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!



Super Sunday = Super Eats!

Happy Sunday! One thing that stinks about posting my Sunday dinner is that it means that tomorrow is already Monday… at least I get a 3 day weekend soon!!

Adam and I aren’t big into football, or the Super Bowl, so we decided to head out to the grocery store as soon as the game began! We came home to watch a bit of the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet, and have spent much of the evening watching Ghost Hunters. I won’t even know who won the Super Bowl until tomorrow morning, most likely!

We did decide to do some sort of “Super Bowl Snacks” this afternoon: I made a bowl of Buffalo Chicken Dip! Last time I made it, on New Years, Adam made the observation that I never make buffalo chicken dip for us, so we decided tonight was a good night to have some.

On a baked Scoops chip... ignore the shoddy nails

On a baked Scoops chip... ignore the shoddy nails

And on celery... SO GOOD!

And on celery... SO GOOD!

Dinner was a couple hours after our dip snack (which also included hummus and carrots!) and it was so very simple and delicious, but still a twist on a classic. We had grilled cheese and tomato soup! BUT of course, this wasn’t just any tomato soup, it was Pacific Foods’ organic roasted red pepper and tomato soup

Image from Pacific Foods

Image from Pacific Foods

I fell in love with this soup about 2 years ago when I got a free sample of it at a baby fair with my friend. We were there towards the end of the day, and the Pacific foods rep gave me a whole carton of it to try at home, and it was love at first taste. This soup tastes super decadent, but only has 110 calories per serving, which is quite diet-friendly.

My grilled cheese featured Arnold’s wheat bread, low fat sharp cheddar and a sliced tomato. It came out just the way that my dad’s grilled cheese used to when I was little, and I swear that it has something to do with the amazing thing that is a cast-iron skillet!

Just like Dad used to make!

Just like Dad used to make!

I of course, have a funny grilled cheese story. In college, when I had just started to really cook for myself, I decided I wanted a grilled cheese sandwich. I got out the bread, buttered both sides like my dad used to, heated a pan, assembled my sandwich in the pan and flipped it once. The first side was great and toasty brown. The second side though, decided to burn really bad. So I threw away the sandwich and made another one. Same thing happened. Finally, I called my dad and said “Dad, I’m trying to make grilled cheese and its just burning! What am I doing wrong?” He said “Did you cover the pan?” I blushed and giggled… nope, hadn’t covered the pan, which is why it was burning before the cheese melted!

Enough rambling… on to chilling for the last few hours of the weekend! OH! And I stole Jenn‘s idea of having a cute signature!

Chili Blanco

It’s a rare thing when Adam specifically asks for something for dinner, so when, over the weekend, he asked me to make white chili one night, I was happy to oblige. We haven’t had white chili for a while, but I make regular “red” chili fairly often.

I had my first experience with white chicken chili when I was about 14 at the St. Louis Bread Company, now known as Panera Bread. I remember getting it in a sourdough bread bowl, and was so sad when the chili was gone! Since this was before the days of checking an online menu for “soups of the day”, every single time we went there, I would hope they had that spicy chicken chili.

When I joined Weight Watchers almost 3 years ago, I went recipe crazy. I collected hundreds of recipes from dozens of websites! I came across a recipe for crockpot white chili, and made it as soon as I got my first crockpot. It. Was. Amazing.

I didn’t pull it together this morning to put the chili in the crockpot, so I adapted the recipe to the stovetop, and I don’t think I’ll ever crockpot it again. This was a near-replica of the Panera chili I fell in love with 14 years ago.

...with mozzarella on top...

...with mozzarella on top...

Chili Blanco


1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breasts

2 small (15 oz) cans (or one box) chicken stock

1 small (15 oz) can sweet white corn, drained

2 small (15 oz) cans white beans (Great Northern or Cannellini), drained and rinsed

1 small (15 oz) can diced tomatoes with green chilis (Like Ro-Tel), drained

1 Tbsp. cumin

1 small onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. olive oil


Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the garlic and onion, and sautee until transluscent. Add the chicken and broth. Bring to a boil and add remaining ingredients. Cover, and lower heat for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Shred the chicken (it should shred easily), and stir well. Top with sour cream and/or cheese.

Alas, after the tomato-chili-corn-bean goodness, I appear to be developing a bit of heartburn, but its so worth it. This was a fantastic meal, and Adam enjoyed it too.

A quick thanks to all of you who have been reading and commenting on my blog! This experience has been really great, and has even reunited me with an old friend (HI FANCY!!!!!!). Big hugs to all!!!