Monthly Archives: January 2012

Skillet Gnocchi with White Beans and Diced Tomatoes

Gnocchi is one of my all time favorite comfort foods.  I’ve used it in a variety of recipes in the past but nothing you would ever consider healthy – mostly cream-based sauces and lots of cheese and butter.  Needless to say I was super excited when I stumbled upon this healthier version of gnocchi. It combines some really great ingredients including diced tomatoes, garlic, white beans and spinach that create quite a flavorful dish.  The recipe is really simple and can all be cooked in one pan making cleanup a breeze.  Start to finish I was done in 30 minutes.  The results were awesome.  The dish tasted like gnocchi from some of our favorite local Italian restaurants. I even ate some leftovers for lunch today and they still tasted awesome.  I highly recommend this recipe.



Recipe adapted from EatingWell


1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil plus 1 tsp – divided

1 16 ounce package shelf-gnocchi (found near the pasta/Italian food)

1 yellow onion, sliced

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 cup water

6 cups chopped spinach or chard

1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning

1 15 ounce can white beans, rinsed (we used large butter beans)

1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper

1/2 cup shredded park-skim mozzarella cheese


1. Heat 1 Tbs oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add gnocchi and cook 5-7 minutes, stirring often until plumped and starting to brown.  Transfer to bowl.

2. Add 1 tsp oil to skill with onions. Cook over medium heat 2-4 minutes until onions start to become transparent. Add water and garlic, cover and cooking 4-6 minutes until onions fully soft. Add spinach/chard and cook 1-2 minutes, until starting to wilt.  Stir in tomatoes, beans and pepper. Bring to a simmer.  Add the gnocchi and mozzarella cheese.  Cook until cheese is melted and sauce bubbles.


Serves 6

Calories: 325

Fat: 7 g

Protein: 14 g


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White Bean Puree & Chicken


Our New Years resolution for 2012 was to be healthier – eat out less, exercise more and eat lower calorie meals.  With just about one month down we’ve held fast to our resolution and are feeling great.  To help stay on course we’ve been experimenting with lots of different healthy meals – trying to find well balanced dishes that are both filling and low in calories. One of the recipes I created is a white bean puree that I serve with the shredded meat from a rotisserie chicken where the skin/fat has been removed.  I make the meal on Sunday afternoons and then have lunch for the entire week!  With so few ingredients the meal is really flavorful and most importantly filling.  Enjoy!




1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

1.5 large yellow onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp cumin

2 cans white bean, drained and rinsed

1 small can green chilies

1 cup reduced sodium chicken broth

Rotisserie chicken, skin and fat removed, shredded



1. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat.  Add onions and cook 5 minutes or until tender.  Add garlic and cumin and cook 1 minute more.

2. Add chicken broth, beans and chilies.  Cook until beans are heated through.  Remove form heat.

3. In a food processor, puree the bean mixture


Serve bean mixture with 6 oz of shredded chicken.  Sour cream and salsa optional.  330 calories.

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Zen Box Izakaya

Zen Box Izakaya

Get ready for awesomeness.

And now for something a little different. Rather than cook last night, we decided to go to what has become our favorite restaurant in the Twin Cities, Zen Box Izakaya (602 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis). For those of you who haven’t been there, I can only offer this – what are you waiting for? I mean, seriously. Maybe you won’t like it as much as we do, but you should go there and try it out. Seriously. Right. Now.

Anyway, the menu consists mainly of small plates designed for sharing, and on a given night, we go through about three small plates per person. While this obviously wasn’t the first time we had been – this was visit number six or seven I believe – this will obviously mark the first, but not the last, time Zen Box Izakaya will be featured on our blog.

We decided to take a break from cooking because of a couple of weekend specials: Frog Leg Kara-Age (battered and deep fried frog legs served with Zen Box’s famous kamikaze sauce) and Nikujaga (what I lovingly refer to as “Pot Roast on Crack”). The Frog Leg Kara-Age was phenomenal. The meat was tender and juicy, with just the perfect little hint that you weren’t eating chicken. It worked really well with the kamikaze sauce and a little lemon juice. While I’m sure it might be tough to make this a regular menu item, I’ll be ordering it again the next time it’s on the menu.

Frog Leg Kara-Age

Delicious frog legs with kamikaze sauce. Winning.

The Nikujaga, which is tender beef in a dark, savory broth with potatoes and crisp slices of garlic cloves, was gone in a matter of seconds. If I hear the term “Japanese comfort food,” this is what I immediately think of. The sauce is so good that I considered a side of white rice to pour it over after all the other ingredients were gone. While I preferred the Frog Leg Kara-Age, H preferred the Nikujaga. However, both were excellent choices.


Nikujaga. Or, Pot Roast on Crack.

We followed those two plates with Spicy Kimchi Ramen, Avocado Tempura, and a new dish we were lucky enough to sample that featured squid and kimchi. The Spicy Kimchi Ramen became an instant favorite of mine. I really enjoy kimchi and this dish had really well crafted noodles, juicy pork belly, and a wonderful sweat-inducing amount of heat. The only downside of the ramen was that for $10.50, you get so much that I didn’t have enough room to eat more. Not a bad problem to have.

The avocado tempura is a fantastic blend of soft, earthy avocado and light, crispy tempura batter fried to perfection. The spicy mayo goes great here, and we’ve found it actually goes great with pretty much anything else on the menu. As for the squid and kimchi dish, I can only say that I hope it makes it onto the regular menu. The squid was not chewy or tough and I personally really liked how it took on the wonderful fermented flavor of the kimchi.

Spicy Kimchi Ramen

Kimchi. Pork belly. Soft boiled eggs. Ramen. Delicious broth. How can you go wrong?

Overall, it was one of the best meals that we’ve had at Zen Box Izakaya, which is saying something since every meal we’ve had there has been amazing. We’ll be back again soon, and look forward to sharing more of their awesome food with you.

Lastly, we’ve gotten to know John and Lina (husband and wife, and owners) a little bit over the last few years between eating at their skyway location for lunch and now their stand-alone restaurant, and we wish them lots of success. They work very hard and it shows in the food, staff, atmosphere, and service. The personal touch they provide, like stopping by to chat with us if they have time, isn’t an influence on why we endorse them and their restaurants, but it’s that nice extra step that makes the whole experience rank at the top of our list.

So go visit them, and happy fooding.

– C

Balsamic Cranberry Chicken

Balsamic Cranberry Chicken

This recipe is AWESOME.  It takes some of my favorite flavors of all time and combines them in one dish.  By searing the chicken and then baking it in the cranberry/balsamic sauce, the meat turns out extremely tender.  The sauce itself is very delicious – you’ll find you want to sop up every last bite.  We tried serving ours for the first time with steamed bulgur.  The bulgur was perfect for this dish! It soaks up the flavor of the sauce while keeping the consistency of the wheat in tact.


One of my other favorite parts about this dish is the cleanup.  The chicken and sauce is all cooked in one pan!  In this post you’ll see we’ve cooked the chicken in a cast iron pan using both the stove and oven.  I’ve modified this dish in the summer to allow cooking on the grill (we’ve used aluminum grill pans as well as cast iron).  I really hope you enjoy!




1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 Tbs butter

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1.5 cups reduced sodium chicken broth

4 tsp Dijon mustard

3 Tbs real maple syrup

4 Tbs balsamic vinegar

3/4 cup green onion, chopped

2/3 cup dried cranberries

(Serve with 1 cup uncooked bulgur combined with 2 cups water)



1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees

2. Heat cast iron pan/skillet over medium high heat.  Add butter to coat pan.  Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper and add to pan.  Cook 3-5 minutes per size or until browned (does not need to be cooked through).

3. Remove chicken from pan and set aside. Add garlic, chicken broth and Dijon to the pan.  Bring to a boil for 5 minutes.  Add maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, onions and cranberry.  Cook two minutes more.

4. Slice chicken into strips/medallions. add to the sauce.  Put dish in the oven and bake 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.



Serving Size – 4

Calories – 312


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Chicken Sausage and Tomatoes Over Parmesan Polenta

Chicken Sausage & Polenta

You know the feeling you sometimes get when you arrive home for the day and you can’t decide what to have for dinner?  You have no motivation for cooking and even less motivation to drive out and pick something up?  Well, that’s how we ended up eating this dish.   This meal is quick and easy to make and comes packed with flavor.  This dish is also very filling and comforting.  It’s definitely one of those recipes to keep in your back pocket for when you’re craving comfort food but don’t want to go through the hassle of complicated recipes and also want to stay light on calories.

I promise this is both easy and incredibly delicious.  Enjoy!


Recipe adapted from Cooking Light:


1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

6 oz chicken sausage (we used gouda/apple or bell pepper sausages)

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 tsp crushed rep pepper flakes

2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes, undrained (I recommend one can “no-salt added” and on can “basil oregano”)

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup water

3/4 cup quick-cook polenta

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese


1. Heat oil in saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add sausage and saute for 3 minutes or until browned.  Add onion and saute fro 5 minutes or until tender.  Add garlic, oregano, pepper and tomatoes; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens.

2. While sausage-tomato mixture is cooking, combine chicken broth and water in large saucepan; bring to a boil  Add polenta, stirring in slowly.  Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes or until polenta is thick.  Stir in half of the Parmesan cheese.

3. Serve the dish – 2/3 cup of polenta in a bowl, top with 3/4 cup of sauce and 1 Tbs of cheese


Calories: 311

Fat: 10 g

Protein: 16.4 g

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Buffalo Chicken Salad With Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing

Buffalo Chicken Salad with Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing

Talk about quick, easy and low calorie – we found this recipe to have it all.  The homemade blue cheese dressing is especially good.  With a base of fat free yogurt and low-fat buttermilk it’s just as tasty but much healthier than store bought brands.   For the hot sauce we used a combination – Frank’s Wing Sauce and Frank’s Thick Sauce.  The hot sauce can easily be changed each time giving this dish a different flavor.  I also shredded carrots using a peeler and cut the cucumbers very thin – this provided an added crunch and allowed you to get a little bit of everything in each bite.



Recipe adapted from FoodNetwork



1 lb boneless, skinless chicken tender strips

1/4 cup hot sauce

2 hearts of romaine (or mixed lettuce)

2 carrots, shredded

1/2 seedless cucumber, thinly sliced


2 Tbs low fat mayonnaise

1/4 c low fat buttermilk

1/4 c plain, fat-free yogurt

1 Tbs white vinegar

1/2 tsp sugar

1/3 c crumbled blue cheese or Gorgonzola

Salt and pepper



1. Ensure chicken is cut into slices thin enough for your salad. Put chicken in bag along with hot sauce to marinate 20 minutes at room temperature

2. Preheat broiler.  Place chicken on baking sheet and put in broiler.  Cook 4-6 minutes, turning once until cooked through.

3. In a large bowl combine the lettuce, carrots and cucumber

4. Service lettuce mixture with chicken and dressing

Dressing –

1. Fold a paper towel and place in small bowl.  Spoon yogurt onto paper towel and allow to drain and thicken 20 minutes

2. In a medium bowl whisk the thickened yogurt, buttermilk and mayonnaise.  Add the vinegar and sugar.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in blue cheese crumbles.

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Salsa and Meatball Soup

Salsa and meatball soup - topped with cilantro, avocado and sour cream


This was one of those recipes I came across while at work.  I smelled something delicious a few desk away from me and had to ask what it was – Mexican Meatball Soup.  I ended up modifying the recipe slightly to add more flavor. This dish is incredibly easy to make and takes less than 30 minutes.  It’s a great weekend dish and is very filling.  We’ve turned it into a meal we have while watching football on Sundays (it’s so quick to make we don’t have to worry about missing any games).  Hope you enjoy as much as we do!



Recipe altered from Real Simple


1 lb extra lean ground beef or turkey

2 chopped scallions

1 cup crushed Frito’s (plus more for serving)

1/4 cup chopped, fresh cilantro

1/2 tsp ground cumin

3 cups mild, jarred salsa (we’ve used multiple brands – pick what you like best)

2 cups low sodium chicken broth

1 avocado for serving

Sour cream for serving



1. Heat broiler.

2. In a bowl combine beef, scallions, Frito’s, cilantro, cumin and salt/pepper to taste.  Shape mixture into small meatballs (we did bite size about 1/2 inch) and place on baking sheet. Broil 5-6 minutes

3.  Meanwhile add salsa and one cup of water to a blender. Puree until well blended.  Add salsa and chicken broth to large saucepan.  Bring to a boil.

4. Add meatballs to pan, reduce heat and simmer until cooked through (appx 5 minutes)

5. Serve hot – top with sour cream, cilantro, avocado slices and Frito’s as desired


Nutrition (without toppings):

Serving size = 4

Calories: 339

Fat: 17 g

Protein: 24 g

Balsamic Skirt Steak

Grilled Balsamic Skirt Steak

This recipe for balsamic steak turned out better than expected.  I’m a huge balsamic vinegar fan and a huge steak fan but had rarely married the two flavors together.  The marinade of balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire, and brown sugar were awesome.  The steak turned out flavorful and tender.  We served the steak with a cranberry bulger  (see recipe in a later post) and steamed vegetables. Very easy to make.  Enjoy!

– H

Recipe courtesy of Cooking Light – MyRecipes


1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 Tbs Worcestershire

2 tsp dark brown sugar

1 clove minced garlic

1 lb skirt steak

Cooking spray

1/2 tsp kosher salt and pepper


1. Combine first four ingredients in large zip-loc bag and add steak.  Marinate at room temperature 25 minutes (or refrigerated up to 8 hours).  Remove steak, discard marinade

2. Heat grill pan over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking  spray. Spring steak with salt and pepper.  Add steak to pan and cook 3 minutes per side or until desired doneness (we cooked ours medium rare).  Remove steak from pan and cover with tin foil.  Let stand for 5 minutes.  Cut steak diagonally across the grain into thin slices.

We recommended service with bulger or rice and a vegetable side


Serving size = 1/4 of recipe

Calories: 201

Fat: 10.3 g

Protein: 22.3 g

Quinoa and Black Beans – Everyday Delicious

Quinoa with Corn and Black Beans

So everyone says quinoa is one of those amazing foods. Not only is the pronunciation pretty cool – ‘keen-wah’ – but it’s packed with protein, iron, fiber, and is gluten free.  The name alone scared me at first but I never really tried cooking it because I thought it would be difficult or taste bad.  I was totally wrong.  It’s super easy to cook and very delicious.  This recipe in particular highlights how great it is.  It’s wonderful left over, combined with chicken, salsa or even low fat sour cream.  I literally ate this as my lunch at work for two weeks straight and loved it every time.  At around 140 calories for an entire cup, this tasty dish is sure to please and keep you feeling good.

– H

Recipe courtesy of AllRecipes – Quiona and Black Beans

Modified slightly by adding a tablespoon of tomatillo salsa, less black beans and low sodium chicken stock to the finished product


1 tsp vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

3/4 cup uncooked quiona

1 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth

1 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 cup frozen corn kernels

1 can (15 oz) black beans – drained and rinsed

chopped fresh cilantro to taste


1. Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat. Stir in onion and saute until brown.  Add garlic and saute a few seconds more until fragrent.

2. Mix quiona into saucepan and cover with chicken broth.  Season with cumin, cayenne and any salt and pepper to taste. Bring mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce head and simmer 20 minutes

3. Stir frozen corn into saucepan and simmer 5 minutes more.  Mix in black beans and cilantro

Recommended served with a few tablespoons of tomatillo salsa


Serving size = 1 cup

142 calories

1.7 g fat

6.9 g protein

Spicy Chicken Sandwich

Spicy Chicken With Red Onions & Cilantro Mayo

This turned out to be a delicious recipe.  The red onion added a great contrast and crunch to the sandwich.  We also used the new Black Bean Tostitos tortilla chips which added a great flavor to the chicken.  Next time we make this dish I may use a combination of hot sauces – I found Tabasco to be slightly too vinegary for this recipe. Enjoy!

– H

Recipe is courtesy of MyRecipes from Cooking Light.



1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise

2 Tbs cilantro fresh

1 tsp lime juice fresh

1 clove minced garlic


1/4 cup egg substitute (we used Egg Beaters)

3 Tbs hot sauce (we used Tobasco)

1 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp salt

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

4 1/2 oz baked tortilla chips (we used Black Bean Tostitos)

2 Tbs olive oil

4 Buns

Red onion slices

Lettuce leaves for sandwich (we used radicchio to add to some along with Boston)


1. Prepare mayo by combining the first four ingredients, chill until meal complete

2. Prepare chicken. Combine egg substitute, hot sauce, oregano and salt in zip-loc bag. Cut chicken breasts in half to form 4 cutlets and add to the bag. Refrigerate 2 hours.

3. Crush tortilla chips until ground.  Place in shallow dish

4. Remove chicken from marinade, allowing excess to drip off. Coat in the crushed chips and set aside. Repeat with all chicken.

5. Heat a large, nonstick skilled over medium heat. Add olive oil to pan. Add chicken and cook 3 minutes per side (or until done).

6. Spread mayo over cutlets, place on rolls with lettuce and red onion


Serving size = 1 sandwich

Calories: 419

Fat: 13.2 g

Protein: 28.1 g