Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Creamy Citrus Chicken

This is my remake of Chicken Breasts Citron from the Walt Disney World cookbook of about 15 years ago. Their recipe had way too much fat (a whole stick of butter just to cook the chicken!), and not nearly enough flavor for me. My version is lighter but still creamy and comforting. I served it with a simple boxed rice pilaf (great for mixing with the creamy sauce!) and spinach steamed in chicken broth.
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts or 8 chicken tenders (I used tenders)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon each salt, pepper and garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper or more to taste
Heat oven to 400. Spray a large deep pan very well with butter flavored non-stick cooking spray. I used a 9x13 Pyrex baking dish.

Combine flour, salt, pepper, garlic powder and cayenne. Dredge chicken in flour, and place in pan in one layer. Spray the chicken with more butter-flavored spray. Bake 25 minutes. Chicken will be well-browned with almost no fat!

While the chicken cooks, combine the following in a small bowl.
  • 2 Tablespoons dry sherry
  • 2 Tablespoons dry white wine
  • 3/8 cup orange juice - from concentrate; fresh-squeezed doesn't have enough punch for this dish
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • Grated peel of one large orange
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper or more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • Few grinds of fresh pepper or to taste
  • 3 Tablespoons real butter, cut in pieces (you need butter to balance the citrus acid)
Microwave for three minutes to melt the butter and blend well. Keep warm.

When first cooking for chicken is done, pour sauce mixture over the chicken and cover loosely with foil. Return to the oven for 20 minutes. (At this point, I lowered the heat to 375 so I could bake reduced-fat crescent rolls at the same time, but you don't have to. I also sprinkled the rolls with fresh ground pepper and a little garlic powder before baking.)

While chicken cooks, assemble remaining ingredients:
  • Shredded Parmesan Cheese
  • Chopped fresh or dried parsley
  • 1 cup fat-free half & half - I use Land O Lakes
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
After 20 minutes, removed pan from oven and sprinkle chicken with a little fresh shredded Parmesan cheese - I used Sargento's Paremsan-Romano blend and put about 2 teaspoons on each piece. Sprinkle with chopped fresh or dried parsley. Pour 1 cup fat-free half and half around the chicken pieces. Return to oven, uncovered, for about 10 minutes.

Remove chicken to a plate and keep warm. CAREFULLY pour the sauce into a small saucepan. Bring to a low boil. While it comes to a boil, whisk together orange juice and cornstarch. Whisk into bubbling sauce and stir constantly until thickened. Serve sauce alongside chicken.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Chicken & Smoked Sausage Soup

I was going to make jambalaya for dinner, but it was rainy and people all around me were fighting colds, so I made soup instead. This doesn't have the spice of jambalaya, but is flavored similarly with thyme, bay leaves and just a little cayenne pepper. I run the veggies through my food processor, and using boneless skinless chicken breast drastically shorten the cooking time. FYI, this is NOT gumbo because it does not contain either okra or file powder, one of which must be used to thicken real gumbo.

Don't let the list of ingredients intimidate you! Once it's all thrown together, it just simmers on the stove and you have to stir it every once in a while.
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into cubes
  • 1 pound smoked sausage or turkey smoked sausage, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil or other vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 2-3 ribs celery, chopped small
  • 1-2 carrots, scrubbed well (don't peel them!) and sliced thinly - the slicing blade of a food processor is perfect for the carrots and celery
  • 1 cup dry sherry
  • 2 quarts chicken broth (low sodium is best)
  • 1 quart beef broth 
  • 1 large or 2 small bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • Several grinds of fresh black pepper
  • 1/2 cup par-boiled rice (Uncle Ben's)
  • 1 cup orzo or other tiny pasta
  • 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
Heat the oil or butter in a large heavy bottomed pot. When it is hot, add the chicken in batches and brown it on all sides, removing each batch as it browns - crowding too much in the pot will make the chicken steam instead of brown. When the chicken is all browned, add the sausage, onions, celery and carrots to the pot, along with the chicken. Saute for about five minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the sherry and let cook on high until it is reduced by half, about five minutes. Add the water and stock cubes, thyme, bay leaves and all three peppers. Stir well, let come to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and let simmer about 30 minutes. Stir it every so often. After 30 minutes, add the rice and stir well again. Let cook another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the pasta and the tomato paste and stir well to dissolve the tomato paste. Let cook another 10 minutes and serve with lots of hot bread and a bottle of Crystal or Tobasco for those who like it HOT!

Tip: If you can get it, you can swap andouille sausage for the smoked sausage for a more New Orleans flavor. Of course you omit the sausage entirely and use just chicken, or chicken and ham (diced into 1/2 inch cubes) or chicken and shrimp - just like for gumbo!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Loaded Baked Potato Soup, Unloaded

Loaded Baked Potato Soup is one of the great comfort foods. Unfortunately, the fat and calories in it are definitely less than comforting. But never fear! I swapped out the deadliest ingredients for fat-free and low-fat versions, resulting in a creamy, comforting cheesy soup with a LOT less fat but still a ton of flavor. This makes a huge pot, but all that cheese won't freeze well, so either cut down the recipe or find hungry friends for the leftovers.
  • 5-6 medium baking potatoes, scrubbed well
  • 8 ounces center cut bacon, diced
  • 1/2 sweet onion, diced
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 7 cups chicken broth or 7 cups water and 3 low-sodium Knorr Chicken stock cubes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 cups fat free half & half
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup fat free sour cream
  • 1 cup 2% milk mild shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup 2% milk sharp shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3 green onions or several fresh chives
Cook the bacon, in a large pot over medium high heat, until crispy. Drain off all the fat (but don't scrape the pan!) and let the bacon drain on paper towels. Return the pot to the stove and add the onions and shallots. With a wooden spoon, stir well to remove the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook for two minutes and add sherry. Cook on high until sherry is almost gone.

While the bacon cooks, dice the scrubbed potatoes into bite sized pieces. I cut each potato in half, lengthwise, and then cut each half in three, and slice those into five or six pieces. After the sherry reduces, add the potatoes and broth (or water and stock cubes), thyme and pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to medium high and let cook 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Whisk together the half and half and the cornstarch.

Take the pot off the heat, but keep the burner on at medium. Add the half & half mixture to the pot and stir well. Gradually stir in the sour cream. Return to the burner, and let cook slowly for a few minutes. When slightly thickened, like a light cream sauce, sprinkle in the cheeses and stir like crazy to melt them throughout. Let soup sit over heat, but do NOT let it bubble. While everything heats together, slice green parts of green onions or chives into tiny pieces and sprinkle over pot. Stir well.

If desired, top each bowl with some extra crispy bacon pieces or bacon bits and shredded cheese.

Note: You could make this even lower in fat by using turkey bacon. Personally, I'd rather have the extra calories, but turkey bacon will work. Also, this can be totally vegetarian by omitting the bacon (or using a soy substitute for it) and swapping the chicken broth for veggie stock.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Applebee's Fiesta Lime Chicken - sort of

I love Applebee's Fiesta Lime Chicken. What I don't love is the fat in it. It tastes SO good, but like a lot of things that taste good, it's, first of all, too big a portion, and second, it has too much un-necessary fat in it. So I made a version of my own. It's not an exact clone, but it has the flavors of the original, and by swapping lower fat versions of mayo, cheese and ranch dressing and leaving out the tortilla strips (even thought I love them!), a lot less fat while keeping all the flavor.

There are plenty of copycat recipes for Fiesta Lime Chicken on the web - mostly from genius Todd Wilbur of This is NOT that -- a. this is far simpler, and b. because it's not a clone per se, I went healthier with it. This will feed 4-6 people for about the cost of one serving from Applebee's, as reasonably priced as they are.
Marinate chicken, refrigerated, in a glass dish or plastic bag, in the marinade and garlic powder, for at least 4 hours and up to 36 hours. If short on time, marinate up to 1 hour at room temp. NO LONGER! Drain the chicken, but reserve the marinade.

Now: either spray a broiling pan with non-stick spray and broil the chicken until done, turning once, or grill until done. Alternatively, bake chicken pieces at 400 degrees until done. Use a meat thermometer to make sure the chicken has reached at least 160 degrees.

While the chicken cooks, combine the reserved marinade with 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan. Gently boil over medium-high until the water has cooked way and you have about 3/4 cup cooked down marinade. To the marinade, add:
  • 1/2 cup light mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup light ranch dressing
  • several shots Tabasco or to taste - I used about 8
Whisk together until blended. Spread the sauce lightly over the chicken. Top with 1 cup shredded 2% milk sharp cheddar. Return to oven and broil or bake until cheese is melted. Serve extra sauce on the side. This goes very well with Confetti Rice!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Confetti Rice

This side dish requires a bit of prep, but it comes together very easily once the chopping is done. Because the flavors are very simple and clean, it makes a perfect side to a meat dish that has more complex flavors or is very rich. It could also, with the addition of some Cajun-seasoned sauteed shrimp or leftover cooked chicken, beef or pork, quickly become an easy main dish. Again, the rice is so simple that leftovers seasoned almost any way will work in it!

I always use par-boiled rice - the kind Uncle Ben's has been pushing for years. It isn't as sticky, never needs rinsing and is perfect for these dishes where the broth cooks until almost gone. I used chicken broth, but this is made completely vegetarian by swapping that for veggie stock instead.
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped into small dice
  • 1/2 green pepper, chopped into small dice
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
  • 2 small plum tomatoes - diced small - toss the seeds and glop in the middle
  • 2 cups par-boiled rice
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 5 cups water
  • 3 low-sodium chicken stock cubes or veggie stock cubes (I like Knorr)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small bay leaf
Heat olive oil over medium high heat in a large, heavy pot. Add garlic, and when garlic is fragrant (after about a minute), add onions and peppers. Let cook about 10 minutes, stirring often. Season with freshly ground pepper. Add the rice, and stir well to coat with oil and mix with vegetables. Saute the rice for five minutes.

Add wine, raise heat to high and let cook until wine is almost cooked away. Add water, bay leaf and stock cubes. Bring to a boil and lower heat to medium. Cook covered, on medium, about 25 minutes or until rice is tender and stock is almost completely absorbed. Add tomatoes about 15 minutes through cooking. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed.

As I said, I made this deliberately simple to go with the insanely rich chicken dish I am posting next week, but if you want to season it a bit, try these variations:
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme to go with a simpler or grilled herbed chicken dish
  • 1/2 teaspoon each basil and oregano to accompany grilled Italian sausages
  • 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning for a spicier dish; several dashes of Tabasco are great for that too
  • For more of a Spanish-style rice, triple the tomatoes and add them to the vegetables before adding the rice. Add 1 teaspoon paprika.
  • A handful of either frozen corn or frozen peas is good in this too!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Breakfast, Re-Wrapped

Let's talk turkey for a minute... turkey sausage that is. I cannot stand, will not eat, turkey bacon, but I was very pleasantly surprised with how good fully cooked turkey sausages, from both Jimmy Dean and Tennessee Pride, are. They are especially good scrambled with some Egg Beaters for a much healthier take on breakfast wraps.

I have also recently discovered, in a bid to eat healthier, that Egg Beaters are far better than I thought. I like the Southwestern and Garden Veggie ones as an alternative to plain - it's an omelette in a carton. They do need a little salt, but not when scrambled, as below, with the turkey sausage. Because I love spicy food, I add a dash (or four) of Crystal or other hot sauce. Scrambled with the sausages, these are great - and only 30 calories per 1/4 cup.

For 1 wrap:
  • 1/4 cup Egg Beaters, any kind (30 calories)
  • 2 links Jimmy Dean fully-cooked Turkey Sausage (80 calories)
  • 2 tablespoons 2% sharp cheddar cheese (about 20 calories)
  • 1 whole wheat, 96% fat free tortilla (about 130 calories, depending on brand)
Spray a skillet heavily with non-stick cooking spray. Heat on medium high. While skillet heats, cut sausage into small pieces. Brown sausage for about two minutes, and then pour Egg Beaters over sausage. If desired, add a shot or two of hot sauce. Let sit 30 seconds, and then start scrambling.

While the eggs cook, place tortilla on a paper plate or napkin - no reason to bring real dishes into this! Sprinkle the tortilla with cheese and microwave 20 seconds. Put cooked eggs and sausage onto tortilla, wrap and enjoy.

Alternatives: before adding the sausage to the skillet, cook some fresh onions, peppers or mushrooms. A heartier addition that still adds no fat are chopped up leftover Oven Fries. I don't have time for that on a workday, but it is good! These can easily be made vegetarian by using one of Morningstar Farms veggie sausage products too.

That took less than five minutes to make, less than most of would spend sitting in a drive-thru line, and is infinitely healthier than anything coming from that window. ONE of the teeny-tiny sausage burritos from McDonald's has 300 calories and 25 grams of fat, compared to about 260 calories and less than 10 grams of fat for this wrap, which is about as filling as two of those McDonald's ones; a Cheesy Bacon BK Wrapper from BK is 340 calories and 24 grams of fat. I have nothing against McDonald's or Burger King, but when it's this easy to eat more healthily, I think it's worth the little bit of effort.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Best Oven Fries Ever!

That's someone else's opinion, not mine, but I'll run with it. Flavorful and crispy, but still almost fat-free, these oven fries take a little work, but not so much they can't be done on a weeknight. They are great with burgers, bratwurst, hot dogs, chicken - just about anything that can be cooked on a grill. I've even made them to go with sloppy joe's. Sure, there are lots of great seasoned frozen potatoes in stores today, but none of them get crispy in the oven! These are a satisfying substitute for "real" fries with a LOT less fat and no greasy feel.

  • 1 medium baking potato per person
  • Pam or other non-stick cooking spray - I use olive oil for these, but anyone will work
  • Paprika
  • Onion powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Sea Salt

This is so simple! Preheat the oven to 425. While the oven heats, scrub potatoes and dry with paper towels. Slice in half lengthwise. Lay each half, cut side down, on a cutting board, and slice thinly, less than 1/4 inch thick, keeping slices as uniform as possible.

Spray cooking sheets with Pam. I can't get more than two potatoes on a single 10x15 pan and cook the potatoes evenly; luckily my oven easily holds two pans. Spread potatoes onto greased baking sheets in an even layer. Spray with more Pam, and then sprinkle with paprika, garlic powder and onion powder. Toss to coat evenly - just use your hands. Redistribute potato slices evenly and sprinkle with salt.

Bake at 425 for about 20 minutes, shaking the pan every five minutes. If the potatoes have a lot of moisture and aren't crisping, I turn the broiler on to finish crisping them.

The above seasoning combination is the favorite in my house, but Cajun seasoning and any garlic salt blend work well too. Any dry seasoning will work - the key is to use baking potatoes, slice them thinly enough and uniformly and cook them at high heat. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

McMuffin Makeover!

89 cent Sausage McMuffins are everywhere! I have a co-worker who eats at least one a day, and at that price, it's very tempting to toss a healthy breakfast out the window. Because, being a southern girl, I love sausage, I made my own version of the Sausage McMuffin that has less than half the 370 calories and far less than the 34 grams of fat that the original has. It won't cost just 89 cents to make, but who can afford, health-wise, to eat a Sausage McMuffin?

Makes 1.

Toast muffin and, while it toasts, microwave sausage patty for 45 seconds if using the turkey; 60-75 seconds for veggie because they are frozen. Blot with paper towels, top with cheese and nuke another 20 seconds. When muffin is toasted, spread with margarine or salsa if desired. Top with sausage and cheese and other muffin half. For a heartier version, use 2 sausage patties - still comes in at about 150 calories less than the original! If you don't like whole grain bread, even a regular white English muffin with the lighter sausage and cheese will be a big step up from the McDonald's sandwich.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Creamy Pasta with Spinach, Carrots and fresh Tomatoes

I made this on the fly to go with Pesto Provolone Chicken. It's really good - even my boyfriend's picky son liked it! I served this as a side, but I think with a handful of shrimp tossed in, it could be great on its own. The carrots, spinach and tomatoes are things I always have on hand. Half and half or light cream or even canned evaporated skim milk can sub for the heavy cream if you want.

  • 4 ounces angel hair pasta
  • 1/2 Knorr Chicken Bouillon cube
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, smashed and minced finely
  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup matchstick or shredded carrots
  • handful fresh spinach, torn up
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded and diced

Cook pasta and carrots in boiling salted water about four minutes and drain. Before draining, scoop out 1/2 cup of the cooking water and dissolve the bouillon cube in it. After draining, put the pasta in a large bowl and add the butter. Toss gently to melt butter through the pasta.

While the water comes to a boil, heat the cream and garlic together over low heat. Simmer very gently to diffuse the garlic flavor through the cream. There should just barely be bubbles around the edges of the pan.

After the pasta is cooked, add the strong bouillon to the cream and raise heat to medium high. Add parsley and pepper. When cream and bouillon comes just to a boil, remove from heat and pour over pasta. Add spinach and tomatoes and toss gently to combine. The spinach should be just wilted and bright green and the tomatoes will not cook. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, toss again, and serve immediately.

To make this a main dish, double the amounts of everything and add some diced chicken or sauteed shrimp.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pesto Provolone Chicken

Kraft Salad Dressings were buy one/get one at Publix a few weeks ago, and when I saw an Italian Pesto dressing and marinade I hadn't seen before, I grabbed one. It is very good as a salad dressing, but shines as a marinade, imparting pesto flavor to chicken without being overwhelming. Topped with Italian cheese and served with pasta and vegetables, it was a great dinner!

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1/2 cup Kraft Italian Pesto Dressing & Marinade , plus 2 Tablespoons more dressing
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2-3 slices provolone cheese
  • 2-3 slices mozzarella cheese

Slice chicken into tenders if you are using whole breasts. Place in a large plastic bag or a shallow glass dish. Pour 1/2 cup dressing over chicken. Add garlic and pepper to taste. Shake or mix well. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 36.

Preheat the broiler on high. Spray a broiler pan with olive oil cooking spray. Drain marinade off chicken and discard. Arrange chicken on pan and broil 6-8 inches from the heat, turning over after 5 minutes. Check with a meat thermometer after 10 minutes cooking time; internal temperature should be at least 155 degrees.

After chicken has reached 155, spoon remaining dressing over the pieces. (I kind of crowded all the chicken to the middle of the pan for this to make it easier to do.) Tear the cheese slices and arrange over the chicken, making sure each piece has both kinds of cheese. Return to the broiler, and continue cooking until the cheese is browned and bubbly. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Summer Vegetable Saute

I know I haven't written in while, but I was inspired yesterday during a visit to Doris' Italian Market in Coral Springs. While there, I grabbed a couple of red bell peppers (for half the price I would have paid at Publix!), zucchini and a big tomato. Last night for dinner, I added some garlic, onions, shredded carrots (pre-done into matchsticks) and red bell pepper pesto from a jar for the most amazing vegetable stew/saute I've had in a long time. I love ratatouille, and this is similar but doesn't have eggplant or mushrooms in it, and is far more colorful. I made grilled chicken to go with it, and am hoping the leftovers will be even better for lunch today than they were last night!

One beauty of this, besides the fact that it is healthy and tastes good, is that none of the measurements are exact, and nothing has to be chopped perfectly. Great for the kitchen clutz - like me!
  • 1 small onion, chopped - I used a Vidalia but any kind will work
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 6-7 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped roughly
  • 1/2-3/4 cup matchstick or shredded carrots (or run a couple through the slicing disc of a food processor, just so they are small pieces that will cook in the small amount of liquid here)
  • 1 good sized zucchini, diced
  • 1 large tomato, chopped - remove the seeds if you want
  • generous pinch each of dried basil, sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoon red pepper pesto (or any other pesto you like)
  • Parmesan cheese for serving
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
Once all the veggies are washed and chopped, this comes together easily, but does require some cooking time.

Heat the oil in a medium sized frying pan over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add the garlic and stir for a minute. Add the onions and peppers and let cook for five minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt, pepper and basil. Add the zucchini, carrots and tomatoes and stir well. Reduce heat to medium and let cook, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the pesto and cook covered another 7-8 minutes. If the vegetables start to dry out, add a little water or broth, but no more than 1/4 cup. Taste for seasoning. Serve hot, with Parmesan cheese on the side. I can see this as a pasta dish too, tossed with some good penne or bow ties.

I didn't think to take a picture of this, but I will be making it again so I'll update it then!