Friday, September 14, 2012

Salsa Chicken

Looking for a versatile, tasty dinner with a Tex-Mex flair? Then look no further. Salsa Chicken has something for everyone: easy prep, hands-off cooking, and at least a dozen ways to serve it. It's also gluten- and dairy-free, if that matters to you and yours. And it's very healthy, as it's loaded with protein and fiber and almost no fat. Best of all, you might even have all the ingredients on hand in your pantry and fridge. My kind of meal!

Let's get started: First, you'll need to get out the crock pot and dust it off. Also, you'll want to give a moment's thought to what you want to serve with this blend of chicken, beans and corn. Try to use something you've got rather than making a special trip to the store. When I made this for dinner, I opted for roasted sweet potatoes and a green salad. At lunch the next day, I enjoyed it on top of rice. I'm thinking it would be terrific wrapped in a tortilla or a crunchy taco shell (and topped with cheese, of course), as a nacho topping, or even reincarnated as a tasty Salsa Chicken Soup, with the addition of some chicken stock and garnished with tortilla strips. You could even serve it on top of a baked potato for a very filling meal.

Here I am making dinner ;)

Salsa Chicken
Serves 4 - 6

2 pounds boneless chicken breasts and/or thighs (I used breasts, cut in half)
1 can kidney or black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 jar salsa

Spray your crock pot insert with nonstick spray. Lay the chicken pieces on the bottom of the pot. Place the beans, corn and salsa on top of the chicken. No need to stir. Cover and cook on LOW for 3 - 8 hours. (Timing depends on how hot your crock pot runs. Mine runs VERY HOT so the chicken was done in 2 1/2 hours. You really don't want to overcook chicken in the crock pot. It's horrifyingly dry and dusty tasting if you do. I speak from experience.)

Recipe adapted from "Make it Fast, Cook it Slow" by Stephanie O'Dea

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Frito-Crusted Chicken Fingers

While this meal didn't instantly appeal to me, I decided to give it a try recently because I thought the other three family members would really like it. I've been experimenting with a gluten-free diet for the past few weeks, and this recipe qualified, so I took my chances.

Wow! Not only did the family gobble almost 2 pounds of chicken (unheard of at this house), but the four leftover chicken fingers, when heated briefly in the toaster oven the next night, were as good OR BETTER than the night before.

As always, I served this as the kind of meal where those who wanted healthy could veer that way (two of us had the fingers on top of a green salad) and those who wanted a Chick-Fil-A experience could have it with fries and ketchup (that would be the guys).

Frito-Crusted Chicken Fingers
Serves 4

1 bag Fritos corn chips (6 cups), crushed
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 - 2 pounds chicken tenders
1/4 cup Ranch dressing (light is fine)
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
1/4 cup hot salsa

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with nonstick spray.

Place the corn chips in an aluminum pan or large plate. Season with a pinch of salt and a nice grind of pepper.

Place the beaten eggs in another aluminum pan or bowl.

Dip each chicken finger first in the crumbs, then in the egg, then in the crumbs again. Lie on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the fingers for about 18 minutes, or until cooked throughout.

While the fingers are baking, combine the Ranch, barbecue sauce and salsa. Use this as a dip. Serve the fingers with fries, salad or whatever floats your boat.

Recipe adapted from "Cooking for Isaiah" by Silvana Nardone.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Nut-free pesto

There's no better use for fresh basil than basil pesto, IMO. We love pesto around here; my daughter's been eating it on pasta since she was a little girl. I like it on pizza, drizzled on sliced ripe tomatoes, on a cracker with a smidge of goat cheese, and sometimes, right off the spoon.

Today when I went to make pesto, I discovered I was out of nuts. But I did have sunflower seeds, so I took a leap of faith (despite my daughter's disapproving look) and used them instead of pine nuts. And guess what? We LOVED this pesto. I think this will be great for my nut-free clients as well. We decided to make pesto pizza; here's my pesto-lover wrestling with the dough:

Nut-Free Pesto
Makes about 1 cup

1/4 cup olive oil, plus about 2 T. more
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2 T. sunflower seeds
1 - 2 cloves garlic
about 40 leaves fresh basil
squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper

Place 1/4 cup oil, cheese, seeds, garlic and basil in bowl of small food processor or Vitamix. Process until roughly chopped. Drizzle in a little more oil until the pesto is the consistency you desire. Taste and season with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pesto will keep in the fridge for several days and the freezer for a few months.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Creamy Pasta with Grilled Vegetables

What's your definition of a perfect dinner? Mine usually involves a lean protein and lots of fresh vegetables, carefully prepared and beautifully presented. However, there's no denying my pasta cravings, which kick in more often than I'd like. After spotting a recipe for Herbed Ricotta Pasta with Corn and Zucchini in Everyday Food, my pasta craving couldn't be ignored any longer.

I switched things up a bit by using goat cheese in place of the ricotta. I'd choose goat's tangy flavor to boring ricotta any day. I also decided to make it easy (and flavorful) and grill both the corn and the zucchini. I loved every creamy, starchy bite of this bowl of pasta - I hope you do, too.

Here's my version of the recipe:

Creamy Pasta with Grilled Vegetables

Serves 4

2 large zucchini, ends trimmed and quartered lengthwise
3 ears of corn, shucked
drizzle Wegman's basting oil (or olive oil)
salt and pepper
10 - 14 ounces campanelle pasta
1 container Chavrie soft goat cheese
fresh basil, chopped
grated Parmesan cheese, optional
Toss zucchini and corn with oil, salt and pepper.

Grill vegetables over medium heat for a few minutes each side, or until lightly charred. When cool enough to handle, chop zucchini into large bite-size pieces and cut the corn off the cobs.

Meanwhile, cook pasta as directed and drain, reserving at least 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water.

In a bowl, whisk together the pasta cooking water and the goat cheese. Add the cooked pasta and vegetables. Toss to combine. Add basil. Taste and add salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Find the original recipe on page 78 of the June 2012 issue of Everyday Food

Monday, May 21, 2012


Whenever I see fajitas on a menu, I order them. It's a safe choice for someone (me) who doesn't like to quiz the server about every ingredient in a dish. Actually, I don't mind quizzing the server, but my husband has to take a deep breath and go to his happy place when I start my order.

Server: "Do you know what you'd like?"

Me: "Can you describe the specials again?"

Server describes the specials.

Me: "Hmmm. What do you recommend?"

Server: "The (gross fried cheesy dish) is AWESOME!"

Me: "I'd like something healthier...."

Dear Husband shares a sympathetic look with server, who then recommends something I don't want.

Me: "Hmm. You know what, I'll have the chicken fajitas."

Fajitas are a safe dish because they are deconstructed -- all the parts are separate, so you can decide what to put on your dish. I 86 the dairy (sour cream and cheese) and focus on the protein and vegetables, and I'm a happy camper. And so are DH and the server.

Making fajitas at home is actually easier than going to a restaurant with me. Don't tell my husband!

Chicken and Steak Fajitas

Serves 4 - 8

1 pound flank steak
1 pound chicken breast
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon cumin
3/4 tablespoon chili powder
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 yellow onion -- cut in strips
1 green bell pepper -- cut in strips
1 red bell pepper -- cut in strips
pinch Penzey's southwest seasoning
8 fajita tortillas
Optional toppings: reduced-fat sour cream, salsa, shredded cheese, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, guacamole or avocado, wedges of lime

Combine coriander, cumin, chili powder and a pinch of salt and pepper and rub onto both sides of meat and chicken. Drizzle with 2 T. olive oil and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Place onion and peppers on baking sheet and toss with remaining 2 T. olive oil. Season with southwest seasoning. Roast in 425 oven for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are getting charred around the edges. Set aside.

Preheat grill to medium. Grill steak and chicken for 4 - 6 minutes on each side or until done to your liking. Let meat rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing thinly against the grain. Divide onions and peppers in half. Toss half with the chicken and half with the steak.

Serve the chicken and steak fajitas along with any toppings you like.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Sauteed Kale with Carrots and Walnuts

After scoring a case (that's 18 bunches) of kale yesterday for $12, I got busy making some of our favorite kale dishes. After washing and stemming a bit of it, I decided to roast some kale and make this tried-and-true side dish with another. Now what to do with the remaining 16 bunches...

Stir-Fried Kale with Carrots and Walnuts

Serves 3 - 4

Adapted from Greens, Glorious Greens

handful of chopped walnuts
1 Tablespoon coconut oil
1 bunch kale, washed and stemmed, coarsely chopped
optional: chopped ginger and garlic to taste
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
2 handfuls of chopped or shredded carrots
2 - 4 Tablespoons water or broth
coarse sea salt

In a large skillet, toast the walnuts over medium heat for a minute or so, until they begin to darken slightly and have a toasty aroma. Remove the nuts from the skillet and set aside.

Heat the coconut oil in the same skillet. Add the ginger and garlic (if using) and saute for 10 - 20 seconds, until fragrant. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and carrots and saute for 1 minute.

Finally, add the chopped kale to the skillet and toss to coat with the oil. Cover and cook for 30 seconds. Uncover, toss again, and cover again. Let cook another minute or so. Uncover again. If the kale seems to be too dry, or is in danger of burning, add a bit of water or broth. By now, the kale should be tender and bright green. You can set it aside, covered, while you prepare the rest of dinner, or dig in now.

Before serving, sprinkle the walnuts on top and season the kale with coarse sea salt.

(Three of us ate the entire batch with dinner last night. Picky Teenage son abstained. Can you imagine?)

Friday, April 27, 2012


That's us - me and my husband Steve, in NYC!

I promised an update on our Clean Eating, and I had a bit of a challenge this past week, as I traveled to New York for the Edgar Awards (my husband's book was nominated for "Best First Novel"). I was prepared in that I packed some shelf-stable healthy snacks such as almonds, dry cereal, bananas, peanut butter and grape tomatoes. I also carried an insulated lunch bag down with me that had my lunch, fruit and cheese in it.

In a nutshell, it was very easy to maintain my clean eating while I traveled, because I could carry food and drinks with me and I was in Manhattan, which is a very forward-thinking place when it comes to healthy food choices.

Breakfast turned out to be easy. Our hotel offered oatmeal as well as hard-boiled eggs and fruit at breakfast - I was delighted. My delight turned to angst when I saw the breakfast bill - about $90 for both of us! The second morning, I ate from my larder - an Ezekial English muffin, some peanut butter and a Svelte protein drink. It worked for me, and was about $87 less expensive than the day before. Unfortunately, my husband got two Krispy Kreme donuts for breakfast. And was proud of it. Sigh.

We only had one lunch in New York, and we chose Pret a Manger, a restaurant we were familiar with from traveling in Europe. Lentil soup, a salad with chicken and avocado, and a liter of water hit the spot.

We had two dinners; one was at a terrific restaurant called Novita. The salads were large and fresh, and the seafood was perfectly prepared. The second dinner was at the banquet; I opted for the vegetarian plate rather than the short rib Wellington, which was a perfect choice for me.

The most amazing thing about eating so well was how much energy I had during the trip, and how I felt about myself. I swear my skin and hair do look better than they did a couple of weeks ago, and I credit clean eating.

Now that I'm home, I'll work to get the family back on track. Tonight I made fillet of sole, pasta with marinara sauce, and steamed asparagus and cauliflower for dinner. Tomorrow my daughter and I will go for a run in preparation for the 5K we are running on May 5, and make a stop at Whole Foods for a few provisions. It's good to be back, and feeling great.