Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Savory Southwestern BBQ Chopped Salad

Fresh and healthy never tasted so good!
Chopped salads make awesome meals during the summertime and year-round. This one combines several fresh vegetables, plenty of protein with the beans and chicken, and it’s better for you than traditional BBQ chicken salads since it uses a Greek yogurt-based dressing and isn’t topped with tortilla chips and/or fried onions.

I didn’t make too many changes to the recipe that inspired this post. I just swapped the iceberg lettuce for romaine, snuck in a cup of spinach, tossed in another type of onion, dropped the mayo and ranch seasoning from the dressing, and—most important—added a little barbeque sauce at the end that, in my humble opinion, is the star ingredient of this tangy and delicious salad.
Savory Southwestern BBQ Chopped Salad
Serves  4

2 cups cooked chicken, cubed
4 cups romaine lettuce, chopped
1 cup spinach, chopped
½ cup white onion, chopped
½ cup green onion, sliced
½ cup cilantro, chopped (a little extra for garnish if desired)
1 cup bell pepper, chopped (color up to you, I used yellow and orange)
1 cup tomatoes, chopped
1 cup yellow corn
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 packet reduced-sodium taco seasoning
¾ cup low-fat or nonfat Greek yogurt
2-3 tablespoons water (to thin dressing)
2-4 tablespoons barbeque sauce
1 avocado, chopped

In a large bowl, combine cooked chicken (I used an Albertson’s cooked rotisserie chicken), romaine, spinach, white and green onion, cilantro, bell pepper, tomatoes, corn, and black beans. 
Chopped veggies and beans ready for tossing.
In a small bowl, combine Greek yogurt and taco seasoning. Gradually whisk or stir in a few tablespoons of water to thin dressing to desired consistency.
Easy and healthy dressing.
Pour dressing over salad and toss well. Add the avocado and stir gently to combine. (I like to add the avocado last so it doesn’t get too mushy.) Drizzle with your favorite barbeque sauce and garnish with cilantro (if desired).
If you can believe it, the barbeque sauce was an afterthought on this one…which is funny since it’s kind of the star ingredient. The hubs and I were eating the salad and though it was good, we were a little underwhelmed. Then the “Aha!” moment struck. We added a little barbeque sauce and the salad went from so-so to delicioso!

I’m not gonna lie, the prep on this one takes a while since it involves cutting up so many fresh veggies, but it’s totally worth it in the end. If you are looking for a light, tasty, and healthy chopped salad, this is the recipe for you.

Until next time,

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mango and Black Bean Quinoa Lettuce Wraps

A little sweet, a little spicy, a lot tasty!

If you read Monday’s post, you know that my recent attempt to make mango salsa was thwarted by some far-from-ripe fruit. But it’s been a few days, the mangoes are soft and ready to be eaten, and I keep running across this lettuce wrap recipe on Pinterest, so it must be fate, right?  

I used the original recipe as a base and just started tossing stuff in. The cinnamon was a last minute addition on a whim and even though it sounds a little odd, it tasted DIVINE!
Here’s what I came up with.
Mango and Black Bean Quinoa Lettuce Wraps
Serves 4

1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups water
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 ripe mango, diced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
½ cup green onion, sliced
½ jalapeño pepper, diced
1 lemon juiced (about 2 tablespoons lemon juice)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon pepper
Dash salt
Dash cinnamon
1 head of butter or Bibb lettuce, separated into leaves, washed and dried
1 avocado, diced

In a medium saucepan, bring dry quinoa and water to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 9-12 minutes until water is absorbed. Stir and put cooked quinoa aside to cool.
In a large bowl, combine black beans, mango, bell pepper, green onion, and jalapeño. Stir in cooked quinoa and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, pepper, salt, and cinnamon. Whisk or stir well. Pour mixture over the quinoa mixture and stir to combine. Place “stuffing” in refrigerator and chill for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Wash and dry lettuce leaves. Remove quinoa mixture from refrigerator. Stir well. Spoon even amounts of mango-quinoa mixture into each of the lettuce leaves. Garnish with avocado and serve immediately.


I’m really excited about how well this meal turned out. It was full of colorful, crunchy vegetables and packed with protein thanks to the quinoa and beans. The mango and cinnamon added a subtle spicy-sweet undertone that really complimented the other flavors.

The hubs gave it a perfect 10 and his comment was, “It’s hard to make healthy food taste this good.”

These “wraps” were a little messy. In fact, we used forks to eat most of the “stuffing” before attempting to pick them up. Which brings up a good point…this would make an excellent salad or side dish. It would be really tasty paired with chicken or fish in a citrus glaze. (Hmmmmm….might have to test something like that soon!)

A great side dish or salad too!
If you like to dip your lettuce wraps, a sweet chili sauce (Trader Joes makes a good one!) would pair nicely with these. We ate them “dry” and they were delicious.

Until next time,

Monday, August 20, 2012

Grilled Mahi-Mahi With Spicy Papaya Salsa

Sweet, spicy, fresh, and delcious!
We just got back from an awesome little vacation in Carlsbad, CA. We were constantly on the go: beach time, pool time, family time, and even our first trip to SeaWorld with the kiddos. It was a great few days but I was eager to get back in the kitchen to cook and test new recipes.

One of the nights we were there, the hubs grabbed a few things to put on the grill. I know I’ve mentioned before that fish is not my favorite food and that I only really eat tilapia because it’s one of the mildest white fishes. So, as you can imagine, I wasn’t thrilled to see a frozen package of mahi-mahi in the shopping bag when he came home. Though I was a bit wary at first, I bucked up and tried it….and you know what? I really liked it!

Mahi-mahi is mild, flakey, and not at all fishy.  The hubs wrapped it in tin foil with a little butter and garlic before he grilled it and that was pretty tasty. But, of course, my wheels started spinning and all I could think was, “How good would this be with a yummy fresh fruit salsa?”

So, I got home, did a little recipe research, and headed to the store to buy my ingredients. My initial thought was to try a mango-papaya concoction. But after I returned with my bounty, the hubs pointed out that the mangoes were rock hard and days away from being ripe. Whoopsie! Hence, the Spicy Papaya Salsa recipe you’ll find below.

Grilled Mahi-Mahi With Spicy Papaya Salsa
Serves 3-4
1 cup papaya, chopped
½ red onion, chopped
¼-1 whole jalapeño pepper, diced (I used a whole one and it was really hot!)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
1 lime, juiced
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Salt (to taste)
Pepper (to taste)
3-4 boneless, skinless mahi-mahi fillets (I used the Trader Joe’s frozen ones)
Olive oil spray
Salt (to season fish)
Pepper (to season fish)

In a medium bowl mix chopped papaya, onion, jalapeño, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, and apple cider vinegar together. Add a little salt and pepper to taste and stir well. Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow flavors to mingle.  

Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Spritz mahi-mahi fillets with olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper. If using a grilling basket, place fish inside before placing on grill. You can also put fillets directly on the grill or on a bed of thinly sliced lemons if you’re worried about them sticking or falling through the grates. Cook fish for about 4-5 minutes on each side.  (Fish should flake easily when cooked through.)
Remove from grill, plate the fillets, and spoon equal amounts of papaya salsa over the fish. Serve immediately.
Not in the mood for fish? This sweet and spicy salsa would be great on grilled chicken. You could also forgo the meat altogether and use it as a dip for tortilla chips. If you are making this dish for little ones or you don’t like spicy food, you can swap out the jalapeño for a milder option such as banana peppers. You could also use diced green bell pepper instead.

Fun Food Fact:
To put out the flames of a too-hot bite of peppers or other spicy food, try a little dairy. The heat component (capsaicin) dissolves in the fat molecules of milk, sour cream, yogurt, and the like. But health-conscious friends beware: Reduced fat dairy foods won’t work as well and non-fat versions won’t work at all since it’s the fat that helps break down the capsaicin.
I was beyond bummed when the hubs told me the mangoes wouldn’t be ready for days. But it was one of those unfortunate situations that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Using the papaya as the main ingredient of the salsa turned out better than I could have imagined. It was so good that I decided to tweak my original recipe and post it for others to try right away.

Now, in the ingredients section I said to use ¼ to 1 whole jalapeño pepper. This is totally a preference thing. I used a whole one and our salsa was MUY CALIENTE! I like the heat so this doesn’t bother me but if you are cooking for little ones or are sensitive to spicy foods, you’ll want to use a smaller amount or leave it out altogether. Also, the seeds and the membranes are the hottest parts, so removing those will help reduce the heat factor as well.

If you’re looking for an easy and delicious way to spice up grilled fish (or chicken!), this papaya salsa is a great option.  I served it with one of my favorite side dishes (Herbed Feta Chickpea Salad) and we had a low-carb, veggie- and protein-packed meal that tasted great and was super healthy.
I’m a little sad vacation is over but it’s nice to get back to our normal routine. I’m looking forward to testing more recipes and posting the successful ones for you all to enjoy.

Until next time,

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Low-Carb Roasted Vegetable "Lasagna"

So good you won't even miss the noodles!
Surprise, surprise, the inspiration for this recipe came from another Pinterest post. (No joke, I get the urge to make something new EVERY time I visit that site!) Anyhoo, I was all geared up to try the spaghetti squash idea—and then Trader Joe’s didn’t have any left. So, I bought some regular yellow squash and an eggplant and came up with something a little different.

I realize this is the second vegetarian entrée I’ve posted this week. My apologies to the carnivores for that. But with the abundance of delicious summer veggies out there right now, I just can’t help myself. If you want to add meat, see the “swap”tions section below.
Low-Carb Roasted Vegetable "Lasagna"
Serves 6
1 medium eggplant
2 medium-to-large yellow squash
3 medium zucchini
Olive oil spray
Freshly ground black pepper
Garlic powder (optional but suggested)
1 25-ounce jar pasta sauce (I used Trader Joes’ Organic Tomato Basil Marinara)
1 cup fat-free ricotta cheese
1 cup reduced-fat mozzarella cheese, shredded
Italian seasoning

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Slice eggplant, yellow squash, and zucchini into ¼-inch rounds. Cover two baking sheets with aluminum foil and spray with olive oil. Place vegetables on baking sheets in a single layer, lightly spritz with olive oil, and season with freshly ground black pepper and garlic powder (if desired).

Raw veggies, seasoned and ready for the oven.
Place vegetables in oven and roast for 15-20 minutes. (If you have to put the baking sheets on different oven racks, rotate them at the halfway mark so that the veggies cook evenly.) Remove vegetables from oven, reduce temperature to 350 degrees, and allow vegetables to cool for 5-10 minutes.
Drizzle a few spoonfuls of pasta sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 glass baking dish. Place roasted eggplant in the baking dish. (It’s okay if slices overlap.) Break up 1/3 cup of the ricotta cheese and distribute it evenly over the top of the eggplant in “chunks.” Sprinkle 1/3 cup of the mozzarella cheese over the ricotta and eggplant. Spoon 1/3 of the remaining sauce over the cheese and sprinkle with Italian seasoning. (This completes the first “layer.”)

Completed first layer.
Repeat the layering process with zucchini, ricotta, mozzarella, sauce, and seasoning.

Add the yellow squash and top with remaining ricotta and sauce. Spread the rest of the mozzarella cheese over the top, sprinkle with Italian seasonings, and bake for 40-45 minutes at 350 degrees until cheese on top is bubbly and browned.
Mushrooms aren’t my personal favorite but if you like them, they would hold up well in this dish. If you want to add meat, lean ground turkey or chicken would also be tasty. Just brown the meat in a skillet with a little garlic or onion powder and then incorporate it into your layering process.

This pasta-less dish turned out great. I’m not gonna lie, lasagna without the noodles sounded a little suspect at first. But honestly, the eggplant and other veggies give it a great texture and it’s so cheesy and flavorful that you really don’t miss the pasta. Well, not that much…I asked the hubs to rate this dish on a scale of 1-10. He gave it an 8. When I asked him what would have made it a 10 he said, “noodles.” Ugh. So much for low-carb!
If you want to keep it vegetarian but add the pasta, I would suggest using whole wheat lasagna noodles. However, as written, this recipe is truly delicious. I heated up leftovers for lunch the next day and it was every bit as tasty. Give it a try and let me know what you think. I love hearing your feedback!

Until next time,

Monday, August 6, 2012

Meatless Monday: Spicy Peanut Pad Thai With Tofu and Veggies

Better than take-out...and WAY better for you!!!
I’ve been on the hunt for a good spicy peanut dish for a while now. Thai food is one of my faves and I was hoping to find a fairly easy recipe that I could tweak a bit to make my own. I ran across one that looked delicious on Food.com and it was on.

I followed the original recipe pretty closely but made a few healthy swaps. I changed the noodles to whole wheat thin spaghetti (not quite pad Thai but a better alternative), added fresh broccoli (since I had some in the fridge that I needed to use), and reduced the amount of sesame oil the original recipe called for. In addition, I used extra green onions and chili-garlic sauce to boost the flavor and heat, added water chestnuts for the crunch, and tossed in a little tofu for protein. You could use cooked chicken for your protein source, but since I’m using this recipe for Meatless Monday, tofu it is.
Here’s what I came up with.

Spicy Peanut Pad Thai With Tofu and Veggies
Serves 6

13 ounces whole wheat thin spaghetti
3 tablespoons sesame oil (divided use)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced (or ½ teaspoon dried ginger)
¼ cup honey
¼ cup creamy peanut butter
¼ cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon chili-garlic sauce
3 cups frozen stir-fry vegetables, defrosted
¾ cup green onion, chopped
½ cup carrots, shredded or julienned
1 cup broccoli, chopped
1 (8-ounce) can water chestnuts, drained
1 cup firm tofu, cubed

Cook noodles according to package directions to al dente. Drain, rinse, and toss with 1 tablespoon of sesame oil. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine garlic, ginger, honey, peanut butter, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and chili-garlic sauce. Stir well and set aside. (Peanut butter will not blend in completely at room temperature. Don’t worry; it will melt in the skillet.)

Heat 2 tablespoons of sesame oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add stir-fry vegetables, green onion (set a little aside for garnish), carrots, broccoli, and water chestnuts, and sauté until heated through, about 4-5 minutes. Add tofu cubes and spicy peanut sauce to skillet and continue cooking for an additional 2-3 minutes, stirring often.

Place noodles in a large bowl. Remove vegetables/tofu from heat and combine all skillet contents (including excess sauce) with the noodles. Toss well, garnish with a little extra green onion, and serve immediately.
When I’m testing new recipes, the kitchen ends up looking like a bomb went off in it when I’m done. In my opinion, it’s a necessary part of the process. Seriously, who has time to clean as you go when you’re totally focused on the creative process? When I finished this dish there were several mixing bowls, pans, utensils, and cutting boards scattered throughout the room and there was vegetable “shrapnel” everywhere. Success!

It smelled delicious and since it was late—close to 9:00 at night—the starving hubs was beginning to circle the kitchen like a hungry animal. (Before you get scared off, this recipe doesn’t take that long to prepare, I just started later in the evening than usual and I kept stopping to write things down or double check ingredients on the computer. Dicing/mincing the vegetables can be a little time consuming but if you have everything laid out and the tools you need close at hand, you’ll be fine.)
At any rate, I had been tasting the sauce throughout the cooking process and I promised him it would be worth waiting for. After making him suffer even longer while I took pictures of the food, I finally served it up. His response? “This is better than take-out!”

I couldn’t agree more. The sauce was really flavorful (totally worth making from scratch!), the veggies were tender yet crisp, and the tofu did its job of soaking up lots of the yummy sauce. My favorite addition, however, was the water chestnuts. They make all the crunchy difference in the world and I regularly add them to my Asian-inspired dishes. Since I cut back on the oil, tossed in more veggies, and made a few other healthy swaps, I felt a lot better eating this than I would traditional take-out food. It was tasty, filling, and will definitely be making appearances on our Meatless Monday meal plans in the future.

Until next time,

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Best Turkey Burgers EVER

No, seriously...the best turkey burgers EVER!!!
A lot of people tend to shy away from turkey burgers because they can be tasteless, dry, and cardboard-esque. And I get that. But with the right seasonings and a few ingredients you probably already have in your fridge and cupboard, you can kiss boring and bland goodbye and say hello to the Best Turkey Burgers EVER.

The Best Turkey Burgers EVER
Serves 4-6


1-1.5 pounds lean ground turkey
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 tablespoon ketchup
½ cup seasoned breadcrumbs

Optional Condiments/Toppings:
Honey Wheat Buns

Place defrosted turkey meat in a large bowl. Add all ingredients and roll up your sleeves…it’s about to get messy. Use your hands to thoroughly combine ingredients and spread them evenly throughout the meat. Shape meat into patties. (The size and number is up to you.) Patties will shrink up on the grill so you’ll want to make them a little on the large side.

(I’ve mentioned before that I don’t even know how to turn our grill on, so I had to “borrow” these directions from Bobby Flay.) Heat gas grill to high or coals in a charcoal grill until they are glowing orange and are covered in ash. Cook burgers on one side until slightly charred, about 5 minutes. Flip burgers and cook for an additional 5 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165. If you are going to add cheese, place it on the burger patties during the last minute of cooking and close the grill cover to melt. You can also toast your buns on the grill for the last minute or two if desired.

Remove patties from grill and add your favorite condiments and toppings. I used honey wheat buns, jalapeño yogurt cheese, lettuce, tomato, white onion, ketchup, and yellow mustard.

Awesome Health Fact:
Adding rosemary to meats grilled at high temperatures helps to reduce the amount of toxins called heterocyclic amines  (HCAs) that are created every time you BBQ. Here’s a
great overview, along with a link to the studies, which ran in The New York Times a couple of years ago.


We serve these pretty much every time we have people over for a BBQ. And our friends and family are always surprised at just how flavorful they are. I feel good about eating turkey instead of red meat and everyone is happy. Give them a try the next time you grill out and let me know what you think!

Until next time,