Monday, December 30, 2013

CHOPPED TACO SALAD



A recipe for salad?  Yes, a recipe for salad.  I love love love Mexican food, but I'm not sure my pants would fit if I gave into my daily cravings.  When I'm in the mood for delicious tacos, burritos or enchiladas I whip up this "healthier" taco salad.  Now, I have a version that is not healthy at all, and another that is a bit more health conscious.

I always start with a big bunch of chopped romaine.  Brown a pound of extra lean ground turkey, then add a can of black beans and a packet of taco seasoning.  Let simmer until most liquid has evaporated. 

Brown ground turkey, add beans and taco seasoning




Now it's time for toppings!  Chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers and avocado are delicious in taco salad.


Now for the dressing: when in piggy mode, I use (coat the salad in) thousand island dressing.  It gives the meal such an unexpected tangy flavor.  It is SO good.  If you're going all the way with full fat thousand island, you may as well throw in some crushed up nacho cheese Doritos.  Totally makes the salad.  For the healthier version, I mix about a tablespoon of ranch dressing with a lot of salsa and hot sauce.  You still get that creamy ranch flavor, but without the calories of a bigger pour.  The salsa will coat your salad nicely, but with minimal calories.  If you still need the Doritos, get the baked kind!

"Healthier" dressing ingredients
Flavor!


Ingredients

Chopped romaine
1 lb extra lean ground turkey
1 can black beans, 15 oz
1 packet taco seasoning (I used Old El Paso)
tomatoes
avocado
green peppers
cucumber
Thousand Island salad dressing
OR
Ranch + Salsa + Hot sauce
OR
Nonfat greek yogurt + Salsa + Hot sauce

Brown ground turkey, add taco seasoning and undrained black beans.  Simmer until most liquid evaporates.  Plate lettuce and top with meat mixture.  Top with chopped veggies, dressing, and chips.  Enjoy!



Truth time: I always eat my salads out of a huge mixing bowl while hunkered down on the couch. Don't judge.
What my salad actually looks like.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

SPANISH RICE



Confession time.  I don't know how to make rice, so I usually buy the Uncle Ben's microwaveable pouch.  It only takes 90 seconds and it comes out perfect every time!  So when my Uncle Dave asked me to bring the rice for our Mexican Christmas, I had a mild panic attack.  How many pouches would I have to purchase to be able to feed over 20 people?  Would they be able to tell it was microwaved rice? 

I then told myself to get it together.  People make rice all the time, so why can't I be one of them?  My main problem with cooking rice is that it always sticks/burns to the bottom of the pan.  Simple solution: use a nonstick pan.  Duh.  Not sure why I didn't think of that a long time ago.  I also prefer the microwave rice because the grains stay separate, rather than sticking together in mushy globs, like the carton of rice you get with Chinese delivery.  I googled and found this recipe, which had tons of positive reviews.  A key step is sauteing the rice first, so it doesn't get sticky.  I about tripled the amount of the original recipe, and it made more than enough for the 20+ crowd at Christmas.  I used mild Pace picante sauce to avoid any spicy issues with the kiddos.  I was a bit hesitant to make rice using salsa; I didn't want salsa flavored rice.  Turns out, nobody believed that the "vegetables" in the rice were salsa!  Amazing.  I tweaked the original recipe slightly.



Ingredients

2 tablespoons oil
1/4 cup diced onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1 1/2 cups uncooked long grain white rice
2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups Pace picante sauce

Heat oil in large, nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add onions and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and stir about one minute.  Do not burn!  Add rice, constantly stirring until translucent (without browning), about 5 minutes.  Pour in broth and salsa.  Bring mixture to a rolling boil then cover with a tight fitting lid.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 20-25 minutes, until rice is tender, stirring once during cooking.  Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes with lid on.  Fluff with fork and serve. 


Thursday, December 26, 2013

LASAGNA SOUP



Another amazingly easy one pot dish!  Lasagna is a classic, but full of heavy ricotta and very labor intensive.  This soup is a lot healthier and is ready in about 45 minutes.  It's filling, comforting and uses affordable ingredients.  I adapted this recipe from here.  My version has more broth and pasta, and includes the addictive Texas Toast brand croutons.  They give the soup more flavor and a satisfying crunch.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves minced garlic
1 lb ground turkey
48 ounces chicken broth
15 ounces tomato sauce
15 ounces petite diced tomatoes (do not drain)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 heaping cups rotini pasta
grated parmesan, shredded mozzarella and croutons for topping

Heat olive oil in large dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat, then add onions.  Saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add ground turkey, cook and crumble.  When meat is fully cooked, pour in broth, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, salt and cayenne pepper.  Stir and bring to a boil.  Simmer for about 20 minutes, then add pasta.   Bring back to a boil and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until pasta is done.  Top each bowl with parmesan, mozzarella and croutons.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

THE BEST 7 LAYER BEAN DIP



When I was a child, my genius family had the ultimate epiphany: Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas dinner are the SAME MEAL.  Eating the same holiday meal only a month apart didn't bring much excitement to our lives, so we had to come up with a solution.  Embracing our Mexican heritage, we decided to start the tradition of Mexican Christmas.  Did I mention that in addition to being geniuses, we are also trailblazers?  Anyway, my very non-Mexican mother’s contribution every year is the incredibly authentic cornerstone of Mexican cuisine, 7 layer dip!  I’ve tweaked her classic recipe over the years and have taken over her Christmas appetizer duty, so she can focus on her true love, BAKING CHRISTMAS COOKIES!  Seriously, this dip is so good that I’m pretty sure my sister-in-law married my brother just so she could enjoy it annually.  Hi, Lindsay, xoxo!

Doesn't this just scream Christmas?!

Now listen, I know there are a lot of 7 layer dips out there, but this one is just slightly more delicious.   Most people don’t realize there IS a solution to those thick bean dips that always break your chips.  COOK THE BEANS!  Trust me on this one.  I made the dip for my friend Tara’s baby shower and she could not stop commenting that there was just something about it that made it slightly better than when she makes it.  We went through our methods/recipes step by step and finally figured out that when she makes it, she just opens the cans of beans and plops them in the dish.  Nope, gotta cook em!  Better texture AND color.  Trust.

The secret ingredient.  Sour cream mixed with taco seasoning.  I could just eat this with a spoon and be happy.



Ingredients:
2 cans refried beans, 16 oz each.  (use regular, fat free, vegetarian, with green chiles, etc.)
1 container sour cream, 16 oz (don't use light or fat free; it won't taste the same)
1 packet taco seasoning (Old El Paso is delicious)
Guacamole, about 12 oz (Wholly Guacamole is such a great brand)
1 jar Chi Chis thick and chunky salsa, medium heat
2-3 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese
Shredded lettuce (iceberg is best)
Chopped tomatoes
Extra salsa, if desired

Heat your two cans of beans in a saucepot on the stove, or even in a bowl in the microwave.  Stir constantly and you will notice your beans become a lovely, velvety smooth consistency in no time. Let your beans cool on the counter, giving them a stir from time to time to let that heat escape.  Or, if you’re impatient like me, you can stick them in the fridge for a quicker cool down.

Once beans are room temp, evenly spread them in the bottom of an 8x8 dish. You may want to use about a can and a half, depending on what size dish you use.  If you're going bigger than 8x8, you'll probably have enough room for both cans.  Pour on the salsa and spread it evenly.  Sprinkle on your first layer of cheese.  Layer on the guacamole, smoothing very carefully with a butter knife or the back of a spoon so you don’t disturb the cheese.  In a small bowl, mix the taco seasoning and sour cream.  Spoon this over the guac, spreading evenly as you go.  Now add another layer of cheese.  Top with lettuce, chopped tomatoes and a little extra salsa if you’re feeling wild.  Serve immediately, or refrigerate for about an hour first.

A few notes: use a very chunky salsa, or use a slotted spoon when adding the salsa layer.  You don't want it to get watery.  Also, I did not use fresh tomatoes in this batch because it's December and the tomatoes at the grocery store looked sad.  That's usually the top layer.  My friend, Krysta, is GF so I used Old El Paso taco seasoning and their original refried beans, Daisy sour cream, and Chi Chis salsa.  Just read labels and this can easily be GF or even vegetarian.  Just gotta get vegetarian refried beans.

Layer 1: beans
Layer 2: salsa
Layer 3: cheese
Layer 4: guac.  I'd just used my inhaler, so my shaky hands made this blurry!  Nerd alert.
Layer 5: taco seasoned sour cream
cheese (repeat layer, doesn't count!)
Layer 6: shredded lettuce

Layer 7: salsa/tomatoes







Wednesday, December 4, 2013

WHITE BEAN CHICKEN CHILI



It's now December, which means it is officially chili weather.  Yes, it was 60 degrees outside today, and the high tomorrow is 67.  Whatevs, I made chili, and it was GOOD.

My sister stopped by for dinner, and after finishing her meal commented, "Wow.  That had a lot of great flavor.  I was expecting it to taste really boring!"  I guess her prior experiences with white chicken chili were not so great.  Sister, you are WELCOME!

Now, white bean chicken chili can be broth based, or it can be a thicker, stew like chili.  I went for the latter with this recipe.  If you'd like it to be more brothy, read the detailed instructions.  Here we go!

First, cook chicken and break into smaller pieces.  Add diced onions and seasonings.


Next, pour in stock, chiles and drained beans, then cover.

Bring to a boil, then simmer for 25 minutes.  If you'd like a less liquidy chili, simmer uncovered.

After 25 minutes of simmering, your chili may look like this:
That was a bit too brothy for my taste, so I added refried beans.  It sounds weird but it really binds it up, and both people I served this meal to tonight didn't believe there were refried beans in it!  I've added anywhere from 1/4 a can to the entire thing, depending on how much I wanted the chili to thicken up.  I used the entire can this time.

 
Perfect.  Thank you, refried beans!

These rolls were SO GOOD with some melted butter brushed on top before baking.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 onion, diced
3 cloves minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (less or more, depending on your spice preference)
2 cans chopped green chiles, 4 ounces, undrained
26 ounces chicken stock
4 cans white cannellini beans, 15.5 ounces each, drained and rinsed
1 can refried beans

Heat olive oil in large stockpot over medium heat.  Add chicken and diced onion.  Break chicken into smaller pieces as it cooks, until it is no longer pink.  Add garlic, cumin, chili powder, salt and cayenne.  Stir and cook for about 2 minutes.  Pour in chiles, chicken stock and white beans.  Cover and simmer for about 25 minutes.  For a less brothy chili, simmer uncovered.  To thicken chili, add refried beans by the spoonful, stirring constantly as it simmers.  Top with shredded cheese, sour cream and/or hot sauce.





Saturday, November 30, 2013

MEATY MEXICAN RAVIOLI


This is a recipe you can throw together when you have no idea what to make, and/or are short on time.  It uses ingredients that are low cost, shelf stable and usually already in your kitchen.  The olives are optional, since there's usually a clear divide between lovers and haters.  The flavor of olives can really overpower this if you're not a fan.

First, boil a bag of frozen beef ravioli.  If you want this meal to be vegetarian, choose a cheese or veggie filled pasta.

Brown a pound of ground turkey (or beef or chicken or Boca crumbles, whatever you like) then pour in enchilada sauce, salsa (I used the store brand with black beans and corn), sliced olives and drained black beans.  You could even use a plain, non chunky salsa to make this kid friendly.  Simmer while the ravioli cooks.


When ravioli is done, scoop using a small strainer (I'm lazy and didn't want to drain the entire thing over the sink with a larger colander) into the meat mixture.

Add cheese and stir.  Now, I know I'm always demanding you to use freshly grated cheddar cheese.  I am so tired of shredding and really not in the mood to do dishes.  I purchased shredded cheddar.  Please don't tell anyone.  It's lactose free!!!


This is a delicious, hearty and comforting meal.  Feel free to mix it up by going meatless, using different cheeses, or kick it up a notch and use spicy enchilada sauce and/or salsa.

Ingredients

1 bag frozen beef ravioli, 25 oz
1 lb lean ground turkey
1 can red enchilada sauce, 16 oz
1 jar salsa, 16 oz
1 can black beans, 15.5 oz, drained
1 small can sliced olives, drained (if you choose to omit the olives, you may want to add salt for additional flavor)
2 cups shredded cheddar

Boil ravioli according to package directions.  Meanwhile, brown ground beef in large nonstick skillet.  Drain off any fat if necessary, then add enchilada sauce, salsa, black beans and olives.  Simmer over low heat until ravioli is done.  Add drained ravioli to meat mixture, along with shredded cheese.  Gently stir until combined.  Serve with extra cheese, if desired.


BISCUITS

I haven't cooked anything new in awhile.  Please forgive me and trust that I'll be trying new recipes soon!  Until then, I'll be recommending delicious treats for you to try in your kitchen.



When I saw these at Giant, I knew I had to get them.  Regular biscuits can get boring if you serve them too often, so having a variety of flavors can keep things exciting.  Cornbread is a great side for soups and stews, but baking cornbread is WORK and can turn out crumbly or dry.  These biscuits have all the flavor of cornbread without the hassle or dryness.  I served the corn biscuits with chili and it was a perfect flavor combination.  I also brought them to my sister's house when she made beef stew. 

The blueberry biscuits were delicious for breakfast.  The addition of butter and honey made them irresistible!

Just honey, YUM!

CHEESE CHEESE CHEESE

I love cheese.  I am lactose intolerant.  Sounds like a problem, right?  Not anymore!  After some intense research (okay, a quick google search) I discovered that most cheddar cheese, especially sharp or extra sharp, contains little to no lactose.  BEST NEWS EVER, right?!  Additionally, many aged cheeses also fit into that category, such as aged swiss.  It has something to do with time and fermentation.  Science.  Next time you're at the store, read some labels and prepare to be surprised.

This cheese is always, always, always in our fridge.  It's the tastiest choice for snacking, making toaster oven nachos, topping a baked potato, creating a creamy cheese sauce, the list goes on.


That's right, ZERO GRAMS OF LACTOSE.

Also recently discovered, Cracker Barrel Aged Reserve.


To my knowledge, it's just their extra sharp white cheddar, but aged for a very long time.  Again, SCIENCE.  This cheese is especially creamy and flavorful, packaged in a fancy looking black wrapper, and has a prestigious sounding name.  In an effort to keep all of that from going to its head, eat it atop saltine crackers.  YUM!

Monday, November 18, 2013

SAUSAGE POTATO FRITTATA



I really enjoy quiche, but I do not like pastry crust.  I eat it like a child, managing to only get bites of filling, then throw away the crust.  Imagine my surprise when I found out a frittata is simply a crustless quiche.  Am I the last person to be aware of this fact?

Frittatas are wonderful because they are so versatile.  You can go all veggie, meaty, dairy free, light or heavy.  I chose to use breakfast sausage, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, spinach, potatoes and a layer of cheese on top.  But really, go wild and use whatever you want!



Ingredients

7 eggs
1-2 containers sliced mushrooms
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 bag fresh baby spinach
1 roll Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage, original flavor
1-2 cups cooked diced potatoes (I sauteed frozen diced hash browns to save myself from cooking/chopping potatoes)
1 cup shredded cheddar
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350.  Saute onions, peppers and mushrooms in a large nonstick skillet until soft, about 8-10 minutes.  Remove from pan and set aside.  Brown and crumble sausage in same skillet, then add the cooked veggies back in.  Add spinach handfuls at a time, stirring to help it wilt.  Stir in the potatoes.  At this point you can taste the mixture and add salt/pepper accordingly.  Spray a glass dish (I used a pie dish) with Pam, then pour the meat mixture in the dish.  Beat eggs in separate bowl, then add salt and pepper.  Carefully pour eggs on top of meat mixture.  Sprinkle cheddar cheese on top.  Bake, uncovered for about 30 minutes, or until eggs have set.


SHREDDED BUFFALO CHICKEN

Is this picture fancy or what??  My friend, Andrea, is a photo editing whiz!


I fall in and out of love with my crockpot.  I go through phases where it seems like a pain to clean the big dang thing or to have to plan a meal hours ahead of time.  But the other phase is complete infatuation with my crockpot!  That is my current state.  I don't even bother putting it away now because of its constant presence on the counter. 

This meal is stupid easy to make.  That's not an insult, it's just a fact.  Chicken, buffalo sauce, powdered ranch.  That's it!  This shredded chicken is perfect atop a salad, inside a wrap, scooped up with celery or grilled as a quesadilla.  I usually do a salad with blue cheese crumbles and ranch dressing.  For the wrap, I roll it up in a large flour tortilla with lettuce, ranch dressing, shredded cheddar and extra buffalo sauce.  If the chicken is too spicy, stir in a wedge or two of laughing cow cheese.  The swiss and blue cheese flavors work best.

Ingredients

2 1/2 lbs boneless chicken breasts or tenders (fresh or frozen)
1 bottle Frank's Buffalo Wing Sauce (not hot sauce!)
1-2 packets Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing dry mix

Place chicken in crockpot.  Pour about 3/4 the bottle of buffalo sauce over the chicken.  Sprinkle on ranch powder.  Cover and cook on low about 4-6 hours for fresh chicken, 8 hours for frozen.  Tenders cook quicker than chicken breasts.  Break apart chicken with tongs, mix into sauce and taste.  This is the point where I decide if I need that additional packet of ranch powder or the remaining buffalo sauce.  If it tastes vinegary/too spicy go ahead and add that extra packet of ranch.

Monday, November 11, 2013

CHILI


I've never made chili before.  I know, that's a shocking declaration from a professional chef such as myself.  I enjoy all types of chili: white chicken, beef, veggie, spicy, Hard Times Cincinnati, beany, etc.  I decided it was time to finally make my own, so I did some research and decided I just didn't LOVE any recipes, so I made one up.  I think it resembles Wendy's chili a bit, but is also just a simple meaty and hearty chili.  And dare I say, healthy?  It was super delicious and I feel comfortable using the L word now.  As with all chili, the longer you cook it, the better it tastes.  I cooked it 9 hours overnight then left it on warm for a few hours before serving.



Ingredients

1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
3 cans petite diced tomatoes (I like Hunt's) undrained
2 cans Bush's Chili Seasoned Beans (medium heat) undrained
1 can light red kidney beans undrained
1-2 cups diced onion
1 cup diced green peppers
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons cumin
2-3 teaspoons fresh minced garlic
Tabasco sauce, chipotle smoked flavor, to taste (I used about 8-10 splashes)
salt to taste

Brown ground beef and pork in skillet, crumbling it as you go.  Stir in salt to flavor the meat, then drain off any liquid.  Pour in crockpot and add remaining ingredients.  Stir, cover and cook on low for about 8-9 hours.  Keep on warm setting until ready to serve.  Serve with cheese, sour cream, additional hot sauce and chips.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

DG DIP

This dip is named after its creator, my lovely friend DG.  She makes this dip for every gathering.   Each time she serves it, a new record is set for how quickly it's finished.  I still remember the first time I had it.   We were at a party where tons of other (less worthy of the space in my belly) appetizers, desserts and snacks were laid out.  My friend Julia and I discovered the DG Dip at the same exact time.  We decided together that we would remain hovered over the dip until it was gone, and each time someone approached and asked what we were eating, we responded, "Nothing, it's disgusting, don't even bother trying it" because we didn't want to share it.  My other half even requests this for dinner.  Yes, as the main meal.

This recipe couldn't be simpler.  All you need is sausage, cream cheese and Rotel.  Oh, and don't forget the Fritos Scoops.  Don't even attempt to use any other chip to scoop this deliciousness!

So simple.

Ingredients

1 roll Jimmy Dean sausage, 16 oz (I use regular, but if you're wild use the spicy!)
2 packages cream cheese, 8 oz each (the boxed kind is easier to unwrap, but the tubs were on sale)
1 can Rotel, 10 oz (I use mild, but you can get original if you're a spice fan)

Preheat oven to 350.  Brown and crumble sausage in nonstick skillet.  Gradually add the cream cheese, stirring constantly to help it melt.  You don't want to completely cook it, if it's a bit chunky that's ideal.  Pour in can of undrained Rotel, stir to combine.  Transfer to 8x8 glass baking dish.  Bake uncovered for about 25 minutes, stirring once halfway through.  Serve immediately with Fritos Scoops!