Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cheddar and Green Chili Drop Biscuits

Warm, Gooey, and Cheesy? Yes Please!!!
Ho, Ho, Holy Cow! How is it the middle of December already? I still have presents to buy, a couple of decorations to put up, and assorted other obligations that may or may not get done before the end of the season.

In the midst of all of this holiday hustle and bustle, I forgot to move “Jess” our Elf on the Shelf last night. Good thing the toddler is in preschool for a few hours today…I’ll just have to come up with some sort of crafty response as to why she moved this morning instead of after her midnight jaunt to the North Pole. Perhaps this gymnastics-inspired pose will serve as a good distraction?
"Jess" Hanging Around
Anyhoo, I promised in my last post to put up a few seasonal dishes this December and there’s definitely room on our holiday table for these Cheddar and Green Chili Drop Biscuits. In reality cheesy biscuits are amazing ANY time of year but these are a nice alternative to traditional dinner rolls.
Now, the recipes I post are usually healthy and made pretty much from scratch. However, this one calls for Bisquick (gasp!). But I promise you, they are simple and delicious and those are two big bonuses in my book—especially this time of year.

As you can see in the picture above, I made five giant biscuits but you could easily use less dough mixture for each and have maybe 10 small rolls per batch. Play around—the size of your biscuits is up to you. Here’s what I came up with.
Cheddar and Green Chili Drop Biscuits
Makes 5 large or 10 small biscuits


Ingredients:
1½ cups Bisquick (I used the HeartSmart version)
1 (7-ounce) can diced green chilis
¾ cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
¼ cup reduced-fat milk


Directions:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and stir well to distribute cheese and chilis evenly.

Use a spoon to “drop” the dough mixture onto a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper. (This amount should yield 5 large or 10 small biscuits.)

Bake 11-13 minutes at 450 degrees until biscuits are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Results:
These are SOOOOOOO good. How could they not be? They are warm, gooey, and full of cheese…it’s basically impossible to go wrong with that combo.


I call them drop biscuits because you literally plop them onto the baking sheet and stick them in the oven. No rolling pin or cutting implements required. Again, easy peasy. Just the way I like my recipes.
I served these biscuits with a large field greens salad topped with tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella cheese, a crab cake, and spicy mango salsa…but they make a great side to just about any dish, from holiday ham to roasted turkey. They would also pair nicely with chicken tortilla or Caliente Crock Pot Chicken and Vegetable Soup. Let’s not kid ourselves: They would even be good alone.

Stay tuned for more holiday favorites. I’m working on an orange-spice cranberry sauce and I’m also on the lookout for a good sweet potato dish I can modify. If you have family favorites you’d like to share, feel free to email them to me at ryanngroseclose@gmail.com. You can also post them in the comments section below.
Hope everyone is enjoying this crazy, yet wonderful time of year.

Until next time,
Ryann

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cheesy Sweet Potato and Leek Soup

The picture doesn't do it justice...this soup is SOOOOO good!!!
Well, friends, the holiday season is in full swing and you know what that means—we are all BUSY. There are gifts to purchase and wrap, decorating to be done, parties to attend…and that’s all on top of our normal hectic schedules. It’s may be the most wonderful time of the year, but this mama could seriously use a few more hours in the day to get things done.

Now more than ever, I’m thankful for easy recipes I can toss in the Crock Pot. And this time of year is perfect for slow cooker soups. When I saw
this one on Pinterest I seriously couldn’t stop drooling. But I wanted to make a healthier version so I swapped the hash browns for sweet potatoes, ditched the butter and half and half, used all cream of portabella mushroom soup, and added leeks and chicken broth. It still contains a cup and a half of cheddar cheese but hey, you’ve gotta keep at least one of the naughty ingredients, right? Here’s what I came up with.

Cheesy Sweet Potato and Leek Soup

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
Olive oil spray
3 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup leeks, chopped
3 cups of condensed cream of mushroom soup (about 2 standard cans)***
1 ½ cups cheddar cheese, shredded (you can use reduced fat cheese if you prefer)
2 cups chicken broth or stock
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon black pepper


***I used 3 boxes of Trader Joe’s Condensed Cream of Portabella Mushroom Soup but it’s seasonal so it may not be available for much longer.


Directions:
Lightly spritz Crock Pot with olive oil spray. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Cover and cook on high for 2-3 hours or low for 4-6 hours or until sweet potatoes are tender and cooked through.


“Swap”tions:
You could easily make this a vegetarian dish by swapping the chicken broth for vegetable broth. You could also toss in a little cooked chicken if you wanted to add more protein.

Results:
All I have to say is YUMMO!!!! I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a big fan of mushrooms so it’s weird that I’m in love with a soup that uses cream of mushroom as a base but it’s true. And let’s face it; anything with cheddar cheese melted into it is bound to be delicious. The hubs, who doesn’t really care for sweet potatoes, was pleasantly surprised by how much he enjoyed this soup. So it’s an all-around winner at our house.


The best thing about this recipe is that soups tend to taste better the longer you simmer them. So set your Crock Pot on low and forget about it while you are dashing around town, wrapping gifts, or watching holiday movies.


The next time I make this, I may cut the chicken broth in half (use 1 cup instead of 2) for a little creamier consistency but honestly, it was great the way it was.


If you are a fan of easy, hearty, and tasty soups, this is the perfect recipe for you. Give it a try and let me know what you think.


Until next time,
Ryann

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Crock Pot Mexi-Mush

The easiest Crock-Pot meal...EVER!!!
I know, I know…it’s been more than two weeks since my last blog post. I could go on and on about the holidays, sick kids, work, and whatnot, but it seems everyone around me is in the same boat so I’d just be preaching to the choir.

Since this time of year is notoriously hectic, I thought I’d share one of my easiest go-to Crock Pot meals. I make it even simpler and less time consuming by using cooked rotisserie chicken. My mom turned me on to this meal right after we brought my daughter home from the hospital. It’s so simple, even the parents of newborns can handle it—and if sleep-deprived zombies can do it, so can you!


The great thing about Mexi-Mush is that you can throw just about any bean/salsa/rice/cooked meat combo in the pot and it will turn out awesome. So, if you don’t see your favorite ingredients listed below, go ahead and add them. You really can’t go wrong. (Think diced green chilis, corn, jalapeños if you like it spicy, etc.) At any rate, here’s what I usually use.


Crock Pot Mexi-Mush
Serves 6-8
Ingredients:
Olive oil spray
2½ cups cooked chicken, shredded or cubed (I used rotisserie chicken)
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (16-ounce) can chili beans (I used Bush’s pinto beans in chili sauce)
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chilis (don’t drain, you’ll want the juice!)
1 (16-ounce) jar salsa


Directions:
Lightly spritz Crock Pot with olive oil spray. Add chicken, rice, rinsed black beans, chili beans with sauce, tomatoes in juice, and salsa. Stir to combine. Cook on low for about 2 hours. If your Mexi-Mush gets a little dry, or if you prefer a soupier texture, you can add 1 cup of chicken broth or stock at any point during the cooking process. Since everything in this dish is already cooked, you’re really just heating it through and allowing the flavors to mingle.

Results:
Again, I can’t stress how foolproof this recipe is. Just toss the ingredients in the trusty old Crock Pot and heat them up for a couple of hours. You’re done. Had a busy day at work and don’t feel like slaving over the stove? Mexi-Mush. Marathon holiday shopping spree and dreading cooking? Mexi-Mush. In need of a little comfort food on a cold, drizzly day? You guessed it…Mexi-Mush.
It’s hearty, it’s healthy, and it tastes good. Check, check, and double-check. So, give this simple recipe a try and let me know what you think.

Until next time,
Ryann


P.S. I hosted Thanksgiving this year and made my own cranberry sauce for the first time ever. (I still can’t believe how simple it was!) That little endeavor has inspired me to work on more easy, healthy, and tasty holiday recipes. My goal is to post several of them over the month of December so you can share these dishes with your friends and family over the season. Cheers!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Creamy Crock Pot Chicken and Fancy Vegetables

A simple dish that tastes fabulous and fancy!
A few weeks ago, I was talking to my friend Andrea after my latest obsession, Zumba class. We both had dinners cooking in the Crock Pots at our respective houses and we were swapping recipe ideas.

Her meal was the inspiration for the dish I’m about to share with you. I seriously forgot how yummy and easy it is to bust out the Crock Pot, take a regular old can of condensed cream of mushroom soup, toss in some chicken, add your favorite veggies, and then sprinkle the whole caboodle with a packet of dry onion soup mix. Voila! Dinner that tastes totally decadent but was so-super-simple it’s ridiculous.


I’m calling them “fancy” vegetables because I used asparagus and crimini mushrooms. But you could make this dish with just about any veggies you had on hand.
Here’s what I came up with.

Creamy Crock Pot Chicken and Fancy Vegetables

Serves 3-4


Ingredients:

Olive oil spray
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breast fillets
1 cup asparagus, chopped into ½-inch pieces
1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 (10.5-ounce) can reduced-sodium cream of mushroom soup (condensed)
½ cup reduced-fat milk
1 packet dry onion soup mix


Directions:

Lightly spray Crock Pot with olive oil spray. Place chicken fillets in pot. Add asparagus, mushrooms, and carrots. Cover with the can of condensed soup. Pour milk over mixture. Sprinkle dry soup mix evenly over contents of the Crock Pot.

Cook on low 6-8 hours or on high for 3-5 hours.
Results:
Being a wife and mommy means that sometimes you’ve gotta take one for the team. For instance, I can’t stand mushrooms (I think they taste like dirt and have the mouth-feel of rubber) but my husband likes them. So I had to step out of my comfort zone to test a recipe that called for an ingredient I don’t really care for in order to appease him—and all of you other weirdoes who like eating fungus.


Seriously though, I couldn’t even taste them in this dish. The onion soup flavor combined well with the “fancy” veggies and the creamy goodness made me forget I was eating one of my least-favorite foods. I just spooned the mixture over a little brown rice and served with a fresh spinach salad for a well-balanced meal.


Sometimes it’s fun to add ingredients to recipes that you wouldn’t normally use. You just might be surprised at how good your culinary creations turn out when you try something a little different.

Until next time,
Ryann

Friday, November 9, 2012

Tasty Turkey Meatloaf

The perfect HEALTHY comfort food!
“Meatloaf, smeatloaf, double-beatloaf. I hate meatloaf.” Name that flick! If you guessed A Christmas Story, you are correct! I love that movie. I watch it annually and keep it in the DVR list long past Christmas. This year I’ve really outdone myself…it’s actually still in the queue from 2011. Good thing it’s November and just about time to bust it out again.

Anyhoo, watching the poor frazzled mom desperately trying to coerce Randy to “Show mommy how the piggies eat!” has always cracked me up. And now that I have a super picky toddler on my hands, I can totally relate. Now I’m not promising your finicky eaters will gobble this up—my toddler wouldn’t touch it but the baby loved it. But I can say it’s yummy, healthy, and the perfect comfort food for these chilly fall evenings.


I found this basic recipe online and made a few modifications. I added bell pepper, tweaked the seasonings a bit, and tossed a little brown sugar into the glaze for the top. I also omitted the salt and the chicken broth and cut back on the suggested amount of bread crumbs. Here’s what I came up with.
Tasty Turkey Meatloaf
Serves  4


Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup onion, finely chopped
1 cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or finely chopped
1 pound lean ground turkey
½ teaspoon black pepper (freshly ground preferred)
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4 tablespoons ketchup (divided use)
¼ cup seasoned bread crumbs
1 egg
Olive oil spray
1 teaspoon brown sugar
Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.


In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic and sauté, stirring frequently for about 3-5 minutes (until onion turns slightly translucent and peppers soften).  Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Place thawed turkey meat in a large bowl. Add pepper, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, 2 tablespoons of ketchup (save the rest for the sauce on top!), bread crumbs, and egg to bowl. Transfer the cooked onions and bell pepper to the bowl as well.

Now for the messy part: Use your hands to fold the vegetables and seasonings into the ground meat. Be sure to really squish it around so it all mixes evenly.
Spray a 9x5 loaf pan with olive oil spray. Press the meatloaf mixture into the pan.

In a small bowl, mix remaining 2 tablespoons of ketchup with the brown sugar and spread over the top of the meatloaf.
Bake at 375 for 40 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165-170 degrees.

*You may want to drain off a little of the excess liquid during cooking. (The fat from the turkey along with the water from the vegetables can create a little too much moisture.) Just remove pan from oven at around the 30-minute mark and use a spoon to remove the extra liquid. Return to oven and cook for the remaining 10 minutes or so.
Results:
I was really happy with the way this dish turned out. It was really good and it was great to have a little comfort food—without the guilt of eating something unhealthy. I paired the meatloaf with sautéed green beans and
GarlicMashed “Potatoes” and it was the perfect, balanced meal.

If you’re looking for a healthy, tasty twist on boring old meatloaf, give this recipe a try. Let me know what you—and your family—think!
Until next time,
Ryann

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bison and Zucchini Baked Ziti

Bison: It's what's for dinner.
Before you run for the hills, yes I said bison, and believe me, I was more than a little hesitant the first time my father-in-law suggested I try it. I’m a pretty basic chicken, turkey, and pork kind of gal. But honestly, it’s really good. Think ground beef but way better for you.

According to the USDA, 3.5 ounces of raw ground bison only contains 146 calories. That’s fewer calories than the same portion of beef, pork…even turkey. It’s high in protein with 20.23 grams per serving. It has a low total fat content at 7.2 grams. And it’s lower in cholesterol than any of the other commonly ground meats. (See a nutritional comparison chart of ground meat and poultry here.)
Most baked ziti recipes I’ve seen call for a lot of dairy items: ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella cheese, cottage cheese—even sour cream. Well, the hubs and the baby are lactose intolerant so that wouldn’t fly in this house. You’ll notice lite shredded mozzarella in the ingredients below but I actually tried a new dairy-free, soy-free cheese substitute called Daiya and it wasn’t bad. I also swapped ziti noodles for whole wheat penne pasta noodles since they are better for you.

I wasn’t initially planning on posting this recipe—it was just something I tossed together on a whim using ingredients we had around the house and needed to use. However, because BOTH of my kids ate it (actually, the baby actually devoured it), I had to share.
Bison and Zucchini Baked Ziti
Serves 8-10


Ingredients:
12-16 ounces whole wheat penne pasta
Olive oil spray
1 pound ground bison meat (or lean ground beef, turkey, or chicken if you’re not feeling adventurous)
Garlic powder
2 medium zucchini squash, chopped
1 (25-ounce) jar pasta sauce (I used Trader Joe's Organic Tomato Basil Marinara)
Olive oil spray (again!)
1 ½-2 cups lite mozzarella cheese, shredded (I used Daiya's vegan Mozzarella Style Shreds)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cook pasta to al dente according to package directions in a large pot.

While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil spray in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add ground bison meat and a dash of garlic powder and brown, stirring often, until meat is cooked through (about 5-6 minutes).
Remove meat from the heat. Add chopped zucchini, and pasta sauce to the skillet and heat over medium for 5 minutes.

When pasta is done cooking, remove from heat, drain, rinse, and return to pot. Add the meat sauce and stir well to combine.
Spritz a large (I used 9x13) glass baking dish with olive oil spray. Spoon half of the pasta into the baking dish and cover with half of the mozzarella cheese. Spoon remaining pasta over the cheese and add the rest of the cheese as the top “layer.”

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until cheese is brown and bubbling and pasta is heated through.
Results:
As you’ll note in the picture below, the cheese substitute doesn’t get all browned and bubbly like real cheese does. But even without all the yummy gooey goodness, my version was still pretty darn tasty. The vegan cheese isn’t quite as salty as the real deal so I did something I seldom do—I added a little salt and pepper to the finished product.

Not as gooey and bubbly as "real" cheese, but still pretty yummy!
The hubs and I both liked this dish, however, as I mentioned above the fact that the BOTH of my kids ate it is the reason you’re seeing it here. The baby gobbled it up for dinner and as leftovers the next day. And in my book, that equals epic success.  

If you’re a little wary of the bison meat, I get it. You can wimp out and use ground turkey, chicken, or beef, but I encourage you to think outside the box a little…it’s good for you!
Give this recipe a try and let me know what you—and your kiddos think.

Until next time,
Ryann

Monday, October 29, 2012

Happy Halloweener Bites & “Candy Corn” Veggie Platter

Are you hosting or attending any spooktacular parties on Wednesday? If so, here are a couple of quick and easy Pinterest-inspired ideas for appetizers or snacks for your Halloween festivities.

Happy Halloweener Bites
Makes 24 mini corndogs
Ingredients:
1 package of cornbread mix (I used Marie Callender’s just-add-water mix)
Red and yellow food coloring
Olive oil spray
1 package of turkey hotdogs (I used Jenny-O)
Ketchup
Mustard
Plastic spiders (optional)
Toothpicks (optional)
Directions:
Preheat oven to temperature indicated on cornbread package. (Typically 400 degrees.)
Prepare cornbread batter as directed. (I used a brand that just called for water but some ask for eggs, oil, butter, etc.) Use red and yellow food coloring to achieve the desired shade of orange. (This step is optional…you can leave the batter alone and just have little mini-corndog muffins if you prefer. The orange is just more festive.) Lightly spray the mini muffin tin with olive oil spray (makes them SOOOOO much easier to remove!). Pour batter into mini muffin pan filling each section almost to the top. Cut hotdogs into one-inch pieces and insert one into each muffin. (Cutting the ends flat will help them stand up in the middle of the muffin even though the batter is runny.) Bake according to package directions. (I did 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.)
Remove from oven and allow them to cool a little before handling. Place Happy Halloweener Bites on a platter, insert a toothpick through the middle of each one for easy serving, sprinkle with plastic spiders (if desired), and serve with ketchup and mustard.
“Candy Corn” Veggie Platter
Ingredients:
1 small pumpkin
Hummus or ranch dip (I used Trader Joe’s Mediterranean hummus)
Cauliflower
Baby carrots
Yellow bell peppers
Directions:
Slice the top off of the pumpkin. Scoop the goop and seeds out of the gourd and off the “lid” of the pumpkin. Pour hummus or ranch dip into the hollowed-out pumpkin and use as a serving dish. Chop vegetables into bite-sized pieces. If you have a triangular platter use it. If not, you can just arrange the veggies in a triangle shape. Cauliflower goes on top, carrots in the middle, and bell peppers at the bottom. Easy peasy and healthy to boot!
Results:
I made these appetizers for a Halloween/Fall Pinterest party hosted by my friend Lauren earlier this month. They were fun, festive, and I received compliments on taste and presentation. In addition, they are both really easy to make and totally kid-friendly.
I’ll post another healthy dinner entrée later this week but in the meantime, enjoy these fun little snacks and have a safe and happy Halloween!
Until next time,
Ryann

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Super-Simple Crock Pot Chicken Fajitas

Fresh & tasty Tex-Mex flavor...without all the fuss!
If you haven’t already noticed, I am completely and unabashedly OBSESSED with my Crock Pot. (Think there’s a support group for that?) I’ve been crocking away at least twice a week for the past few weeks, the recipes are turning out awesome, and I’m very excited to share them with you all.

Last week, I put up the Southwestern Crock Pot Chicken Chili and promised to post the fajita recipe ASAP. Well, the whole family got wiped out with a virus so my apologies that this took a while. But hey, all good things are worth waiting for, right?
What I love about this particular recipe is that it’s very versatile. You can spoon the meat into tortillas with all the fixings (traditional fajita style), make it a salad (low-carb!), or even use it to make nachos (great idea for the leftovers).

I saw this recipe on Pinterest and thought it looked simple and yummy (my two favorite criteria for Crock Pot dishes). I made it even easier by using a store-bought seasoning packet. Also, I only had one bell pepper in the fridge so that’s what I used. Other than that, I followed the original pretty closely. Here’s what I came up with.

Super-Simple Crock Pot Chicken Fajitas

Serves 4-6
Ingredients:
Olive oil spray
2 boneless, skinless breast fillets
1 medium yellow or white onion, sliced
1 medium bell pepper, sliced (color optional, I used yellow)
1 cup chicken stock or broth (I used organic stock from Costco)
½ packet reduced-sodium taco seasoning
1 lime, juiced or 1 tablespoon lime juice

Directions:

Lightly spray the bottom and sides of the Crock Pot with olive oil spray. (You don’t have to do this but it helps with clean up.) Place thawed chicken breasts in pot. Toss in onion and bell pepper and pour chicken stock over the top. Sprinkle with taco seasoning and lime juice. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-5 hours. (Cooking times vary depending on size of breast fillets.) About 30 minutes prior to serving, shred chicken with two forks. Chicken shreds easily when cooked through.
Results:
This is another one of those slow cooker recipes that makes your mouth water all day as the yummy aromas drift through the house. As I mentioned earlier it’s super versatile too so you can serve the meat and veggies however you want. For round one, the hubs and I opted to make salads. I used Romaine lettuce topped with the fajita mixture, a “dressing” made up of reduced fat sour cream and salsa, and a little guacamole.
The low-carb route.
We used the leftovers to make delicious chicken fajita nachos that we devoured during a Sunday football game (GO RAVENS!). I just shredded some lite cheddar cheese and added jalapeños and salsa. Nom, nom, nom!!!
You can't go wrong with nachos!
 No matter how you decide to serve them, these Super-Simple Crock Pot Chicken Fajitas are awesome. Just a handful of basic ingredients and a slow cooker and you’re ready to go. Give this dish a try and let me know if you enjoyed it as much as we did.
Until next time,
Ryann


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Southwestern Crock Pot Chicken Chili

A little Southwestern twist on a traditional favorite.
Last week I did a Facebook poll and asked everyone if they’d rather have me share a chicken chili or a chicken fajita Crock Pot recipe. The chili edged out the fajitas (not by much!) so I’m putting it up first. Don’t fret; I’ll post the fajita recipe soon too. I’m a Crock Potting maniac these days so I have lots and lots of recipes to share. All in good time my little pretties, all in good time. (Yes, that was a Wizard of Oz reference.)

Anyhoo, I based my recipe off of Skinny Taste’s Chicken Taco Chili, but made a few modifications. I swapped the black beans for kidney beans, used tomato paste instead of tomato sauce, added bell pepper and chicken stock, and used my own blend of spices instead of the store-bought seasoning packet. I also decided on fire roasted tomatoes and chilis to give it that Southwestern flair. Here’s what I came up with.
Southwestern Crock Pot Chicken Chili
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14.5-15-ounce) can of fire roasted tomatoes with green chiles, with juice
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 cup corn (I used frozen but you can use canned or fresh as well)
1 medium onion, chopped (I used red)
1 medium bell pepper, chopped (I used orange)
1 cup chicken broth or stock (I used the organic stock from Costco)
2 boneless and skinless breast fillets (if you are using frozen, you’ll need to cook for a little longer)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (these can be hot so use less if you don’t like spice)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder


Optional Garnishes:
Reduced-fat cheddar cheese, shredded
Raw onion, chopped
Tortilla chips or strips
Light sour cream
Fresh cilantro, chopped

Directions:
Place all ingredients in Crock Pot. Cover and cook on low for approximately 8 hours or on high for 4-6 hours. (Cooking times can vary depending on brand of slow cooker and thickness of chicken breasts.) Thirty minutes prior to serving, remove cover and use two forks to shred the chicken. Chicken should shred easily when cooked through. Serve with any or all of the optional garnishes above.
Results:
How can you go wrong with all of these yummy ingredients and your trusty Crock Pot? This chili is a little spicy, completely hearty, absolutely tasty, and best of all totally healthy. I used a dollop of reduced-fat sour cream and a sprinkling of raw onions as a garnish and was very happy with the end result.

I don’t know what it is about chili but it’s always better the next day. Something magical happens in those overnight hours in the fridge. Seriously. I had another serving for lunch the next day with the exact same garnishes and I loved it even more.
If you’re looking for an easy and tasty alternative to traditional chili, this south-of-the-border twist should be right up your alley. Enjoy!

Until next time,
Ryann

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Parmesan Zucchini Boats

Nom, nom, nom...broiled cheesy goodness!
For some strange reason there are certain items I can’t seem to resist buying when I go to the grocery store. One is sour cream. It’s the one thing in my fridge that I always think is past the expiration date (it never is) or I forget we have some buried in the back behind the milk and we end up with two tubs. The other is vegetables. I get this strange compulsion when I enter the produce section. Must. Buy. Veggies. It’s weird.

Needless to say, our crisper is often full of lots and lots of a particular vegetable. Lately it’s been zucchinis. In the past weeks we’ve had them drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper and cooked on the grill. I’ve added them to spaghetti squash “pasta," chicken soup, and vegetable lasagna. I’ve even sprinkled them with a little season salt and steamed them in the microwave as a quick and easy side.  
So, when I ran across this recipe, I knew I had to try it. A new way to make zucchini that involves bubbly broiled cheese? Don’t mind if I do! I really didn’t stray from the original recipe (other than using seasoned bread crumbs); I just tweaked the prep a bit. Here’s what I came up with.

Parmesan Zucchini Boats
Serves 2 (as a side dish)
Ingredients:
2 zucchini squash, halved, seeds scooped with spoon
Olive oil spray
Freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tablespoons crushed garlic
10-15 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1-2 tablespoons seasoned bread crumbs
1-2 tablespoons parmesan cheese


Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Slice zucchini lengthwise and then in half. (You don’t have to cut them in half, but I did so they would fit better in my baking dish.) Slice a thin strip off the rounded back of the zucchini so it will lie flat in the pan. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds of the zucchini. (This will make a shallow “trench” in each vegetable section, hence the “boat.”)

Place the zucchini boats in a shallow glass baking pan and lightly spritz with olive oil spray.
Coat zucchini pieces liberally with freshly ground black pepper.

Evenly spread a thin layer of the crushed garlic into each “boat.”
Distribute the tomato halves evenly on each zucchini slice.

Sprinkle lightly with bread crumbs.
Ready for the oven!
Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
Remove from heat, distribute parmesan cheese evenly over zucchini boats. Turn on broiler to high. Place boats back in the oven and broil for 3-4 minutes until cheese is browned and bubbly. Keep a close eye on them so they don’t burn. Serve immediately.

Results:
Yay for finding the 400th way to eat zucchini squash! These turned out perfect. (How could they not, there is broiled cheese involved!) The hubs and I ate these as an appetizer while we waited for the Crock Pot Turkey Bacon and Corn Chowder to finish simmering and we wished we had more. They were so good!
If you’re looking for an easy and tasty way to prepare your zuchs (hmmmm…yellow squash would be good like this too) then this recipe is for you. Bon Appétit!

Until next time,
Ryann

Monday, October 8, 2012

Turkey Bacon and Corn Crock Pot Chowder

Loaded with veggies, turkey bacon, and great flavor!
 
It FINALLY feels a little like fall here in Southern California. The air has just a hint of crispness to it. It’s cool enough to switch off the AC and throw open some windows. And no one will look at you funny if you start burning those pumpkin spice candles.

What better way to celebrate the changing of the seasons than to make a hearty, yummy, and—most important—healthy corn chowder. Even better? I’ve made it a Crock Pot recipe so it’s SUPER simple. Even better than that? I used turkey bacon. And, as everyone knows, everything is better with bacon in any form.


The original recipe made my mouth water when I read it so I took that as a good sign.  But even though it sounded delicious, I couldn’t resist the urge to mess with it a little and figure out a way to make it slow cooker-friendly. (The original recipe was made on the stove top.) Here’s what I came up with.


Turkey Bacon and Corn Crock Pot Chowder

Serves 8


Ingredients:

3 cups chicken stock or broth (I used the organic stock from Costco)
3 cups reduced-fat milk (I used the lactose-free Albertson’s brand)
2  cups corn (I used frozen but you can use fresh or canned)
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1-1 ½ cups red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup onion, chopped (I used red but any color will do)
3 small potatoes, chopped (I used organic gold potatoes from Trader Joes)
7 slices reduced-sodium turkey bacon, chopped into thin strips
Freshly ground black pepper, optional (to taste)
Dash salt, optional (to taste)
Hot sauce, optional (to taste, I used Tapatio)

Directions:
Place all ingredients in Crock Pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-5 hours. (The longer you let this one simmer, the better.)


Results:

Oh. Muh. Gawd. The house smelled sooooooooo good when this was cooking, you wouldn’t even believe it. Think loaded baked potato.  And the aromas started wafting through the kitchen after only 45 minutes or so. Needless to say, it was hours upon hours of olfactory torture waiting for the soup to be ready.

As is, the soup is really good. For my first bowl, I decided to add more freshly ground pepper and a dash of salt to boost the flavor a little. And it was great. For my second helping, I went for spicy and added a liberal amount of Tapatio hot sauce. I’ve got to say, this was my favorite way to eat it. The spice was a nice complement t to the sweetness of the corn, and I like my food with a little bit of heat so this was perfect for me. The hubs was a big fan of adding the hot sauce as well.


Now, even though this is a chowder, the broth is a bit on the thin side. If you want to thicken it, you’ll need to add a little cornstarch or flour. (Just whisk either into cold water and add the mixture slowly to the soup until you’ve reached the desired consistency.)


If you’re looking for a healthy and hearty soup to warm you up on a brisk Fall day, this is the perfect recipe for you. Give it a try and let me know what you think.


Until next time,
Ryann

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Turkey and Veggie Spaghetti Squash "Pasta"

All the flavor of spaghetti without the carbs, fat, or guilt.

Growing up, I used to HATE vegetables. No joke, the only ones I would eat were carrots. But that was because they were orange and I went through a phase where I would only eat orange food. Yeah, I was a total P.I.T.A (pain in the a$$). My poor mother.

Today, I actually enjoy my veggies, not only because I know they are good for me but because I’ve actually found ways to prepare them that are delicious. And when that fails, you can always sneak them in to a variety of foods so that you—and the kids—don’t know the difference.
I didn’t even bother looking up a recipe for this one. I just threw the vegetables I had in the fridge into the sauce and called it a day.
Here’s what I came up with.

Turkey and Veggie Spaghetti Squash “Pasta”
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 medium spaghetti squash
Olive oil spray
1 pound lean ground turkey
Dash garlic powder
1 (20-25 ounce) jar pasta sauce (I used Trader Joe’s Arrabiata Sauce)
1 medium zucchini, peeled and quartered
1 cup carrots, peeled and chopped
1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped (I used yellow but any  color will do)
Shaved parmesan cheese, for garnish (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper, for garnish (optional)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Slice spaghetti squash in half, lengthwise for the brave who own sharp knives, or crosswise for those with faint hearts and dull cutlery. (I cut mine crosswise since my knife was of questionable sharpness.) Using a spoon, remove seeds and pulp from both halves of the squash.

Line a baking sheet with tin foil and place squash rind side up. Roast in the oven for 40-45 minutes.
While squash is cooking, spritz a large skillet with olive oil spray. Add ground turkey and a dash of garlic powder and brown over medium-high heat stirring frequently until cooked through (about 5-6 minutes). Add pasta sauce to  the skillet along with chopped zucchini, carrots, and bell pepper. Bring meat, vegetables, and sauce to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer.

When squash is done cooking, remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Continue simmering the sauce for 20-30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

When squash has cooled enough to handle (a minimum of 20 minutes), use a fork to shred the flesh into strands that resemble thin pasta noodles.
Place “pasta” in serving bowls and spoon the vegetable/turkey sauce over the top. Serve immediately, garnished with a little shaved parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper if desired.

Results:
I’m not sure what excited me most about this recipe so I’ll just start listing the positive points. #1 It was really, really tasty. #2 It is low carb and full of vegetables and lean protein so it’s super healthy. #3 The hubs liked it. #4 This one is probably my fave: My just-turned-one-year-old gobbled it up for lunch the following day (happy mommy!).

If you love the flavor of spaghetti, but are looking for a much healthier way to enjoy Italian cuisine, this faux pasta dish is definitely the way to go. I hope your family enjoys this recipe as much as mine did.
Until next time,
Ryann

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Caliente Crock Pot Chicken and Vegetable Soup

A spicy and veggie-filled twist on traditional chicken tortilla soup.
It may still be 90-plus degrees here in sunny Southern California but technically it’s Fall so screw it, I’m making soup. While all you East Coasters are enjoying your scarves and boots, we’re sweltering over here. But I guess it’s time to quit complaining and bust out the Crock Pot.

Pinterest and the recipe sites are overflowing with several variations of Chicken Tortilla and Chicken Enchilada soups. This is the first one I ran across and it looked pretty good so I decided to base my recipe off of it.

I followed the original pretty closely, however, I didn’t add any extra salt (say no to excess sodium!), I tossed in zucchini and carrots (the more veggies, the better!), I increased the amount of green chiles (because they are tasty), and used canned tomatoes with jalapeños (to turn up the heat).

Note: If you are making this for little ones or you don’t like spicy food, you can use plain canned tomatoes instead. You can also decrease or omit the black pepper and use a brand of enchilada sauce that you know is mild.

Without further ado, here’s what I came up with.

Caliente Crock Pot Chicken and Vegetable Soup
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
2-3 chicken breast fillets, boneless, skinless, thawed
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes with jalapeños (I used the Hatch brand)
1 (10-ounce) can mild enchilada sauce
1 (7-ounce) can diced green chiles
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
4 cups chicken stock or broth (I used organic chicken stock from Costco)
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
½ cup red onion, chopped
1 cup corn
1 zucchini,  peeled and quartered
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Optional Garnishes:
Avocado
Shredded Lite Mexican Blend Cheese
Crumbled Tortilla Chips or Strips
Cilantro
Sour Cream

Directions:
Place all ingredients in Crock Pot. Stir well to combine. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours. Prior to serving, shred chicken with a fork.  Serve as is or with some or all of the optional garnishes listed above.

Results:
Ay yay yay!!! Good thing I included the word “caliente” in the title of this recipe. This soup was definitely spicy. As I mentioned earlier, if you don’t like the heat or you want to serve this to the kiddos, DO NOT USE THE TOMATOES WITH JALEPENOS. Get the plain ones. Cut out the black pepper and make sure the enchilada sauce you choose is mild. That should really dial it down a notch.
Personally, I enjoy a dish with a little kick so the heat was fine by me. The hubs wasn’t as enthusiastic about this recipe, but he still gave it a thumbs up and took it to work for lunch the next day so that still counts as an endorsement, right?

You can pick and choose from the list of garnishes above or use them all if you’re feeling adventurous. We went with a little fresh avocado and a sprinkle of Lite Mexican Blend Cheese. In hindsight, I should have added a dollop of sour cream. I think I mentioned in a past post that the fat in the dairy counteracts the capsaicin (heat element) and helps to cool things down.


Regardless, I enjoyed this soup and I hope you do too. It’s packed with protein thanks to the chicken and beans and has plenty of healthy veggies to fill you up, not out. If you are looking for a way to spice up dinner—literally—then this is the soup for you. Enjoy!


Until next time,
Ryann

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad

The picture doesn't do it justice...this salad is DELISH!!!
I hate wasting food and I enjoy a good challenge. So, I find it particularly satisfying to come up with recipes using whatever I happen to have in the fridge and/or pantry. This salad came about over the weekend when I needed a quick side for our grilled mahi-mahi and zucchini. I was going to make couscous, but the hubs wanted something a little more exciting.

I had chickpeas in the cupboard and a few veggies that really needed to be used ASAP. So I got creative and came up with this healthy, filling, low-carb salad. It’s perfect for Meatless Monday or any time you need a fast and easy side dish.
Mediterranean Chickpea Salad
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
1 (15-ounce) can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), washed and drained
1 cup tomatoes, chopped
½ cup red onion, chopped
1 small cucumber, peeled and quartered
1 avocado, seeded and cubed
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons feta cheese, crumbled (I used my favorite Athenos Garlic & Herb)
Directions:
Place all ingredients in a large bowl and stir well to combine. Serve immediately or refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes if you prefer the salad chilled.
Results:
Boy am I glad I didn’t make couscous. This salad was so good! It had several bold flavors that really complimented each other nicely. The onion and cucumber gave it a satisfying crunch. And it was really simple to put together, which makes it a perfect 10 in my book.
As I mentioned in the directions, you can eat this salad immediately or refrigerate it and serve it chilled. We had leftovers so we ate them cold the next day for lunch and I actually preferred the chilled version that had a little time to marinate.
Please, please, please, don’t be deterred by the horrible photo above. Seriously, it doesn’t do this dish justice. My camera phone is completely full and I haven’t figured out how to clear it yet, so I’m using my hubby’s iPhone that I barely know how to turn on, much less use to take good pictures. Hopefully I’ll figure it out soon and my next blog post will have a more palatable image to accompany it.

Until next time,
Ryann

Friday, September 21, 2012

Quinoa Pepperoni Pizza Bites

A healthy alternative to pizza--that REALLY tastes like pizza!!!
Woohoo! Just in time for football season (Go Ravens!) I’ve found it: a healthy alternative to pizza. You’re probably thinking, yeah right, there’s no place for a healthy grain like quinoa in my PIZZA. But you, my friend, would be wrong. These little gems are ideal for serving during the big game on Sunday or any time you’re in the mood for great pizza flavor without the fat, calories, and carbs that come with a traditional pie.

There are a handful of quinoa pizza bite recipes floating around out there and they all seem pretty similar. I based my recipe off of this one and just reduced the amount of cheese, tweaked the seasonings, and added a little pepperoni.
Quinoa Pepperoni Pizza Bites
Makes 22-24 mini “bites”


Ingredients:

1 cup quinoa, uncooked
2 cups water
2 eggs, beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
½ cup fresh basil, chopped
½ cup cherry or grape tomatoes, chopped
½ cup pepperoni (about 15 whole), chopped
¾ cup reduced-fat mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Olive oil spray
Pizza Sauce (for dipping, I used the fat-free one from Trader Joe’s)


Directions:
In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup uncooked quinoa and two cups water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook for approximately 10-15 minutes until all the water is absorbed and grain is soft and translucent.
While quinoa is cooking, preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a small bowl, crack and beat the eggs. In a large bowl, add the beaten eggs, garlic, basil, tomatoes, pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, oregano, and Italian seasoning. Stir well to combine.
Lightly spray a mini-muffin tin with olive oil. Using a spoon, place a scoop of the quinoa mixture into each muffin space. Press down with the back of the spoon (or your hand) to “pack” the mixture until it’s flush with the top of the pan. (This is a little messy, see photo below.)

A little messy, but ready for the oven!
Repeat until you run out of the quinoa mix. (My test batch yielded 23 “bites.”)

Place the mini-muffin tin in the oven and bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes. Place a clean towel over the pan, flip it over, and the pizza bites should pop right out. (Hope you used that olive oil spray so they don’t stick!)
Serve with your favorite pizza sauce for dipping. (I heated the sauce up a little in the microwave and it was delish!)

Results:
These. Are. Awesome. No joke, these little pizza bites are one of the best things I’ve made in a while. They make perfect appetizers, snacks, or they can even be a main dish. Just add a salad and you’re good to go. The fact that you get to dip them in pizza sauce makes them super kid friendly too. Better still, I read that they freeze and re-heat well so you could double the batch and have them on hand if you’re short on time/energy.  
Bottom line, these quinoa pizza bites are delicious, much better for you than traditional pizza, and they are easy to make. Give them a try and let me know what you think!

Until next time,
Ryann