Category Archives: Lighter Side

>Moroccan Inspired Beef Stew


We love beef stew at The Tree House. It is always a winner at our table. Still, it is nice to change things up sometimes and keep everybody from getting board with the same old stew. (Although my “same old stew” is pretty dang good, If I do say so myself.)
By changing the spices and veggies in a basic stew recipe, a whole new dish takes shape in no time.

For this stew I cubed and cut the excess fat off of 1 lb of cross-cut beef shank. (VERY inexpensive cut, but needs a bit more time when cubing to remove the fat from within the meat and make things leaner.)

I browned the beef cubes in a large dutch oven, then removed the meat to a plate before deglazing the pot with a small can of V-8 juice, taking up all the delicious brown bits off the bottom of the pan. I added 1 cup of water to the pot as well, and seasoned with : 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon coriander, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon of curry paste, and red pepper flakes for some kick (add a pinch and first, and adjust to your family’s own taste.)

Into the pot went 1 cup each cubed butternut squash and carrots chopped the same size and the broth and veggies boiled until the squash and carrots were tender (less than 10 minutes for me.)
While the mixture was at a boil I added a slurry made from one heaping tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with and equal amount of cold water – add this slowly, you may not need it all to thicken the mixture to the desired consistency.
Finally the beef was added back to the pot, along with some fresh shredded spinach (get those veggies in there where ever you can, right?) and the beef heated through.
I served the stew in a well of Quinoa prepared according to package instructions, with flatbread along side.
The stew was warm with spice and rich and complex for being so quick cooking. Well-received by The Hub, who went back for seconds too!

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Filed under Beef, Lighter Side, Smart Shopping, Sunday dinner

>Lighter Side Tostadas

> We eat A LOT of Mexican/Tex-Mex food at our house. The Hub grew up in Texas, and I spent years working in a Mexican restaurant in my younger days – it is a sure-fire go-to family of flavors that I know will always be a hit.

Then again, sometimes the same old tacos or fajitas over and over can get a bit dull, even to the biggest fans.
Not to mention the damage that you can do to your waistline piling on all of those toppings with reckless abandon!
These tostadas are a good solution to both problems.

I started by lightly spraying 3 corn tortillas with Canola Spray, and baking them until crispy on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven (this takes almost no time at all.)

Then I piled on my “filling” made by mixing together 1 cooked b/s chicken breast shredded, 1 palmful of chili powder, 1 cup fresh spinach chopped fine, and 1 tablespoon of cream cheese. (I tested for taste and added Salt and Pepper as needed.)

To The Hub’s (pictured at the bottom of the post,) I also added a sprinkling of shredded 2% cheddar cheese. Everything went back into the oven to heat the filling and melt the cheese.

I served mine with a salad, (picture at the top of the post) and a couple teaspoons of avocado puree. Mmmmm, crunchy and spicy and yummy!

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Filed under Lighter Side, Picture

>Quick and Healthy Chicken Soft Tacos

>Happy 2010, Everyone!

It must be the week after vacation, because here I am nursing some sort of cold/virus/ickiness, just like I always seem to be the first work week of the new year.

In the past feeling crummy has lead to some pretty lazy cooking incidents. (For instance, the Pizzacicle post lives on for all to see. I am impressed that I took time to add a visual aid to it, a least.)
I did a bit better last night, in spite of feeling crummy.

I diced one HUGE b/s chicken breast into small cubes and sauteed it in a big skillet sprayed with cooking spray until it was just brown on the outside. Then I removed it from the heat and stirred in some of my famous special taco sauce, as discussed in this post, although I have graduated to just buying bottles of Taco Bell hot sauce to make it now. I used 1/4 cup of yogurt and 1/4 cup of the hot sauce to season the chicken cubes while they were still in the hot pan.

After which each of 3 large flour tortillas (I used whole wheat) got cut in half, and each half filled with a pile of pre-shredded cabbage and carrot coleslaw mixture, a portion of the chicken, and a shake of Tabasco sauce to kick the heat up a notch.

I confess I didn’t really plate anything, just piled them on a platter and stuck them in between us on the table. The whole dinner took less than 20 minutes from start to “on the table” – and a good chunk of that was chopping up the chicken before cooking.

Sorry, no pictures.. 😦

Off to find my DayQuil stash.

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Filed under Chicken, Lighter Side, Time Crunch Tested

>Asian flavor inspired pork salad

> Yesterday morning I took 3 of the scrawniest little boneless pork loin chops I had ever seen and tossed them into a zip-top bag. (Seriously, they came in a family pack with normal-sized chops, but they snuck some real runts in there!)
To the bag I added 2 teaspoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of honey, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 cup white vinegar, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.
I smooshed everything around in the closed baggie, mixing it together and distributing it evenly around the chops. Then I set it in a baking dish in the fridge and went off to work.

When I got home I cranked the broiler on high and let it heat up, put the chops on a cooking-spray coated flat rack in a baking pan, put the pan in the oven and switched the temp from broil hi to 450, and cooked them in that nice hot oven for about 20 minutes. they were crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside, and they had amazing flavor!

As they cooked I tossed together a simple salad with lettuce, carrots, and green peppers, giving the whole thing a shake with Newman’s Own Lighten Up Sesame Ginger Dressing.

I cut the chops into bite-sized pieces so I could pile the pork on top of the salad. The Hub said the pork was really good, and then actually asked me “what did you do to make the pork so good?”

Good and Good For You, my friend…
Good AND Good For You.

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Filed under Lighter Side, My Faves, Picture

>Quick and Lighter Roasted Chicken and Veggies

>I feel compelled to tell you that my first final EVER in culinary school (before I added “drop out” to those words, natch) was roast chicken.
We drew our final meals out of a hat, and I got super lucky. What could be easier than Roast Chicken, right? It is still one of my favorite easy “wow” meals to make for guests.

I got a B. Some day I will tell you the story of why, but now is not that time.
Roasting a whole chicken is easy peasey and perfect for a family or a dinner party, but kind of “too much” for just me and The Hub on a Sunday evening, so I improvise a smaller version using b/s chicken breast and veggies (in this case I used just ONE of those freakishly giant chicken breasts I had in the freezer – but two normal sized b/s breasts would be great.)
To start, I mix 1/2 teaspoon Thyme, 1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt into 1/4 cup flour and 2 teaspoons corn starch (corn starch really REALLY helps things get good color in the pan, trust me):

Then I coat the chicken breast, which I have cut into chunks that are two or three bites each, in the mixture:

I heat a NON COATED (non-stick pans just don’t brown as well, sorry) pan coated in cooking spray over medium heat on the stove until I can feel the heat when I hold my hand open about 1/2 inch over the pan’s cooking surface, and I brown all sides of the chicken giving it plenty of room for each piece – do two batches if needed:

I just brown each side, I don’t cook through. Then I lay the chicken on top of some small diced potatoes and carrots sprayed with cooking spray in a roasting pan, and pop them into the oven to cook at 375 degrees for 25-35 minutes, until the veggies reach desired tenderness (the chicken holds moisture since you browned it, locking in the juices, so you are ok to do this.
While that is cooking, I drain the fat out of the pan I browned the chicken in, add 1 tablespoon of Olivo (since The Hub has that high cholesterol situation) and melt it down… then I add 1 tablespoon (same amount as the fat, or fake fat in this case, notice the proportion for a roux folks,) of flour to the melted Olivo and whisk it together to form a sort of Roux (because I can now, m’kay?)
It looks a little different than a normal Roux, shiny and almost broken like this:
It is ok, it will still work. Cook that out for 2 minutes or so over medium heat stirring it so it loses the weird flour flavor and starts to loosen the pan crud left from the chicken and then pour in 1 cup liquid (I used water mixed with just a scant 1/8 teaspoon of chicken bullion sprinkles) into the pan and really scrape with a metal utensil to lift the chicken bits and incorporate the Roux.. stir and stir over the heat until it looks like this:

Then, if you are my family, you are done… if you are married to a picky guy like The Hub, strain to take out the bits that came up from the pan, like this:

Then, when the veggies are tender, pull everything out of the oven:

Assemble on a plate by making a pile of the veggies, placing some chicken pieces on top, and ladling the pan gravy over the top of the chicken so it drips down onto the veggies, like the pic at the top of the post. Oh. Yeah.

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Filed under Chicken, Lighter Side, Picture, Sunday dinner

>Pear and blue cheese salad with grilled steak

> Through circumstances I couldn’t even begin to explain in any reasonable time frame, we have started receiving fruit-of-the-month club shipments. (That’s the gift that keeps on givin’ Clark… It sure is, Eddie. It sure is.)
This month is pears. They are very good pears, and I am certainly not complaining, but the “what else to do with this fruit” question has popped up a time or two.

Last night? A simple salad of green leaf lettuce dressed with Balsamic Vinaigrette:
1 clove garlic, pressed
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons light oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
Shake well to blend (I prefer a good old fashioned Mason Jar for shaking purposes.)
Feel free to use more oil, I am not a huge fan of oily salad dressings, myself.
On top of the greens, crumbled blue cheese, a couple of strips of crumbled turkey bacon, some grilled sliced rib-eye, and one perfect, juicy, fat, cubed pear.

Tangy from the dressing, salty and pungent from the cheese, hearty from the beef, and sweet from the pears – perfection in a mouthful…. mmmm…

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Filed under Beyond Easy, Lighter Side, Picture

>Betty Crocker Low Fat, Low Cholesterol Mac and Cheese

>Here is the recipe as printed in the book:

7oz pasta shells or elbow pasta
1 tablespoon margarine or spread
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard (dry)
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 cup fat free milk
1 cup shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese (4oz)
2 tablespoons sliced green onions
2 tablespoons chopped red pepper

Cook and drain pasta as directed on pasta package.
Melt margarine in large pot and add flour – whisk over low heat to combine.
Add salt, mustard, and pepper and combine. remove from heat and stir in milk gradually.
Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Stir in cheese, remove from heat, add pasta.

Some thoughts from Keri’s Kitchen:
1st of all – using half the amount of margarine for the roux does NOT work – it results in a clumpy mess that does not combine with the milk – so just use equal parts (2 tablespoons) flour and “spread”. I used Olivo for the heart healthy olive oil it is made with.
Also keep in mind – thickening with a roux is much easier and produces much better results if you are adding a HOT liquid, so heat the milk before adding it to the roux.
If all goes well you get this thick liquid that will coat the back of a spoon like this:

(I also like to throw 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg into cream sauces, that is the brown flecks in the sauce)
Then you can add the cheese and whisk it in:
I will say this is a little thicker or tougher feeling on the whisk than normal cheese sauce – perhaps because it takes a bit more to get low-fat cheese to melt into the sauce:

I omitted the veggies since we were having a yummy green salad with red peppers and roasted acorn squash:
and I reserved a couple tablespoons of the shredded cheese to sprinkle over the top after spreading the mac and cheese into a cooking spray coated square baking dish (since The Hub is a fan of baked mac and cheese)
The Hub says he thinks this is as good as The Barefoot Contessa Mac and Cheese that I have so proudly mastered, and given his Cholesterol situation, and desire to have cheesy macaroni mixtures as often as possible, I have a feeling this is the new house recipe of choice.

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Filed under Lighter Side, Liquid Cheese, Picture