Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Lean Cuisine Salad Additions: A Review

I have to say, the first time I saw Lean Cuisine Salad Additions in the freezer case at Target, I kind of rolled my eyes.  Because, really, who needs help making a salad?  It's a little lettuce, you add all the veggies you like, maybe a bit of protein, and your favorite dressing.  It's really not hard.

Upon closer inspection however, I saw that one of the varieties of Salad Additions was Southwest-Style Chicken, which sounded super good, especially because I'm slightly obsessed with McDonald's Southwest Salad with grilled chicken.  I love it.  I've even discovered a Hungry Girl recipe for the salad (I know, a recipe for salad...kind of like a recipe for a sandwich, but believe me, it's good) which is seriously yummy, just not readily available in Iowa in January.  So when I came across a manufacturer coupon for $1 off two Salad Additions, and another Target coupon for a free bag of salad when you buy two Salad Additions, I thought it must be a sign.  I bought them.

Southwest-Style Chicken
The Southwest-Style Chicken comes packaged with three pouches.  One includes chipotle ranch dressing, the second, a chicken and vegetable steam pouch, has grilled white meat chicken, black beans, sweet corn, roasted red peppers, and poblano peppers.  The final pouch is crispy tortilla strips.  According to the box, one package contains 260 calories, 9 grams of fat, 18 grams of protein, and 590 mg of sodium.  The idea is to just "add your lettuce" and you have a meal.  My full plate of lettuce added 25 calories.

The first step is to remove all the pouches from the box, which needs to be frozen.  You place the unopened dressing pouch in a cup of room temperature water to thaw, set aside the crispy tortilla strips, and place the chicken and vegetable steam pouch in the microwave for 2 1/2 minutes.  When the pouch is finished cooking, you are supposed to leave it in the microwave an additional 1 minute before placing it on top of your lettuce.  Then you add the salad dressing and tortilla strips.

One issue I had with the instructions was that it never mentioned draining the steam pouch.  It had quite a bit of water in it when I took it out of the microwave.  If I hadn't drained it, it would have added a lot of hot water to the salad.  Yuck.  Fortunately I was paying attention and was able to empty the water from the pouch before dousing my salad with it.  It might be something the manufacturer should mention.

Another issue I had with the salad was the texture of the peppers.  There's something not quite right about mushy peppers on a salad.  The chicken, corn, and beans were good, but the peppers through me off a bit.  But the flavor was really good, with a nice zing, so I got over the whole texture thing.

I ate the Southwest-Style Salad Additions for dinner on an evening that I don't normally workout, and the protein held me pretty well (meaning, by evening snack time, I wasn't ravenous and ready to bite off my arm).

Bistro Chicken
The Bistro Chicken also comes packaged with three pouches - 1) a sweet and tangy vinaigrette dressing with bacon, 2) grilled white meat chicken, asparagus, yellow carrots, and red peppers, and 3) crispy onion straws.  These ingredients account for 240 calories, 8 grams of fat, 15 grams of protein, and 430 mg of sodium.  A full plate of lettuce added 25 calories.  This variety of Salad Additions is prepared the same way as the Southwest-Style Chicken.

Again, I had the problem with the water in the steam pouch.  Since I knew to expect it due to my prior experience, I drained it without issue.  And I also had concerns with the texture of the vegetables.  I really couldn't get over cooked carrots and asparagus in my crunchy salad.  The dressing had a nice flavor, but I think it was a little heavy on the onion, of which I'm not really a fan, so the crispy onion straws were not a favorite, either.

I ate the Bistro Chicken Salad Additions for lunch on a day that I worked out.  I was pretty hungry by the time dinner rolled around that evening.

The Verdict
Would I buy Lean Cuisine Salad Additions again?  It depends.  If I had a coupon or they were on sale, I would probably get the Southwest-Style Chicken for lunch, if I wasn't going to be home but would have access to a microwave.  I really liked the kick of the dressing.  Maybe Nestle should bottle that and sell it!  I don't think I'd get the Bistro Chicken variety.  I just didn't care for the cooked veggies and I didn't like tasting onion all afternoon.  The Cranberry & Chicken variety might be worth trying, but I don't think I'd purchase the Asian-Style since I'm not really big on Asian-flavored dressing.

What about you?  Is this a product you'd be willing to try?  What flavors do you think you'd like?

Disclaimer:  This review is my entirely impartial, unsolicited opinion.  No compensation or other consideration was provided by the manufacturer of Lean Cuisine Salad Additions, and I purchased the products myself (with coupons, of course!). 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Golden Oreo Cake Batter Blondies

Yesterday was National Blonde Brownie Day.  That's blonde brownie, as in not chocolate, not blonde as in Kate Hudson.  Did you know there was a National Blonde Brownie Day?  I did not, until I discovered a list of all the food holidays in the United States.  And while these days aren't especially significant, they are sort of fun.  I thought it would be neat to honor National Blonde Brownie Day by making some blondies, since I've never done so before.  Actually, I was just looking for an excuse to try out this recipe for Golden Oreo Cake Batter Blondies I found at Sally's Baking Addiction.  I don't know where Golden Oreos have been all my life, but I tasted them recently for the first time and it was love at first bite.  So vanilla-y.  So wonderful.  And since I adore cake batter, these sounded absolutely perfect.  While these aren't technically brownies, being made with cake mix, they're buttery, chewy and delicious, so that's pretty much all that matters to me.

Golden Oreo Cake Batter Blondies
Adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction
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1 box yellow cake mix
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg 
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup white baking chips
1 1/2 cups Golden Oreos (about 12 cookies), chopped, reserve some to sprinkle on top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 11x7 baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.  Set aside.  Combine yellow cake mix, canola oil, and egg in a large bowl.  Slowly add the milk.  The mixture will be thick and dense.  Fold in the white baking chips and the chopped Oreo pieces.  Pour into the prepared baking pan, sprinkling reserved Oreos on top.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until the edges are just turning brown.  Allow to cool completely before cutting.

Serves: 32 bite-size bars
Calories:  114 calories per serving

National Peanut Butter Day is tomorrow, January 24.  You can believe I'll be honoring that day!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Light & Buttery Dinner Rolls

You know those recipes you keep coming back to?  The classics, that are just good, no matter what?  These dinner rolls are definitely one of "those" recipes for me.  It's a recipe adapted from one my mother gave to me (perhaps that's why I like it so much?).  I've tried others, but these remain a favorite, and we go through at least a batch a week at our house.  And as an added bonus, they're only 99 calories each, which make them a great accompaniment to soup (particularly Beef & Barley or Judy's Chicken Noodle Soup), especially on a cold winter day.   

Light & Buttery Dinner Rolls
Adapted from a family recipe
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200 ml warm water (about 100 degrees)
1 Tbsp. Red Star Quick Rise yeast
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. Splenda
1 large egg
3 Tbsp. Land O' Lakes Light Butter, melted (plus additional for optional brushing, if desired) 

Place warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water.  Let stand for about five minutes, until the yeast begins to form bubbles.  Add the flour, salt, sugar, Splenda, egg, and melted butter, and mix on low for 3 to 5 minutes using the flat beater attachment.  After mixing, remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with a flour sack towel, and place in a warm area to rise for about 1 hour.  After the dough has risen, remove it from the bowl and place on a well-floured surface.  Divide the dough into 16 equal portions.  Roll the dough into balls with your hands and place in a 11 x 7 or 9 x 13 pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Cover again with the flour sack towel and place in a warm area to rise for 45-60 minutes.  Pre-heat oven to 350.  After rolls have risen a second time, bake for 25-30 minutes until golden.  Remove from oven and brush the tops with additional melted light butter, if desired.

Serves:  16, 1 roll each
Calories:  99 per roll

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Beef & Barley Soup

The weather is rather pleasant in my neck of the woods today, but it has been downright chilly (highs in the teens, anyone?).  So cold I need a space heater during the day to warm my icy feet.  And far too frigid to take the pooch out for a walk, which would help earn a few extra calories (because we don't want to talk about the few pounds that joined me recently, no doubt courtesy of the Salted Caramel Bark and various other holiday treats).  So while I may be in the mood for warm and steamy winter casseroles, my caloric intake has been, shall we say, reduced.  By a lot.

Which is why this soup is so fabulous.  It's hot, tasty, and hearty, meeting all my requirements for January comfort food.  Paired with some Lightened Buttery Dinner Rolls (recipe forthcoming), it's the perfect winter lunch or dinner to help fill you up while still shedding those pesky holiday pounds.

Beef & Barley Soup
Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray
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1 lb. lean (93%) ground beef 
1/2 onion, chopped 
1 tsp. minced garlic 
2 cans (14.5 oz.) diced fire-roasted tomatoes 
8 cups water 
8 cubes beef bouillon 
1 cup carrots, chopped 
1 cup celery, chopped 
1 cup frozen green beans 
1/2 cup quick barley 
2 tsp. dried oregano 
3/4 tsp. salt 
1/2 tsp. black pepper 
2 tsp. Penzeys Forward! 

In a Dutch oven or large soup pot, cook the ground beef over medium-high heat, breaking it up with a spatula or wooden spoon as it starts to brown.  Stir in the onion and garlic, lower the heat to medium, and cook until the beef is well-browned, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes and bring to a simmer over high heat.  Add the water, bouillon cubes, carrots, celery, green beans, barley, and spices and return to a simmer.  Lower the heat and cook until the barley is very tender, about 1 hour.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. 
Serves:  7-8 servings,  2 cups each 
Calories:  166 calories per serving