Lighten Up!: Sweet Potatoes with Crumble Topping

Every time I’m in the kitchen with my mom, it’s sure to be a good time.  Yes, because I’m spending time with her and catching up (though we talk on the phone daily). But mostly because we spend half of the time making dumb comments, intended or not, and laughing.  You’ll read a few of the latest in the next few posts.

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Mine was fantastic because I was able to get a couple days off to spend with family.

Well, and the food was great.  Let’s be honest, that alone makes it a good day.

Usually, my job is to make the turkey and help with a select few things.  This year, my aunt took over the turkey, which meant it was 100% cooked and no pieces had to be microwaved.  Apparently my family prefers their turkey sans salmonella.

I know, they’re picky. 😉

But I really appreciate that she cooked the turkey, lots of other yummy things, and had our family over at her house for Thanksgiving.  (Thanks, Aunt Chrissy!!) Plus, I got to focus my attention on sides and revamping my sweet potato recipe!

I love sweet potatoes.  Like, I don’t make them for myself often because I’ll eat them all.  That and because I can’t be trusted around an open bag of mini marshmallows. And my sweet potatoes recipe has always been good, but nothing really awesome.  Maybe because it was MUCH lighter than your traditional southern yams recipe.  (It IS my recipe after all)

Now I have a new version to offer that is, really, just as light.  But with far more flavor, texture, and looks prettier. Which, lets face it, means everything in the blogging world.  A pretty picture can really mean the difference between “Oh yes, I’ll try that recipe” and “A post with no pics?? Booooring!!”

So I bring to you the new and improved sweet potatoes recipe, with pictures. 🙂

Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallow Crumble

Makes 6 servings

  • 40oz can yams in syrup, drained and rinsed
  • Zest of 1 orange (~2 Tbsp)
  • Juice of 1/2 orange (~1/4 cup)
  • 1  1/2 Tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons light pancake syrup
  • 1  1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    • 1/4 cup instant oats
    • 2 Tablespoons packed brown sugar
    • 2 Tablespoons flour
    • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    • Dash nutmeg
    • 1 1/2 Tablespoons butter, melted
    • 1/2 Tablespoon canola oil
    • 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
    • 1 cup mini marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a medium bowl, mash together the drained and rinsed yams (sweet potatoes), orange zest, and orange juice.  Mash until desired texture.  Add brown sugar, syrup, and vanilla.  Mix well.

Spread mixture into the bottom of a 9X9 inch baking dish.

In a separate bowl, mix oats, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Add melted butter and oil.  Mix together until well incorporated and crumbly. Add walnuts and marshmallows and mix well. 

Sprinkle onto top of the sweet potatoes.

Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes.  Then place under broiler on high for 1-2 minutes or until marshmallows become slightly browned.

So there you have it, a little lighter than most traditional sweet potato casseroles. Not sure of the exact nutrition information because there isn’t information for drained and rinsed canned yams.  Bummer…

Let’s just say it’s lighter, very little added fat…even though there is a fair amount of sugar between the brown sugar, marshmallows, etc.  But still, lighter.  And still delicious! Hooray!

Back soon with an updated post on our family’s banana pudding recipe!

Little Bit Savory: Basil & Mint Pesto

Life event this week:  Wisdom teeth removal.

I have a great nurse (hi mom!) but am getting quite tired of soft foods.
Let’s be real here: I like cream of wheat, mashed potatoes, etc.  But I’m craving pizza like you wouldn’t imagine.

….and salad, BBQ, vegetables
…..real food.

What was I saying?
Oh, yes.

I’m recovering and my wonderful friends have brought mashed potatoes, gelato, and flowers to help!  Very, very blessed to have such wonderful people in my life.

Using my downtime wisely, I took the opportunity to make something I’ve always wanted to try:  Pesto!

My basil plant has been going to town lately with new leaves, so this was the perfect opportunity to use some.

I’ve always heard that pesto was simple to make, but it was still intimidating to me.  That and I can’t stand cleaning my food processor. Mom took care of that for me this time. 🙂  Guess there are some good parts to being a patient.

This recipe originally comes from Cooking Light.  One of my favorite sites/cookbooks.  But I changed it up a bit from the original.  Since I don’t care for tomatoes, so I left those out.  And it seemed like it needed a little something else.  So mint came into the party.

Oh, and a little more olive oil. Seemed a little too dry to cover our pasta.

Here’s the revamped recipe:

Basil & Mint Pesto

Modified from Cooking Light:  Sicilian Pesto

Makes ~10 servings (2 Tbsp each)

  • 2 Tbsp pine nuts
  • 2 cloves minced garlic (I used the jarred stuff)
  • 2 1/2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
  • 4-5 Mint leaves
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano  cheese

Place pine nuts in a small, dry skillet over medium heat.  Cook about 4 minutes, stirring very often, or until pine nuts begin to brown.  You’re just trying to toast them a bit and get the oils in the nuts flowing.

Place toast nuts and garlic in food processor; process until finely minced.

Add basil, salt, peppers, and 1 Tbsp olive oil.  Turn on the food processor and drizzle in remaining oil.  (May need to scrape the sides down a bit throughout this process if you have a large processor like I do.)

Add cheese and process until well blended and smooth.

Estimated nutrition information:  56 Calories, 5.6g Fat, 1.2g Saturated fat, 3.6g Unsaturated fat, 71mg Sodium, 1g Carbohydrate, 1.2g Protein

Success! Well, kind of.  It tasted great.  But I learned that I’m not ready to eat pasta yet. Or the crab cake that went with the pasta.

Sigh….back to the mashed potatoes I go….

Making Veggies Delicious!

As a dietitian, and food lover, I love vegetables.  But I understand that not everyone is interested in eating their leafy greens (or oranges, or reds, etc etc).  Which is a shame!

Think about the plate method we discussed in the previous post.

Quick!  What’s supposed to be on a healthy plate??


What’s that I heard you say?  1/2 plate veggies, 1/4 plate starches, and 1/4 lean protein?  You are correct!!

And noooooo, I’m not saying you can use this method on a filled 12″ plate.  Still stick to a small dinner plate 🙂

Anyways, I digress.  Back to the veggies.  If you’re not a fan of vegetables, it may seem darn near unappetizing to make them 1/2 of your lunch and dinner meals.

Fear not! I have a method that brings out the best in lots of veggies:  roasting!!

Roasting vegetables brings out a ton of flavor, it’s super simple, and clean up is a breeze.  Just set your oven to the specified temp, lay some foil onto a baking sheet, place your cut up veggies with some olive oil, salt, and pepper…and roast away!

First, I’ll share some tips for roasting veggies.  Then, we’ll take a specific look at roasted butternut squash, one of my favorites.

Tips: Roasting vegetables

  1. Preheat the oven.  Seems self-explanatory, but the oven needs to be quite hot for roasting.  Minimum of 375 F, but I tend to settle between 400 F and 425 F depending on how delicate your veggie of choice.  Total baking time can range from 20 minutes to closer to 1 hour.  Might do a bit of research for your vegetable.
  2. Line your baking sheet, and might want to spray with nonstick spray.  You do NOT want your veggies to stick! And Lining the baking sheet ensures easy clean up.
  3. Cut all of your vegetables to be the same size.  Why?  Because if they’re the same size, they’ll cook in the same amount of time.  You don’t want tiny pieces that burn by the time your big, chunky pieces are tender.
  4. Drizzle with olive oil.  One thing you may want to do is put your veggies in a mixing bowl and drizzle with oil, then toss with your hands until coated evenly.
  5. Go easy on the oil!!  Yes, olive oil is a healthy fat….but it’s still a fat.  You don’t want to negate the “healthiness” (is that a word??) of your veggies by drowning them in oil.  Also, the extra oil will sizzle and pop/burn in the oven.  And that’s how house fires start, my friends.
  6. Season.  I like to just use salt and pepper.  The salt helps draw out the moisture in the veggies and gives them a nice flavor.  The salt and pepper are a nice contrast to the sweetness brought out by roasting.
  7. Stir halfway through cooking.  This way, everything browns evenly.

And now, for a recipe!


Roasted Butternut Squash


Makes 4 servings

  • 1 medium butternut squash (2 cups of peeled and cubed pieces)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 425 F.

Peel squash and cut into cubes. You need a sharp knife for this!! You’ll also need to remove the seeds.  Click here for a tutorial.

Place cubes onto a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil, salt, and pepper onto squash. Stir with hands until distributed.

Roast 20-25 minutes or until tender, stirring halfway through the baking time.

Estimated nutrition information (per 1/2 cup serving):  64 Calories, 3.6g Fat, 0.5g Saturated fat, 253mg Potassium, 8.5g Carbohydrates, 1.5g Fiber, 1.5g Sugar, 0.8g Protein, 149% DV Vitamin A, 25% DV Vitamin C, 3.6% DV Calcium, 3.6% DV Iron


If you think you’re not a veggie fan, please try roasting them!  Especially if you like sweet flavors.  This method brings out the sweetness in the veggies.  Yum!


This is also a great way to introduce veggies to kids if they’re not fans of boiled or raw veggies.  Start healthy eating habits young, folks! It will set up healthy lifelong habits.


4th of July Recipe Round-up

I LOVE July!  Mostly because it’s my birthday month….(happy birthday to my fellow July babies!)

…but also because there are so many fun events!  Including July 4th.

Are you hosting a BBQ?  Having a party?  Going to a party and need to bring something to contribute?

Have no fear!  This post will save the day!  Think of this as your summer recipe hub if you would.
I’ve rounded up a couple of breakfast recipes, sweet recipes and savory recipes that I hope will help make your Independence Day special.


Apple Butter PancakesPineapple upside down oatmeal

Apple Butter Pancakes 

Pineapple Upside Down Oatmeal~  One of my favorites, by far!!


Baked Zucchini ChipsLi'l Bit Savory:  Italian Green Beans

Zucchini Chips~ Toss those potato chips!! These are flavorful and healthier.

Italian Green Beans~  a great side dish that everyone is sure to love!


There are more of these…duhh, you ARE on “Little Bit Sweet”! 🙂

Banana PuddingSimple 'N Sweet Coconut MacaroonsCoconut Cream PieIMG_1078Classic Peach Cobbler

Banana Pudding~ a family favorite for any occasion!

Coconut MacaroonsVery easy to make.

Coconut Cream Pie~  My dad’s favorite.

Lightened up Apple Turnovers~  An American classic, made a little lighter.

Peach Cobbler~ One of my granny’s recipes.

What is your favorite activity on July 4th?

Have a safe holiday!!

Li’l Bit Savory: Italian Green Beans

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season.  Now it’s time to ring in a new year!  Can you believe it’s already 2013?!  Time flies.

So now you have to plan for another “holiday” meal or plan to bring a side dish to a potluck New Year’s Eve party.  What to bring….what to bring?  If you’re worried that there might not be anything nutritious and you want at least one healthy side dish amongst the gluttony, fear not!

Or, hey, maybe you just want a new way to spruce up those boring, everyday green beans.

Li'l Bit Savory:  Italian Green Beans

This recipe is inspired by the wonderful green beans at Carino’s.  Seriously, best green beans I think I’ve ever had, but I was never able to replicate them.   ….Until now.  While I worked at a restaurant, one of the employees from the Carino’s down the street came in for lunch and spilled the beans (pun intended) on what makes their recipe so special.  Italian dressing!  It gives it a little extra flavor and that little something that turns the green beans from blah to awesome.

Italian Green Beans

Makes 4 servings

  • 1 pound fresh green beans, rinsed and trimmed
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 roasted red pepper halves, diced
  • 3-4 Tbsp fat free zesty Italian dressing
  • 2 tsp olive oil

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil.  Add trimmed green beans and simmer for 5-8 minutes, or until crisp-tender.

Drain green beans and plunge them into a bowl of ice water to shock them and stop the cooking process.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add drained green beans and roasted red pepper. Saute 2-3 minutes.

Li'l Bit Savory:  Italian Green Beans

Add garlic and Italian dressing.  Stir and continue to saute an additional 5 minutes.

Add salt and pepper to taste. (I usually don’t need any additional seasoning as the dressing is very flavorful in itself)

Li'l Bit Savory:  Italian Green Beans

A simple and healthy side dish that is quick, easy, and a delicious!  Hopefully these green beans will become a new favorite of yours.  No need for veggies to be boring!  These definitely show that vegetables can definitely pack a flavorful punch.

Lighten up!: Ranch dressing

As promised, this week will be all about recipes that kids (and adults!) will love. It’s back to school time for most, and I’m determined to give you all recipes that will keep your kids happy and give them the great nutritious food they need….and deserve.


Here in Texas, ranch dressing is more than just a condiment.  It’s a salad dressing, dipping sauce, favorite chip flavor, and all-around cult classic.  I’m a bartender by night at a restaurant and am often appalled by how much ranch dressing people eat during a meal.  I mean really, they may as well eat it with a spoon.


But ranch dressing has a dirty little secret….it’s loaded with fat and calories, people!!! Let’s chat numbers, shall we?

A 2 Tablespoon serving of ranch dressing (Hidden Valley brand) has 140 Calories, 14g Total fat, and 2.5 g Saturated Fat!!

Let’s put this into perspective….

You can get a small fry at McDonalds for 11g Total fat….and a medium french fry for 2.5g Saturated fat.


But instead of eating french fries, you get a little portion of ranch dressing.  Only 2 Tbsp.  You’d be shocked to know how small of an amount that is!


Anyways, back to my topic.  (Sorry, I get on a soap box with that one!!)  I know that kids (and adults) love ranch dressing, so giving it up completely probably isn’t an option.  But how about making it yourself and making it a LOT more healthy?! Yay!!

Lightened Up Ranch Dressing

Makes about 1 cup dressing.

  • 6 oz fat-free, plain Greek yogurt (I used Oikos brand)
  • 1/3 cup skim milk
  • Ranch dressing seasoning packet to taste (about 1/2 of a 1 oz packet)

Mix all ingredients together until well combined.  Store in refrigerator.

Nutrition:  Depends on the Greek yogurt used, but for 2 Tbsp it’s about 15-20 Calories and 0 g Fat!!


For the adults, maybe a little more flavor?? Try adding a little salsa to the mix (might want to decrease the amount of milk a bit) to make salsa ranch! It’s great on a taco salad or as a sauce on fajitas.

So there you have it! Next time you or your children…or family member….or friend….random stranger…whatever…want ranch dressing, try this instead!  MUCH less caloric and fatty, but still flavorful.  3 cheers!!


Mango Rice Pilaf

Just because it’s a little bit sweet, doesn’t make it dessert.


It’s that wonderful time of year when really awesome fruits come into season. Well, ok so really that started at the beginning of spring…and right now it feels like the dead of summer in Texas. But as the weather warms up, I love using all of the great fruits and veggies that come into season. Today, I decided to use a juicy, ripe mango to jazz up brown rice.

Feel free to treat this like a pasta salad and throw in whatever ingredients you’d like.  It’s also great to let this pilaf sit in the fridge and heat it up as leftovers because the flavors will have more time to marinate together.

Now, I will say that I use boil-in-bag rice.  I have never tried to make regular rice (pathetic, I know) and also tend to go for the 90-second microwavable rice.  Whichever rice you choose, it matters not. 🙂


Mango Rice Pilaf

Makes ~4 side-dish servings (1/2-3/4 cup)     …sorry, I didn’t measure the final product this time

  • 2 cups cooked brown rice (like I said, used whatever cooking method you’d like as long as you get 2 cups in the end)
  • 1 large mango
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 small red onion, diced small
  • Juice of 1/2 of a lime
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp slivered almonds
  • 2 Tbsp cilantro or parsley, chopped

Cut mango into small cubes. Don’t know how? Click here.

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Carefully stir until well combined.

Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes before serving so flavors can marinate. Feel free to reheat before serving as the rice will cool a bit while the flavors combine.

Easy, right?! It’s such a light, refreshing side dish and gives a little something to make brown rice fancy.


Question of the day: What’s your favorite spring/summer fruit?