Category Archives: Companions

Yes, Soup for You

As I finished the autumn leaf round-up and migrated the lawn mower to the shed for the winter, I was in the mood for a savory and comforting soup.  I flipped through a stack of hard copy recipes and found a Weight Watchers soup that I had not yet made.  Great bonus – it’s multi-grain!  I adore the nutty, crunchy, earthy flavor of wild rice (see below recipe for breakfast wild rice), so it was a perfect choice.

This is a great basic recipe that has multiple variation options.  Weight Watcher recipes are often bland, so I almost doubled the spices in the recipe.  I also used a bit of chicken broth along with the vegetable broth, since I had it available.  I did not use an instant rice mix; but, rather, cooked both the wild rice and barley in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

Wild Rice, Barley, Corn, and Mushroom Soup


1 cup(s) water
1/4 cup(s) uncooked barley
2 tsp olive oil
|1/2 cup(s) carrot(s), grated
1/2 tsp minced garlic
3 cup(s) mushroom(s), sliced
5 1/2 cup(s) vegetable broth
3/4 cup(s) instant long grain and wild rice mix
1 cup(s) frozen corn kernels
1/8 oz fresh sage, chopped (use 1 tablespoon)


In a small saucepan, combine water and barley. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered, for time specified on barley package directions.  Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat oil; add carrots and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in mushrooms and cook just until mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes more.  Add cooked barley, broth, rice, corn and sage to vegetable mixture. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until rice is cooked and mixture is thoroughly heated, about 10 minutes. Yields about 1 cup per serving.

PointsPlus™ Value: 3
Servings: 8
Preparation Time: 15 min
Cooking Time: 30 min
Level of Difficulty: Easy
© 2011 Weight Watchers International, Inc. © 2011, Inc. All rights reserved.  WEIGHT WATCHERS and PointsPlus™ are the registered trademarks of Weight Watchers International, Inc. and are used under license by, Inc.


Saturday Beans

It started about three weeks ago.  My body started sending me subtle messages – “winter is coming,” “you need to store up.”  I have cravings for carbohydrates and comfort food.  Chocolate cravings also seem to be up.  This is empirical evidence that human biology is impacted by changing seasons.  In the Upper Midwest of the U.S.A., the number of daylight hours is declining and  mornings are getting colder.

I’ve noticed that when a person pays more attention to what is consumed (food or drink),  a person also more quickly notices the effects.  I heard those subtle messages and unconsciously took action on them.  It occurred to me, yesterday, that I had to actively manage this situation to avoid certain disaster.

Beans are a logical answer.  They are an almost-perfect food – high fiber, high protein, low fat, low calories.  Black beans are a staple in my healthy eating regimen, but they were left out of today’s cooking experiment.

The goal was baked beans, but not something usual.  I surveyed the cabinets and refrigerator for ingredients and just kept adjusting.  The results slightly exceeded expectations.  The key is to taste frequently and adjust, as necessary.  I even made flatbread pizza with the resulting bean concoction for this evening’s dinner.

Here is what I came up with today – adjust to your preferred tastes.

1 small poblano pepper, chopped (if less heat desired, use green pepper)
3/4 large onion, chopped
1 clove hot and spicy garlic (local food artisan)
3-4 oz. Jimmy Dean reduced fat pork sausage
1 tablespoon olive oil
10 oz. can diced tomatoes and green chilis, drained
15 oz. can pinto beans, undrained
1/3 cup dried lentils – prepared
1/3 cup dried small red beans – prepared
1/3 cup chunky salsa (local friend)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/3  teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon molasses
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 teaspoon salt
2 slices cooked turkey bacon (just use the real thing, believe me), chopped
1 slice cooked center cut pork bacon, chopped

Sauté onion, pepper, garlic, sausage, and bacon (if not previously cooked) in olive oil.
Add all other ingredients, cover, and cook on low heat for 2 hours.  If mixture appears too thin or soupy, remove cover.

Flatbread pizza —

Spritz Flat-Out Light Original flatbread with olive oil.  Spread thin layer of reduced fat mozzarella cheese.  Spread thin layer of bean mixture.  Place turkey pepperoni slices.  Spread another thin layer of reduced fat mozzarella cheese.  Bake in oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes or until cheese is browned.

Nothing as Cool as a Cucumber

This is the first year I have successfully grown a cucumber to maturity and harvest.  I have little full sun exposure in the yard, so, this year, I chose to plant the cucumbers in a container.  I selected a variety that is specifically designed for small spaces (Spacemaster).  I made a fresh and yummy cucumber feta salad with the first harvest.  I also used some of my abundant mint crop, so I’m feeling just a bit more self-sustaining today than usual!

Cucumber Feta Salad
Cucumber, diced small
Scallions or any onion variety, chopped
Kalamata olives or any olive variety, chopped
Olive oil
White wine or champagne vinegar
Mint, fresh chopped
Feta cheese, crumbled
Black Pepper,  ground

Combine all ingredients and toss.  I did not measure amounts, but I think a proportion of 2:1:1 – cucumber:onion:olives – is a good start.  Otherwise, just toss and surprise yourself.

If olives aren’t a favorite, try replacing them with fresh tomatoes.  The result will still be delicious!

Salmon and Cucumber – Good Eating!

Awoke this morning to a few, wet inches of April snow.  It was a delightful scene, but somewhat unsettling for the middle of April.  No need to panic, it should disappear in the next day or two.

I am working to incorporate more protein into my diet, so I cooked an Atlantic salmon fillet today (0.73 lb raw with skin).  I purposely cooked it late this morning, so it would be ready when I was hungry for it and wouldn’t have to wait.  I recommend this tactic for people with limited time and a desire to eat more healthy.  So many negative food choices are made when a person is really hungry and feels desperate.  I know, I’ve been in that place more times than I can count.
I coated a pan with a thin layer of olive oil and made a small bed of coarse sea salt for the salmon.  I placed the fillet skin side down on the salt, seasoned with ground pepper, a bit of salt, and dried dill weed.  [It impresses me that the dill plant offers its seed and foliage and flowers for culinary use – quite efficient.]
I then used an olive oil mister (required kitchen tool) to give the fish a light top coating of olive oil.  I cooked the salmon at 350°F until I was able to flake it with a fork – about 25 minutes.

I had a few midday nibbles on the fish, but separated the flesh from the skin and put most of it (the flesh) in the refrigerator.  As I went about daily tasks, I thought about what I would do with the salmon.  I considered a salmon and cream cheese dip, which is delicious, but would tempt me to pair it with a sumptuous French bread or gourmet crackers.  Breads and baked goods are my food weaknesses.  I find them difficult to limit.  I decided upon a fresh and Spring-like combination of salmon, cream cheese (fat free, in this case), and cucumber.  It was definitively satisfying with no bread-guilt.

For the rest of the meal, I wanted something a bit more substantial, so I made Creole-seasoned baked sweet potato fries.  Incidentally, there is confusion in the USA about the difference between a sweet potato and a yam.  They are not the same and my mother had an amusing story about just this subject last year.  I admit, I’m not sure which one I actually cooked.  The root was definitely firm, but the cooked product was soft.  Here is a Library of Congress link that explains the mystery.

The Creole seasoned sweet potatoes were not an original idea, as the local co-op makes and sells them in the deli.  Again, I used a light coating of olive oil in a pan, cut the orange sweet potato in strips, seasoned with Tony Chachere Creole seasoning and ground black pepper.  I baked them at 375-400°F for about 45 minutes.  I prefer more crunch than mush.

It was a great meal, but I did consume the entire salmon fillet in a single day!  Oh, well, it is certainly better than consuming an entire loaf of French bread in a single day and I believe I have met my omega-3 oil target values for the day.  I partnered the salmon and sweet potato fries with a Sauvignon Blanc from Nova Wines – Marilyn Sauvignon Blonde.  It is moderately priced and quite good.

Empanadas – Wrap Your Favorite

An empanada is a small half-moon or triangular shaped pie, filled with meat, seafood, vegetables, or fruit.  It can be baked or fried.  The name is derived from the Spanish verb, empanar, which means to surround with bread.  Empanadas are hearty and portable, which make them the perfect snack or lunch.  Empanadillas are smaller versions of empanadas and are often served as tapas (appetizers).

Empanadas are commonplace in Southern Europe and Latin and South America.  The little pie traces its roots to Spanish Galicia and Portugal.  Empanadas are believed to be descended from the samosa, an Arabic meat pie.

I was introduced to Argentinian empanadillas more than two decades ago, in Spain.  My friends and I were enjoying post-siesta vino and cerveza when the establishment owner offered them as tapas.  They were marvellous!  The owner went on to explain a bit of their history and their popularity in South America.

I reacquainted myself with empanadas this week.  I was browsing the Weight Watchers internet site for new recipes and landed on one for chicken empanadas.  Memories flooded in from my first encounter.  I searched beyond the Weight Watchers site for more empanada recipes and found a myriad of variations in fillings and dough.  The Wikipedia entry describes a few of them.

The dough is about as simple as it gets – flour, salt, some type of fat (oil, shortening, lard, butter), and some type of liquid (water, milk, chicken broth, vinegar, wine).  Many recipes also include eggs.  Other ingredients include baking powder, sugar, and corn flour.  Dough preparation is like pie crust, biscuits, or any other pastry dough.  I decided to use my grandmother’s baking powder biscuit recipe (see below) with two ingredient modifications.  I eliminated the sugar and replaced half of the white flour with whole wheat pastry flour.  I also rolled the dough quite thin (1/8-1/4 inch), so I could cut 4 inch circles.  Delicious!

Canned diced tomatoes and legumes are staples in my kitchen and I happened to have a mixture of diced tomatoes, green chilis, garbanzo and black beans (with cumin, chili, and chipotle) in the refrigerator.  I decided that would make a fine base filling.  I sautéed some minced garlic, green pepper, and green onion and combined with the tomato mixture.  I cut up a few precooked shrimp from the freezer and added that to the mixture.  I cooked it long enough for the ingredients to warm.  Be sure to cook down the mixture to evaporate any excess liquid.

Cut the dough into 4 inch circles.  Please an ample tablespoon of filling in the center of the dough circle.  Use water, if necessary, to seal edges.  Fold dough in half and crimp with fork tines.  Brush with egg white, if desired.
Bake on baking sheet at 400°F for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

I found the following cheese empanada recipe during my search and thought it looked and sounded fantastic.

Next experiment will be a dessert empanada – apple, pear, or both!

Grandma’s Baking Powder Biscuits
12-16 biscuits
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup shortening
2/3 cup fat free milk

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Cut in shortening until flour looks like pellets.  Form a small well in the middle of the flour and add milk.  Stir quickly with a fork, just until dough forms a wet ball.  Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together.  Knead gently with heel of your hand five to ten strokes, just enough to bring dough together.
Pat dough to 1/2 inch thick.  Cut biscuits straight down – no twisting.  Bake on ungreased baking sheet at 450°F for 10-12 minutes.