A Simple Special Dinner

Most of the time I am cooking for one. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person in the whole world who does this, so I thought I’d share how I made a special dinner for myself without breaking the calorie bank. Yes, I know its just one meal. But of course, you do end up making enough for several meals, and so for me, its just a good thing to lighten up some of my favorite foods, and also to limit the number of foods I prepare. Don’t feel bad, I did have more than my fair share of sweet treats this Christmas 🙂

So here’s the two recipes I adapted from old favorites. The first was an old recipe in the Betty Crocker Cookbook. My copy is 40 years old! It still has a lot of great basic recipes and instructions, and I am very happy to have it. These are called Buffet Potatoes, and are kind of a simple version of potatoes au gratin. I looked at the recipe and there were a few simple obvious changes and substitutions to make, and still have a delicious side dish. I left out the butter (why do you need cheese AND butter,) and instead of half and half, I used whole milk. That made my version a very reasonable 130 calories per serving. I made a recipe that had 4 servings instead of the 8 in the original recipe.

Here’s how I did it:

I had an 8 oz block of cheese, so I just marked 1/4 of it with a knife, and then shredded that much of the block. I actually weighed out 12 oz of potatoes (I almost always use Yukon Gold because they have more natural flavor,) and I sliced 1/2 an onion as thinly as I could.

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Assembled them in layers with salt and pepper, per the recipe.

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Sprinkled the milk over all, and baked according to recipe, and here are my lightened up buffet potatoes. Perfect with ham!

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I used to make jello with frozen raspberries in heavy syrup, and I used that syrup to make regular jello, and then added the raspberries, cream cheese and plenty of walnuts. For my lightened up version, I used SF raspberry jello, laughing cow lite wedges, and walnuts. I forgot to buy some fresh raspberries, so I used pears this time, which are also delicious in this combination. I have compared, and laughing cow lite has less calories that light cream cheese, and I think its delicious in this kind of preparation. When I had it all combined, I was very happy that I came up with the idea of portioning it out into serving dishes, saving me one more step when it came time to eat! Each serving has about 100 calories.

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And here was my Christmas Eve dinner! The only thing that was missing was some kind of green vegetable. Just some broccoli or green beans would have been great.

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A Quiet Christmas

This year I noticed I was in a pretty festive mood even before Thanksgiving. But I was working constantly on finishing a special quilt, one that I had conceived last year at Christmastime when I attended a performance of Handel’s Messiah, and I didn’t want to stop to get Christmas decorations out.

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When I finally finished the quilt, (and I did finish it in time to hang in in my church the week before Christmas,) it was raining, and I didn’t want to haul Christmas decorations from the storage shed to the house. Then I was working quickly to finish one quilt for a present for my brother’s family, and I didn’t want to take the time to put Christmas decorations up. (My brother loves the zoo, and I couldn’t resist this panel of zoo animals when I saw it at the fabric store.)

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Finally, I got a pattern to make “artful oven mitts,” and I was having so much fun making some last minute Christmas presents that I didn’t want to stop long enough to put Christmas decorations up.

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And that’s how it happened that I had a Christmas without decorations even though I was in a festive mood. Somewhere along the way, I did have an epiphany–one of the things I DON’T like about decorating for Christmas is hauling the decorations from the storage shed to the house. I now have more storage room in my house, and so sometime in the new year I am going to go through my decorations, thin them down a bit, and bring them in the house.

I did remember to order a ham from the local meat market for my own Christmas dinner. I almost forgot about the rest of the dinner, and one morning I was at the store with only about 10 minutes to spare and I suddenly remembered, what else do I want to make?! So I remembered that I love this old recipe from the Betty Crocker Cookbook for Buffet Potatoes, and  I love the jello salad I’ve made for years.

I made lightened up versions of both, and I’ll share that in a post later this week. Yummy, if I do say so myself. I only made one batch of cookies. They were the featured cookie of a well-known quilter, so I just had to try them! Quite delicious–the recipe called for fresh cranberries, but since I had a boatload of dried cranberries, that’s what I put in mine.

The girls got new beds and toys for Christmas. Bessie claimed the small round bed next to the wood stove.

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And Chloe is quite enamored of all the new toys 🙂 Sophie prefers her perch next to the wood stove. After all, the Queen must maintain a higher station than the common dogs.

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All in all, for me it was a wonderful Christmas season. I attended a wonderful church in Folsom that celebrated Advent in a special way, each Sunday between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And I attended my home church for our Christmas dinner, Christmas Eve candlelight service, and again on Christmas morning, before heading to my niece’s house for a nice Christmas dinner with family. For me, this is the way to celebrate Christmas.

I hope you all had Christmas just the way you wanted it, and I wish for you all a peaceful and happy New Year!

Happy Days

It was my birthday weekend! Yes, that’s right, weekend, not week. Two days is more than enough celebrating at this time of year. My real birthday was on Sunday, and since I started a new tradition 3 years ago of SWIMMING on my birthday, I planned to do that on Saturday. So off to the gym I went Saturday afternoon. I spent 45 minutes (10 miles) on the stationary bike (the amount of time I spend on the bike is directly related to how interested I am in the TV show I’m watching :/ ) So when I finally got out to the pool, it was smooth as glass! Yes, I had the whole pool to myself for my birthday. The water is actually nice and warm, but if there is any breeze, your head and shoulders are quite chilly. Still, I spent 20 minutes running back and forth. I decided to not swim, because I didn’t want to get my hair wet. I was going to Starbuck’s afterwards for my free frappuccino!

Sunday I had all planned out. I have started attending a church in Folsom every other Sunday–they are the church that encourages artists and they have displayed my quilts in their gallery twice now. I really enjoy this church–it feeds my soul, and fills me with thoughts of God for the week ahead. So I headed out to Folsom bright and early, so I could stop at the bakery on the way and get myself a sticky bun and a good cup of coffee for the drive. Yummmmmmm.

I had decided ahead of time that I wanted to get myself a nice pair of pajamas for my birthday. I usually have good luck finding pajamas and nightgowns at the thrift store, but I haven’t had some nice cozy pj’s for a while. So after the church service, I checked out Ross and Marshall’s, but ended up at Steinmart and got the perfect pair–pink of course, with a gray and pink rose print. And the tag claimed they were “cloud soft.” Perfect!

I saw that they had a Nordstrom Rack there, and decided to check that out. I had quite the little adventure there. I pulled forward into a parking space next to a man in a van that was full of stuff. The man did not look very friendly… and before I got out of my car, another younger man came running out of the store, hopped in the passenger seat and slouched down, while the driver tried to pull forward but hit a parking bump so he had to back out of the spot. This all seemed highly suspicious, so I tried to memorize part of the license plate, and the next thing I saw was the mall security car with its flashing lights on, doing what seemed to me to be a slow speed chase. And then the funniest thing happened–you know how sometimes its hard to find the mall exit? Yeah, that van had to turn around and find a different way to get out of the mall. Well, I don’t really know how that ended, but I went in the store to give them the partial license plate, and there was already another man there showing them something on his cell phone, so I decided they didn’t need anything from me. End of story 🙂

I looked around the Rack for just a minute–too crowded and messy. But I did find a pair of diamond earrings to replace the ones I had lost. LOL. Cubic zirconias. They are plenty sparkly for me.

I had lunch at my favorite Chipotle Grill (same thing every time–the carnitas salad,) and the first girl asked how my day was going, and I blurted out, “oh perfect. Its my birthday and this is my favorite place to eat.” So I went on down the line and the other servers said happy birthday, and I paid with my card and went to the table. And then I looked at my ticket, and they hadn’t charged me for my meal! What a nice surprise.

I ended the day with my free Pinkberry froyo–gotta love those cards where they just load the free birthday treat onto it. And I was on my way home, where I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in my big chair, taking turns holding each little girl on my lap.

In case y’all are  wondering, this is a special birthday–I turned 62 this year. SOCIAL SECURITY, baby!! It doesn’t start until February, but I have been looking forward to this since I retired five years ago!

From the Garden

While checking out the garden before another predicted rainstorm, I found three incredible rose blooms. I decided to cut them down and bring them in to enjoy for a bit.

Look how well they match my bathroom! I love that color of pink 🙂

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And even 4 days later I was still enjoying their beauty.

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And one more note about the garden. I was so looking forward to a good year of fall color from the Japanese maples. Unfortunately, the warmer fall that we had (that gave me wonderful roses the last week of November) was not so good for the maples. They just didn’t get that cold shock that they need to turn colors. So I am enjoying bits and pieces of fall color, but so far, none spectacular enough to share on the blog.

Late to the Party

I know I’m the last person in America to discover the joys of potstickers! Before, they just seemed like a pain in the butt to prepare–trying to heat pasta in a pan with some oil, and they always STUCK TO THE POT. And then I discovered the toaster oven. I put them on a piece of foil sprayed with Pam and Bam! They cook up with just a bit of crispiness and not only do they NOT stick, they tend to slide around on their little aluminum foil sheet pan. Weird, but it works so well.

But I need to back up. I discovered these potstickers through Biz’s recipe recommendation for won ton soup. I love that soup. And then I got the giant economy bag of the mini potstickers at Costco, and I thought I might like to eat them without the soup. After all, they are only 100 calories for eight of them!! And THEN, I found the recipe for dipping sauce on the bag, and I adjusted it for my own purposes. And I had the makings for a quick and easy and very low calorie dinner, just like that.

Here’s what I had for dinner the day after Thanksgiving. The shrimp are good dipped in the sauce too!

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The Feast and the Days After

Thanksgiving was quite tasty this year. My niece’s husband did one of those deep fried turkeys, and I swear, that was the best turkey I’ve ever had! I had seconds on turkey and mashed potatoes, and all the other stuff I just had mini-servings of, or skipped altogether.

It was a shame, but most of the folks present didn’t like nuts, so I left half of the pumpkin cake for my sister and mom to take home, and I took the other half home myself. I guess I didn’t need that little cake after all 🙂

Anyway, I did have one piece of the layer cake that night, and then I cut it into serving sizes, and put it safely in the freezer. And that was it. The next morning I got up and went right back to counting my calories on LoseIt. I didn’t really want to keep overeating. I guess I’m finally getting over that whole thing.

I ate carefully that day, and saved enough calories so I could have my mini-cake for dessert that night. I had my “leftover” turkey breast that I had cooked for myself, and so I had my salad with romaine lettuce, cranberry sauce, turkey, and laughing cow lite cheese–I love that combo! And I cut up that turkey breast and put it in a couple of containers in the freezer so I can have it whenever I want between now and Christmas.

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Today I had an old favorite of mine. The original of this was at a wonderful restaurant that served gigantic mashed potatoes in all kinds of original combinations. One of my favorites was the italian potato, which of course was loaded with butter, sour cream, mozzarella cheese, italian spices, olives, and a bit of parmesan.

One day I realized I could have this same combination of flavors if I would just pare it down a little. I start with a small yukon gold potato, about 4 ounces, and I spray it with Pam and sprinkle garlic salt on it, then wrap it in foil and bake it for a long time. That makes it soft and extra flavorful. Then I spray some fake butter on top, put about 1/3 cup of cottage cheese, sprinkle some italian spices, and about a Tablespoon or so of chopped olives. So yummy! And probably one-tenth of the calories of that giant baked potato 🙂

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Here’s how I had it for dinner–with a big helping of those baby green beans, baked in the oven with Pam and salt.

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All the Pumpkin Things!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I hope you enjoy the day. Think about all the many things we have to be thankful for, living in this wonderful country. A plethora of pumpkin is just one of the things we can be thankful for 🙂

Yesterday I made my low calorie Apple Cranberry Sauce. It was delicious with my cottage cheese! And then I made a batch of Pumpkin Custard. That will keep my Thanksgiving cravings satisfied without overdoing the calorie load.

I am going to my niece’s this year for Thanksgiving, and this year I volunteered to make Helen’s wonderful Brown Butter Pumpkin Cake. This is the third year I’ve made it. I think that makes it a Thanksgiving tradition for me. I made the cakes this morning, and I will make the nuts and the frosting later today.

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What is that tiny little cake, you ask? Why yes, I did cook a miniature cake for myself to have the next day 🙂

The cake recipe doesn’t use a whole can of pumpkin, so I dumped the leftover pumpkin into my leftover coffee–it will make me a fun low calorie “pumpkin pie frappucino” later today 🙂

I am off to the doctor for my third and last gel shot. Hoping that the third shot is the “magic” that will make these shots work for a while. When I get home I will cook the turkey breast that I bought so I will have “leftover” turkey in the days to come.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!