Saturday, February 18, 2012

Chicken Tortilla Soup

This is one of my favorite soups, and very simple.

1 cup chopped onion
3/4 c finely chopped carrot
1 clove garlic
6 ounces tortilla chips
3 cans chicken broth
2 cups water
1 cup salsa
1 can tomato paste
1 cup black beans (opt)
1 cup frozen corn (opt.)
1 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar

Bring a little broth to a boil to cook onions and carrots.  Add the rest of the ingredients.  Boil and reduce to simmer for 5 minutes.

Friday, February 17, 2012


Peanut butter cookies are one of the things I can't resist. 

I have tried LOTS of different peanut butter cookies, and this is absolutely my FAVORITE!!

The best part is that it uses a little less butter and sugar than most other recipes.

This is from cooking pleasures magazine.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup natural-style reduced fat peanut butter (I actually don't use low fat, because I don't have it on hand)
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 egg white
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup peanut butter chips
1/4 cup finely chopped roasted peanuts

preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a large bowl, cream together butter and peanut butter with an electric mixer until smooth.  Add brown sugar, beating well at medium speed.  Beat in egg white and vanilla until combined.  In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt, and gradually add flour mixture to peanut butter mixture, beating well after each addition.  Stir in peanut butter chips.
    Shape dough into 1 inch balls and place 2 inches apart on one or two ungreased cookie sheets.  Flatten cookies with a fork to make a cross-hatch pattern and sprinkle tops with peanuts.  Bake until cookies are golden brown around the edges, about 8 minutes.  Cool completely on a wire rack.  Makes about 60 small cookies.
53 calories, 6 g carbs, 3 g. fat, 1 g protein, 0 g. fiber.

Healthier strawberry pretzel squares

You assumed you were eating a healthy dessert when you found out it had strawberries, jello and pretzels, but what about all that sugar in jello?  and what about all that butter used in the crust? and what about the dyes and chemicals in jello?

a lot of desserts that cut back in sugar replace it with sugar substitute like splenda or equal, but
is there a way to make a healthier version of strawberry pretzel squares without using sugar substitute?

This is what I've come up with and my entire family loves it.

1 box knox gelatin
4 cups fruit juice*, divided
2 Tbs agave syrup (or white sugar)
1/4 cup (half stick) of butter
2 cups roughly chopped pretzels
3 Tbs sugar
2 blocks low fat cream cheese
3 Tbs powdered sugar
1 1/4 cup cool whip
4 cups strawberries

1.  Add 4 packets (one box) of knox gelatin packets to 1 cup cold fruit juice.  Let sit 1 minute.  Add 3 cups boiling fruit juice and 2 Tbs agave (or sugar).  Stir 5 minutes until gelatin and sugar dissolve.  Refrigerate  30 minutes, then add the fruit and refrigerate another 10 minutes. (you don't want it to gel completely because it won't look very pretty when you dump this mixture on top of the crust and cream cheese).
While this is chilling. . .

2.  Melt butter, add pretzels and 3 Tbs sugar.  Spread in a 13x9 pan and bake at 350 for 10 minutes.  Put in the fridge while making the cream cheese mixture.

3.  Beat cream cheese and powdered sugar.  Stir in cool whip.  Carefully spread over pretzel mixture. (because the pretzel crust is low fat, it is very crumbly at this point, making it tricky to spread the cream cheese mixture, so this is the hardest part and takes a little patience.  Spoon globs of cream cheese all over the crust so it is a little easier to spread.)

4.  pour the jello over crust and cream cheese mixture.   Refrigerate for another 1.5 hours.  Top with cool whip (this really makes it, in my opinion).

*I have used apple or grape juice (which is my favorite) but any 100% fruit juice should work fine.  The point is to use 100% juice so as not to add unnecessary sugars and food colorings.

18 servings - about  7 grams of fat, 5 grams of sugar per serving (not including the fruit juice).  (The original has about 11 g fat, 15 g sugar per serving- which isn't too bad when you just eat 1, but it is such a yummy dessert that I always wanna eat at least 2-- this is part of the reason I make things healthier, because I don't have much will power:)

Healthier Peanut Butter Pie


So, when I worked at a restaurant a few years ago, I couldn't resist their peanut butter pie.

Definitely the best peanut butter pie I've ever had!

When I stopped working there, I was on a mission to figure out how to make a similar one. 

Most recipes were laden with heavy cream, and I refused to make one THAT bad for you.  It is already gonna be fattening because of the peanut butter, but why add so much extra fat when I knew it could still be good without cream?

I finally found one I liked with cream cheese, but it called for 1 1/2 cups of confectioner's sugar, so of course I cut that WAY back and used light cream cheese.  So here is my recipe for reduced sugar, reduced fat peanut butter pie, and trust me, it is SOO worth the calories!!

-1 graham cracker crust (I actually make a homemade crust by crushing 1 pack of graham crackers in the food processor and adding 2 tbs melted butter.  Form it into a pie plate and freeze for 10 minutes.)

-1 cup natural peanut butter (I'm sure you could use other peanut butter, but natural is the only kind I've tried).
 -1 16 oz container of cool whip (not the 8oz!)
- 1 block of 1/3 less fat cream cheese
- 1/2 cup of confectioner's sugar*
- crushed peanuts

blend sugar, cream cheese, and peanut butter until creamy.  Blend in cool whip on low speed.  Fill graham cracker crust, cover with crushed peanuts and drizzle with chocolate syrup** if desired.

Freeze for about 2 hours prior to serving so it holds its shape a little better.  It tastes great frozen or refrigerated!

*Sometimes I make this as a snack and don't put in ANY sugar (aside from the cool whip) and it tastes great with graham crackers, so use as little sugar as you like and add more as needed.  I've found that 1/2 cups is good when serving for a crowd, but 1/4 cup or even less is just fine for our family).
**Sometimes I melt chocolate chips and put in a small plastic bag, poke a hole in it and squeeze the chocolate out of the bag.  Or you could simply chop up some chocolate chips and sprinkle them on top with the peanuts to make it pretty.

Healthy Substitutions

 Below is a few dry recipes to substitute for the processed mixes you usually buy at the grocery store,

cream of mushroom/chicken soup
Dry Italian dressing mix
Vanilla pudding mix
Taco Seasoning is in this post

 1. Cream of mushroom/chicken soup (dry mix)

Instead of cream of mushroom soup or cream of chicken soup in those quick and easy recipes, I use a homemade powdered version consisting of nonfat dry milk, cornstarch and some other spices.

2 cups powdered nonfat milk
3/4 cups cornstarch
1/4 cup or less instant chicken  (or vegetable bullion)- I try to use the kind with NO MSG
2 TBS dried onion flakes
1 tsp basil leaves
1 tsp thyme leaves
1/2 tsp pepper

combine all ingredients, mixing well.  Store in an airtight container until ready to use.  To substitute for one can of condensed soup: combine 1/3 cup of dry mix with 1 1/4 cups of cold water in saucepan.  Cook and stir until thickened.  Add to casserole as you would the canned product.

mushroom soup: add 1/2 cup finely chopped mushrooms
celery soup: add 1/2 cup minced celery
potato soup: add 1 cup diced potatoes, cooked
chicken soup: add 1/2 cup diced chicken, cooked

2. Dry Italian dressing mix
 Some recipes call for the dry packet of Italian dressing mix.  You can make your own!

  • 1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons oregano, ground or 2 tablespoons oregano leaves
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons salt or 2 tablespoons salt substitute
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground basil or 1 teaspoon basil leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground thyme or ¼ teaspoon thyme leaves
  • ½ teaspoon dried celery leaves or ½ teaspoon dried celery flakes

  1. Mix all ingredients together and store in air-tight container.
  2. ITALIAN SALAD DRESSING: Mix 2 tbs of this mix with 1/4 cup vinegar, 2 tbs water, and 1/2 to 2/3 cup olive oil or canola oil.    
  3. Shake before using
3.  Vanilla pudding mix (the first 4 ingredients are meant to be a dry mix to be stored for when you need a box of pudding mix.)
  4 c. dry milk
  4 c. sugar
  1 1/3 c. cornstarch
  1/2 tsp salt
  2 c milk
  1 Tbs butter
  1/2 tsp vanilla 
mix first 4 ingredients in the food processor until fine.  
when you need a box of vanilla pudding for a recipe, use 1 cup of the dry mix and add milk.  Stir 15 minutes.  remove.  add vanilla and butter.

Healthier Strawberry spinach salad

I have had Strawberry spinach salad at various events and it always tastes delicious, however I know that it is not good for me!

yes, the Strawberries and the spinach and almonds are all individually good for me, but I can tell it has so much sugar in it that it is almost like eating a dessert than a healthy salad.

I shouldn't have to feel guilty eating a salad, so here is my version of a low-sugar strawberry spinach salad dressing:

6-8 strawberries
3/4 c oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 TBS agave syrup
2 TBS polaner all fruit jam
2 tsp sucanat, or regular white sugar (although I probably would have liked it without this extra sugar, I realize that most people are used to sweeter dressings for a fruity salad)

blend in a blender

for the almonds, I toast them for about 3 minutes and then drizzle a small amount of agave syrup and sprinkle with a little salt and mix together.

Creamless creamy tomato soup

My husband loves cream of tomato soup, and I'm always telling him that it's not as good for him as he thinks it is.   I know of a restaurant that makes it with a 1:1 ratio of tomato to heavy cream!  In 1 cup of soup, you are probably getting enough fat for the entire day!

following is a simple recipe that I came across a while back from the More with Less cookbook.  It uses NO cream and is delicious. 

Creamy Tomato Soup

2 T butter
2 T chopped onion
3 – 4 T all-purpose flour
pinch of garlic, oregano, basil, thyme

1/2 t salt
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
2 t sugar
2 cups plain tomato juice
2 cups milk
Melt the butter over low heat in a 2-quart sauce pan. Add the onions and cook until soft, but not browned. Whisk in the flour and seasonings. While quickly whisking, slowly pour in the tomato juice. Cook and stir until boiling. Pour in the milk and heat through.
Yield: 4 cups

 (I usually triple this recipe so I can use the entire can of tomato juice, and my family LOVES this soup!)

Mujaddara with spiced yogurt

We eat a lot of lentils (well, at least once a week which seems like a lot for the average American family).  I found this recipe online and everyone loved it (although my 2 year old didn't like the texture of the long onions, so I pureed his portion a little and he loved it.)

It is basically just lentils with onions, but I guess the way you cook the onions makes it SOO flavorful!  (especially the next day or 2-3 days later!)

These lentils went really well with tomato soup  and naan (Indian flatbread) or just regular bread.

Thai chicken soup

We've realized that the flavor of this soup is heavily dependent upon the type of red curry paste you use as well as the quality of the coconut milk.  The fattier the better!  There was an Asian market near us where I would get the best imported coconut milk (Arroy-D) but now they have been shut down, so I'm having a really hard time finding a good one. 

I finally found one that has come close to the Arroy-D brand and its called Asian Gourmet and has a nice rich coconut flavor.  

Thai-style curried chicken and rice soup
8 oz. boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cut into thin strips
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 ½ TBS canola oil (I use extra light olive oil)
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup coarsely chopped mixed red, green and yellow bell peppers ( all I had were green, and I finely chop them)
¾ to 1 ½ tsp red curry paste (I used ¾ tsp, and then my husband just adds a little more to his after it is cooked because he likes things extra spicy)
2 ½ cups chicken broth
¼ cup long-grain white rice
½ cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 TBS chopped chives (for garnish—I didn’t have these)
   1. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.  Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat until hot.  Add chicken; cook 3 minutes or until edges just begin to brown, stirring frequently.  Place on plate.

   2.   Add onion and bell peppers to saucepan.  Reduce heat to medium; cook 3 minutes or until just tender, stirring frequently.  Stir in curry paste; cook 30 seconds.  Add broth and rice; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to med-low; cover and cook 16-20 minutes (until rice is tender).
 3.   Stir in coconut milk and chicken with any accumulated juices.  Simmer 2 minutes or until heated through.  Sprinkle with chives.

*you definitely need to at LEAST double this, but probably triple this recipe!  
To get kids to eat this, it may be helpful to make a separate pot of rice, and serve their soup over the rice.  This helps to balance out the spiciness of the soup.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Chicken and cheese quesadilla Pie

This was easy and delicious!

from Cooks Illustrated Magazine

1 (10-inch) flour tortilla
1 rotisserie chicken, skin discarded, meat shredded into bite-sized pieces (about 3 cups)-  I used leftover chicken from French chicken in a pot  and it turned out great (even though there was probably less than 3 cups leftover)
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup drained jarred pickled jalapenos, chopped
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (I used about 1 1/2 cups)
salt and pepper
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk*
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder

1.  Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees.
Grease 9 inch pie plate.  Press tortilla into prepared pie plate and spray lightly with cooking spray.  Toss chicken, cilantro, jalapenos, 1 cup cheese, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper in large bowl until combined.  Spread filling over tortilla.
2.  Whisk eggs, milk, flour, baking powder, and 1/2 tsp salt in bowl until smooth. SLOWLY pour over filling (give it time to sink down into the chicken mixture or else you will end up with chicken on the bottom and bread on the top), then sprinkle with remaining cheese.  Bake until surface is golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Let cool 5 minutes.  Cut into wedges and serve with salsa.

*I just made this again and used 1% milk with a couple tablespoons of nonfat dry milk and it turned out great!

Tuscan Garlic Chicken Pasta

From Cooks Illustrated Magazine
serves 4-6

6 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
6 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 lbs)
salt and pepper
1 lb penne pasta
1 bag baby arugula (or spinach), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
6 Tbs juice from 2 lemons
1 cup grated parmesan cheese

1.  Bring 4 qts water to boil in large pot.  Meanwhile, combine garlic, pepper flakes, and oil in bowl and microwave until garlic is golden and fragrant, about 1 minute.
2.  Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
Transfer 1 Tbs oil from bowl with garlic mixture to large skillet and heat over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Add chicken and cook until well  browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side.  Transfer to cutting board and tent with foil.  Let rest 5 minutes, then chop into cubes and set aside.
3.  Add 1 Tbs salt and pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente.  Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water.  Drain pasta and return to pot.  Stir in sliced chicken, arugula, basil, lemon juice, Parmesan, and remaining garlic mixture, adding reserved pasta water as needed.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve.

My kids couldn't get enough of this dinner!!  

Toasted Almond Pound Cake with Fresh Strawberry puree and coconut cream cheese

This recipe was inspired by one of my favorite desserts when I worked at Garry's Grill-  SOO YUMMY!!!

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted and ground
1/4 cup sour cream

1. Heat oven to 350.  Grease bottom of 9x5x3 inch loaf pan with shortening; sprinkle with flour.
2.  In large bowl, beat butter at medium speed 1 inute or until smooth and creamy.  Add 1 cup sugar; beat 5 minutes or until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in almond extract and vanilla.  Scrape down sides of bowl.
3.  In medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt.  Stir in ground almonds.
4.  Beat sour cream into batter at low speed.  Continuing at low speed, beat flour mixture into batter for 10 seconds.  Finish stirring batter with rubber spatula until completely blended.
5.  Spoon batter into pan.  Level with spatula; tap pan firmly on counter to settle batter.  Bake 45 min or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and edges of cake pull away from sides of pan.  Cool on wire rack 10 minutes.  Run knife around edges of pan; invert cake onto wire rack.  Cool completely.

Coconut cream  (this I made up, so I'm not sure of exact amounts)

1 block 1/3 less fat neufchatel cheese.
1/2 container cool whip
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup coconut

beat together and serve pound cake with a scoop of cream and drizzle with fresh strawberry sauce.

2 cups strawberries
2 Tbs water
3 Tbs sugar
1 tsp lemon juice

blend all of this together