30-Minute Dinner: Orange Sesame Chicken with Whole-Wheat Noodles

Photo by Becca Boyd

Photo by Becca Boyd

I love one-bowl dinners on weeknights, especially ones that lack arbitrary, hard-to-find ingredients. This one is light and healthy, uses easy-to-find ingredients (in fact, I bet most of them are in your pantry and fridge right now), and is a surefire crowd-pleaser. Case in point: My two-year-old daughter devoured it—bonus!

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How to Freeze Anything For Easy Meals in a Pinch

freezer

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The other night I received a text from Be Well editor Emily Leaman, asking how she should go about freezing a big pot of hot soup she’d just made. After some back and forth, she expressed her general freezing confusion and suggested I do a post on my most used kitchen tool—and perhaps your most overlooked one—the freezer!

During my first year as a high school cooking teacher, I received a crash course on freezing from my 70-year-old coworker. Our budget was tight, and wasting food was a cardinal sin. I’ll never forget when she threw a gallon of skim milk in the freezer because of a snow delay—and it came out perfectly useable weeks later! I was immediately hooked on freezing.

Since a thorough lesson in all-things freezer would bore you, I’ll speak from personal experience. But first, a few general tips about freezing:

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Make: Gluten-Free Noodleless Eggplant Lasagna Made in a Crock Pot

lasagna

Although a lot of people swear by their slow cookers, I’ve had as many good experiences as bad—so needless to say I’m a bit cautious. I find that vegetables tend to steam in the Crock Pot, and limp, colorless veggies are so not my jam. If you can relate, I hope that my Crock Pot reservations will convince you that if I’m posting this recipe to Be Well Philly, it must be worth your time.

I actually have two eggplant-lasagna recipes on my website, Home Beccanomics, but the calorie counts aren’t included (on purpose). You see, those recipes include noodles, and noodles tend to be a major player in the calorie game. This trimmed up noodle-free version creates layers with sliced eggplant and packs major flavor into the cheese with sharp Parmesan and fragrant fresh basil. Yes, digging into a hot, saucy, cheesy bowl of Italian food is possible for the calorie conscious.

One word of warning: Basil turns army green once heated, especially if heated for six-plus hours. So if you’re serving this dish to someone other than yourself, garnish with Parmesan and fresh basil with a heavy hand. Once they’ve taken the first bite they won’t mind the muted color in the least.

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Make: Guilt-Free Blackberry-Almond Muffins

I just love muffins. Done right, they’re the original 100-calorie packs but without any wasted packaging. Allow me to explain.

You see, mu friends, you needn’t fear the muffin. When you’re smart about your ingredients and mixins’, your muffins won’t tip the caloric scale. And paired with a nonfat latte, you’ve got a high-fiber, high-protein grab-and-go meal.

You can make these ahead and freeze them in bags of two or three. Thaw one bag per week and you’ve got a month’s worth of baked goods that only took twenty minutes of your time on the front end. Any early-morning run resolution-ers out there? This muffin will give you the perfect amount of energy to get you through.

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Make This Appetizer: Thai Peanut Chicken on Belgian Endive

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Belgian endive is like the Ritz cracker of the produce word: endlessly versatile and you can top it with pretty much anything. The difference? It has 100 percent fewer calories.

If you made my peanut dip last month, you’ll notice this sauce looks familiar—it’s one in the same! Lots of flavor for a manageable amount of calories, so when it’s tossed with light, healthy vegetables and then placed on another light healthy vegetable, you’re in for a visually appealing, high protein, low calorie snack that you can reach for again and again.

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Make: 200-Calorie Grilled Chicken and Grapefruit Salad

chicken salad

Confession: There is a homemade cherry pie in my fridge that I’ve been systematically devouring over the past few days, bit by scrumptious bit. This, in direct contradiction to the sentiment I expressed to my mother just the other day: I told her (okay, bragged) that it’s easy to stay trim through the holiday season. I explained that whenever it was up to her, she should eat broth-based soup or a big salad, light on the dressing. To me, this is a practical, holiday-themed approach to the “80-20 rule” (eat what you should eat 80 percent of the time, and what you want to eat for the other 20 percent).

To offset all that pie, salad has been my savior—a really, really big salad, to be exact. In my opinion, the best meals involve lots of chewing for not a lot of calories.

So I’d like to introduce to you my latest creation, which I’m lovingly calling “Big Salad with Grilled Chicken and Grapefruit Vinaigrette.” If chicken isn’t your jam or if you want to serve this as a side salad, omit the poultry and sub in toasted walnuts. You really can’t go wrong here.

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Make: Sweet Potato Fries with Peanut-Coconut Dip

fries

We’re going waaaay back for this recipe, guys—way back to high school. Back then, one of my best friends informed me that sweet potatoes roasted and topped with a big scoop of peanut butter was one of her favorite snacks, and since then the combination has intrigued me. I guess I could have just tried her method, but no—I wanted to recreate the flavors in a whole new way.

So when my friend’s unusual sweet-potato snack idea recently popped into my mind, I couldn’t wait to set into motion my idea for sweet potato fries with a peanut-coconut dip. I figured it might just make for the perfect holiday-party appetizer—and, guys, I’m preeeeetty sure I nailed it here.

If you’re traveling for a party and won’t have an oven at your disposal, serve the dip crudite-style with red bell pepper strips, Belgian endive and carrots. If you’re at home, roast up some crispy, creamy sweet potato fries and you’ll have your friends knocking elbows at the appetizer table. Just a suggestion: Double the dip recipe and toss leftovers with cooked spaghetti for some out-of-this-world Thai peanut noodles!

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Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dish: Roasted Sesame Veggies

veggies

Thanksgiving might very well be the best holiday on the books, because it’s really the only holiday on the books dedicated exclusively to eating. And more eating. Lots and lots of eating.

While stuffing yourself silly is fun in the moment, chances are you’ll regret it (possibly, big time) later. A smart strategy is to fill your table with at least some lighter, healthier options to help balance the usual calorie bombs. (I’m looking at you, sweet potato casserole with brown sugar and marshmallows.)

Might I make a teensy suggestion? Make this recipe for roasted sesame vegetables a new Thanksgiving tradition. It’s embarrassingly simple, yes, but you shouldn’t take that as a bad thing: This recipe really lets the vegetables shine. With just a few ingredients, this side comes together quickly, but the dynamic sweet and salty flavor really hits the spot.

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Make: 130-Calorie Mini Apple Puffs

apple puff

Apple pie is hands down my favorite holiday food item. I’ll pass on the buttery mashed potatoes and the pumpkin bread – just allow me my big fat piece of homemade apple pie a la mode. It’s a shamelessly beautiful end to my Thanksgiving dinner.

I’m no dummy; I know that even though it’s full of fruit, my slice will run me upwards of 500 calories (natch, before the ice cream). But since I have the utmost respect for apple pie, I’d never dare to reduce calories by losing the double crust or (horror of all horrors) subbing an artificial sweetener. Still, there has to be a way to get all the flavor with fewer calories, right? Right.

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Make: Low-Cal Chicken, White Bean and Veggie Chili

Make: Low-Cal Chicken, White Bean and Veggie Chili
Fall always seems to creep up on me; I mean, I’m still rocking my jean shorts (albeit with a few layers on top). When I finally release the last Indian-summer sentimentalities, I typically resign myself to make some soup. Nothing announces the season for me like a good, hearty soup.

Although chili can be a smart choice, fatty ground beef and all those beans make it nudge the calorie scale a bit higher than I’d like. You have to be choosy; go with white meat when possible, and whenever you up the veggie quotient the calories will fall.

Cumin and oregano suggest that typical chili flavor and allow you to garnish with several (baked) tortilla chips or (small portions) of sharp cheddar cheese. If you’re going to spend four (or if you take in both daytime games, eight) hours on the couch watching football this Sunday, make the easy smart choice with this light, flavorful chili.

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