Soup – no salad, no breadsticks

3 Sep

One of our favorite things places to go and eat for lunch is Olive Garden.  We always get the SSB – Soup, Salad, and Bread sticks.  But did you know that what seems to be a nice light meal can actually be loaded with calories,fat, sodium, and probably cholesterol?  Take the bread sticks – they have to be loaded with butter to taste that good and are at least 100 calories a piece!  And don’t let the salad fool you – they load that baby with cheese, and I think only super high fat and calorie dressing tastes THAT good.  The one good thing about the meal is that the soups are really hearty and not too bad for you.  I wanted to make one of them, the Pasta e Fagioli (pasta and beans – our favorite) even better though!

I utilized a couple recipes as very broad guides.  The first was Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Meal recipe.  I also had a recipe that my mother-in-law had created in an attempt to recreate the OG dish a couple years ago.  Like I said, I wanted to make this dish a little healthier than it’s OG counterpart, so I started with ground chicken.  I honestly just discovered ground chicken in the grocery store last week, and I am in love.  From what I have tried, the ground chicken can be substituted for ground beef in almost any recipe, and it will taste just as good, if not better! So I browned the ground chicken with onion and garlic, then combined it with tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, chicken stock, shredded carrots, a few frozen peas, red and white beans, and pasta and seasonings.

Before adding pasta, beans, or peas

With everything combined in the pot

The beauty of this dish is that it tastes like its been simmering on the stove all day (and you can let it simmer all day if you want to!) but it can be made as a 30-minute meal if that’s all you have time for.

With September comes that awesome fall weather that always has me craving a big warm bowl of soup.  Hopefully wherever you are, when the heat subsides and that bowl of soup is calling you, you will try my Pollo, Pasta e Fagioli!  I promise you won’t know its healthier, and you may even think it beats its sister from OG!  Enjoy!

Pollo, Pasta e Fagioli


  • 1lb ground chicken
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
  • 1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes with juice drained
  • 3-4 cups chicken stock
  • 2-3 medium carrots, shredded
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 can dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2-3/4 box small whole grain pasta (if you can find it in whole grain I think ditallini works well, but we really liked elbows too)
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste

How to make it:

  1. Dice onion and garlic and begin cooking in pot with about 1 tbsp. olive oil.  Add chicken and season with salt and pepper.   Break into small pieces and cook until browned.  Drain off any fat or water from onions.
  2. Add in cans of tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, chicken stock, and shredded carrots.  Season with red pepper, Italian seasoning, and bay leaves.  Let this simmer as long or as little as you want.  I let mine simmer for 10-15 minutes and it was delicious.
  3. Begin cooking pasta.  Since it will be going into a bunch of liquid in your soup, only cook it until it’s “al dente” so it will not get too soggy.
  4. About 5 minutes before serving add in peas, both cans of beans, and pasta.  Let this simmer until everything is heated all the way through.
  5. Top with freshly grated parmesan, or if you are on a tight budget, Grana Padano, cheese.
  6. Enjoy and let me know what you think!


How has it been so long?

3 Sep

I know it has been a long time -over a month! – since I had a post.  I have been very busy the past couple weeks, so let me give you a recap of what I’ve been up to:

The last week in July I went to St. Louis for the 2011 U. S. Women in Nuclear Conference.

This is an annual gathering of women (and a few men) to support women working in nuclear-related fields.  The topic of 3-day conference was “Creating Paths to Leadership”.  It was a really great networking and learning experience.  They had a lot of very powerful speakers such as a Missouri State Senator and many Vice Presidents, CEO’s, COO’s, etc. of various energy companies nationwide.

This is Louie the Lightning Bug, the local electric utility's mascot

For me, a huge plus of being able to attend the conference was that I also go to take a trip home.  I flew in on Saturday afternoon and got to see a bunch of my family for one cousin’s birthday.  Then my parents came into a couple of Cardinals tickets – and who am I to turn down a trip to a Cards game?

Me and my momma

Me and my daddy

Then on my last night before coming back to Maryland, I got to go to my Aunt and Uncle’s house for my 3-year-old cousin’s birthday.  It made me so happy to be there because it was his first birthday that I was actually in town to celebrate with him.  And he was absolutely adorable!  Little kids are just so fun on birthdays because every new toy is the best-ever in their minds.  I think it took over an hour to open everything because he wanted to stop and play with each new toy.  It was so wonderful to be there with all of them for a few days.  But I also missed my hubby quite a bit, so I was really happy to come home to him!

I got back to Maryland on a Thursday night, and Friday night Karl’s parents arrived for a visit.  That weekend we went to DC one day.

Me in front of the Native American Smithsonian Museum

We caught a Nationals game before heading home

And the three of them went to Gettysburg another day while I stayed home to do laundry and get ready for the next week of work.  One night I made them my Mexican quinoa dish and one morning we made them breakfast.

Karl is definitely the breakfast chef!

Then on their last night we made some delicious salmon (recipe coming soon!) with potatoes and corn on the cob.  For dessert I made the best vanilla ice cream we’ve ever eaten with freshly picked blackberries and homemade whipped cream on top.  I will hopefully get that recipe posted soon as well.

So that brings us into mid-august.  I don’t know if it was the heat or just putting in a lot of long hours at work, but we didn’t get much cooking done.  Karl and I will both be in our best friends’ wedding in Wisconsin next weekend,  and that has been keeping me busy too.  One weekend I traveled there for a bridal shower and last weekend we both went for their bachelor and bachelorette parties.

Me with the beautiful bride to be!

We have had a lot of fun with them, but there also has not been a lot of time to cook!

Finally, we had quite a scare in our family about two weeks ago.  My father-in-law was told that he needed to have a triple bypass surgery fairly quickly.  He was very lucky because he had not yet had a heart attack or stroke, but happened to go to the doctor because of some chest pains he was having.  We both hopped on a plane to Missouri to be there as quickly as we could, and the whole experience was a bit of an eye opener for us.  I am happy to report that my father-in-law is a very strong man, and is doing unbelievably well in his recovery!  They told him he would be in the hospital for 5-7 days after surgery, and he was released after barely 4.  It has been less than 2 weeks since his surgery, and he has actually started working some again.  We are so impressed and so thankful that he is having a great recovery, and all of your prayers that his recovery continues to go well are greatly appreciated!

With that being said, going forward, we are really looking to make heart-healthier choices.  Heart disease is unfortunately something that runs in Karl’s family, and we want to make sure that we lower his risk as much as we can.  This means reading labels more thoroughly, keeping with eating beans and veggies, and trying to cut red meat and fried foods from our diet.  This is a good thing because it also means eating out less which means getting more creative in the kitchen and new recipes to blog!  We also know that everything is ok in moderation, so I’m sure there will still be some cookie recipes and other not-as-healthy dishes to share as well.  But most importantly I am (hopefully) back at this blogging thing, and I will have some new and exciting recipes and stories to share with you soon!!

Confetti Chicken Pasta

23 Jul

Karl and I work at the same company, but we happen to be on opposite schedules.  Our company runs on a 9/80 schedule which means that we work 80 hours in 9 days instead of the usual 10 (40 hours per week).  The big benefit of this schedule is that you are off every other Friday.  The downside for us is that we have opposite schedules so if it is my Friday off, Karl is working and vice versa.

Since yesterday was my day off I wanted to make a really special lunch for Karl instead of our usual salad.  Just like Thursday night I kind of went through the kitchen and looked at what we had to make a new dish.  I knew that I would not be going anywhere – the temperature outside was something like 99 with a heat index of 116!  So first I thawed out a pound of chicken.  We used to eat chicken every day for dinner, but since we’ve been doing this “semi-vegetarian” thing chicken has not been getting much love!  Once thawed I cut it into small cubes.  While cutting I let some garlic and crushed red pepper simmer in some olive oil.  Then I tossed the chicken in and let it cook on medium-high heat.  It got seasoned with salt, black pepper, and a little onion powder.  Those are pretty much my go-to spices.

I decided that I wanted to make a pasta and chicken dish so I went to the cabinet to see what kind of pasta we had.  Turns out we had about 1/4 box of everything, but there were two boxes of elbows.  Perfect!  I threw the remainder of both boxes into boiling water seasoned with a little salt.

While the chicken and pasta were cooking I chopped up some veggies.  My picks were carrots, cucumber, and red bell pepper.  When the chicken was cooked all the way through I poured into a bowl.  I put another tbsp. of olive oil in the chicken pan and tossed in a BUNCH of spinach.  I just used what we had left in our container – probably 3 full handfuls.  Once that had cooked down a little I added the carrots, cucumber, and pepper.  I let that cook for about 5 minutes and in the meantime drained the pasta then tossed it in the bowl on top of the chicken.  Next I added a few handfuls of frozen peas and corn to the veggie pan.  Once those were heated through I poured the veggies on top of the pasta.  Add some fresh grated parmesan cheese then toss everything together.

Karl was really happy to come home to a hot meal!  He asked what I was going to call it.  I said Confetti Chicken Pasta because it looked like a party in a bowl.  He said I should call it something like Garbage Pasta because it literally was a bunch of leftover stuff that would otherwise just be tossed.  I think that Confetti Chicken Pasta is a much better name.

Oh, and it reheats really well.  I was really glad to find that out because I made a HUGE bowl of it.  I am actually munching on a bowl of it for lunch as I type.  So good!

I’m actually getting packed up to head back to my hometown for a conference Sunday-Thursday.  I am going to try to schedule another post to show up tomorrow or Monday, and I think I have convinced Karl to write a guest post!  I hope you all have a great weekend and a great week!

Black Beans and Quinoa Remix

22 Jul

Last night we had no plans on what to make for dinner.  This whole week has been a very unorganized or us.  We didn’t make any kind of a meal plan this past weekend and only went to Sam’s to pick up veggies.  Lack of organization is bad for us.  If we don’t know what we are going to make then we just don’t make anything and go out to eat instead.  Tuesday night we ate Jimmy Johns and Wednesday night we had Pizza Hut.  Last night as we were pulling out of the parking lot at work, Karl asked where we were going for dinner, not what we were going to eat.  My answer was home because I couldn’t stand for us to spend money on another high-calorie meal.  When he asked what I was making I told him I would figure something out.

So, when we got home I walked into the kitchen and took an inventory.  In cabinet number 1 I found quinoa, taboule (which we have yet to try) and 3 different kinds of pasta.  Cabinet number 2 had a can of black beans, a can of red beans, and 3 cans of chickpeas. And our fridge is always stocked with vegetables – lettuce, spinach, carrots, assorted bell peppers, and cucumbers along with the onions, grape tomatoes, and avocado sitting on our countertop.  So I just decided to throw a few things together…

First I cooked up some quinoa.  I always make half of what the box suggests (1/2 cup quinoa and 1 cup of water instead of 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups water) because when paired with other foods half of the cooking suggestion is more than enough for the two of us.  I seasoned it with some salt, black pepper, about a tablespoon of cumin, and about a teaspoon of chili powder.  While the quinoa was cooking I chopped up an onion and sauteed that with a couple big handfuls of spinach.

Onions and spinach with quinoa simmering in the background.

While those sauteed I went to work chopping other vegetables… an orange bell pepper, a baby cucumber, and some grape tomatoes.  At this point Karl decided to come in the kitchen and help by turning our two almost overripe avocados into a quick guacamole (one of his favorite foods!).  After the onions began to soften I added the pepper and cucumber and let them cook for a few minutes.  I took this free time to open a can of black beans and rinse and drain them.  My next step was to thrown in the beans, then the quinoa.  I seasoned the whole thing with some more salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder and a little garlic powder as well.  I let this heat up and then added the grape tomatoes.  It takes no time at all to heat up the tomatoes, so about a minute later I was plating this baby.  I served it with a dallop of gauc and a light squeeze of lime juice on top.  It was so quick, so easy, and so delicious.  Cooking a meal like that makes me realize how easy it is to make a healthy dinner every day.  I guess that means I have no excuse for going out to eat, even during the week?

This meal will definitely be a repeat item for us!  Karl loved every bite, but I guess what meal isn’t good with a little guac on top?  I’m sorry I don’t have a real “recipe” to share.  I really just eyeballed everything except for the beans (1 can) and quinoa.  But you should seriously give this a try.  Throwing a bunch of veggies together is very forgiving – they almost all taste good together!  I guess that’s why I do it so often!  Enjoy!!

Blueberry Sorbet

20 Jul

So a couple weekends ago Karl and I bought the ice cream maker attachment for our Kitchenaid Mixer.  The first recipe we tried was for vanilla ice cream.  That recipe taught us that we have to follow the instructions!  First, you have to freeze the bowl for at least 15 hours.  Second, whatever mixture you want to turn into ice cream has to sit in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.  For all you engineers out there, you are basically doing a real-life heat transfer problem.  The closer the ice cream mixture is in temperature to the bowl, the faster it will cool down and turn into that good mixture.  Patience is definitely key to making ice cream!  Since that batch did not turn out as well as I would like, it did not make the blog cut.

Our next ice cream experiment was blueberry sorbet.  Have you noticed that July has been the month of blueberries?  I just couldn’t help but find recipes to use them since they have been so plump and tasty this month!  Just a word of warning – next month will probably be peaches and September will be apples :-).   Anyway, back to the sorbet!  We had a lot of confidence going into our second attempt with all that we learned making the vanilla ice cream.  I made the blueberry and simple syrup mixtures one night before bed and the next night after work we put it all together!  The consistency of the sorbet came out much better than our first ice cream attempt, so we knew we did something right!

20 minutes into the mixing  and we had some soft sorbet.  2 MORE hours in the freezer and we had perfect sorbet!  It definitely satisfies your sweet tooth.  In fact, I was surprised at how much sugar went into the 2 quarts of sorbet.  I was always under the impression that sorbet was healthier than ice cream, but I’m not really sure if that is true.  I mean, I know that ice cream has  a lot of cream, but the first batch I made only contained 1/4 cup of sugar.  The sorbet on the other hand is basically fruit (lots of natural sugar), water, and sugar.  So if any of you had the same misconception as me be sure and watch your portion size!

The recipe is surprisingly simple so if you have an ice cream maker you should definitely give it a shot!  And if you don’t have an ice cream maker, I’m pretty sure there are articles online explaining how to make your own ice cream without the ice cream maker.  So you should try it out too! 🙂

Blueberry Sorbet (taken from the Kitchenaid Ice Cream Maker Attachment Cook Book)

Blueberry mixture:

  • 5 cups blueberries
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. lime juice
  • Combine blueberries, water, and lime juice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade
  • Process the mixture until it is completely smooth
  • Strain liquid into an air-tight container.  Press slightly down to extract as much liquid as possible, but do not let solids pass through strainer
  • Refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours.

Simple Syrup:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • Combine sugar and water in a saucepan
  • Bring to a boil over medium-high heat
  • Cook and stir constantly for 10 minutes or until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  • Immediately immerse pan in an ice bath, stirring constantly until the mixture comes down to room temperature.
  • Place in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight

Blueberry Sorbet:

  • Combine blueberry juice and simple syrup just before mixing
  • Mix according to your ice cream maker’s instructions for 15-20 minutes – be patient!!

    Is it ready yet?

  • Freeze and allow to harden for 2 hours then ENJOY!

Weekend Wrap Up

17 Jul

Since I was so late doing a weekend wrap up last week, I wanted to make sure to get mine done on Sunday this week!  I think I am already starting to slack on this blog when I see two “weekend wrap up” posts in a row.  We had a pretty busy weekend though and ate out almost every meal so there were not any new recipes to share!  I will try and fix that this upcoming week…

This weekend was a really special one for us because our friend Travis and his girlfriend Lauren came from Missouri for a visit.  The fun started on Friday at lunchtime.  I took the afternoon off so that we could hang out, and I was so happy with my decision!  We started with a late lunch and a beer sampler at Brewer’s Alley, a local microbrewery that Karl and I have been wanting to try.  Lunch was really good – we will definitely go there again!  I couldn’t believe it when Travis ordered oysters as his dish, and I was even more surprised when he convinced Karl to try one!  He tried to convince me as well, but I am definitely not adventurous enough.  I think that the texture would really turn me off no matter how they taste!  After lunch we walked around downtown a little bit and stopped at a chocolate shop.  I unfortunately didn’t get any chocolate of my own.  Karl asked if I wanted something, but there was so much to choose from and he ordered so quickly I didn’t have time to choose.  So I had to mooch off of his instead – I’m lucky he likes me enough to share.  This is some kind of peanut butter chocolate sandwich he got.  He really enjoyed it, and I think we will definitely be going back there for more chocolate!

Later in the afternoon Karl and Travis went for a hike, but it was pretty warm outside so I passed on that.  I instead stayed home and baked them some white-chocolate macadamia nut cookies (sorry I forgot to take a photo!), and when they got back around 8:30pm we went back downtown to a Mexican restaurant for dinner.  We took some time to show Travis around downtown and walked along Carroll Creek looking at the bridges.  Apparently though between their hike and his food coma, Karl was too tired to continue walking and proceeded to climb on my back for a piggy back ride.  I think Travis was impressed that I could actually carry a 220 lb man on my back!  We were all pretty tired then so we decided to come back home and head to bed.

Saturday morning we slept until we woke up, had some breakfast (overnight oats – Karl made some for all 3 of us, and I think Travis is now a convert!) and drove to Baltimore.

The Boys

The Domino Sugar factory - I use so much of their sugar I had to take a photo!

We spent some time walking around the Inner Harbor then rode the Charm City Circulator up to the original Washington Monument.  We also stopped for some Slurpees to cool off along the way :-).  Next stop in Baltimore was Obrycki’s for some Maryland crabs.  I will admit that I am not much of a shellfish fan, but I couldn’t say no to these crabs.  It was a lot of fun sitting there with a pile of crabs in the middle of the table and getting dirty while attempting to break them open.  I would definitely recommend going there for some delicious crab if you are ever in the downtown Baltimore area!

Later that afternoon we drove down to a suburb of DC to pick up Lauren from a friend’s house.  We all got on the Metro and rode down to the area around the Catholic University to see her old college roommate who became a nun a couple years ago.  The convent that she lives in was actually having a family gardening day, but by the time we made it down there they were in the process of cleaning up  so we didn’t get to help much.  We did have some time to sit and talk with her about her experience as a nun this far as well as some general Catholic questions.

By the time we left there it was almost 8pm and we were all starving!  Lauren, the only decisive one in the group, was in the mood for Italian food.  I knew we’d be riding right past Maggiano’s (the same restaurant where Karl and I had our wedding reception), and I couldn’t pass it up!

Karl and me at our wedding reception. Copyright Kelly Manno Photography

We all enjoyed our giant bowls of pasta and came home with a lot of leftovers!  (Karl and I had leftovers for lunch and dinner today and will probably have them again for dinner tomorrow!)  When we finally made it home we were all ready to crash.  I would say we probably walked 5-6 miles between our adventures in Baltimore and DC plus the Metro ride and the drive from the Metro made us all so sleepy!

Karl and I got up early this morning to make breakfast for Travis and Lauren before they headed out at 7AM.  They were headed to mass at the Catholic University and then site-seeing in DC.  We were supposed to go with them, but we had too much to do to get ready for the week to go all the way to DC and back this morning.  Karl made some awesome scrambled eggs and bacon and I made a fruit salad and some toast for everyone.  We made sure to get some coffee in them too because we knew they would need some energy for a long day of walking in the heat!  After breakfast we had to say goodbye to them.  We loved getting to see them (I was so excited to meet Lauren!), but we had to make sure we were ready for the work week too.

Our day continue with a morning showing of Harry Potter.  It was so good!  I cried multiple times – I am definitely a sentimental girl!  I love how it all ends, but it is still so bittersweet to me.  I can’t believe that all the books and movies are over now!  The rest of our day was spent doing some grocery shopping and laundry.  I also got to talk to my parents while Karl went to work some overtime.  I wish that I could talk to them more, but with working, working out, cooking, and cleaning and being an hour ahead of them and them being super busy doing the same things it seems like it is almost impossible to find time to talk.  I took advantage and talked to my mom for a good 3 hours tonight :-).  I’ve got lunches made for tomorrow and work clothes clean and ready.  Now it is time to get some sleep so that tomorrow we are ready to work out! We missed some workouts this weekend, but tomorrow we are definitely jumping right back into it.

I hope you have a great week!


Weekend Wrap Up

12 Jul

Is it too late to do a wrap up of my weekend?  I don’t think so!  It didn’t seem like it was a very busy weekend, but it seemed to fly by.  Don’t they all?

So, Saturday morning Karl and I went to pick more blueberries.  This time we went to a place called Butler’s Orchard in Germantown.  The blueberry picking was amazing this weekend!  They were so plump, and every branch was full of ripe berries.  Picking is so much fun when there are so many good berries to choose from!  We filled our bowl with 6.66 lbs (kind of a freaky number, right?) and finally said we had to stop.  Then we came home and Karl did some car stuff while I cleaned.  In the afternoon we went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and got the ice cream maker attachment for our Kitchenaid Mixer!!!!  I am so excited about it.  We were definitely disappointed to find out that you have to freeze the mixer bowl for at least 15 hours before using it though!

Sunday we got up early to do our grocery shopping.   First to Wal Mart and then to Sam’s.  We were at Sam’s when they opened at 10AM.  Did you know that people line up to get in there before 10?  I’ve never been there that early before so I definitely did not!  I was pretty excited because it was time to renew our membership.  No, I was not excited about spending $40.  I was excited because we got an offer in the mail that said if we renewed by a certain day we could get a $20 gift card.  Then, on the way in, I saw a sign that listed a bunch of companies and said “if you work for one of these companies, you can get a $10 gift card for renewing your membership.”  The company that Karl and I work for just happened to be listed on there!  I figured that you could only get one deal or the other, but it doesn’t hurt to ask for both, right?  Well it turns out you can get both!  So I spent $40 on a membership but got back $30 in gift cards.  I’d say that’s quite a deal!

We got back home and immediately got to work making our first batch of ice cream!  It was a lot more work than we thought it would be.  We definitely learned to follow directions too…  Like when they say to refrigerate your ice cream batter overnight, they don’t mean stick it in the fridge for 2 hours and call it good.  You will end up with runny ice cream.  We eventually got a pretty good product for our first try though!  I am thinking about making some blueberry sorbet or frozen yogurt in the next few days so hopefully I will have that post to share with you soon.  On Sunday I also made some vegetarian stuffed peppers and had my first attempt at macarons.  I have read so much about them online and couldn’t understand how a cookie could be so difficult to make.  Apparently I didn’t something wrong though because the cookies turned out flat as pancakes!  I will have to do a little more researching and try them again soon.

One of the best parts of my Sunday was getting surprised by my wonderful husband with some cute pink daisies!  He always asks when we go to the store and pass by the flowers if I want some, but there’s nothing like getting them by surprise!  He is such a sweet heart – I am a lucky woman!

I hope you all had a great weekend and the week is off to a great start!  Only 3 more days until the next weekend!