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Better ‘n Peanut Butter

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I LOVE peanut butter! Peanut butter sandwiches, peanut butter cookies, peanut butter milkshakes and, especially, peanut butter pie. But if you count calories the way I do, then you know peanut butter can be rough on your daily food journal. I did make the switch to natural peanut butter (Smucker’s) a couple of months ago to cut down on sugar. However, I keep it in my diet because, as previously mentioned, I LOVE it and peanut butter is a great source of protein.

If you follow Hungry Girl, one of the daily food blogs that I read, then you’ve probably read about Better ‘n Peanut Butter.  It sounded suspicious to me, but I gave it a try anyway. I found it at Target, and although it’s nearly twice the price of regular peanut butter, it has nearly half the amount of calories and fat. It’s still made from peanuts and tastes slightly different, but I was surprised at how great it is. I’ve had it on an English muffin for breakfast and on PB&J sandwiches for lunch. (Honestly, it’s great right out of the jar too.)You keep it in the refrigerator, but it smooths easily and only has 100 calories per 2 tbsp. So if you’re a calorie-counting peanut butter junkie, it’s worth trying a jar.

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Roasted Sweet Potatoes

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If you’re not roasting sweet potatoes as a side to almost any meal, then you’re missing out on one of the easiest and tasty low-calorie dishes out there. My sister Kenley recently made the ones I’ve pictured here. She’s one of those people with great cooking instincts. You know the kind… never a recipe in sight and the ability to whip up a palate-satisfying meal with anything out of the pantry. But I’m going to take credit for adding this side to our family’s list of favorites. My husband asked me to start roasting vegetables about a year ago. I didn’t realize how easy and delicious it is with almost any veggie off the produce aisle.

For sweet potatoes, I usually cook one potato per person at the table. Wash and slice them any way you like. Whether you leave the skin on or off is also up to you. Toss the cut-up pieces in a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Then sprinkle on a little coarse Kosher salt. From here, have some fun with your favorite spices. Sometimes I simply add ground black pepper or a little red pepper (“a little” being the key phrase here… red pepper goes a long way).  I’ve also used a recipe that combines garlic powder, cumin and chili powder. My friend Jill Prince, another great cook, simply combines Mrs. Dash and oregano. They are all delicious! Spread them evenly on a baking sheet  and put them in an oven preheated to 400 degrees. Depending on the amount that you’re cooking, they usually take between 20 to 30 minutes, or until they’re soft. Give this a try and let me know what great spice combinations you come up with.

To give you an  idea of the calorie count, one medium sweet potato has 103 calories, according to Calorie King. One tablespoon of olive oil has 119 calories, but that would be spread out over several potatoes.

Double Chocolate Chip Oatmeal

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When you love chocolate as much as I do, why not have it for breakfast. One of my favorite morning recipes these days is from a book called Flat Belly Diet! written by the editor of Prevention magazine. In a nutshell, the book focuses on incorporating monounsaturated fatty acids into each of your meals to burn belly fat. MUFA’s, as the book calls them, come from nuts and seeds, oils, avocados, olives and dark chocolate! So yes, this is actually a healthy recipe. The book lists the recipe in the dessert section, but I love it for breakfast because it keeps me full for several hours. So if you exercise in the morning, this is a great post-workout meal. There’s several good recipes from this book I’ll share with you over time and I’ll include the caloric information too.

Double Chocolate Chip Oatmeal
(Prep. time: 5 minutes/Cook time: 5 minutes/ Makes 1 serving)

1/2 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup water
2 tbsp semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp dark chocolate chips

In a saucepan over high heat, bring the water to a boil. Add the oats, stir once to moisten, then cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the water is absorbed.
Remove pan from heat and add the semisweet chips, vanilla extract, pepper and salt. Stir to thoroughly mix. Spoon into bowl. Sprinkle dark chocolate chips over top while still warm.

365 Calories, 9 g Protein, 55 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 2 g monounsaturated fat, 6.5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 159 mg sodium, 6 g fiber

My tips: I don’t worry about the 2 tbsp of dark chocolate chips at the end of the recipe. I use a total of 3 tbsp of semi-sweet chocolate chips. Instead of a pinch of table salt, I grind a pinch of sea salt. Also, this recipe is easy to double, which I do often because Ryan loves it too.

Recipe from Flat Belly Diet! by Liz Vaccariello with Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD.

Gooey Butter Cake

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For my first post, I think it is completely appropriate to begin with something that sounds as delicious, and insanely full of calories, as Gooey Butter Cake. Recently, my boss Melanie and I tried a new, small eatery close to our office in downtown Birmingham. On the way in, I noticed a sign advertising their Gooey Butter Cake. Order up! How can you go wrong with the three words… gooey… butter… and cake. But I was sadly disappointed when I arrived at the counter. The cashier actually looked annoyed that she even had to tell me that there was no Gooey Butter Cake to be had that day. Ridiculous!

But fear not. Flipping through a cookbook my mother-n-law Myra (who you will hear a lot about in the future because she is an excellent cook) gave me for Christmas, the recipe jumped out at me.  Not only is it scrumptious, but it’s so easy and inexpensive to make. I even recommend splitting the recipe to make half of a cake, unless you’re feeding a crowd.  It’s so rich, you only need a small piece.

Gooey Butter Cake
(A St. Louis Tradition)

Cake
1 dry yellow cake mix
1 stick margarine, softened
2 eggs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix ingredients and press into bottom of 9×13-inch buttered pan.

Topping
2 eggs
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
1 box powdered sugar
Mix ingredients and pour over cake mixture. Bake 30-35 minutes. Cook and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

My tips: My oven bakes hot, so 30 minutes would have been plenty. You don’t want the first layer of cake to come out dry. I did use my mixer because the ingredients were hard to mix by hand and the recipe didn’t specify.

Recipe provided by Chris Bruns of Baton Rouge, La., in the cookbook Doggone Purrfect Recipes, Presented by the Best Friends Humane Society.