Sometimes the best recipes come out of necessity. I mean, there I was, rummaging in the fridge, trying to decide what to make for dinner. I have a tomato that’s just starting to pucker, a carrot that’s beginning to dry out, a bit of onion left over from a previous meal, some parsley that’s looking a little ragged, and a couple of portobello mushrooms left over from some grilling I did last week. And let’s not forget the hot Italian chicken sausage in the freezer.
Sounds like the beginnings of a fantastic meal, right?
Of course you’re right. And, it’s easy too.
After a quick saute of the carrot and onion, I added some garlic and the chicken sausage until the sausage was browned and crumbled. Then I added in the tomato and let it cook until the tomato got soft and saucy. No need to add herbs because the sausage is already full of Italian seasonings.
I then simply removed the mixture from the heat, mixed in a little parmesan cheese, and stuffed the portobello mushrooms, mounding the meat mixture generously. Once topped with another sprinkle of parmesan cheese, I baked them in the oven for 30 minutes.
The result? Perfection. At once tender, hearty, and spicy, it’s a gourmet quality dish that’s ready in almost no time. It’s also perfectly adaptable to baby portobello mushrooms for a superb appetizer.
What are you making with your fridge finds tonight?
Getting back into the kitchen after my injury has not been so easy. I find that even minimal effort leaves me with an aching ankle and as exhausted as if I had just completed a hard workout.
Thank goodness for my slow cooker.
I use my slow cooker this time of year for many a dish, but I’ve found myself using it more since I’ve been slowly getting back into the kitchen. I can set it in the morning, dinner is ready for me at the end of the day, and I have leftovers to keep me fed for at least a few more days.
This Rioja Red Potato and Chicken Chorizo Stew makes some of my favorite leftovers. Rich red Rioja wine makes for a complex and tasty broth that swims with creamy red potatoes and spicy chorizo sausage. Chorizo sausage made from chicken lowers the fat and calorie content, making a great stew also good for you.
Bonus? The stew also freezes well. I like to ladle it into containers in individual serving sizes. Then it’s just a matter of popping the container into the microwave for a satisfying lunch or dinner.
What are you making in your slow cooker?
Slow Cooker Rioja Red Potato and Chicken Chorizo Stew
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add the onion, garlic and salt and cook until the onions are transparent.
Stir in the sausage and continue cooking until the sausage is cooked and crumbly and the onions are browned.
Add the red wine and use a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan, getting all the cooked bits off the bottom of the pan.
Remove the skillet from the heat and transfer the contents into the slow cooker.
Stir the potatoes, tomatoes, broth and paprika into the chorizo mixture in the slow cooker.
Submerge the bay leaf in the stew, cover and cook on low for 10 hours.
Stir in the fresh cilantro and ladle yourself up a bowl of steaming deliciousness.
Rioja wine comes from the Rioja appellation in Spain and is made primarily from tempranillo grapes. The wines from this region are beautiful and worth seeking out. If you're looking for a domestic wine, though, seek out a tempranillo for this recipe.
It seems like forever since I’ve posted on my blog. Not being able to really get into my kitchen, and advised by my attorney to limit any discussion of my accident and recovery, I’ve been at a loss for writing material.
I moved back into my house 2 weeks ago, after outfitting it with wider paths for my crutches and scooter, a shower chair, and toilet safety rails, and moving my bedroom things downstairs into the spare bedroom since I still am unable to navigate stairs. My cooking, however, has primarily consisted of reheating frozen food in the microwave or assembling the basic sandwich. Not my idea of culinary fun, but it’s a start.
This past week, though, I started accessing my kitchen muscle memory with some extremely effortless dishes, like these Chipotle Quinoa Stuffed Yams. I mean, I simply bake the yams whole, let them cool for a bit, scoop the meat out and mix it with some additional goodness, then spoon it back into the skin and bake it a little more. Easy peasy.
The bonus? It’s also scrumptious, filling, and perfect for Meatless Monday. As I’ve said many times, going vegetarian 1-2 times a week has been a cornerstone of my success in both losing and maintaining my weight.
What’s better than an easy, delicious and good-for-you meal?
These effortless, vegetarian Chipotle Quinoa Stuffed Yams are full of scrumptiously sweet and spicy flavors that will leave you feeling satisfied and guilt-free!
2 yams (5.3 oz. each), baked and cooled to the touch
⅓ cup raw tricolor quinoa, cooked according to package directions and cooled
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced
1 medium tomato, diced
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro
2 oz. part skim queso fresco, shredded (divided)
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Cut the top of the skin of each baked yam lengthwise to create a boat-shaped opening.
Scoop the cooked yam meat out and into a medium mixing bowl. Place the yam skins, intact, into a shallow baking dish.
Mix in the cooked quinoa, chipotle pepper, tomato, cilantro, and 1.5 oz. of the queso fresco.
Spoon the mixture back into the yam skins. Sprinkle the remaining queso fresco over the top of the stuffed yams.
Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the stuffing is warmed through.
Let cool for 5 minutes and dig in!
To prebake the yams, simply pierce them a few times with a fork, place them on a baking sheet, and bake them for 45-60 minutes at 375F. Test with a fork before removing from the oven; it should pierce the yam easily.
With the coming of fall, I always look forward to experimenting with the bounty of squash. I especially love butternut squash. It’s so versatile, lending itself to steaming, roasting, or baking cooking techniques. And the sweet meat of the squash can be used in so many different ways, from my savory Butternut Squash Lasagna to countering the sweetness with a little heat, like I did in this recipe.
For this simple salad, I peeled, seeded and cubed the squash then tossed the pieces with a mixture of chili powder, cumin, coriander and paprika. Roasting the spiced squash brings out a caramel flavor so that when you bite into a piece you first taste the heat of the chili mixture and then the soft sweetness of the roasted squash. The flavor sensation is so amazing that I’m actually working on another recipe incorporating the same roasting technique.
Once the butternut squash is roasted, I let it cool a bit and then mix it with nutty farro, tender baby spinach, sweet chewy raisins, and salty pistachios. A simple dressing of honey and lime juice completes this hearty, entree salad.
Have you ever had a truly insane day at work? One of those days where time seems to fly, everything is urgent, and it’s all you can do to find time to even slip away to the bathroom?
I had one of those days this past week. There were so many demands being made of me that I didn’t know where to start, and it seemed like it was never ending. As the day started to ebb, and my energy levels were sagging, I began to dread going home and making dinner. I was just too tired to even think about cooking.
And then I remembered I had put this delicious Italian Chicken Sausage and Bean Stew in the Slow Cooker before I left the house that morning. My spirits were buoyed. All I had to do to complete the meal was to warm up some crusty bread and ladle some stew in a bowl. Heck, there was even wine ready to be poured with it!
I first published this Slow Cooker recipe almost 2 years ago, but it has remained one of my all time favorites. I find myself in a bit of a bind right now because, while I have many recipes in the hopper that I’m working on, I don’t have one that is ready to share with you yet. You need to realize that I’m very particular about having things just right before I publish a recipe to the world.
So I decided to recycle one of my favorites, this gorgeously delicious Slow Cooker Italian Chicken Sausage and Bean Stew. It’s spicy and hearty, and the tomato and red wine infused broth is delicious soaked into a piece of warm, crusty baguette. What I love best, though, is that I can have a roller-coaster day at work, come home, and have dinner waiting for me. Perfect!
I admit it: when it comes to food I love to play with color, texture, and somewhat unusual flavor combinations. Sometimes my ideas work out, sometimes they don’t. These Chipotle Steak Tacos with Fennel Beet Slaw are a perfect example of a crazy idea gone right.
The steak is easy, I simply slice pieces of lean top sirloin steak into thin strips and then marinate them in a simple mixture of chipotle peppers with adobo sauce and sweet orange juice. I like to marinate them overnight for maximum flavor. Then a quick grill and the steak is ready for primetime.
The sweet beets and crunchy fennel create a crunchy, delicious dish with the spicy chipotle marinated steak.
The finishing touch is the slaw that I slather on the tacos. I thinly sliced some crunchy fennel which adds a delicious, lightly licorice flavor to the dish. I then peeled and julienned fresh, raw beets.
I know you’re asking, “You can eat raw beets?” Yes! They are delicious shredded in a salad or cut into thin sticks and thrown in a slaw like this.
Beets are naturally sweet and high in sugar and they balance the licorice flavor of the fennel perfectly. I then toss the fennel and beets with some sweet shredded carrots, peppery cilantro and a dressing of orange juice, honey and olive oil to create a sweet, crunchy slaw that is perfect with the spicy chipotle marinated steak.
Wrap the two in a corn tortilla and you have a pretty, perfectly delicious meal.
When it is a hot and scorching day outside, I love to cook on the grill. The clean up is easy, I keep the house cool, and I get to grill under the shade of my apple and pear trees while sipping a glass of wine.
Salmon, corn and a poblano pepper are cooked on the grill until they are lightly charred.
Salmon and corn are in season now so I’ve been playing with these a lot on my grill. For this recipe, I like to marinate the salmon in a simple, spicy chipotle sauce and then place it on the grill with some corn and a poblano pepper. I cook them until they get a nice char on the outside.
The finished product is as pretty as it is delicious!
This salad is meant to be served slightly warm. I let the salmon, corn and pepper sit for about 10 minutes to let it cool a bit before tossing it up with some cherry tomatoes, cilantro, and a light dressing. The result is a delicious entree salad that is hearty enough to fill you up yet light enough for the warmest of summer days.
When I started my weight loss journey, I quickly found that I needed to prepare my own food more, instead of running through those all-to-convenient and abundant drive-thrus. This meant that I not only needed to up my culinary game, but I also had to change my cooking style. I turned to TV cooking shows for inspiration, and one of my absolute favorites was Food Network’s Ask Aida, featuring culinary curator and TV personality, Aida Mollenkamp.
Try this Chipotle and Toasted Walnut Wheat Berry Salad for a sample of Aida’s culinary talents!
I loved Aida’s scrumptious recipes, straightforward instructions, and helpful tips ranging from cooking techniques to how to use certain kitchen gadgets to how to select quality produce. I religiously watched her shows and together we made such delicious dishes as a vegan chili, chipotle chicken fajitas, shrimp piri piri, and steak with a compound butter that was to die for. The more I learned, the more confidence I gained in the kitchen and soon I was swapping out this for that and eventually crafting my own creations in order to get the lean calories I needed for my weight loss journey.
So when I was invited to participate in the Virtual Salad Party sponsored by California Walnuts and make a recipe from one of three featured chefs, I was beyond excited to select one of my virtual culinary mentors, Aida Mollenkamp. I chose her Chipotle and Toasted Walnut Wheat Berry Salad because, while I’ve cooked a lot with other grains such as quinoa, couscous, farro and sorghum, I have not yet worked with wheat berries. I saw this as yet another opportunity to learn from Aida. Score!
Raisins add a sweet, chewy flavor that really balances out the spice of the chipotle, the nuttiness of the wheat berries, and the smoky crunch of the toasted walnuts
Whenever I follow a recipe, I always like to make it as crafted first, and then recraft it as my own taste buds, style and dietary needs dictate. I have to say, though, that Aida created a real winner with this recipe because it was delicious. It was so good, I had to go back for seconds, and then I happily took leftovers to work for lunch the next day.
I did have to substitute hard wheat berries as my search of three local grocery stores could not find the soft wheat berries specified in the recipe. I followed the directions on the grocery store bulk bin and soaked the hard wheat berries over night before preparing them according to Aida’s instructions. The result was a delicious, nutty, slightly crunchy grain that I will absolutely be working with again.
Upon first bite, I thought that perhaps the recipe could use another chipotle. But then the finish left the perfect amount of heat. The real surprise, however, are the raisins. They add a sweet, chewy flavor that really balances out the spice of the chipotle, the nuttiness of the wheat berries, and the smoky crunch of the toasted walnuts. All of the flavors combine in perfect harmony like lovers destined for each other.
Win a copy of Aida Mollenkamp’s Keys to the Kitchen below!
As part of the Virtual Salad Party, I’m really excited to be giving away a copy of Aida Mollenkamp’s cookbook, Keys to the Kitchen. Designed to help home cooks become more confident in the kitchen, I just know that the winner will enjoys her tips, tricks and recipes as much as I have over the years. Just try this one for a sample of the deliciousness that awaits you then enter the contest below!
1 chopped chipotle en adobo plus 1 teaspoon chipotle en adobo sauce
1 cup toasted walnut halves, coarsely chopped
½ cup raisins
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
3 scallions, light green and green parts thinly sliced
¼ cup fresh Italian parsley or cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Fill a medium saucepan with heavily salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in wheat berries, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until tender but still chewy, about 30 to 40 minutes. Drain and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet to cool. (Can be made through this step up to 4 days ahead. Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.)
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt, and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add carrots and a pinch of salt and cook until just softened but still retains some bite, about 5 minutes more. Stir in thyme and chipotle and sauce and cook until fragrant then remove from heat.
Place wheat berries in a large, nonreactive bowl and add carrot mixture, nuts, and raisins. Whisk together remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, vinegar, and honey until honey is dissolved then stir into wheat berry mixture. Let salad marinate at least 15 minutes before serving or cover and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 24 hours. Just before serving, add the scallions and herbs.
If you can't find soft wheat berries (like I couldn't) you can also substitute hard wheat berries. Simply soak them in a large bowl of water overnight before draining and cooking them as instructed in this recipe.
I have studiously avoided making dishes like this. I mean, a classic macaroni and cheese is supposed to be decadent and creamy. It is difficult to lower the fat and calorie content while still maintaining that moist, creamy, cheesy flavor.
But I have changed that.
It took me several attempts to get this recipe just right. My first idea was to use nonfat, plain Greek yogurt instead of the cream that is found in traditional macaroni and cheese. This was perfect, except that when I tried to omit the butter of traditional macaroni and cheese, the result was a dish that was too dry.
In my early iterations I substituted pureed, roasted butternut squash for the butter to add some creaminess to the dish without the fat. This just didn’t do the trick, though, the macaroni still came out too dry. Then inspiration hit.
Avocados are creamy and higher in fat, albeit healthy fats, and it was the perfect substitute for butter. Plus it added an unexpected twist of flavor, perfect with the roasted poblano and jalapeno peppers. The result is an oven baked macaroni and cheese that feels decadent yet isn’t. Winner!
What’s your favorite trick to “healthify” a recipe?
I love Mexican food, and I especially love enchiladas. It’s so hard to make these cheesy, oily, carb-loaded tubes of deliciousness into a healthy meal, though. And, let’s face it, enchiladas are a lot of work! First you have to soften the tortilla in oil, fill it, roll it up, and then repeat a dozen times.
I mean, I love to cook, but if I’m making a time intensive dish, I prefer something that has fewer touch points so I can just let it cook and do it’s thing. Like the Smoky Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup I posted last week.
My enchilada casserole is layered and ready for the oven!
So I love this enchilada casserole, it’s sort of a lazy man’s enchilada. I get the great enchilada taste without all the work. Who wouldn’t love that?
I also put another twist on the enchilada in this dish by stuffing it full of seasonal vegetables. One of my tricks to bulking up recipes to add nutritional value as well as making the dish more filling, while keeping the fat and calorie count low, is to add in loads of veggies. In this case, I used roasted, mashed butternut squash to add to the creaminess of the filling and some baby kale for added fiber and vitamins, as well as the pretty green color it adds to the filling.
Baby kale leaves add a pretty pop of green to the color palette.
Yes, I said pretty. I love pretty food.
Baked and brimming with creamy goodness!
I also love spicy food. In this case I used a bit of chorizo chicken sausage for flavor and a bright, peppery spice. For an added complexity, I then also used a chipotle enchilada sauce which has a darker, smokier spiciness to it.
The best part of this dish? It’s a one pot wonder.
Yummy, good-for-you veggies spill out on the plate.
That’s right, I cook it on the stove and then bake it in the oven in the same 8″ cast-iron skillet for minimal clean-up.
So why are you not in your kitchen making this right now? Get to it!
Smokin' Hot Veggie Loaded Chicken Enchilada Casserole
Spice up your dinner with these lazy enchiladas turned into a spicy casserole stuffed with veggie goodness, like roasted butternut squash and baby kale. Lowfat, calorie-friendly, and gluten-free. Score!
2 tsp olive oil
¼ lb. bulk (raw) chorizo chicken sausage
1 small onion, diced
½ cup 2% cottage cheese
½ cup reduced fat shredded Mexican cheese blend, divided
1 medium tomato, diced
1 cup roasted, mashed butternut squash
2 cups loosely packed fresh baby kale leaves
pinch of coarse sea salt
½ cup chipotle enchilada sauce, divided
3 corn tortillas
Preheat oven to 375F.
Heat the olive oil in an 8" skillet on medium heat.
Add the chorizo chicken sausage to the pan. Cook until browned and crumbly.
Use a slotted spoon to remove the sausage from the pan. Set aside.
With pan still on medium heat, add the onion and cook in the renderings from the sausage until transparent.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the cottage cheese, ¼ cup of the Mexican cheese blend, tomato, butternut squash, kale, and a pinch of salt.
Add the cooked chicken sausage and onion to the vegetable-cheese mixture and stir to combine.
Spread ¼ cup of chipotle enchilada sauce over the bottom of the now empty skillet. Lay 1 corn tortilla in the skillet on the sauce. Cover with half of the filling. Lay another corn tortilla over the filling, and cover that with the remaining filling.
Top with 1 more corn tortilla. Spread the remaining ¼ cup chipotle enchilada sauce across the top of the tortilla and sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup reduced fat shredded Mexican cheese blend. Cook covered for 30 minutes at 375F, then uncovered for 15 minutes.
Let sit for 5 minutes before slicing into 4 equal wedges and serving.
Cooked, pureed butternut squash is widely available in the freezer section of the grocery store now, but it's super easy to make your own! Simply halve the squash lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and pulp, brush with a little olive oil and bake at 375F for 45-60 minutes. Scoop the roasted butternut squash meat out of the shell and mash up.