Tag Archives: Weight Watchers

Weeknight Wonder: Healthy Addiction Chicken

28 May

I’ve never been much of a planner. I like to think that the embarrassingly disproportionate chunk of my life I’ve spent satisfying an insatiable appetite for food media – the hours upon hours poring over countless food blogs and back issues of Food & Wine, the nights I’ve selected At Hoc at Home as an appropriate bedtime story, the many Sundays I’ve played Top Chef as a soundtrack to my stovetop scrubbing – has armed me with a few basic techniques to spice up an improvised weeknight dinner. Though these simple lifted tricks – things like finishing pasta with a raw egg at the end for a silky sauce – mostly serve me well, relying on what’s on hand inevitably means a lot of spaghetti. In fact, my lovely husband of almost six months (?!) likes to say that I have two addictions: pasta and  bell peppers. Frankly, I think we could be doing a lot worse.

Of course, my noble quest to read every word on food ever written also leads me to recipe gems for which I carefully purchase and plan, like Skinnytaste’s fabulously light Tikka Masala (I do it with shrimp instead of chicken) and Thomas Keller’s beyond perfect roast chicken. What I’m working on now that I’m cooking for two on a regular basis is a little forethought. This is mostly to avoid the embarrassment of a third party knowing I’ve eaten soba noodles with bottom-of-the-crisper, quick-before-they-go-too-bad greens three nights running. Moderation is, I think, an adult skill to master. So I’m now trying to meet in the middle, coming week by week to the realization that keeping chicken breast in the freezer and a reasonable number of versatile veggies on hand (such as, ahem, bell peppers!) can make a well-thought out weekday meal as simple as spontaneous pasta surprise – and at least half the time, more rewarding.

(Secret Author’s Note: I posted this recipe because it’s ridiculously easy, healthy and delicious, sure; but I think we’ve spent enough time together to understand that I usually have a decadent ulterior motive. Get excited. This is basically to justify my next post being the recipe for warbat, an Arabic dessert similar to baklava but with a layer of rose-flavored cream in the middle, OBVIOUSLY. Trust me, this one is worth an extra half hour… or eight… on the treadmill.)

Plenty of Soy Sauce 5-Point Chicken 

*This recipe is a caloric steal at just 5 Weight Watchers Points Plus for each of 4 reasonably sized servings. You could also substitute the breast for four boneless, skinless chicken thighs for an even more awesome 4 WWP+ total. Serve with rice for a filling, flavorful sub-10 WWP+ dinner.

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 3 bell peppers (different colors, please)
  • a bunch of mushrooms
  • a spoonful of canola oil
  • low-sodium soy sauce (at least 3 spoonfuls, but to taste)
  • 1 small can of plain tomato sauce (ideally smooth but I only had diced this time and it was fine)
  • a spoonful or so of ginger, freshly grated or dried
  • a spoonful of oregano

a rainbow of healthy delicious.

  1. Cut chicken into bite-sized chunks, trimming fat and gross bits. Soak in water with a dash of vinegar while you prep the veggies. (This is a trick Moh’s dad taught me while showing me this recipe – it gives the chicken a clean, chicken-as-chicken-should-be sort of flavor.)
  2. Slice onion and bell peppers into strips. Quarter mushrooms (or slice, if they’re of the funky shape variety).
  3. Sautee onion strips in a small amount (max 1 tablespoon) of canola oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat.
  4. Once golden, rinse chicken and add. Cook chicken through, about 15 minutes, making sure the pot doesn’t dry out of juices (just add water if it does).
  5. Add peppers. Sautee about 10 minutes. Give it a stir every once in awhile, throughout process.
  6. Add mushrooms. Give it another 5 – 10 minutes, until they’re getting soft.
  7. Add the little can of tomato sauce. Fill the can twice with water and add.
  8. Simmer for a while. If you’re serving with rice, make it now (which, incidentally, before I made all the time because let’s be real, my husband is addicted to rice, I thought took an hour. It doesn’t. It takes about 30 minutes and is actually quite easy once you’ve gotten the hang of it. Though I still can’t cook brown rice for the life of me).
  9. A few minutes before it’s as thick and saucy as you want it, add a spoonful of dried oregano, one of ginger, and a few of soy sauce to taste. Moh’s dad’s taste was two. Mine was four. Yes, I have always been unabashedly addicted to soy sauce.

Weeknight-Chic Champagne Risotto

15 Apr

I have become a firm believer in celebrating life’s little wins. There’s nothing like a bottle of sparkling wine to transform a Thursday night from the final day in the weekend countdown into an evening worthy of savoring.

Depending on on how many people you’ve invited to your personal pop-up party, you may wind up with some leftover less-than-bubbly. After all, this is a weekday indulgence – and waking up with a brick on your forehead would pretty much defeat the purpose. So rather than pour that extra glitter (that one’s for you, @itsamich!) to waste, why not use that last bit of liquid gold to elevate your next meal with effortless elegance?

Wanting to capture the richness of celebratory flavor without decimating any semblance of virtuosity – and yes, also having just dropped a $20 on a lusciously extravagant non-neccesity – I decided to make a champagne risotto so as to make going the meat-free route easy. I consulted Cooking Light, which I’ve come to rely on as a resource for expert shortcuts to lighten up heavy favorites, where I found a basic recipe from which I gave myself the freedom to improvise. The recipe uses feta cheese to provide the risotto’s requisite creaminess, reserving the parm as a topping, where it will leave a lingering taste impact for minimal calories.

Weeknight-chic champagne risotto.

As I hovered over my stovetop leisurely laboring over this notorious attention-hog of a classic, I  was viscerally struck with a memory of my first attempt at risotto. Now the stuff of culinary legend amongst my beautiful and amazing roommates of the time, it’s pretty incredible to think back on that Sunday evening almost four years ago when to cook what I thought was the ultimate in classy family dinner  I donned a sparkly thriftstore dress and secondhand heels, dumped some stuff in a nonstick sautee pan over very barely there heat, and an hour later served raw rice to my nearest dearest.

Some things never change - I've always been prone to the kitchen dance party.

While I can’t say I do much Sunday afternoon “menu planning” while throwing back Baileys’ at the Gold Cane these days, I guess it’s not quite fair to say I’ve just discovered the value of turning the ordinary into the revelatory. Four years and a dozen or so risottos later, it just looks – and thankfully, tastes – more than a little different.

Where would we be without Facebook? Spring 2008.

Weeknight-Chic Champagne Risotto

*Adapted from Cooking Light’s Champagne-Feta Risotto; I also doubled the recipe so we would have leftovers. The champagne and the feta infuse this rich dish with a tanginess perfectly cut by interlaced  sweet peas and economically bulked up with some spinach.

Weight Watchers Points Plus: 9 for a serving size of 1 cup risotto, topped with grated parm cheese; This recipe will make 8 WWP+ servings (or, 2 – 3 Katie servings and 5 – 6 Moh servings)

  • 2 cans of fat free chicken broth (note: you could easily use veggie stock and make this vegetarian. I think canned veggie broth has a weird, tinny flavor that detracts from finished dishes but it’s so easy to make your own – just boil some carrots and onions with salt for a while and then strain it – I think it’s worth it.)
  • a shake or two of some dried herb of choice – I used oregano
  • however much champagne you have left – between 3/4 cup and 2 cups will probably work best*
  • a tablespoon of olive oil
  • 3 shallots
  • 2 cups of arborio rice
  • 1 6-oz. container of crumbled feta cheese
  • a handful or two of frozen peas
  • a cup or two of chopped spinach (I used fresh but frozen would work fine)

*Quality Control Note: While it doesn’t matter so much for the cooking, do yourself right when you’re toasting you. You don’t have to break out the Veuve, but please don’t defeat the purpose and settle for Andres – I find Mumm Napa, a few steps up from Cook’s, a solid compromise.

  1. Combine the chicken broth, the herb and some of the champagne (you’ll want to save 3/4 – 1 cup, so just use whatever else you have – you can also add some white wine if you have an open bottle), along with a cup or so of water, in a pot. Bring to a low, steady simmer (don’t boil).
  2. Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven (ideally, you want something ceramic or with a pretty thick bottom. tee hee.) over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, sautee the shallots for a couple of minutes. Add the rice and toast for a couple minutes, stirring so that each baby grain gets some heat loving.
  3. Pour the champagne over the rice. Enjoy the hiss. Stir until it has been completely soaked up. When it has, add a cup of the simmering broth. Repeat. Just keep on repeating and, as Marcella Hazan my Italian demigoddess advises, start tasting after about 15 minutes.
  4. When it’s just about done – which is when the rice is still a bit chewy and toothsome but resting within a fluffy cloud of soft deliciousness – rinse your frozen peas under warm water for a minute, shake them dry, and add them. Stir in and cook for another minute.
  5. Add the feta and stir well.
  6. Add the chopped spinach and stir well.
  7. Top each portion with grated parm cheese and serve alongside a simple green salad (I just did balsamic, olive oil and fresh lemon juice).

Don't worry, this is a baby first helping 🙂

Aside

Taking the Guilt out of Guilty Pleasures

6 Apr

There’s nothing like a rapidly approaching wedding date to make a gal think twice about what she’s stuffing in her mouth. Truth be told, I hadn’t felt good about how I looked – or felt – since long before we booked City Hall. The balance between indulgence and sturdy choices I had worked so hard to cultivate over years of precarious swings back and forth in either direction had slowly, slowly slipped through my grasp as a year of major milestones sped by faster and faster.

It was easy for me to say no to the bowl of Tootsie Roll Pops in the office kitchen when I could think – will this be worth an extra pound as I pose for pictures bound for posterity on my (future) living room wall? The hard part is now, when it’s back to the everyday – when work feels like work, when I’m procrastinating or waiting for the hubs to come home from his unenviable library marathons, when I’m depressed over Craigslist listings foreboding of my impending banishment to the boonies (aka, the Richmond. Especially then.).

While it’s clear I love me some decadence, I’ve come to realize that  a chin-dribbling, sauce-slicked burger tastes even better when it’s truly a treat – not a weekly routine over which I’ll feel routinely guilty. So, to help myself to that extra serving of accountability I so crave, I’ve started writing an Examiner.com column featuring localized tips on making better food and fitness choices – all, naturally, while thoroughly enjoying each and every precious Weight Watchers Point Plus.

I’ll be aiming to post weekly here: http://www.examiner.com/weight-loss-in-san-francisco/katie-clark

For your easy clicking pleasure, if you’d care to take a gander at what I’ve posted thus far:

So, what’s in it for you? Why of course, dear readers, this means that my beloved blog has become  the new home of all those delicious, drool-worthy, decidedly un-weight loss friendly secret delights – so stay tuned 🙂

"Doughnut & a Shot" compliments of Jasper's Corner Tap & Kitchen on my family's pre-wedding dinner - well worth the splurge.

Abuhamad’s Mujaddara (mmm,jeddarah!)

10 Mar

Time definitely flies when you’re having fun. It flies even faster when that involves getting engaged, promoted, married and 15 pounds lighter. While I haven’t been writing, I’ve been digging right in and helping myself to the incredible changes life has served me.

One of the most amazing things about the past few months has been the welcome with open arms from my new family.  Lucky for my me, my husband and my faithful handful of dear readers, my amazing father-in-law lives just blocks away and has also welcomed me with an open kitchen. Since our wedding, I’ve had the pleasure of  spending Sunday nights peering over his shoulder into a giant stockpot simmering with crackling olive oil, a generously fragrant fistful of minced garlic, fresh vegetables carried up from the farmers’ market and  stewed lamb falling softly from its lovingly butchered bones.

Baba in his kitchen.

The cooking I’ve grown up with and so from which have felt most comfortable to experiment tends to involve a lot of “a la minute” sauteeing (clearly, I’ve been watching Top Chef while I plug away on PR plans this week). Watching my mom from across our granite counter at home, this coordination of colorful sides is casually but carefully timed. In my own closet of a kitchen, it’s frantic, leaving a trail of overturned prep bowls in its too-tiny wake. But the Middle Eastern cooking my Abuhamed has shown me is elegant, leisurely, leaving us time to put up our feet while the rice steams away, he smokes a forbidden cigarette and I try to memorize, fascinated, the lips of the characters on Arabic TV.

Moh and Baba "resting" while rice cooks.

It’s clear where my husband’s love of food comes from. One of my first and most distinct memories of talking to Abuhamad (“father of Mohammad”) is the way he described the flavor of the olives from the trees where he grew up in Nablus in the West Bank, when you would wait all year for them to come into season. “There is no olive oil in the world that tastes like where I come from,” he said wistfully. I struggled not to tear up as I witnessed this gentle man recount such a visceral memory of a place he will never again see in his lifetime. Even if he were to return, it wouldn’t be to the place he describes as he skillfully slices onion after onion – one of simple people who never had much, but were content.

One of the traditional dishes they ate there was “Mujaddara.” Some quick Googling reveals variations across the Middle East largely because it meets that universal jackpot of being delicious, healthy, filling, cheap and easy. Comprised primarily of ingredients you always have in your pantry – lentils, rice and cumin topped with onions and served alongside a quick salad of tomatoes, cucumber and lemon – mujaddara is comfort food at its simplest, guilt-free best.

Diced veggie salad to accompany mujaddara.

Mujaddara

Weight Watchers Points Plus: 2 per 1/4 cup (so divide into 6 servings for 8 points+, or 8 servings for 6 points+)

My camera phone photo is insulting to this dish. There’s a beautiful photo that looks like this version on Avocado Bravado.

  • A cup of brown lentils
  • Double the  rice for lentils  (2 cups will be enough to serve at least 6 people, or 2 people with many, many leftovers)
  • A heaping spoonful of cumin
  • An onion
  • Oil (olive if watching that weight, corn or canola if not)
  • Optional, but better: A dollop of Greek yogurt to serve with (1 WWP+ for 1/4 cup lowfat)

For salad:

Weight Watchers Points Plus: 1 (for every tsp. of olive oil you use)

  • A tomato
  • A cucumber
  • Juice from a fresh lemon
  • Part of a jalapeño
  • Any other veggie you want to use up (like red cabbage)
  • Olive oil (natch)
  1. Soak rice.
  2. Wash lentils (no need to soak them). Pick out and get ride of the uglies.
  3. Put lentils in a big stockpot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 – 7 minutes after it does so; you want the lentils to be just barely cooked, but it’s important that they not get soft yet or they’ll be mushy later.
  4. Rinse rice and add to the pot.
  5. Add cumin.
  6. Adjust water level so it’s where you’d want it if you were cooking rice – just covering it by about a half inch. You might have to add a little water, you might have to scoop some out.
  7. Stir everything. Add a generous pinch (or a small spoonful) of salt.
  8. Just like you would with rice, bring to a boil over highish heat, then cover and bring to a low simmer until rice is cooked.
  9. Meanwhile, slice onion into thin strips.
  10. If serving traditionally/not calorie consciously, fry the onion in corn or canola oil over high heat and dry on paper towels. Or, for my Weight Watchers friendly variation, caramelize the onions. I like to start them in a teaspoon or two of olive oil over fairly high heat, then bring them down to low and cover, stirring occasionally. Let them go until the rice is done.
  11. Prepare the salad. Dice tomatoes, cucumber and whatever else you’re using. If you like heat, cut off the top of the jalapeño and get rid of the seeds and ribbons. Dice into tiny pieces. Add all or part, depending on how spicy it is (and you are).
  12. Squeeze juice of a lemon over the top, toss with a small amount of olive oil, and S&P.
  13. Serve mujaddara with the onions on top, alongside the salad and yogurt.

Fresh diced veggie salad to accompany mujaddara.