Apr 29, 2010

Chipotle Chicken Taco Salad


Most people would agree that a salad is only as good as its ingredients. But to me, it's the dressing that truly makes or breaks the dish. I don't care if a salad is brimming with bacon and cheese...if it's covered in some low fat, tasteless dressing, it's not worth opening my mouth for.

Luckily, this salad rocks in both areas. Majorly.

In fact, a salad this good far outshines the name "taco" salad. After all, there's no lunch lady ice cream scoop of ground beef. No deep friend shell. No crumbled Fritos or cheddar cheese. Oh no. While those ingredients usually make other taco salads palatable, they would do nothing but disgrace the mere existence of this salad.

Bite into this alfresco-worthy meal and you'll find all kinds of fresh summertime ingredients. Juicy chicken. Avocado. Cherry tomatoes. Sliced red onion, corn and black beans. All on crisp romaine and tossed with a spicy, creamy cilantro-lime-chipotle dressing that's good enough to be a dip. And I'm talking the kind you eat with a spoon.

Like most, this salad requires a bit of prep, since practically everything in it is fresh and chopped. I started by baking six chicken breasts (I tripled the recipe) with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. When they cooled, I chopped the chicken, avocado, tomato, onion and lettuce, and drained and rinsed the black beans and corn.

Next I prepared the finger-dipping good dressing by chopping cilantro in a food processor and mixing it with sour cream, fresh lime juice, cumin, chili powder, salt and the star of the show, minced chipotle chiles. These hot suckers come canned in adobo sauce, a thick, sweet bbq-like sauce that just begs you to sneak a taste. Just be warned. Unless you have a tongue of steal, I advice against this foolishness or you will surely scream like a little girl. Even if you are a grown man named Luke.

That being said, this dressing definitely has heat. We like a little spice around here, but you may want to taste as you go and add in just enough chipotle to suit your taste buds.

I won't lie and say I didn't "taste test" this creamy, dreamy dressing quite a bit myself while preparing it. And long after it was prepared. And while it was chilling in the fridge. And as I was adding it to the salad....

...but I paused long enough to give the salad a quick toss in the dressing, then headed for our balcony with lime wedges, corn chips and a couple ice cold Coronas. But I must say, the real complement to the meal was the fresh air, sunshine and chirping birds. There's just nothing quite like eating outside. Especially when you're eating something as delicious and fresh as this.

The hubby and I scarfed this salad down so fast, you would have thought it was chock full of something fried. All that sweet onion and tomato...the creamy, spicy dressing...the avocado and juicy chicken. Oh man. To the people below our balcony, we must have looked like nothing but four blurry arms as we shoveled it in at a frightening pace. But then again, you shouldn't keep a good thing waiting.
Chipotle Chicken Taco Salad
David Bonom, Cooking Light, AUGUST 2006
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 2 1/2 cups)

1/3  cup  chopped fresh cilantro
2/3  cup  light sour cream
1  tablespoon  minced chipotle chile, canned in adobo sauce
1  teaspoon  ground cumin
1  teaspoon  chili powder
4  teaspoons  fresh lime juice
1/4  teaspoon  salt
4  cups  shredded romaine lettuce
2  cups  chopped roasted skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 2 breasts)
1  cup  cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2  cup  diced peeled avocado
1/3  cup  thinly vertically sliced red onion
1  (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1  (8 3/4-ounce) can no-salt-added whole-kernel corn, rinsed and drained

To prepare dressing, combine first 7 ingredients, stirring well.

To prepare salad, combine lettuce and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Drizzle dressing over salad; toss gently to coat. Serve immediately.

Tip: Add a spoonful of adobo sauce for a spicier salad. Kidney or pinto beans also taste great in this dish.

Nutritional Information:
Calories: 249 (30% from fat)
Fat: 8.2g (sat 2.8g,mono 2.9g,poly 0.7g), Protein: 23.3g, Carbohydrate: 25.1g, Fiber: 7g, Cholesterol: 50mg, Iron: 2.2mg, Sodium: 650mg, Calcium: 106mg.

Apr 26, 2010

Six Months Behind the Apron

Have you ever been so busy that you forgot something like an anniversary? Your own birthday? A daily shower? Well, that's me lately. But what I forgot, thankfully, is somewhat more forgivable. And that occasion, was my blogoversary.

So, without further ado, ladies and...ladies, I am pee-my-pants excited to announce that I am just over halfway through my one-year project!

On April 7, I reached the six-month mark of weekly making and baking. So far, I've conquered a whopping 56 Cooking Light recipes, from pierogies to pork chops, fudge cakes to French toast. And even though I'm making all this lightened up, reduced guilt stuff, I have to admit, I've never eaten better in my life.

It hasn't been easy finding time to make delicious food in-between a job that gives overtime new meaning and a bazillion other side projects I've thrown myself into. Believe me. I've decorated a cake at three in the morning. Realized I'm lacking pivotal ingredients halfway through a recipe. Threw tantrums that would make a two-year-old blush. Cried. Screamed. Pouted. And I almost lost my life to a few plastic wrap battles.

But, I've also begun to learn the basics of cooking and baking, which have produced delicious results. So now my tears come after I eat the food. Definitely worth it if you ask me. Especially to my husband, who now feels he should be my eternal slave to show his gratitude for so many amazing meals.

Every recipe I've made to date is pictured over on the left column. (Cobbler through blondies...which is everything...because I've also been too busy to post recipes that came after my blogoversary!)

And I'd also like to highlight some of the BEST recipes I've made so far. This is the cream of the crop, folks. The recipes that I can't wait to make again and again. The ones that are already a part of our regular rotation. The ones that are so delicious, light and simple, I would be inhumanely evil and greedy if I didn't try to push them into your recipe boxes.

So, here's the best of six months, in no particular order. Accept that dessert is first, as it should be.

Hot Chocolate Fudge Cakes 
One-Bowl Chocolate Mocha Cream Cake 
Better than Sex Cake 
Ooey-Gooey Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies 
Chocolate Mint Bars
Maple-Walnut Spice Cookies 
Hello Dolly Bars
Raspberry Strippers
Pumpkin Dip

Spinach-and-Artichoke Dip 

Grilled Goat Cheese Sandwiches with Fig, Basil & Honey
Banana Coffee Cake w/ Macadamia Nuts & Coconut
Breakfast Coffee Cake
Orange-Pecan French Toast Casserole

Gruyère, Arugula, and Prosciutto-Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Caramelized Shallot Sauce
Thyme & Feta Chicken w/ Peppers & Onions
Turkey & Basil Calzones
Chicken Cordon Bleu
Turkey Sausage & Spinach Soup

Sesame-Crusted Tuna with Wasabi Ponzu Sauce 
Tilapia w/ Cilantro-Curry Sauce & Toasted Coconut
Gnocchi w/ Shrimp, Asparagus and Pesto 
Shrimp & Avocado Sushi

Fig & Blue Cheese-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin 
One Pan Whiskey-Flavored Pork Chops
Tomato-Basil Lasagna with Prosciutto

Sirloin Steak with Tarragon-Garlic Sour Cream  

Three-Cheese Pizza w/ Mushrooms & Basil 
Spinach & blue Cheese Calzones

Sweet Potatoes w/ Brown Sugar Pecan Butter
Herbed Mashed Potatoes 
Chive Green Beans
Sautéed Carrots

So, what's my plan for the next six months? Why, keep cooking of course! And bump it up a notch! I'm going to learn new techniques. Try new ingredients. And continue to search for those highly rated, widely adored lightened recipes that are budget friendly, easy, and above all, nothing short of amazing.

Thank you everyone for reading, commenting and supporting me. I can't believe I have almost 100 followers! That makes me happier than you'll ever know. Tear. Here's to six more months! *clinking of mimosas*

Apr 22, 2010

Butterscotch Blondies

This here is a dessert so rich and sweet, I almost couldn’t eat it.

I said almost.

For years, I’ve had a full-blown crush on Applebee’s maple-walnut blondie, which always came sizzling on a skillet with vanilla ice cream, maple sauce and chopped walnuts. And I'm not talkin' about one of those play-hard-to-get crushes, either.  I worked at Applebee's. And even though none of my guests ever offered me a bite of their dessert (oh, the nerve), I had my fair share of after hour blondies back in the kitchen.

But alas, I've turned in my server's apron and now actually have to dish out cash if I want a taste of their infamous dessert. So, I thought I’d attempt to make my own blondies at home, following Cooking Light’s lightened up, butterscotch-topped recipe.

They were ridiculously easy to make. Just mix, sprinkle and bake. Something even a real blondie could do. Or heck, maybe even a man.

In less than a half an hour, I had a pan of delicious brownie-like bars with a crunchy crust and a sweet, chewy center. They were pretty tasty, but the butterscotch was almost a little too sweet for me. I know... I can't believe I'm even saying that, but it's true.

Of course, I've never been a huge fan of butterscotch to begin with, so I wasn't expecting to drool over these little treats quite like I would if they were slathered in chocolate or peanut butter. The hubby sure seemed to be enjoying them, especially with that mega sweet tooth of his, but I couldn't help but crave the maple-walnut flavors I had years ago.

But. Then.

I had the genius idea to follow Applebee's lead and warm a bar in the microwave for a few seconds, then top with cool vanilla ice cream.

And. Then.

I devoured it like it was slathered in chocolate and peanut butter. And caramel. It was that good. We ate every last blondie this way and I almost shed a tear with the last warm-gooey-creamy-cold bite.

So listen. If you make these, you MUST eat them warmed with ice cream. It is the only way. Because when something's just a little too sweet, the only reasonable thing to do is top it with something else just as sweet. At least in my book.

Butterscotch Blondies
Cooking Light’s “Butterscotch Bars”, January 2000
Yield: 16 servings (serving size: 1 bar)

1/2  cup  granulated sugar
1/2  cup  packed brown sugar
1/4  cup  butter or stick margarine, softened
2  large egg whites
1  teaspoon  vanilla extract
1 1/4  cups  all-purpose flour
1/2  teaspoon  baking powder
1/4  teaspoon  salt
Cooking spray
1/2  cup  butterscotch morsels

Preheat oven to 350°.

Beat sugars and butter at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended (about 4 minutes). Add egg whites and vanilla; beat well. Lightly spoon the flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; stir well with a whisk. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture; beat at low speed just until blended.

Spread batter evenly into an 8-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray; sprinkle evenly with morsels. Bake at 350° for 28 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack.

Nutritional Information: Calories:142 (27% from fat), Fat: 4.3g (sat 2.6g,mono 1.3g,poly 0.2g), Protein:1.6g, Carbohydrate: 24g, Fiber: 0.3g, Cholesterol: 8mg
Iron: 0.6mg, Sodium: 95mg, Calcium: 24mg.

Apr 11, 2010

Tomato-Basil Lasagna with Prosciutto

Like every picky, veggie-loathing child, I threw my fair share of table tantrums at the mere sight of anything green and leafy. But I do remember a few meals that caused my tiny heart to race. Those anticipated foods that somehow had the power to classify the entire night they graced. Taco night. Pizza night. Make-your-own-sundae-and-stay-up-past-your-bedtime-to-watch-a-movie-night.

But there was one night that beat all the others. The one that would make me abandon my half-built snowman without even being called. At least not by a human. No, it was the aroma of Garlic bread, tomato sauce and Italian sausage that literally wafted through the walls and into the chilly air to tell me exactly what night it was. Lasagna night.

And while my mother's recipe is just about perfect in every way, I haven't exactly had the urge to dig into a meaty, cheesy slice of wintry comfort now that spring has arrived. This sock-ditching, window-opening weather has me yearning for much lighter fare.

But alas, last week I came home to that oh-so-familiar aroma floating from under our neighbor's apartment door and that nasty little tease stirred up all those cravings inside of me. Luckily, a little digging led me to this lovely rendition.

Coming in at a measly 272 calories, this lightened up lasagna pairs the fresh flavors of basil and prosciutto with a light, creamy, spicy cheese sauce that is just as amazing if not more than its full fat counterpart. Layer all that savory goodness between saucy noodles, throw in a salad and a slice of buttery garlic bread, and it's a meal nothing short of comforting. Anytime of the year.

So with a  spring breeze blowing through my curtains, I got to work boiling noodles and making the cheese sauce, a delicious combo of Romano, cottage and cream cheeses, garlic, crushed red pepper, fresh basil and egg.

The original recipe called for dried basil, but I opted for fresh. In my opinion, nothing beats fresh basil, especially this time of year. I came across a comment on a forum for dried-to-fresh basil ratios and I think it sumed it up best: “The only useful purpose I can think of for dried basil would be mulch for fresh basil plants.” So. True.

Once the noodles were boiled and dry and the cheese was ready, everything else was a cinch. I simply layered the sauce, noodles, cheese and prosciutto, then repeated three times.

Note: You may want to have an extra jar of sauce on hand. I ended up using a little more than what was called for. (Close to half of the second jar.)

Another modification I made was to lay the thinly sliced prosciutto strips down whole instead of chopping, which saved tons of time and flavor. It worked great. Just make sure you get enough strips.

I topped it all with a final layer of sauce, a hefty helping of mozzarella and Romano, and into the oven it went.

An hour later, the entire house was filled with the aroma of garlic and basil and I was face to face with a bubbling, cheesy, melty masterpiece.

And boy was it delicious. Layer after layer of cheesy-prosciutto-basil goodness. The flavors were fresh and the red pepper gave it a nice kick. (We added a little extra heat, too.) I actually liked it better than those traditional 800 calorie-packing meaty-monsters you find at restaurants. Even my meat-obsessed husband gobbled up two slices before I could finish mine. (Granted, I was taking pictures.)

I'm so pleased that I officially made this my new go-to lasagna for every season. Maybe one day my own children will bolt through the door to devour it.

Tomato-Basil Lasagna with Prosciutto
Cooking Light, JULY 2000
Yield: 9 servings

If you want to freeze and make later: After assembling the lasagna, cover and freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw in refrigerator; bake as directed.

5  garlic cloves
1  (16-ounce) carton 1% low-fat cottage cheese
1/2  cup  (4 ounces) block-style fat-free cream cheese
1/4  cup  (1 ounce) grated fresh Romano cheese, divided
2 1/2  teaspoons  dried basil (Or about 2.5-3 Tablespoons fresh...highly recommend!)
1/2  teaspoon  crushed red pepper
1  large egg
1  (26-ounce) bottle fat-free tomato-basil pasta sauce (Actually, you'll need about 1.5 jars)
Cooking spray
12  cooked lasagna noodles
1  cup  (4 ounces) chopped prosciutto or ham (I just layered the slices - works great)
1  cup  (4 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 375°.

Drop garlic through food chute with food processor on, and process until minced. Add cottage cheese; process 2 minutes or until smooth. Add cream cheese, 2 tablespoons Romano, basil, pepper, and egg; process until well-blended.

Spread 1/2 cup pasta sauce in the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 3 noodles over the pasta sauce; top with 1 cup cheese mixture, 1/3 cup prosciutto, and 3/4 cup pasta sauce. Repeat the layers two times, ending with noodles. Spread remaining pasta sauce over noodles. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Romano and mozzarella.

Cover and bake at 375° for 45 minutes or until sauce is bubbly. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes. Let lasagna stand 5 minutes.

Nutritional Information: Calories: 272 (19% from fat), Fat: 5.6g (sat 2.8g,mono 1.8g,poly 0.6g), Protein: 20.8g, Carbohydrate: 33g, Fiber: 2.1g, Cholesterol: 47mg, Iron: 2.3mg, Sodium: 775mg, Calcium: 213mg.

Apr 8, 2010

Grilled Goat Cheese Sandwiches with Fig, Honey & Basil

Something has happened. Something wonderful. Magical. Entirely overdue.

Mornings, those awful, horrible, dreadful things, have undergone a drastic transformation. Now that Mother Nature has finally shed her frosty outer layer, I no longer wake up to dreary, pitch-black skies and icy cold floors. Instead, streams of golden sunlight and vivid green tree buds have been bursting through my bedroom window each morning, springing me to life.

With this warmer, happier weather, I, myself, am warming up to the very idea of mornings. And what better way to start them than with a beautiful spring breakfast? 

This sweet little sandwich is perfect with the delicate flavors of goat cheese, honey, lemon, fig and basil. All that between two buttery grilled slices of cinnamon raisin bread? There's simply no better breakfast treat. (Ahem, if you uh, don't count Krispy Kreme donuts and bacon.)

And trust me, if this recipe is easy enough for even me to whip up on a busy barely-have-time-to-eat morning, you'll definitely have time. Simply mix goat cheese, lemon zest and honey, spread that on a slice of raisin bread, top with fig preserves, sliced basil and a second piece of bread and grill! They were done before the hubby could finish pouring a glass of milk. (Granted, I do mornings a bit better than him.)

Delicious. They reminded me of stuffed French toast, but with much more flavor and way less fat. We devoured them in seconds. And since the recipe yields eight and there are only two of us, I was lucky enough to make this breakfast a few days in a row.

Now, if you really want a really flavorful, rich sandwich, adding a little extra goat cheese mixture is the way to go. And while the recipe says to use a second pan to press the sandwiches while grilling, I have to say...I prefer mine unpressed. For some reason, pressing them seemed to hide the flavors. 

But however you decide to make them, I'm sure you'll love them. The sweet, creamy flavor and absolute simplicity make these sandwiches equally wonderful for a fancy brunch or a quick weekday dinner.

So now that icy windshields and snowy driveways are but a faint memory, take a seat on the patio, pour yourself a tall glass of OJ and bite into a sweet taste of spring.

Grilled Goat Cheese Sandwiches with Fig & Honey
David Bonom, Cooking Light, June 2004
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 sandwich)

2  teaspoons  honey
1/4  teaspoon  grated lemon rind
1  (4-ounce) package goat cheese
8  (1-ounce) slices cinnamon-raisin bread
2  tablespoons  fig preserves
2  teaspoons  thinly sliced fresh basil
Cooking spray
1  teaspoon  powdered sugar

Combine first 3 ingredients, stirring until well blended. Spread 1 tablespoon goat cheese mixture on each of 4 bread slices; top each slice with 1 1/2 teaspoons preserves and 1/2 teaspoon basil. Top with remaining bread slices. Lightly coat outside of bread with cooking spray.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 sandwiches to pan. Place a cast-iron or heavy skillet on top of sandwiches; press gently to flatten. Cook 3 minutes on each side or until bread is lightly toasted (leave cast-iron skillet on sandwiches while they cook). Repeat with remaining sandwiches. Sprinkle with sugar.

Nutritional Information:
Calories: 243 (31% from fat), Fat: 8.5g (sat 4.8g,mono 2.7g,poly 0.5g), Protein: 9.8g, Carbohydrate: 33.1g, Fiber: 2.5g, Cholesterol: 13mg, Iron: 2.2mg, Sodium: 326mg, Calcium: 78mg.
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