Cinco de Mayo Specials

In the spirit of Cinco de Mayo, I thought I would share some of my favorite Mexican recipes with you. The best part – all of them are super healthy! So break out the Coronas, mix the margaritas, and get cooking. Let’s start with the basics first: guacamole.

My Los Gol Inspired Guacamole is the perfect start to any Mexican dish. Serve it with chips for an appetizer (or make it healthy by serving it with celery or carrots), use it to top tacos, burritos, or any other delicious dish you decide to make. In my opinion, it wouldn’t be Cinco de Mayo without it.

The trick is to get a nice, thick tortilla chip. Those flimsy, mass-produced chips just don't cut it. Get the real deal from the Mexican section of your market.

The trick is to get a nice, thick tortilla chip. Those flimsy, mass-produced chips just don’t cut it. Get the real deal from the Mexican section of your market.

Next up on the menu are my Southern California-Style Steak Tacos. Healthy, quick, and delicious, these are a great main dish. If the weather is nice, grill the flank steak! You can also swap out the steak for chicken if you’d prefer.

These fresh and light steak tacos take me back to the beaches of Southern California, even in the middle of blusterous Chicago.

These fresh and light steak tacos take me back to the beaches of Southern California, even in the middle of blusterous Chicago.

Or, check out just the pico de gallo and use it to top fish for an extremely healthy dish.

The cilantro is what makes this dish extra special. Not to mention, it's almost all veggies so this dish is super healthy!

The cilantro is what makes this dish extra special. Not to mention, it’s almost all veggies so this dish is super healthy!

For another fish alternative, try my Mango Salsa over Mahi Mahi.

It's spicy, sweet, fresh, and simply delicious. The fact that it's healthy is just an awesome afterthought.

It’s spicy, sweet, fresh, and simply delicious. The fact that it’s healthy is just an awesome afterthought.

Or, like the guacamole, the mango salsa can be eaten with just chips or veggies for a delicious appetizer. The mango salsa would also be delicious over chicken as a standalone or in chicken tacos, too.

This is delicious with fish, chicken, pork, or simply with tortilla chips as an appetizer. It's a fun twist on a favorite.

This is delicious with fish, chicken, pork, or simply with tortilla chips as an appetizer. It’s a fun twist on a favorite.

My Garlicky Shrimp Fajitas with Guacamole are another main dish favorite and are super easy to make.

This delicious dish only takes about 15 minutes to make!

This delicious dish only takes about 15 minutes to make!

Lastly, try my Skinny Spicy Buffalo Shrimp Dip for another dip with Mexican flavors. This dip has quick a kick from sriracha (though you can swap out sriracha for tapatio for extra Mexican flavors) and gets its gooey-ness from Mexican cheese. This dip is delicious with chips or veggies.

Cheesy, gooey goodness. You've never guess it is healthy!

Cheesy, gooey goodness. You’ve never guess it is healthy!

To make any of these dishes extremely healthy (one step past super healthy), use celery or carrots instead of tortilla chips for the dips, and swap out flour tortillas for wheat. These dishes will taste super delicious either way!

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Skinny Spicy Buffalo Shrimp Dip

I absolutely loved this dip when I made it for the Super Bowl a few weeks ago, so I’m bringing it back for March Madness! The “skinny” part is deceiving in this gooey, cheesy, rich dip that tastes especially decadent with the shrimp. With only 120 calories per 1/3 cup, you’ll save enough calories to have an extra beer in the second half of the game. You can make this dish as hot as you want by adding more or less hot sauce. So instead of snacking on buffalo chicken wings, try out this tasty dip.

Cheesy, gooey goodness. You've never guess it is healthy!

Cheesy, gooey goodness. You’d never guess it is healthy!

What you’ll need:
4 ounces reduced fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream
1/2 cup hot sauce – I used sriracha
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 cups cooked peeled large shrimp, diced
3/4 cup reduced fat Mexican blend cheese

What you’ll need to do:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray an 8×8 baking dish, or any dish of an equivalent size.

Combine the cream cheese, sour cream, hot sauce, vinegar, and 1/4 cup of the cheese. Mix until smooth.

**Tip: Add the hot sauce little by little until you achieve your desired hotness.

Add the shrimp to the dip and mix. Add it to your baking dish.

Keep the chunks of shrimp bite-sized so you can scoop up a bit in every bite.

Keep the chunks of shrimp bite-sized so you can scoop up a bit in every bite.

Bake in the oven until hot, or about 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and top with the remaining cheese. Add it back to the oven for about 5 minutes or until the cheese has melted. Let the dip cool for a few minutes before digging in.

Bake until the cheese bubbles on top.

Bake until the cheese bubbles on top.

Serve this with carrots and celery to keep it extra skinny, but it’s also delicious with baked pita chips. If you like this dish, try my Tangy Yogurt Veggie Dip!

Enjoy!

Thanksgiving: The Gravy

If you read my Sourdough Bread Stuffing recipe, you know I’m not the biggest fan of cooking inside the bird. Sorry if I offend anyone, but it grosses me out. The same goes for gravy. I like other, non-inside-the-bird ingredients in my gravy, too. More than anything, I think it tastes better.

Plus, then you can make either the stuffing or the gravy even if you’re not making turkey. It is packed full of flavor from garlic, rosemary, thyme, and shallots without tasting like the inside of bird. This gravy would be delicious over chicken or potatoes, on a sandwich, or even over beef. Added bonus: it only takes about 10 minutes to make, so it’s easy to pop on the stove while you’re cooking everything else.

What you’ll need:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, minced
4 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 sprig rosemary, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1 sprig thyme leaves, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
3 tablespoons flour
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

**Tip: Fresh herbs are better, but you can raid your spice cabinet if you don’t want to make the trip to the market. If you use dried herbs, double the amounts.

What you’ll need to do:

Place a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and add your olive oil. Add the minced shallot, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf. Cook until the shallot is tender, or about 3 minutes.

The smell of this is incredible. I can't imagine making gravy any other way!

The smell of this is incredible. I can’t imagine making gravy any other way!

While the shallot mixture cooks, make a paste with the butter and flour in a small bowl.

**Tip: The flour is going to be what thickens the gravy, and it’s really important to make this paste separately – do not add the flour straight into your gravy or you’ll get little lumps. Whenever you’re making a roux, always make a paste with the flour before your add it into your gravy or sauce.

Add the broth to the shallot mixture and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil, then whisk in the butter/flour mixture. Boil until sauce thickens to make a gravy, or about 5 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf.

Enjoy!

Cranberry Pear Sauce

Cranberry sauce out of a can is fine, but cranberry sauce made from fresh cranberries is phenomenal. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce, and I encourage everyone to steer clear of the can. Making fresh cranberry sauce from scratch is so easy! It not only tastes better, but the texture is night and day different from the canned jelly kind and it only takes 15 minutes to make.

I love the pear in this cranberry sauce because the sweetness of the pear balances the tartness of the cranberry. I also added honey to sweeten it up a little more, but you could use Splenda or Truvia instead if you want to save some calories. Whatever you decide to do, I promise you’ll want to make this more often than late November.

Sweet, tart, and totally delicious. I could eat this year-round.

Sweet, tart, and totally delicious. I could eat this year-round.

What you’ll need:
12 ounces fresh cranberries
2 ripe pears, cubed
1/2 cup honey
1 cup water

What you’ll need to do:

Bring all the ingredients to a boil in a medium pot. After the mixture reaches a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the cranberries burst and the sauce thickens, or for about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Remove from heat and let it cool before refrigerating. The sauce will thicken as it cools. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

It’s that easy! Enjoy!

Sourdough Bread Stuffing

One thing I love about hosting and cooking the entire Thanksgiving menu is that I can choose what dishes I want on my table. Traditionally, we have had stuffing that was cooked inside the turkey and came out (in my opinion) soggy, colorless, and boring – it was definitely not my favorite Thanksgiving side dish. Since I have cooked my own Thanksgiving dinner and had complete control over the menu for the past few years, I have been making a new Sourdough Bread Stuffing that’s packed with flavor, has a nice crispy texture on top, and has definitely become a favorite on the menu.

Perhaps it’s the Californian in me, but I love sourdough bread. It adds so much more flavor to the stuffing than regular white bread. Fresh thyme and sage make this taste like an expensive, gourmet dish. And since the stuffing is baked in a casserole dish instead of inside a bird, it gets a golden-brown crisp on top that gives the dish a nice texture.

I was excited to share this new tradition with my family when they came out to visit for Thanksgiving this year. Of course, my mom thought I was insane for changing a Thanksgiving tradition, but I insisted on making my sourdough stuffing anyway. My brothers, however, couldn’t be more delighted. It was the first time I remember seeing them get seconds of stuffing at Thanksgiving! And sure enough, I converted my mom into an outside-the-bird-stuffing lover, too.

The sourdough bread is what makes this dish so special!

The sourdough bread is what makes this dish so special!

What you’ll need:
1 pound loaf sourdough bread
8 tablespoons butter or margarine
4 stalks celery, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
10 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped from the stems
12 fresh sage leaves, chopped
3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley leaves

What you’ll need to do:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

Cut or tear the bread into 1-inch cubes and spread it evenly on a baking sheet. I recommend cutting instead of tearing the bread, because tearing sourdough bread can also tear apart your fingers. Toast the bread in the oven until completely dry and beginning to crisp and brown, or for about 20 minutes.

These don't have to be perfect cubes, just cut them roughly. I think it makes the dish a little more rustic anyway!

These don’t have to be perfect cubes, just cut them roughly. I think it makes the dish a little more rustic anyway!

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 4 tablespoons of butter and add your onion and thyme. Stir frequently until the onion has turned clear, or about 5 minutes. Add the sage and remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. After the butter has melted, add the chicken broth and celery and stir to combine.

Transfer the toasted bread to a large mixing bowl. Pour the chicken broth mixture over the bread crumbs and toss to combine until the bread cubes absorb the liquid. Pour the mixture into your baking dish and sprinkle with parsley.

This is one dish that will make your house smell AMAZING while cooking.

This is one dish that will make your house smell amazing while it’s cooking.

Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is golden-brown. Remove from the oven and allow the stuffing to cool for about 15 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

Sandy’s Sweet Potatoes in Orange Cups

Every Thanksgiving, there is one dish I look forward to more than anything else because I only get it once a year on Thanksgiving Day: Aunt Sandy’s sweet potatoes in orange cups. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to travel back to California for Thanksgiving for the past few years so I haven’t been able to enjoy the dish from Aunt Sandy herself. So, I begged her for the recipe so I could make them myself.

I love these sweet potatoes because they’re different than the traditional heaps of sugary, one-note sweet potato casserole. These come in little individual servings inside hollowed out orange peels, which is not only convenient but also gives the sweet potatoes a little citrusy kick. I love the citrus in these because it cuts the over-the-top sweetness. Don’t worry, I still add marshmallows and this could still pass as a dessert. But the orange adds another layer of flavor to an otherwise simply sweet dish.

This delicious side dish comes in individual servings and tastes like candy. Yum!

This delicious side dish comes in individual servings and tastes like candy. Yum!

What you’ll need:
8 sweet potatoes
1 stick of butter or margarine, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
12 oranges
4 eggs, beaten

What you’ll need to do:

Start by boiling the sweet potatoes in their jackets in a large pot of water for about 45 minutes. Poke the sweet potatoes with a fork to check tenderness.

While the potatoes boil, cut your oranges in half, juice them, and then scoop out the flesh. This is by far the most time-consuming part of the job – luckily I had my Mom here to help me this year! Be very careful of scooping out the flesh because you don’t want to tear the orange cups. Save the juice because you’ll need it later. Arrange the hollowed out orange cups in a casserole dish.

When the sweet potatoes are soft, peel the skin from them and mash. Add the butter and mix with an electric mixer. Add the eggs. Next, add the sugar and spices. Add 1/4 cup orange juice from your reserves to the mixture – the rest of the fresh-squeezed orange juice is a treat for the chef! Mix the potato mixture thoroughly.

Scoop the sweet potato mixture into the orange cups. Cook for 40 minutes on 350 degrees.

You can even make these ahead of time and freeze them!

You can even make these ahead of time and freeze them!

When you have about 10 minutes left in cooking, top the sweet potatoes with marshmallows and pop them back in the oven.

Enjoy!

Skinny Scalloped Potato Gratin

White potatoes don’t have to be super sinful, and Thanksgiving is bad enough with all the other starches and sweets. So this year I wanted to take a healthy twist on the traditional Thanksgiving mashed potatoes. And since I was already making a version of mashed sweet potatoes, I wanted to change it up with scalloped potatoes. I found this healthy recipe on another cooking blog I follow, and it looked so tasty I had to try it.

Potatoes are my ultimate comfort food, and these are dripping with gooey sharp cheddar cheese and spiced with fresh thyme. You would never guess that it’s on the lighter side of the menu! This potato dish is sure to become a Thanksgiving staple in my family.

Yes, it is as delicious as it looks.

Yes, it is as delicious as it looks.

What you’ll need:

6 medium yukon gold potatoes
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup fat free milk
1 bay leaf
pinch nutmeg
2 teaspoons fresh thyme

What you’ll need to do:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray an 11×7″ baking dish with cooking spray.

Peel your potatoes, then slice them as thinly as you can get them – aim for 1/8 inch thick.

In a large bowl, combine potatoes, butter, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.

Use a large sharp knife to cut the potatoes. If you have a good mandolin, you can use that instead to make thin slices.

Use a large sharp knife to cut the potatoes. If you have a good mandolin, you can use that instead to make thin slices.

Arrange half of the potato slices in the baking dish, then top with 1/3 cup cheese. Add the remaining potatoes.

In a small saucepan, bring milk, thyme, bay leaf, and nutmeg to a boil. Pour over potatoes. Top the potatoes with the remaining cheese and bake uncovered for about 45 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Potatoes drenched in milk mixture before I added the cheese.

Potatoes drenched in milk mixture before I added the cheese.

Enjoy!

Pumpkin Pie

I love Fall because it gives me the excuse to eat pumpkin everything. There’s pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin bread, pumpkin spice Ghirardelli chocolates, and – the greatest of all – pumpkin pie.

This year I was ambitious with my pumpkin pie because I made it from a fresh pumpkin. Normally I use canned pumpkin, but a trip to a pumpkin farm earlier this Fall inspired me. I was surprised at how easy it was! It’s a little more time consuming than simply opening a can, but it was well worth the extra effort. Not only did I get delicious pumpkin meat for my pie, but I also roasted the pumpkin seeds. Needless to say, there was no leftover pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving!

I admit, I usually use a lot more whipped cream than this but it didn't make for a pretty picture. Yum!

I admit, I usually use a lot more whipped cream than this but it didn’t make for a pretty picture. Yum!

What you’ll need:
1 small fresh sweet sugar pie pumpkin OR 1 can pumpkin
2 eggs slightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 12-ounce can of evaporated milk
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional).
1 unbaked pie shell

What you’ll need to do:

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Spray a pie pan with cooking spray and lay out your pie shell. I like to press the chopped pecans into the crust!

I love the surprise nuttiness of the pecans!

I love the surprise crunchiness of the pecans!

If you use fresh pumpkin, start by carving out all the pumpkin meat. I cut my pumpkin into small strips and then cut off the outer shell. I then cut the pumpkin meat into cubes and put it in a large pot of water with a steaming basket. Put about a cup of water in a large pot on your stove with the pumpkin meat in the steaming basket and turn the heat on high. Cover and steam your pumpkin for about 15 minutes or until tender.

Steaming the pumpkin is better than boiling because it helps the pumpkin retain its flavor.

Steaming the pumpkin is better than boiling because it helps the pumpkin retain its flavor.

When your pumpkin is tender, put it in a food processor or blender and pulse until smooth. Measure out 1 cup of the pumpkin puree for the pie. Freeze the rest for another recipe later.

Freezing the leftovers is great for future pumpkin bread or muffins!

Freezing the leftovers is great for future pumpkin bread or muffins!

Mix all ingredients together and pour into the unbaked pie shell. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 350 degrees. If you use fresh pumpkin, bake for an additional hour. If you use canned pumpkin, bake for 45 minutes.

Be careful of spilling, the pie batter is very thin when you put it in the oven.

Be careful of spilling, the pie batter is very thin when you put it in the oven.

Cool and serve with whipped cream.

Delicious. I almost can't wait for it to cool before I have a slice.

Delicious. I almost can’t wait for it to cool before I have a slice.

Enjoy!

Aunt Gwen’s Pecan Pie

There are a few perks to growing up in a great big Southern family. Growing up, I learned Southern hospitality, manners, traditions, and – most importantly – I was spoiled with Southern food. I’ve traveled to the South to visit extended family a few times. One of my fondest memories was traveling to Granbury, Texas to visit my great-aunt and -uncle who lived on a pecan plantation. I was very young at the time, but I enjoyed touring the plantation with my Uncle Frank on his golf cart with his dog, Buffy – he even let me drive a little! My Aunt Gwen spoiled us in the mornings with pecan-crusted sticky buns and family stories.

Years later when I needed pie recipes, I knew exactly who to ask. You can’t beat getting a pecan pie recipe from a Southern woman who lived on a pecan plantation! I’ve made Aunt Gwen’s pecan pie recipe for many years, and it’s definitely a favorite in my house. And it’s so easy to make!

I love making this pie for many special occasions. It's a real crowd-pleaser, and it's so easy!

I love making this pie for many special occasions. It’s a real crowd-pleaser, and it’s so easy!

What you’ll need:
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour (rounded)
3/4 cup dark Karo
1/4 cup light Karo
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup pecans
1 tsp vanilla
1 unbaked pie shell

What you’ll need to do:

Preheat your oven to 350. Spray a pie pan with cooking spray and then lay out your pie shell.

Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl. Pour into the pie shell.

Perfectly delicious.

Perfectly delicious.

Bake for 1 hour.

Enjoy!

**Tip: To make this pie sugar-free, just replace one cup of sugar-free syrup instead of the light and dark Karo.

Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower

When Parmesan is included in the name of a recipe you immediately think indulgent, right? Believe it or not, this dish was inspired by a Biggest Loser Recipe. So not only is this dish delicious, but it’s deceivingly figure-friendly too.

I find that I get into a veggie rut every once in awhile. I cycle through broccoli, green beans, and Brussels sprouts throughout the week. Occasionally I’ll throw some asparagus into the mix, but that’s just another green vegetable. Don’t get me wrong, I cycle through them because they’re my favorites. Cooked carrots or corn are too sweet for me. And unless it’s a salad, I often forget what else I can put on my plate. Cauliflower is the perfect answer to mixing things up. It’s low in calories, high in fiber, a great source of Vitamin C, and even has a little protein. So throw a little cauliflower in your weekday routine to mix things up! And use this easy, delicious recipe is a great excuse to do so.

I like to sprinkle on a bit of dry parsley to add a pop of color, and fresh parsley spoils too quickly in my fridge. Remember, you eat with your eyes first!

What you’ll need:
1 head of cauliflower
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt (or just regular salt)
1/2 tablespoon dry or fresh chopped parsley
Cooking spray

What you’ll need to do:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cut your cauliflower so that you’re just left with the florets.

**Tip: If you want to just buy the cauliflower in already-cut florets to save time, use about 4 cups of florets.

Spray an oven-proof covered casserole dish with cooking spray. Put your cauliflower florets in the dish, and spray them lightly with the cooking spray. Mix with your hands to evenly coat. This helps the Parmesan, garlic, garlic salt, and parsley adhere. Once evenly sprayed, add the seasonings and mix with your hands.

Cover and bake for 15 minutes.

Enjoy!