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

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:
Shredded Lite Mexican Blend Cheese
Crumbled Tortilla Chips or Strips
Sour Cream

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.

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,

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

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)
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.
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,

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”


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)

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!)

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,

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Roasted Vegetable and Feta Egg Casserole

BFD....Breakfast For Dinner!!! YUM!!!
When it comes to keeping your meal plans fresh, sometimes you need to think outside the box. You can try new preparation methods, toss in a few unexpected ingredients, or totally change it up. Think BFD. No, no, you potty mouths, not Big F!%$^*! Deal…I’m talking about Breakfast For Dinner! (Or brunch if you can’t stomach eggs in the evening.)
I ran across this recipe while I was perusing cooking blogs the other day. It sounded good and I had all the ingredients in the fridge which meant no extra trip to the grocery store. Win-win!
I put my own spin on the seasonings, added red onion and leeks to boost the flavor, and swapped the plain feta cheese for Trader Joe’s Crumbled Feta With Mediterranean Herbs. I also reduced the amount of cheese and the number of eggs and used a few egg whites to cut back on the fat and cholesterol content.
Here’s what I came up with.
Roasted Vegetable and Feta Egg Casserole
Serves 6

Olive oil spray
1 bell pepper, coarsely chopped (color optional, I used orange)
10-15 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
¼ cup leeks, chopped
½ small onion, coarsely chopped (color optional, I used red)
Freshly ground black pepper
4 whole eggs
1/3 cup egg whites (equivalent of 2 large eggs)
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled (I used a Mediterranean Herb blend)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Liberally spray the sides and bottom of a 2-2.5 quart baking dish with olive oil. Place chopped bell pepper, tomatoes, leeks, and onions in the baking dish. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Spritz lightly with a little more olive oil.

Place vegetables in the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes.

While vegetables are roasting, mix eggs and egg whites in a small bowl.
Post roasting, ready for the feta and eggs!
After 15-20 minutes, remove vegetables from oven, sprinkle evenly with feta cheese, and pour egg/egg white mixture into the baking dish. Stir well.

Return to the oven and bake an additional 25 minutes at 400 degrees.

Fresh out of the oven.
I’m not usually a big fan of eating eggs at night (I thought they would taste funny with my wine), but this dish changed my mind. It was flavorful, had a great consistency, and it paired really well with the
Rosemary and Leek Roasted Potatoes I made as a side dish. (I used organic gold potatoes instead of red, but otherwise followed the recipe exactly.) This egg casserole would make a delightful brunch entrée as well. Especially if served with a crisp and refreshing New Zealand sauvignon blanc…I’m just saying.

The hubs gave this meal high marks and the leftovers reheated well in the microwave for an easy breakfast the next day. It was a big hit in our household and I hope you have similar results.

Until next time,

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cauliflower-Basil Crust Veggie “Pizza”

So good, you almost forget you're eating healthy!
Sorry I’ve been a little MIA lately. It’s been a busy end of summer and trying to get all the fun stuffed in before we sent our toddler off to her first day of preschool has kept us on our toes. Between play dates, trips to SeaWorld, and other activities with family and friends, I haven’t had a lot of time to test, write-up, and post new recipes. But now that we’re settling into a routine, I promise to be better about it.

Anyhoo, a few weeks ago several recipes that used cauliflower as “dough” for low-carb pizza kept popping up on Pinterest. I love pizza—who doesn’t?—but let’s face it, it’s not a health food. But, I figured if there was some magical way to make it good for you, why not try it? Well, notice I used quotation marks around the word “pizza” in the recipe title. That’s because no matter how you slice it (pun intended), there’s no way that cauliflower is going to be as good as regular old pizza crust.

Don’t get me wrong, this recipe was surprisingly tasty. But please, don’t expect the taste or consistency of pizza dough…it just isn’t going to happen using cauliflower. If you haven’t stopped reading and reached for the phone to call Domino's—and you’re a fan of vegetables, fresh basil, and cheese—give this a shot. If not, I totally understand.

I followed this recipe fairly closely but I only used egg whites, cut back on the amount of cheese and marinara sauce, and used green onions and leeks instead of white onion. I also switched up the seasonings a little. Here’s what I came up with.

Cauliflower-Basil Crust Veggie “Pizza”
Makes 5 small individual pizzas
2 ½ cups raw cauliflower, riced (use a cheese grater or—much easier—pulse in a food processor)
1/3 cup egg whites
1 cup reduced-fat mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
¼ cup fresh basil, finely chopped (or you can use a food processor)
½ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
¾ cup marinara sauce (I used Trader Joe’s organic tomato basil)
1 zucchini squash, peeled and thinly sliced
1 yellow squash, peeled and thinly sliced
½ cup green onions, sliced
¼ cup leeks, sliced
¼ cup fresh basil (yes, more basil, this isn’t a typo)
¾ cup reduced fat or fat-free ricotta cheese
Dash Pepper
Dash Italian Seasoning

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a cookie/baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a medium bowl combine riced cauliflower (you can do this by hand with a cheese grater, but if you have a food processor, it makes life MUCH easier), egg whites, mozzarella cheese, garlic, ¼ cup of finely chopped basil, and ½ teaspoon of dried Italian seasoning. Stir well.

Separate the “dough” into 5 equal portions. Using your hands, form the portions into balls in your palm and flatten and shape them, much as you would a burger patty. Place on baking sheet and use your fingers to flatten them out so that they are an even thickness throughout. You can make them square or round (I chose round).
Ready for the oven!
Bake the “crusts” for 15 minutes at 450 degrees.

Remove cooked “crusts” and allow them to cool a little before continuing. Spoon even amounts of marinara sauce over each pizza. Top with zucchini, squash, green onions, and leeks.

In a food processor, combine ¼ cup fresh basil, ricotta cheese, a dash of pepper, and a dash of Italian seasoning. Blend until smooth. Top each pizza with a hearty dollop of this basil-ricotta mixture. If desired, sprinkle with a little more pepper and Italian seasoning.
The "pizzas" in various prep stages.
Return pizzas to the oven and bake for an additional 12-15 minutes. Remove, garnish with a whole basil leaf (if desired), and serve immediately.

I chose to go vegetarian on these but you could top these low-carb crusts with just about anything. Go traditional and use marinara sauce, a little sliced pepperoni, and an additional sprinkling of mozzarella cheese. Try different veggies like mushrooms, olives, peppers, etc. Or go an entirely different direction and bust out the BBQ sauce, chicken, red onion, and chicken. The possibilities are endless!

As I mentioned earlier, if you are expecting a chewy, doughy, real pizza-like crust, you are going to be disappointed. But if you like the idea of swapping the high-carb refined flour for a vegetable, and you’re a fan of fresh, healthy, tasty ingredients, this recipe will likely surprise you.

 It’s full of flavors, the cheese provides protein and a good—but different—texture, and you feel a lot better about yourself after you eat this instead of the Meal Lovers Thick Crust Delight or whatever the pizza chains are clogging our arteries with these days.

The hubs liked it, I liked it, and though calling it “pizza” is a little misleading, it’s still pretty darn yummy.

Until next time,

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Honey-Garlic Crock Pot Chicken

Easy peasy and tasy? Can't beat that!
They say that diamonds are a girl’s best friend. If that’s the case, CLEARLY Crock Pots are a busy woman’s true soul mate. Whether you are single or married, working in or out of the home, have kids or don’t have kids, we all have a lot going on. And that makes the slow cooker one of the best inventions ever. You can literally throw a few ingredients in the pot, walk away for multiple hours, and have a piping hot, delicious meal waiting for you upon your return. It’s genius!

When I ran across this recipe on Pinterest the other day, I thought it sounded good. Apparently so did lots of other people because it was “re-pinned” several times. (If pinning and re-pinning aren’t familiar terms to you, you obviously are not a Pinterest junkie and I would like to know which rock you have been living under. I’m a late adopter—just joined about 9 months ago—and I seriously don’t’ know why I didn’t jump on board sooner. Many of my blog recipes are Pinterest inspired and if I ever actually got around to crafting, there are about a million cute DIY projects on that site. But I digress.)
I made a few minor changes to the original recipe. I used low-sodium soy sauce (who needs extra salt?), added onion and bell pepper (why not throw in a few more healthy veggies?), and cut back on the amount of chicken and wet ingredients for the sauce (since I was just cooking for me and the hubs). I also omitted the dried basil (it didn’t sound necessary) and garnished the finished dish with fresh green onions (because they were in the fridge and needed to be used).  

Here’s what I came up with.
Honey-Garlic Crock Pot Chicken
Serves 2-3


2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (thawed)
3-4 garlic cloves, coarsely  chopped
1 bell pepper, coarsely chopped (color optional, I used red)
½ white or yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup ketchup
1/3 cup honey
¼ teaspoon black pepper (freshly ground preferred)
2-3 green onions, sliced (for garnish after cooking)

Place chicken breasts in Crock Pot. Add chopped garlic, bell pepper, and white or yellow onion.
In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, ketchup, honey, and black pepper. Stir well and pour into Crock Pot completely coating the chicken and vegetables.

Cook on low for 4-6 hours or on high for 3-6 hours. Chicken is done when it shreds easily with a fork.

All slow cookers cook at slightly different temperatures so if you are cooking on low, start checking the “doneness” of the chicken around 3.5-4 hours. If cooking on high, check around 2-2.5 hours. If chicken breasts are thin, they will cook faster.
Sitting in my house with the aroma of this dish wafting temptingly through the air all day was almost enough to kill me. Fortunately I fought through the hunger pangs, managed not to chew off any limbs, and survived to share this dish with you lovely people.

In the original recipe, the author cut the chicken breasts in half before cooking and then left them in “chunks.” I personally, can’t resist shredding meat once it’s been cooked in the Crock Pot, so my dish works out better spooned over a little brown rice and served with a side of steamed broccoli. You can drizzle a little of the sauce over the broccoli too…YUM!

My chicken breasts were thin and my Crock Pot cooks on the fast side so when I checked at 3.5 hours everything was completely cooked through. I turned it from low to warm and waited for the hubs to get home from work. He got to eat it fresh out of the Crock Pot and proclaimed it “Delicious!”

I had a prior engagement—a hilarious “game” of tennis with a friend after a 10-year hiatus from the sport—but when I had dinner a few hours later I thought it turned out pretty good too. It was very flavorful, it re-heated well (which is great in case you have leftovers), and it was super easy to put together. Honey-Garlic Crock Pot Chicken will definitely be making appearances on our dinner table throughout the fall and winter.

Until next time,

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Tangy Rosemary-Citrus Baked Tilapia

Tangy and delicious! (The picture doesn't do it justice.)
A couple of blog posts ago, I mentioned wanting to try some sort of citrus glaze. However, when I started doing recipe research, my interest and enthusiasm for this endeavor quickly waned. I’m sure there are easy ways to make a glaze but I kept running across directions that required simmering for 30-plus minutes, a bunch of ingredients I didn’t have on hand, or a lot of fatty cream or butter.

In the interest of time, health, and the fact that I will always choose fast and easy over slow and complicated, I chose to follow the KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid). So I combined a few citrus juices, a little olive oil, a bit of brown sugar, and a pinch of seasonings for a marinade and tossed the fish in the oven. (Maybe I’ll attempt a glaze on a future weekend when I have a little more time and energy to work on reductions and other fancy cooking maneuvers…or not. We’ll have to see how ambitious I’m feeling in the coming weeks.)
At any rate, the following recipe is super simple to put together, it’s healthy, and it tastes great. And these days, those are the most important criteria for this busy mama.

Tangy Rosemary-Citrus Baked Tilapia
Serves 2-3
1 large navel orange
1 lemon
1 lime
½ teaspoon dried rosemary (or fresh if you have it)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 boneless, skinless tilapia fillets
Dash freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
Dash rosemary (to garnish)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Slice the orange, lemon, and lime in half. Cut one small slice off each end of the citrus fruits (so you end up with 2 thin orange slices, 2 lemon slices, and 2 lime slices). Set the slices aside for garnish later. In a small bowl, juice the remaining large pieces of fruit. Add the rosemary, brown sugar, and olive oil to the citrus mixture and whisk well to combine.

Pour half the marinade mixture into a medium square or rectangular glass baking dish. Place the tilapia fillets in the dish and turn to coat them in the mixture. Pour the remaining marinade over the top of the fish. Top with cracked black pepper.

Arrange the citrus slices over the fish and add a sprinkle of rosemary to garnish.

All ready for the oven!
Bake in the oven for approximately 20-22 minutes. Fish is done when it flakes easily. (You can use the baked citrus slices as a garnish if desired.)

Cooking tip:
If you like to experiment in the kitchen and come up with dishes of your own, it’s sometimes hard to figure out which ingredients will taste good together. In these cases, use your nose. Literally. Gather the potential ingredients and take a whiff. Chances are if they smell good together, they’ll taste great together too. (I did this with the citrus, rosemary, and brown sugar when I was coming up with the marinade and it worked out really well.)

As I mentioned in the intro, I got a little intimidated by the whole glazing process and stuck with a simple marinade. Ok, truth be told, I kind of chickened out. Plus, it was late, the hubs and I were hungry, and, well, I’m just not a fancy-schmancy cook. Period. I’m much more interested in using fresh, healthy, ingredients to make straightforward recipes that taste good.
The goal of this blog is—and always has been—to provide my friends, family, and anyone else who’s interested in the kind of dishes that busy, normal people can whip up with minimal effort. That’s why the majority of posts you’ll find here feature simple, healthy entrees you can feel good about eating and/or feeding to your family.

This tilapia dish totally fits the bill. It requires minimal prep time, only calls for a handful of ingredients, and takes just 30 minutes from fridge to table. Fast. Easy. Tasty. Healthy. And at the end of a long, busy day, what more can you ask for?

Until next time,