Treat Yourself (For Less!)

It’s okay to indulge everyone else in awhile, especially on Wednesdays when you’re feeling like the week may never end. Plus I’m going to justify this one with the fact that it can be made with under 5 main ingredients. Give and take, folks.

This recipe is from Giada de Laurentiis of the Food Network, and it. is. delicious. Cheesy with a hint of tomato, it’s comforting in the best way. It’s super easy too, so although you may have to go grab a few ingredients, the short cook time makes up for it.

You’ll need:

  • 1 lb Fusilli pasta (For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, this type works best, but feel free to use penne if you’re not a fan)
  • 1 bag fresh spinach leaves
  • 8 ounces cherry tomatoes (the small circular ones)
  • 1 cup grated asiago cheese (when I made this in China and couldn’t find asiago at the grocery store I opted for the Parmesan-Romano mix instead which worked fine)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced (or about a teaspoon of garlic power if that’s easier)
  • Salt and pepper (about half a teaspoon of each)

Directions:

  1. Cook the pasta, which should take about 8-10 minutes, in which time you can start chopping:
  2. Roughly chop the fresh spinach and slice the cherry tomatoes in halves
  3. While the pasta is still cooking, heat a large pan (all the pasta and everything has to fit in it) with drizzled olive oil over medium heat
  4. Add the minced/chopped garlic and cook for about two minutes
  5. Add the spinach and tomatoes, and cook for another two minutes, or until the spinach wilts
  6. Add the cooked pasta to the pan and toss with the existing ingredients
  7. Add the cheeses and salt and pepper and stir it all together so it combines into a gooey sauce
  8. Serve while it’s still warm

Here’s a visual guide:

Begin cooking the pasta and while the water boils, chop the tomatoes

Heat a large pan/skillet over medium heat and while it's warming, chop the spinach

Add minced and chopped garlic to the pan and cook for two minutes

Add the tomatoes and spinach and cook for two more minutes

Add the cooked pasta to the pan and toss with the other ingredients

Add the cheeses and salt and pepper and stir everything together thoroughly. Serve while warm.

The cheese definitely makes the dish heavier (but also tastier!), so if you want to cut back on the calories, skip the cheese and toss the pasta in olive oil. Don’t skip the garlic or tomatoes and spinach- they make the dish!

Here’s the Food Network’s pasta collection

Check out a couple of my pasta recipes

Try some quick and healthy pasta recipes from Eatingwell.com

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UCONNLIFE features the blog!

Hey guys, check out the new website, UCONNLIFE, to see an article featuring Conquer the College Kitchen!

Also check out an article at the same website featuring a friend’s blog here.

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Meet My Favorite Quick Fix

Wraps are healthy. Wraps are cheap. Wraps are versatile.

So how it is that a post on wraps has yet to be done? In particular, a post about wheat wraps lined with basil pesto and topped with sliced turkey and roma tomatoes?

This is one of the easiest meals, made in record time (4:30 thank you very much), and there’s few ingredients involved. Chances are you already have them in your fridge. If not, grab em’ next time your’re at the store, since this is one of those no-planning processes.  It’ll work for lunch or dinner.

You’ll need:

  • Tortilla Wraps. Wheat is healthier than regular plain ones, but feel free to go either route, or mix it up with a different flavor like tomato basil or honey wheat. Medium or small sizes work best.
  • Basil pesto. I usually keep a small container in the fridge and use it on multiple occasions (with pasta or sandwiches). You’ll need about two spoonfuls for this recipe. Feeling daring? Make your own pesto using my recipe.
  • Fresh sliced turkey breast from you local deli. Smoked or honey works best for this particular wrap. You’ll need about five or six slices, unless you want your wrap on the thick side, in which case throw in a few more slices.
  • One roma tomato (the oval-shaped ones), since they’re a touch healthier. A regular ones (only use half) will do just fine as well.
  • Black pepper to taste.

Directions:

  1. Cover about three-quarters of the wrap, laid out flat, with the pesto (about two spoonfuls), spreading it evenly. Be generous here, that pesto flavor completes the wrap.
  2. Dice up the tomato into small cubes. Then layer the tomatoes on top of the pesto.
  3. Pile the turkey on top, making sure you cover most of the surface
  4. Sprinkle some back pepper over it all then get ready for the tricky part, wrapping it up. If you’re like me, and not too concerned with the wrap staying together since you;re about to devour it anyway, then you can just fold it up as you would a fajita or soft taco, making sure one end overlaps the other.
  5. If you’re on the fancier side and maybe serving this to guests or want to save it for later, you should fold two opposing sides inward, then wrap it up, making sure all the stuffing stays in the middle. If you have some handy, stick a toothpick on two sides of the wrap and cut it in half.

Here’s a visual step-by-step:

Spread the pesto evenly

Dice the tomato into small cubes

Toss the tomatoes over the pesto

Layer the turkey on top and sprinkle with black pepper

Wrap it all up, connecting two opposing sides

The ultimate pesto-lover in me prefers this wrap, but there are a ton of different options you could try. Grilled chicken would work great here, or instead of pesto, use spicy brown mustard, your favorite salad dressing or hummus. Almost anything will substitute, so get creative! Throw in some lettuce for an extra crunch, or add some mozzarella cheese for a delicious (yet a bit unhealthier) touch.

Featured Links

Check out the Food Network’s Food Network’s wrap collection for more great ideas.

cdkitchen.com‘s large variety of wrap recipes

Healthy Sandwich and wrap ideas from Fitness Magazine

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Welcome Back!

Back to school. With new classes comes homework, but with Friday night comes cheap drink specials at the bar. It also means back to cooking for yourself. As you’re moving back into your apartment or house, you’re probably thinking about toilet paper, new furniture, and the ridiculously large sum you just paid for rent; but sooner or later you’re going to have to buy some groceries.  Just like last semester, I’m going to give you a bunch of new recipes to try, and some tips about staying healthy at school.

Before you chef it up, you’ll want to stock your pantry with a few staples, so you can enjoy all those recipes instead of scrambling for substitutes or ordering a pizza brimming with grease and empty calories.  They’re all items that should last awhile, and you’ll use all the time.  You can find everything at a big grocery store for pretty cheap, and feel free to get any brand or type of each item.

  • Extra virgin olive oil (if you buy one thing, make it this!)
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Herbs (dried): basil, oregano, cilantro, parsley, rosemary
  • Spices: black pepper, crushed red pepper, garlic powder, cinnamon
  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Salad dressing and/or marinade (balsamic vinaigrette, Italian, Ranch, etc.) Sometimes you can find great dressings or marinades in unexpected places for really good prices. I recently found a great Asian marinade at Marshall’s for $3.99! Check out Trader Joe’s or Stonewall Kitchen for more delicious options.
  • Frozen skinless chicken breast
  • Butter or margarine
  • Milk
  • Pasta
  • Bread/wraps
  • Tortilla chips/wheat thins/pretzels/crackers

Those are the staples that I use all the time in my cooking, that I have found many recipes call for. I’ll always give you healthy options, but to help yourself out even more, buy smart options from the beginining, like whole grain pasta and bread, or low-fat milk and margarine.

While most of those things won’t go bad, and you’ll use on multiple occasions, here’s some items you should pick up on your regular grocery store runs, whether you choose to incorporate them in some of my recipes or for your own snacking purposes.  Keep in mind you can find many of these things in low-fat options as well.

  • Fresh fruit: apples, bananas, berries (fresh and frozen), tomatoes, lemons/limes, oranges, peaches
  • Fresh vegetables: red and green peppers, onions, lettuce, corn, cucumbers
  • Cheese: mozzarella, shredded parmesan and shredded cheddar (or monterey jack, etc.), blocked cheese
  • Sliced deli meat and cheese
  • potatoes
  • Hummus
  • Salsa
  • Canned diced tomatoes
  • Yogurt
  • Granola
  • Peanut butter
  • Wheat thins or crackers
  • Brown rice
  • Croutons
  • Mustard/mayo
  • Honey
  • Juice (orange, cranberry, etc.)

That’s all I’ve got for now. Don’t hesitate to leave a comment below if you think of something I didn’t to add to this list! If you’re headed back to campus, good luck with move in and enjoy your first week(end) back. Keep on the look out for great new recipes and ideas for quick fix snacks coming your way🙂

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Finals Edition #2: Spinach

Spinach is one of the foods on our “brain list” this week.  It’s packed with vitamins and long-term memory aids.  Unfortunately for many people, this green tends to need a lot of help when it comes to the taste department.  It’s really great in salad, and for a light spring dish, mix it with strawberries and the dressing I used over the fruit salad from yesterday’s post.  It also works easily in sandwiches or omelets.  But if you’re looking for something a little more comforting than just a salad (go ahead, reward yourself for that all-nighter you pulled), try this hot spinach and artichoke dip.  It’s cheesy and delicious, especially with bread or tortilla chips.  For a healthier option, try it with vegetables like red peppers strips.  It’s easier than it looks, but it does take some time, so make it on a night you have a little free time to relax and de-stress.  We used the recipe for Applebee’s version of the dip, which can be found on RecipeZaar.  

You’ll need:

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Prepare the alfredo sauce and make sure you keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t burn.
  3. Thaw the frozen spinach using the defrost option in the microwave, unless it’s already thawed.
  4. Mince and chop the garlic, shred the cheese and soften the cream cheese.
  5. Chop the artichokes.  A good easy way to do this is rinse and drain them then put them back in the can and using a knife, mash them up in the can.
  6. Combine all the ingredients into a medium sized bowl and stir everything together, or if you have a food processor use it: it really helps in breaking up the artichokes
  7. Once the ingredients are thoroughly combined, transfer the mixture to a baking pan.  I used an oven-safe bowl which worked just as well, it’s up to you how you want to serve the dip.
  8. Sprinkle some of the remaining parmesan over the top of the mixture.
  9. Cook at 350 for 25-30 minutes, or until the cheese is crispy brown and melted.
  10. As soon as you put the dip into the oven, slice up the baguette (if that’s what you’re having it with), lightly drizzle each slice with olive oil and sprinkle black pepper and a little shredded parmesan over each. Put the bread into the same oven for about 12-15 minutes.  It’s best if you time it so they’ll come out at the same time.
  11. Let both cool before serving.

Here’s the visual guide:

 

Prepare the alfredo sauce

 

Thaw the frozen spinach

 

Rinse, drain and chop the artichokes

 

Combine all the ingredients and mix together

 

Transfer the mixture into an oven-safe bowl or a dish

 

Slice the bread and prepare with olive oil, black pepper and cheese

 

Put both into the 350 degree oven

 

Leave the bread in for 12-15 minutes, and the dip for 25-30 minutes

 

Other great spinach and artichoke dips to try:

Paula Deen’s recipe at the Food Network: a little on the Spicy side

A recipe with red pepper in it at About.Com

A bunch of different spinach and artichoke dip options from Kraft Foods

Finals week snack suggestion:

Trail mix! Nuts a great source of B-vitamins, which fight against stress.  They’re pretty high in fat though (don’t worry healthy fat), so stick to smaller portions, about 1/4 cup or so.  Almonds, pistachios and walnuts are all good for your immune system.  Mix in some Honey Nut Cheerios (or another cereal) to mix it up and add a little sweetness.  This is a great snack you can make a lot of and then throw in a bag to bring with you on the go.

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A staple turned healthy: grilled cheese

Apparently April is National Grilled Cheese Month… who knew?  Grilled cheese is undoubtedly a college staple being its quick and easy self.  But, unfortunately it’s not the healthiest of meals, and most people don’t bother thinking about how fattening the toasted gooey goodness really is.  One way to lighten up a grilled cheese is to use low-fat cheese (swiss or provolone are good options) rather than pre-sliced and packaged singles.  An even better way to make a healthy version is to stuff the sandwich with ingredients that are good for you and will keep you full for longer.  Instead of layering cheese slice after slice, opt for vegetables, or something with substance like chicken or deli meat (you’ll get your protein for the day too!).  Instead of using the traditional butter in your pan, try using a non-stick spray or even a little bit of olive oil to cook the sandwich.  

Here are some great options to try from the Food Network’s blog post on grilled cheese.:

  • Turkey, Swiss and sundried tomatoes on whole-wheat bread
  • Low-fat cheddar, honey mustard and granny smith apple slices on multi-grain bread
  • Goat cheese, tomato and baby spinach in a whole-wheat pita
  • Part-skim mozzarella, basil and roasted red pepper on whole-wheat bread
  • Manchego, arugula and olive tapenade on an English muffin
  • Jarlsberg Lite, grilled chicken breast and BBQ sauce on potato bread
  • Low-fat cheddar, salsa and spinach on multi-grain bread

I made a grilled cheese for lunch yesterday that was loaded with sliced turkey breast and mozzarella cheese, topped with tomato slices and avocado slices.  To flavor it up I spread brown mustard and a dab of honey and sprinkled black pepper.  It was a delicious combo and kept me full all day- a much healthier alternative to the traditional bread and cheese combo.

You’ll need:

  • Two slices of whole wheat bread
  • Three slices of turkey breast (or sandwich meat of choice)
  • A few thin slices of mozzarella cheese
  • A couple thin tomato slices
  • A couple thin slices of avocado (or another vegetable of choice)
  • Brown spicy mustard
  • Honey (about half a teaspoon)
  • Black pepper
  • Non-stick cooking spray or olive oil (the spray works best, all I had was olive oil)

Directions:

 

  1. Spray the pan or coat lightly with olive oil and bring to low-medium heat.
  2. Slice the tomato and avocado and get everything else out and ready.
  3. Place the turkey and cheese on one slice of bread and top with the honey, mustard and pepper, and then place this slice (bread down) and the other slice on the pan.  You’ll have to stay by the pan and watch it: they’ll heat up fast.
  4. Let this cook for a minute then add the tomato and avocado to the slice with the turkey and cheese, and place the other slice of bread on top of this slice, completing the sandwich.  
  5. Flip the sandwich once to make sure both sides and browned, and take it off the heat when it’s golden brown, or if you like it a little bit on the crisper side (like my picture), wait a second longer… read: I screwed up.  Don’t wait too long, it really tastes 10 times better golden brown and not burned.
  6. Let it cool, cut it in half, and enjoy!

 

Here’s the visual guide (I missed a couple of steps of pictures since this process moves quick, but you get the gist):

 

Put the bread, one with turkey and cheese, on low-medium heat

Top with honey, mustard and pepper

Add the veggies, top with the other slice, and flip

Here are some other grilled cheese recipes to try:

Looking for a breakfast version?  Check out this one at All Recipes

The Top 10 grilled cheese recipes from Delish

A spin on grilled cheese: Bobby Flay’s grilled cheese bruschetta at the Food Network

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Finals edition #1: fruit

 

It’s that time of year again, and as finals dreadfully dawn in Storrs, I’m bringing you a week’s worth of “brain food” to get you awake and motivated.  Most of rely on endless cups of coffee to get us through the week (I’m probably the guiltiest of all).  And when it comes to food for the week- that is, if we remember to eat, it’s usually grabbing a snack on the go between an exam and the library.  There are a few healthy options at the library (go for the yogurt parfait, or a protein bar over the candy or chips), but if you have the chance to eat at your place or at least make something to bring with you to the library, DO SO!  According to a post from Healthy Eats on the Food Network site, eating better can improve your academic performance immensely:

“High-fat packaged snacks, fried foods and other calorie-laden choices (late-night pizza run, anyone?) are tempting, but these foods will only fill you up (too much) and slow you down. You’ll feel sleepy, especially if you indulge towards the end of the day. In fact, a new study suggests that fatty foods can bog down your short-term memory — no good if you’re in the middle of exams or a big project.”

With that in mind, check back throughout the weak to read my latest post of finals edition.  In addition to an easy recipe, I’ll throw in a snack suggestion you can buy at the store if you don’t have any time to cook.  Best of luck to everyone on exams!

Brain food #1: Fruit (in particular, berries)

The antioxidants in berries has been proven to improve short-term memory (hello flash cards), plus they’re really healthy for your diet.  They’re very versatile and you can throw them in anything from cereal to smoothies, or enjoy them on their own.  Fruit also lends itself beautifully to yogurt (see my parfait recipe).  Warning: they are on the expensive side of the scale when it comes to grocery shopping; however, a little goes a long way when you use them the right way.  One way to do so is to mix them in a quick and easy fruit salad.

You’ll need:

  • Whatever fruit you want to use really, but consider the facts about berries and maybe this week opt for the blueberries, strawberries and raspberries: a winning combo.  I also threw in one of my favorite fruit, pineapple, but grapes,blackberries or peaches are other good choices.  Unless you’re serving for a lot of people, only buy a pack of each kind, since they’re pretty pricey especially since it’s not quite season yet for most of these berries yet.  
  • The juice of one lemon, to kick up the flavor

Now, you can leave it as is and enjoy the fruit the natural way (the healthier option), but I hear a lot of people complain about fruit (it’s too boring on its own, not tasty enough), so if you’d like make my poppyseed dressing, or throw these items together to drizzle over the salad:

  • A dash of sugar (don’t overdo it, the fruit already has natural sugar)
  • A dash of poppy seeds (not vital- I just had them in my cabinet)
  • About 1/2 teaspoon of white vinegar
  • About 1 teaspoon of honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
  • A dash of cinnamon powder
  • A dash of salt

Directions:

  1. Rinse and drain all the fruit and put it all in a bowl.
  2. Stir it all together then top with lemon juice, squeezing the lemon right over the salad, facing the lemon up so you don’t drop any of the seeds in.  Stir again.
  3. Leave it here if you want to enjoy the fruit on its own.  Otherwise mix all the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl and stir thoroughly, making sure the thickness of the honey dissolves into the oil and vinegar.
  4. Drizzle the dressing over the bowl and stir the fruit together again, making sure you get every corner.  If you want to, drain the salad again for just a second to get the excess dressing out before putting back in the bowl.
  5. Store the salad in the fridge since it tastes better cold, and enjoy it by itself, or with yogurt in a parfait.

Here’s a step-by-step:

rinse and drain all the fruit

 

Stir all the fruit together and squeeze a fresh lemon over the salad

 

Prepare the dressing, stirring thoroughly

 

Drizzle the dressing over the salad and stir again

 

The Food Network has an entire collection of fruit salad recipes.  Here’s some of the best:

Paula Deen’s fruit salad (Paula Deen makes a healthy dish??) with honey dressing: the orange juice adds a nice touch

Grilled fruit salad from Sunny Anderson: a unique twist

A fruit salad made on Barefoot Contessa featuring all those healthy berries

Snack suggestion:

Pretzels with hummus.  Healthy carbs are our brain’s primary energy source.  Go for the whole-wheat pretzels since they’re also a good source of fiber.  Flavor it up with a low-fat hummus of your choice.  My advice is to dish yourself a big spoonful of hummus and a handful of pretzels, then put the stuff away, this snack can be very addicting!  Got the time? Try my hummus recipe.

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