Eats

Slow Cooker South Indian Lentil Stew

I have been REALLY digging lentils lately. I literally made a lentil and feta salad with parsley, red onion, and red pepper FOUR times over the course of two weeks. Four times! So when I saw this Slow Cooker South Indian Lentil Stew pop up on WeightWatchers.com as the recipe of the day, I couldn’t look the other way.

Now you may be thinking – slow cooker (the one I have) in the summer? Is that really a good idea? And the truth is, it really is! I set this baby up to cook before heading out to hike this past Sunday, and when I got back to my apartment, not only was it not burnt to the ground (which is still a concern of mine every time I use the slow cooker), it wasn’t even hot like if I had cooked something over the stove or in the oven.

I made this recipe exactly as prescribed, so I can’t call it my own – but I can offer one suggestion. Use less salt. The recipe called for 1 tablespoon, and it was just way too much. I  would recommend going with half that, or even less honestly. There are so many spices going on in this recipe that I’m not sure you really even need the salt. I have step by step instructions below, along with a trick for peeling ginger that works like a charm. Enjoy!

Slow Cooker South Indian Lentil Stew

    • Prep Time: 20 mins
    • Cook Time: 6 hours on low (or 8.5 if you hit traffic on the way home from hiking)
    • Servings: 6
    • PointsPlus: 6 per serving
    • Source: WeightWatchers.com

So first up, the ingredients:

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A lot of them! For simplicity’s sake, here’s what I put together the night before in the slow cooker:

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  • 2 cup(s) dry red lentils
  • 1 Tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp mustard seed
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp sugar

The recipe says if you’re missing a spice or two, it’s no big deal, but I happened to have them all on hand except the mustard seed, so I picked some up at Whole Foods in anticipation of making this.

With all the spices and lentils premixed, this left just the following to deal with in the morning:

    • 15 oz canned diced tomatoes
    • 10 oz chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained
    • 4 cup(s) canned chicken broth, or vegetable broth
    • 1 small uncooked onion, minced
    • 1 Tbsp ginger root, fresh, minced
    • 1 Tbsp minced garlic

Since nothing had to be done with the tomatoes, spinach, or broth, it meant the only prep I had to do in the morning was deal with the onion, garlic, and ginger.

First up, the onion and garlic – no problem.

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Want to know a cool trick about peeling ginger? The secret lies in the following tool that you probably already have you in your kitchen:

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A spoon! The spoon peels only the skin off the garlic if you use it like so:

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Sort of scraping the skin off. It works so much better than a pairing knife or anything else. Thanks to my sister Heather for teaching me this trick because you don’t waste any of the ginger itself!

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After everything is prepped, toss it into the crockpot with the lentils, spices, tomatoes, and spinach.

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Mix it all together.

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Then pour in your broth.

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And you are ready to go. When you come back to it 6 (or 8.5) hours later, the liquid will have absorbed and you’ll be left with a thick lentil stew.

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Mix it up and then add your two final ingredients:

  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup(s) cilantro, fresh, minced

And you are ready to eat!

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This stew was absolutely DELICIOUS. It’s full of flavors, textures and is so, so satisfying. Since it was 6 servings, I ate one on the spot and then put the other 5 in containers for lunch during the week.

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I ended up freezing two of them for later, but let me tell you – it’s even better the next day as leftovers since the flavors have even more time to mesh together.

If you want to print the recipe, click over to the WeightWatchers.com version, but don’t forget to cut the salt at least in half!

Do you ever use your slow cooker in warmer weather? Share a favorite crockpot recipe in the comments if you have one!

Outside the Box

This week at Weight Watchers was a recipe swap. Since only me (the leader) and one member brought in recipes (I gave the rest of them a pass since the meeting was at 7:30am after all), I decided to shift the topic towards rethinking kitchen staples. The whole idea behind the meeting was to think about why changing things up in your diet is important, and here is what we came up with as a group:

    • It keeps us from getting bored.
    • It adds variety.
    • It refocuses us, because when we eat the same things all the time we feel safe with them.
    • It allows us to eat seasonally and buy what is fresh at the market.

And something else I wanted to add but didn’t – it keeps our bodies guessing. I think sometimes our bodies get really accustomed to what we eat if we tend to eat the same things over and over, so you sort of surprise it when you introduce it to new foods and can push yourself out of a rut.

After covering the basics of why it’s important to change up the diet, we talked about some staples that we all have in our kitchen and ways to rethink them.

First up, hummus.

    • Discoveries: Trader Joe’s makes a tahini-free hummus that has just 1 pt. as does Cedar’s brand
    • Uses: On sandwiches, in tuna salad with a little greek yogurt, in egg salad, with hot dogs in a tortilla.

Next up, beans.

    • Sprinkle on salads.
    • Mash up with salsa and cumin and melt cheddar over the mixture on an English muffin or pita.
    • Make your own bean dips/spreads.
    • Add to stirfries.
    • Mix with corn, canned tomatoes with jalapenos, and red bell peppers, cover with sliced polenta, top with cheese and bake for a casserole. Yum.

Last one discussed, frozen veggies.

    • Stirfries with chicken or tofu
    • Egg scrambles
    • Fried Rice or another grain
    • Soups
    • Frozen spinach for smoothies

Some other random things that came out:

    • Roast eggplant rounds and store in the fridge to use for the “bread” on sandwiches.
    • This recipe yields pesto that is 2 pts+ for 1/4 of a cup. You could freeze it into 2 tbsp portions in an ice cube tray for just 1 pt+ a pop.’
    • Health Salad is one of my favorite recipes and the one I brought for the swap.
    • Cooking Light, Real Simple, WeightWatchers.com, and SkinnyTaste.com are some favorite sources for WW-friendly recipes.
    • When you don’t tell people you are making a healthy or Weight Watcher friendly recipe, they won’t know – they’ll just think it’s delicious!

Tell me – what’s one staple you always keep on hand in your kitchen and what is your go-to use for it?

Obsession Versus Dedication

Over the weekend, I read a post on Gena’s blog where she mentioned she will be participating on a panel at BlogHer talking about obsession versus dedication and how to differentiate between the two, which was the inspiration for this post.

There’s a very fine line between being obsessive about losing weight and being dedicated to leading a healthy lifestyle. I know the ideal situation is that at some point you make a conscious decision to eat well and make regular exercise a part of your life, and over time, those things become habitual and require less mental effort to execute. In that ideal world, even if you need to remind yourself to get your butt in gear on occasion, it can be looked at as dedication – as a healthy relationship with food and exercise.

And while I am 100% on board with this ideal situation and wish so bad it would happen like that for me, the trouble is, 3.5 years into my healthiness journey, I still feel like I need to use a considerable amount of mental effort to make it happen. To make myself choose the salad over the french fries. To choose working out over happy hour. To choose fish over steak. To not eat the entire pizza or basket of bread. To wake up early to get the workout in. I mean of course, sometimes it’s easier than others, and it is definitely easier now than it was when I first started, but I still feel like it has to be at the forefront.

I’m hesitant to say that I HAVE to be obsessed to not get back to pre-Weight Watchers Beth, but it might border on that in reality.

Yes, I know how good I feel after a workout.

I know how good it feels to wake up in the morning with no guilt about the things I’ve eaten the day before.

I know how proud I feel when I’ve had a “perfect” day.

But those good feelings in the back of my mind are not enough for me to keep doing it without having to try. When I move away from really focusing on it and making conscious decisions to be healthy, my natural tendency is to majorly overdo it with eating and underdo it with exercise, leading to a place weight-wise where I am not happy when I do eventually snap back into the healthy mindset.

In many areas of my life, I tend to be all or nothing. When I get excited about something, I usually go all in and eat, sleep, breath, and dream it until I move onto the next. I’m happy in a way that I have been able to keep healthy living in the forefront (for the most part) for as long as I have, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that getting very into things (read: obsessive) is a big part of who I am, not just as it relates to food.

In some ways, I think it’s a good thing. I have an enthusiasm and zest for many things that can rub off on others and I genuinely enjoy diving deep into things when I do. I get a lot of joy about many things because I get so excited about them, so I don’t think it’s necessarily a downfall all of the time.

That said, I think if I talked to someone who grew up having a healthy relationship with food and told them about a lot of the mental battles that I go through with it or how much I think about food/exercise, they would probably go with obsessive when classifying me. And, if I step outside myself and really look at how much I think/talk/strategize about being healthy, I would probably have a hard time disagreeing.

But, and this is a BIG but, I think for those of us who have really, truly, struggled with our weight in a big way, a near obsession might almost be necessary to maintain the lifestyle. I don’t know if it will ever become second nature for me, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to execute it correctly without having to border on being obsessed. I’d love if that were the case. Trust me. I’m just being realistic.

I would love, love, love to hear your thoughts about this topic of obsession versus dedication. How do you differentiate between the two? Do you think you fit into one category or the other, or into something else entirely? Do you think it’s inevitable for those of us who have struggled with our weight in a big way to have to accept obsession/near obsession to maintain our weight? Have you found any tips/tricks along the way to make yourself less focused on it, while still maintaining the lifestyle?

Chobani: A Giveaway

I love me some greek yogurt. I eat it almost every single day for a snack, usually plain with fruit or other mixins added it.  When I go for the flavored kind, my favorite is Chobani, hands down. I like that they have real fruit or honey at the bottom, rather than some of the other kinds where you pour the jelly like substance over the plain yogurt. So when the folks over at Chobani offered to send me a custom case, I couldn’t turn it down!

The Plain nonfat container has 2 pts+, and most of the flavored nonfat ones have 3pts. The 2% has 3 pts+ for the plain, and most of hte flavored 2% has 4pts+, which is not bad at all. I don’t normally buy the flavored kinds, but I must admit – it’s been so convenient to just grab a container and not have to get anything else to put in it!

One of the new-to-me flavors I got to try was the 2% Blood Orange.

It was DELICIOUS. I loved the tangy-sweet blood orange chunks at the bottom – it was the perfect balance! And the other new-to-me favorite flavors were 0% Pineapple and the 2% Mango – both so, so good.

What better way to start the day after a long weekend than with a giveaway!?

One lucky reader will win your own customized case of Chobani, based on your personal preferences!

To enter, leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite way to eat greek yogurt!

Contest ends at 12am EST on Thursday, May 31st. I’ll announce the winner on Friday morning. Good luck!!

Some Firsts and a Menu Plan

What an awesome weekend! Friday night I laid low and just watched TV and slept, and then Saturday night I went for dinner then out on the town with a bunch of my girlfriends and had a blast. My favorite kind of weekend! And, I stayed in DC, which is the only weekend in May where that is the case.

There were two firsts for me this weekend.

On Saturday, I tried the 10:1 running method because I was having trouble getting myself out the door. The idea behind this is you run for 10 minutes, then walk for 1, and the 1 minute gives you a small break and brings your heart rate down. The idea of running 12 miles was extremely daunting, so thinking about just 10 minute segments was much better in comparison. In general, I don’t do well taking walking breaks, but I thought the structure would help me.

I was wrong.

The 1 minute break felt so short and not like a break at all, and the 10 minutes of running felt like an eternity. I think having that system in place made me so focused on the time that was passing rather than the scenery or just thinking through life happenings, and it really backfired. I ended up walk/running the entire time and after the first 3 10:1’s, I started walking more than I was running. In the end, I did 7.2 miles at a 10:39 pace, which is obviously not 12 miles but is better than nothing. I won’t be trying that method again!

The second first was far more exciting – I roasted a whole chicken for the first time!

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I’m not quite sure WHY I thought cooking the whole bird was so intimidating, because it honestly was so easy and pretty foolproof! I rinsed the chicken, dried it with paper towels, then stuffed it with a quartered onion and three large cloves of garlic. I seasoned it with salt and pepper on the outside, and then cooked it for 1 hour 50 minutes (it was a 5.5 pound chicken) at 375º. It turned out PERFECT and so juicy!

I went really basic with the flavors because I plan to use it in a lot of different ways this week for meals, but I will definitely be doing this again. After I pulled all the meat off, I made some stock with the bones, and it turned out awesome.

The last random mention is that I have been eating soft boiled eggs several times a week for the last few months and I am obsessed.

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I have been using Jenna’s method where you boil water, add the eggs, reduce the heat and cover it for 5 minutes. Then you run the eggs under cool water before peeling them. I have been having them on a toasted English muffin and then smashing the eggs and they turn out perfect every time! The meal is also super filling, especially with some fruit on the side, for just 7 pts+.

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Yum.

And here’s the plan for the week:

Breakfast Lunch Snack Dinner
Monday Savory Oatmeal Simple Curried Chicken Salad Greek Yogurt w/Banana Soft Boiled Eggs
Tuesday English Muffin w/Egg Whites and Cheese Simple Curried Chicken Salad over greens Popcorn + Chopped Mango Homemade Veggie Burgers
Wednesday Oatmeal w/PB + Banana Leftover veggie burger w/salad Grapes + Greek Yogurt Chicken w/ Tzatziki + Baked Sweet Potato
Thursday Greek Yogurt w/fruit + cereal Leftover Chicken Tzatziki + Baked Potato Cottage Cheese w/Berries Chicken Tortilla Soup
Friday English Muffin w/Egg Whites + Cheese Chicken Tortilla Soup w/greens Greek Yogurt + banana TBD

What meal are you most looking forward to this week?

BBQ Chicken Pita Pizza

I could eat pizza for every meal of every day and die happy. Just had to get that out there.

Recently, I’ve been really into making personal pizzas where I can eat the whole thing for a filling meal with a reasonable amount of PointsPlus. I had some leftover chicken in the fridge and came up with this idea of BBQ Chicken Pita Pizza and it turned out AWESOME.

Enjoy!

BBQ Chicken Pita Pizza

    • Prep time: 5 minutes
    • Cook time: 15 minutes
    • PointsPlus Value: 8

Ingredients:

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    • 1 large Whole Wheat Pita
    • 2 oz. diced chicken
    • 2 tbsp BBQ sauce
    • 1 oz. Mozzarella
    • Red Onion
    • Cilantro for Garnish

To start, preheat your oven to 425º.

While that’s heating up, add the BBQ sauce to the chicken and mix well to combine.

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Spread the chicken over the pita as the base layer.

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Next comes the cheese. I found this brand at Trader Joe’s:

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And you get 3 mini balls for 2 pts+.

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Slice those up and spread them out over the chicken.

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And then sprinkle on red onions to taste. I love ‘em but you might want to use a few less if you’re not a huge fan.

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Pop the pita in the oven for 15 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and melted, the crust is crispy, and the chicken is heated through.

Last addition – sprinkle the cilantro on top.

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And then slice and eat!

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Sooooooo good. I might make this again tonight!

What’s your favorite kind of pizza?

I looove white pizza. I am not that into red sauce on pizza, so that might be why I love this one so much too!

Simple Curried Chicken Salad Recipe

This week is pretty hectic for me with a lot of obligations both before and after work, so I wanted to come up with a quick and easy recipe that could last a few days for lunches.  When I saw leftover cooked chicken in my fridge on Sunday afternoon, the idea of a healthified chicken salad dawned on me and I got right to work.

I love chicken salad with lots of mix-ins, but when you get it at a restaurant or premade at the grocery store, it’s usually LOADED with mayonnaise and that translates to it not being very good for you. The version I came up with uses Greek yogurt in addition to light mayo, so it’s just as creamy and delicious as store-bought, but has just a fraction of the fat and calories.

I love the addition of different fruits and veggies to the mix to bulk it up and give it some texture, so I used red grapes, celery, and cilantro, but feel free to experiment with different combos and let me know how they turn out!

Curried Chicken Salad

    • Prep time: 10 minutes
    • Entire recipe yields 3 generous 1 cup servings, at 4pts+ each
    • If you’re following the Simply Filling Technique, this recipe will work if you omit the mayo and replace it with more greek yogurt

Ingredients:

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    • 1 and 1/3 cup diced white meat chicken, cooked and cooled (182 grams)
    • 1 cup red grapes, sliced in half
    • 2 stalks celery, diced
    • 1/3 cup cilantro, rough chopped (optional)
    • 2 tablespoons light mayo
    • 1/3 cup nonfat greek yogurt
    • 1 tsp curry powder
    • salt to taste

Directions:

First, prepare the dressing. Combine the mayo, yogurt, and curry powder in a bowl.

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Stir together until it’s uniform in consistency.

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And then that’s done.

In a large bowl, combine the chicken, grapes, celery, and cilantro.

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Add the dressing to the bowl, and stir until everything is well mixed and combined.

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Add salt to taste at this point – I used about 1/2 tsp.

And that’s it! This chicken salad holds up very well in the fridge, and has 3 generous 1-cup servings at just 4 pts+ each. I had one serving in a toasted pita for lunch immediately when it was done.

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And it was DELICIOUS. The textures from the grapes, celery, and chicken mean that each bite is slightly different, and the dressing is thick and creamy and coats everything well. This could be great on a sandwich, in a wrap, on top of greens, or just eaten straight with a fork.

Enjoy!

Never Thought the Day Would Come

Not to sound overly cocky, but I really know my stuff when it comes to reading food labels. I’ve heard other people say they’d been fooled by misreading a nutrition label many times, but I always thought they just weren’t looking carefully enough or just weren’t as label savvy as I am. Modesty at its best.

Well my friends, I am sorry to say that the day has come where I got completely fooled by a food label. And the culprit?

Fresh Express Salad Kits.

Specifically, this one:

Source.

On my way home from work on Wednesday, I stopped by the grocery store quickly to grab a few things because I completely ran out of salad greens and bananas – two essentials. I tend to buy food (and everything else) based on what’s on sale, and as I was eyeing the bagged salads, I noticed that the Fresh Express Salad Kits were on sale for Buy One, Get One Free.

I’d never tried them before, but decided that could be a great option for a quick lunch since it came with everything I’d need it the bag. I flipped over several of the bags to check out the nutrition info, whipped out my iPhone, and plugged the info into the Weight Watchers app to see how many PointsPlus it was.

I figured I’d eat the entire bag for lunch, and noticed the Pear Gorgonzola Kit had 2 servings in the bag. I plugged the nutrition info in there and realized it was 7 pts+ for the whole bag – not bad at all.

Source.

I checked several other bags that had 2 servings in them, but they would have a lot of fat or a lot of carbs so I knew they’d be a bit higher in points. Then I found the Salsa! Ensalada Kit and doubled the nutrition information on the bag and realized it had just 5 pts+ for the whole bag – score! I decided to get that one plus the Pear Gorgonzola one to have for lunches and at just $2 a pop with the sale – it wasn’t too shabby.

So I decided to go with the Salsa! Ensalada for lunch yesterday, which had romaine, Mexican cheese, tortilla strips, and salad dressing. I decided to punch up the protein with ½ cup of black beans for some staying power, and that turned out to be a great idea. The salad was absolutely delicious, almost too good with the creamy dressing, cheese, and tortilla chips to be as PointPlus friendly as I thought it was.

After I got back to my desk, I decided to double check the nutrition just to be sure, and it was a good thing I took a second look. Though the bag was the EXACT SAME SIZE as all the other bags, this one had 3.5 servings as opposed to just 2 like the others. When I replugged in the information, it turns out the bag had 10 pts+ instead of 5pts+ for the entire thing.

How is it possible that two bags that are the exact same size and by the same brand have 2 versus 3.5 servings? This seems like a clear case of a food manufacturer trying to make their product seem healthier than it is by saying there are more servings in the bag, which translates to less calories, fat, and carbs per serving. It’s not the end of the world because 10 pts+ isn’t THAT bad for an entire bag of salad, especially when you compare it to nutrition information from a similar salad you might get at a restaurant. That said, it’s still pretty frustrating!

Have you ever been fooled by a food label before?

Chocolate PB2

First, can I just say how much I love Amazon.com? I order things from them all.the.time. and the prices are great, the delivery is fast, and the customer service is excellent. A prime example is how last week, I ordered a new hairdryer and diet cream soda mix for my SodaStream. Since I am an Amazon Prime member, it was set to arrive with two day shipping on Thursday (one week ago today), and the tracking information said it was delivered.

I came home after work and the package was nowhere to be found, but I decided to give it a couple days since I was going out of town Friday through Monday. When I got back on Monday evening, the package was still not in my building, and I finally got around to contacting Amazon yesterday. I went on the site and sent them an email through the Contact screen explaining how the package never arrived, and not one hour later I had an email back.

They put a replacement hair dryer in the mail with free overnight shipping that will be arriving today, and issued a refund for the soda mix since that was through an affiliate and not amazon.com, but I was told I can reorder it on the site if I want to. Talk about excellent customer service!

Chocolate PB2

Another purchase I made a few weeks ago from Amazon was for PB2 Chocolate Powdered Peanut Butter and now that I’ve experimented with it a bit, I’m ready to report the results.

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So what exactly is powdered peanut butter? It’s basically just dehydrated peanuts where they press the oil out of roasted peanuts so the moisture and most of the fat is removed and it literally resembles a flour.

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The ingredient list couldn’t really be more simple, just roasted peanuts, cocoa powder, salt, and sugar. And the nutrition information isn’t too shabby either. A 2 tablespoon serving (12 grams) has just 45 calories, 1g fat, 6g carbs, 1g fiber, and and 4g protein (1 Pt+ on Weight Watchers).

All you do to make it into a peanut butter like spread is add water and mix it up with a fork, which works better than a spoon in breaking up the clumps in my opinion.

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You can add as much or little water as you’d like to make it as thick or thin as you want, which I love. I tend to add less water if I’m going to use it as a spread like on an English muffin or to dip into apples, or else I’ll add more water if I want to drizzle it over something like a syrup. And at just 1Pt+ per serving? You really can’t beat it.

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Now PB2 has its pros and cons like anything else. Let’s get the cons out of the way. This is NOT exactly the same as peanut butter. It’s a good alternative, but it’s definitely not the real thing, so don’t go in expecting to have something just as good as Dark Chocolate Dreams (which I cannot have in the house…) I also wish you could buy it in stores, but I buy everything online so that’s not a major con for me.

In terms of pros, since I have trouble with portion control on nut butters in general, it’s really helpful for me to get it in powder form so I can control just how much I make. Also, even though its not quite Dark Chocolate Dreams, I still think it tastes quite good and I’m excited to have it in my kitchen!

What store, online or in person, do you shop at the most?

For me it’s Amazon, no question.

Super Simple Tzatziki

Tzatziki sauce, or Greek cucumber yogurt sauce, is one of my favorite things on Earth. I used to love getting chicken souvlaki or lamb gyros on pita and dousing them in the sauce when I was a kid, having no idea it was not only completely delicious, but healthy, too.

Even though I had an idea that it was simple to make, until a few weeks ago, I’d never tried it at home. It was a delicacy I only had out at restaurants, particularly at Zatinya in DC (one of my favorite restaurants). Since I started eating meat again, I’m always looking for something delicious, easy, and healthy to take simply cooked chicken up a notch.

Finished Sauce

After trying this sauce out three weeks ago, I’ve made it FOUR different times since then, which is a lot for me because I don’t usually repeat things! But, this takes about 2 minutes to make, is delicious, and helps get dinner on the table in 20 minutes or less.

Super Simple Tzatziki

    • Entire recipe yields 2 servings with 1 pt+ each
    • Total Time: 2 minutes

Ingredients:

Ingredients

    • 2/3 cup nonfat greek yogurt
    • 1/2 large cucumber, deseeded
    • 1-2 cloves garlic, to taste
    • Salt and Pepper, to taste

Directions:

First, roughly chop the cucumber and garlic.

Chopped

If you don’t love garlic, I would recommend mincing it at this point, but I like having small chunks of garlic in the sauce so I didn’t do that.

Next, add the garlic and the cucumber to a mini food processor.

Ready to Process

Pulse it for about 30 seconds, until the cucumbers and garlic are to your desired size.

Processed

Empty the contents of the processor into a bowl.

Chopped Cucs

Add in the yogurt, and stir it up.

Mixed Up

Season with salt and pepper, and taste it to make sure it’s seasoned to your liking.

Finished Sauce

That’s it!

I served mine with some simply baked chicken. I found this seasoning at Trader Joe’s that I am obsessed with lately:

EverydaySeasoning

I cooked chicken breast tenderloins at 350º for 20 minutes, flipping half way through, and then served it along sized a (microwaved) sweet potato and some green beans.

Dinner

Everything goes well doused in the sauce, and you get a really big amount for just 1 PointPlus!

What’s your favorite sauce to use, either homemade or store-bought, to take things up a notch?

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