Friday, January 28, 2011

Enjoy Applebee's New Unbelievable Under 550 Calorie Entrées for Free

As with most moms, finding ways to eat healthier and squeeze workouts into my life are priorities for me. My mom died of a heart attack at just 59 years old. Not the path I want to follow since I want to be around, strong and healthy for my boys as long as I can be.

Of course, being someone who loves food and who loves to dine out, it can be tricky to find healthy options, especially at chain restaurants, where creative, healthful choices take a backseat to large portions and high-fat, low-cost alternatives.

Applebee's may be changing that with the relaunch of their "Unbelievably Great Tasting and Under 550 Calories" menu. On Monday, I had the chance to try all of these entreés and their new SkinnyBee® Cocktails.

Let me preface this review by saying that I never eat at chain restaurants except fast food. Just not a fan of homogenized cuisine. That said, I would definitely go to Applebee's specifically to get one of these new healthy, low-calorie options.

The new entreés are:

• Grilled Dijon Chicken and Portobello
• Signature Sirloin with Garlic Herb Shrimp
• Asiago Peppercorn Steak
• Teriyaki Shrimp Pasta
• Teriyaki Chicken Pasta
• Grilled Shrimp and Island Rice

The first three items listed are served with steamed veg and creamy herb potatoes. Every one of the dishes was flavorful and very filling. Calories are controlled via portion size and by using Pam to cook with instead of oil or butter.

Although each of the bloggers in attendance was given a quarter of each dish to sample and there were only six items to try, we were all stuffed. By our calculations, we still stayed under 550 calories total for the lunch.... Surprising given how tasty these items were.

I'm actually hard-pressed to choose a favorite. The Grilled Dijon Chicken and Portobello was fantastic. Moist. A great dijon flavor. I loved the steamed veggies and potatoes on the side. The veggies had a great flavor and were still crisp while the potatoes were creamy and satisfying in a "comfort food" kind of way that is lost when dieting.

But then, I had the Asiago Peppercorn Steak. I don't love red meat. But the steak was moist and seasoned very simply. The asiago provided just a hint of tang and creaminess that was just right with the simple flavor of the steak.

Still, the shrimp dishes! They had me at hello! The Teriyaki Shrimp Pasta had an incredible flavor. It's made with low-sodium soy sauce, is filled with a huge variety of great filling vegetables like bok choy, red peppers, broccoli, water chestnuts, and sugar snap peas. Those are topped with 14 shrimp and all of that is atop a mound of whole wheat angel hair pasta. Kind of a weird combination and I could have lived without the pasta, frankly. There wasn't quite enough of the teriyaki sauce to cover the pasta, so it was a bit dry, but the flavor was fantastic and when you're trying to eat healthy and lose weight, you can't go wrong with all those vegetables! This dish also comes in a version with grilled chicken instead of shrimp and it was equally tasty. The chicken had a good char on it from the grill which was nice.

When it comes down to it, if I have to choose a favorite, it would have to be the Grilled Shrimp and Island rice. It was like a tropical vacation for my mouth.

The shrimp are basted in a Southern-style BBQ sauce then covered in spicy dry rub. Damn! It was good. The intricate spiciness of the shrimp is perfectly offset by the "Island" rice, which was white rice (brown would have been a healthier choice, I agree) tossed with bits of orange and pineapple. This also came with steamed veggies which were excellent. The one thing I hated about this dish, though, is that the shrimp have their tails on and it's hard to eat them when they're covered in BBQ sauce. Just plain messy, but the taste was worth it.

The only new menu item that I wasn't crazy about was the Signature Sirloin with Garlic Herb Shrimp. And even that was good. It's a tender 7 oz. sirloin with bruschetta style sauce topped with 7 shrimp in their own creamy herb sauce. Again, excellent flavor and so hard to believe that this particular entrée is under 550 calories. In fact, while I can't access the nutritional info at this moment, I believe this dish was under 500 calories.

So, what didn't I love about it? It has almonds as part of the bruschetta sauce and I wasn't crazy about the texture that created. I like nuts, but they didn't work for me in this dish. Other than that, it was great.

Now... How about a drink? Usually calorie conscious drinkers are forced to stick with basics like white wine, light beer, or maybe a vodka and soda. No more, my friends. At least not if you're at Applebee's where you can try one of their new SkinnyBee cocktails. You can choose among margaritas, mojitos, or their Long Island Tea. While each drink is made with premium spirits, calories are saved by using sugar-free syrups and diet sodas to complete each drink.

I sampled all three and was most impressed with the LIT. I know? How '80s is that? But it was the one that tasted the most like it's sugary, high-calorie Doppelganger.

So, just how many calories do you save by drinking a SkinnyBee cocktail instead of a regular drink? With each drink well below 150 calories, a lot. A typical margarita can have between 300 and 600 calories depending on the mix and pour of liquor included while the SkinnyBee margarita made with Hornitos tequila checks in at 100 calories. The typical Long Island Iced Tea has around 500 calories, while the SkinnyBee version has just 110 and the SkinnyBee mojito is just... wait for it... 90 calories, a savings of around 110 calories compared to the full sugar version.

Not convinced just how good and good for you Applebee's new menu items are? Well, you can find out for yourself by winning a gift certificate good for one of the new "Unbelievably Great Tasting and Under 550 Calories" menu items courtesy of Applebee's Atlanta.

Here's how to win:

1. Add a comment below to tell us how you plan to stay healthy in the new year.  Diet, exercise, meditation? A little of this and a little of that? I'd love to know your best tips for staying fit. Also include which of Applebee's new menu items you're looking forward to trying. (Steps 1 and 2 are musts for entry. For additional entries, see steps 3 and 4.)

2. Post a link to this blog post on your blog.

3. For an extra entry into the contest, Tweet this post or add a link to your Facebook while. When you're done, include the links to your tweet and FB post in your comment. 

4. If you're not a Follower of Belle of the Blog already, follow me and let me know in your comment and you'll get one more entry.

The winner will be chosen at random.

The contest opens now and will close at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, February 4th. Good luck!

Monday, January 24, 2011

You'll Have Time

Do you have those days? You know...Those days?

The ones where your head and heart are wrapped around some family drama, some slight, or minor heartbreak. Hell, maybe it's even a major heartbreak, but certainly not one worthy of consuming you heart, mind, and soul. Yet, there you go, deep in the spiral of fear, worry, anxiety, anger, frustration, and utter annoyance. And then when you least expect it there's one. more. thing. That thing. The thing. The straw that breaks the camel's back thing. And when it happens you lose it, bursting into tears or shouting in rage. Naturally whatever that thing is, it's something that you normally wouldn't waste the energy to bat an eyelash at. But there you go... all red-faced and weepy, face wrenched in torment and anger.

I had one of those days last week. I'd received a phone call from a friend that put me on edge and had me feeling anxious and worried. Cooper came down with vestibular disease and I was afeared for his life*, Scott was out of the country for work and I was single-parenting it for the week and feeling a little lonesome, too. I felt like I was going to come out of my skin, had a million and one things I wanted to accomplish, was feeling angry and frustrated by the redistricting situation in my county, and was teetering on the edge.

When Beckett decided to fingerpaint on the kitchen table with his yogurt and dipped his brother's Field Day ribbons (which were on the table because I was cleaning out our kitchen closet!) in the yogurt, I was annoyed and told him he had to clean it up. I walked over to the sink to gather the cleaning supplies. When I turned around, Beckett was perched on the table, right smack dab in the middle of his strawberry yogurt masterpiece. Naturally, as one is wont to do on a bad day, I burst into tears thinking "Why does everything have to suck for me right now?"

That's the moment when everything changed... when I saw through knowing eyes and heard through truthful ears. Beckett looked at me with the sweetest, most quizzical smile, and said, "It's okay, Mommy. I'm not dying."

And so, from the mouth of my babe, Wisdom. Beautiful, profound, simple truth. "I'm not dying." What could be worse than that? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. My sweetest little one is healthy and happy and so is his brother. Their dad, my partner and friend, the man I love is home, safe, from the other side of the world and he is loved beyond measure. Maybe there are things I'd change in my life, but the fundamentals, the stuff that really matters is all pretty awesome.

As I fell to the kitchen floor laughing, a prayer of thanksgiving in my heart, I reminded myself that yes, Life is truly good.

*Cooper's bloodwork came back showing he has a low thyroid which can cause Vestibular Disease in dogs. He started the medicine on Tuesday and by Thursday could walk on his own without my help and by today, one week from its onset is able to go up and down steps without help although he's still a bit shaky and still has a slight head tilt. He's definitely doing much better.