cheese wedges and 1/2 of the garlic powder. Spread the spinach mixture in a thin layer over the steak. Gently roll up. (Here’s where I went wrong!) Secure with toothpicks or skewers or string. Heat a large pan and gently lay the rolled steak into it. Cook about 4-5 minutes on each side. Remove the steak from the pan but leave the heat on. Pour the tomato puree carefully into the pan. Scrape the bottom of the pan to get the drippings into the sauce, then lower the heat. Add remaining garlic powder, Laughing Cow, and salt and pepper. Slice the steak roll into slices, serve with the tomato sauce.

I also made garlic roasted potatoes to go on the side. It was, all in all, a very delicious meal… in fact, one of the first in a while that upon first bite, both Adam and I went “mmm yum!” I’m hoping for a few more of those this week, since I’m breaking out some recipes I haven’t made in the LONGEST time!

In case you haven’t already, you HAVE TO check out my friend Beadie’s Bead Page. She makes the most gorgeous beaded jewelry, and is finally showing it off! Also, go to this post on HangryPants for an almond butter giveaway!

Have a great evening!

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!