Christmas Casserole

I hosted Sunday family dinner at my house last week and was trying to think of something festive, yet healthy to cook. This recipe is also gluten free, soy free, and uses only a small amount of grain.

I found this idea on Pinterest, and will link back to it if I can find it again.

It actually is much healthier than it looks! The recipe is loaded with 5 bell peppers. It’s a good way to sneak veggies into a recipe! There is still a lot of cheese in here… But, this recipe makes enough for 8 people. We also served it with a side salad.

Christmas casserole

Christmas Casserole

Serves 8 people
Allow 1 hour for prep/cooking

Ingredients:

For the chicken:

  • 4 chicken breasts (or about 1 lb. chicken)
  • 2 cans Rotel
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. coriander, ground
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • salt and pepper

For the rest of the casserole filling:

  • 12 soft corn tortillas (I buy the all natural with the only ingredient being listed as corn, water, lime)
  • 1 can “re-fried” black beans or similar (I buy the Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 3 green bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tsp. cumin, ground
  • 2 tsp. coriander, ground
  • 2 tsp. chipotle chili powder
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2, 6-8 oz. blocks of cheese (I buy one sharp cheddar for the filling, and one mozzarella or jack cheese for the top of the casserole), shredded

For the Christmas tree pepper design:

  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 green bell pepper

Directions:

  1. In the crockpot, start the chicken ahead of time. This makes prep for this casserole much easier and a time saver! Put the chicken with seasonings and onion and Rotel all in the Crockpot on low for 6-8 hours, or high for 4 hours. Shred the chicken with two forks when it has finished cooking. Keep on low until you are ready to prepare the casserole.
  2. christmas tree casserolePreheat the oven to 375 F. You will need a baking dish that is larger or deeper than 9×13 (maybe 12×18).
  3. Saute your peppers and onions and garlic with the seasonings in a saute pan for about 10 minutes until softened.
  4. Layer one layer of soft corn tortillas (6) in the bottom of the baking dish. Top with half of the re-fried black beans. Then, add the shredded chicken and sauteed peppers. Top this layer with half of your shredded cheese.
  5. Create one more layer again starting with 6 soft corn tortillas and repeat. Top with the white shredded cheese. Get ready to make your tree design for the top!
  6. Chop the red and yellow bell peppers, but save enough to cut a star shape out of the yellow pepper, and a “tree stump” out of the red pepper.
  7. Slice the green bell pepper length-wise so you have longer strips that will be layers of the tree.
  8. Bake for about 40-45 minutes.

We managed to all squeeze in around my little table!

healthy Christmas casserole

Easy Caramel Pecans

Your typical caramel or sugary nuts have massive amounts of refined sugar and butter. I have tweaked the recipe slightly so that it is about half the sugar, and uses more natural ingredients. This recipe also happens to be super easy! It is perfect for the holidays and gift giving! I know my coworkers have loved them :-)

easy caramel pecans

Easy Caramel Pecans (And Healthier!)

Makes 1 small gift-giving batch

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups plain, raw pecans (I just eye-ball it)
  • 2 Tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1 Tbsp. stevia
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. raw honey
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (optional)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
  • generous pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. In a small saucepan, melt the coconut oil over medium heat, then add all of the ingredients except the honey and pecans. Stir and heat about 1 minute.
  2. Add the honey, and the mixture will begin to bubble. Cook and stir 1 minute.
  3. Add the pecans, and stir frequently. Continue to cook, stir, and coat them for 5 minutes until you have noticed the mixture has darkened.
  4. Pour the pecans out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Keep in clumps, and flatten-out with the back of your spoon. They should be a nice even layer so they stick together and cool.

Note: Make sure to stir continuously or the pecans and sugar will burn.

Cool at room temperature about 1-2 hours. You can then break into large chunks, and put into a nice decorative mason jar or festive holiday box!

Did I mention: This recipe is gluten free, dairy free, soy free, and egg free. Great for those on special diets or those who are sensitive.

Perfectly Sauteed Brussel Sprouts

Sauteed Brussel sprouts is a staple dinner food item in my house. Maybe you think I’m crazy, but no, they are delicious! And this particular recipe does not involve bacon. (But, I will use bacon from time to time!)

I even got my Mom (Psycho Holiday Baker) to try more than one bite (she typically hates Brussel sprouts).

sauteed brussel sprouts

Sauteed Brussel Sprouts

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups fresh Brussel sprouts, cut in half (you can use frozen in a pinch)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large sweet yellow onion or red onion, sliced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. mustard seed (or 1-2 tsp. jar mustard)
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1-2 Tbsp. honey (taste to see if you need this–sometimes my onions are sweet enough and I do not add)
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Saute your onions on medium heat for about 10 minutes until they soften.
  2. Add the garlic and sprouts to the pan along with other seasonings, and cook 10-15 minutes more on medium. Stir every other minute.
  3. Taste test, and see if you need a little honey to sweeten. Continue to cook until the sprouts have browned and you have some brown bits on the bottom of the pan.

Easy and super healthy!

Another seasoning flavor idea that I use is cajun seasoning mix instead of the mustard and spices. You could also cook/roast these in the oven as well.

 

Apple Chutney

Believe it or not I got this recipe from Barefoot Contessa! How bad can that be?

Yes, she is known for making some sinfully delicious recipes, but her apple chutney recipe that she uses to put on top of a pork recipe was deliciously festive for fall. I had to share it with you. Click HERE for the original, full recipe.

I modified the recipe slightly.

You could make this and keep it for the week to put on top of pork tenderloin, chicken, or oatmeal in the morning.

apple compote

Apple Chutney Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 medium/large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2-2 1/2 tablespoons minced or grated fresh ginger
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (4 oranges) or 100% juice
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4-1/3 cup water (as needed)
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 2-4 Tbsp. honey
  • 1-2 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 11/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and ½-inch-diced
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries (optional)

Directions:apple chutney

  1. Chop up your onion, and add to medium saucepan and saute with olive oil on medium-low heat.
  2. Meanwhile, chop the ginger and prepare the apples.
  3. Add the ginger, mustard seeds (whole), red pepper flakes, and salt to the saucepan and stir to combine. Heat about 3 minutes.
  4. You can add the apples to the saucepan as you dice them for convenience.
  5. Add the sugar and honey to the saucepan, then the liquid ingredients (apple cider vinegar and juice). I also added a splash of water because you may need more liquid.
  6. Heat all of the ingredients on a simmer for about 45 minutes-1 hour.

This recipe makes the house smell so good from the ginger and citrus. If you are going to use this for an oatmeal topping, I could see a pinch of cinnamon being a tasty addition.

pork with apple chutney

Or, use as a meat topping!

Atlanta Nutritionist

Turkey Stuffed Acorn Squash

Ever since I had stuffed acorn squash at Sunflower Cafe in Atlanta, I had been wanting to re-create it at home. The original version I had was stuffed with garlicky kale, beans, walnuts, rice, and cranberries. I switched it up and created a squash stuffing with what I had already at home.

Did you know: Acorn squash is an excellent source of vitamin C!

turkey stuffed acorn squash

Turkey Stuffed Acorn Squash

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium acorn squash, cut in half and seeds scooped out
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 2 tsp. oregano
  • 2 tsp. basil
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 12 oz. fresh spinach or frozen spinach if you do not have fresh (or you could use any leafy green)
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberrieshow to cook acorn squash
  • butter for topping

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. First, you will have to prepare the squash. Slice them in half, scoop out the seeds, then I like to slice off the bottoms so that they sit flat in the baking dish.
  2. Drizzle olive oil over the squash and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Bake the squash for 45 minutes (up to 1 hour until the skin is soft enough that you would eat it).
  3. Meanwhile, cook your ground turkey in a saute pan with the seasonings and olive oil.
  4. Add the spinach to the turkey cooking, and wilt down, or cook into the turkey mixture for about 7 more minutes.
  5. Add the pecans and cranberries, and continue to cook on medium for 5 more minutes. Set aside.
  6. When the squash is done, fill it with the turkey filling and add any leftover filling to the sides of the baking dish. Top everything with pats of butter (or a butter substitute of your choice–I use a light whipped butter).
  7. Bake 10 more minutes, and remove from the oven.

stuffed acorn squash

Some wonder if you can eat the skin. Well, you can! As long as you cook it long enough so that it softens. I love the colors of the yellow, greens, and reds–it looks so festive for fall!

Zucchini Soup Made with Cashews

I have been loving using cashews as a “cream” instead of conventional cow’s milk cream. The cashew cream gives foods a decadent nutty flavor. Plus, it is approved on my LEAP diet.

I came up with this zucchini soup recipe that is made with cashews and is perfect for the cool weather ahead! And it is a pretty easy recipe!

It can be made vegan if you use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. This recipe is also gluten free if you use gluten free stock. Dairy free as well.

zucchini soup made with cashews

Zucchini Soup Made with Cashews

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5-6 zucchini, chopped into chunks
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. rosemary
  • 1 Tbsp. dried basil
  • 1 Tbsp. oregano
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock of your choice
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • salt and pepper
  • Fresh rosemary or basil to garnish. Another garnish option: Swirl with a dollop of sour cream if you like.

Directions:how to cook zucchini soup

  1. In a large soup/stock pot, add your olive oil and heat on medium. Add your onions and salt and pepper and cook about 5-7 minutes. Meanwhile, chop your zucchini.
  2. Next, add your garlic, cashews, zucchini, and seasonings. Cook 5-7 more minutes.
  3. Add the vegetable stock and bring to simmer.
  4. Cook about 30 minutes. Then, with an immersion blender, puree the soup mixture. If you do not have an immersion blender, pour the soup into a blender and puree (but, be careful since the contents will be extremely hot!).
  5. Next, add the corn to the soup in the pot. It is OK if the corn is still frozen as it will thaw quickly. Cook 10 more minutes, and serve. Or, refrigerate for later.
  6. Garnish with rosemary or basil.

Yum!

healthy zucchini soup

Atlanta Nutritionist

Sweet Drops Liquid Stevia

Great alternative to 500 calorie lattes!

Great alternative to 500 calorie lattes!

Sweet Leaf was kind enough to send me two bottles of their Sweet Drops Liquid Stevia to try out. I got the peppermint mocha and English toffee! I had never tried them before because I thought, “what’s the point? I use plain stevia to sweeten some foods, why do I need different flavors?”

Well, they come in handy when you are wanting a sweeter guilt-free treat!

Positives: Natural, Zero Calories, Zero Sugar, Gluten Free, fun flavors, guilt-free

There are many more positives to the Sweet Drops than negatives! There are so many different flavor options, and you don’t have to worry about junk ingredients.

Negatives: Mild bitter aftertaste (because they use real stevia extract), Cost (but, you do get 288 servings in one bottle!).

Don’t let the size of the bottle fool you. There are plenty of servings in one bottle. Even though the price tag is higher than plain stevia, it may be worth it for those of you who like more flavor to your coffee, or sweet treats.

My Recommendations

If you are using this in coffee, start with 3 drops, and stir. Then, add 2 more drops, stir and see how it tastes. You can easily add too many drops and make it too sickeningly sweet. I like to use about 3-4 drops per cup of coffee, and it is just enough to get a hint of flavor. And make sure to stir before tasting. I found out that if you don’t stir your beverage, the flavor doesn’t distribute and sits at the bottom of the mug of coffee.

Other Ideas for Sweet Drops: Add to a smoothie, or mixed drink. Add to a sweet potato instead of brown sugar. Add to tea, or even add to plain yogurt! I could see using the peppermint mocha drops for baking some festive cookies.

Sweet Leaf even has some recipe ideas HERE.

You can buy Sweet Drops at your local grocery store, or health foods store, or online at their website.

Dairy-Free Butternut Squash Soup

In the past, I didn’t like winter squashes, but over the last year I have come to love all squash. I especially love squash soup!

To get in the mood for fall, I decided to make some butternut squash soup. I tried my own variation by using cashews as the creaminess in the soup, and coconut milk instead of cow’s milk or cream. I actually prefer this recipe since it has more depth of flavor from the nuts and coconut! But, if you prefer regular milk, then you can substitute it equally for the coconut milk, and substitute in some yogurt or cream for the cashews.

Dairy Free Butternut Squash Soup

Get your ingredients ready:

squash soup ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 cup raw cashews (I buy them in the bulk section of the grocery store)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh ginger, chopped
  • 2 tsp. dried basil
  • 2 tsp. dried cumin, ground
  • 2 tsp. dried coriander, ground
  • 1 tsp. dried rosemary
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock) Note: To make this gluten free, make sure to buy a gluten free stock (most store brands contain gluten)
  • 1 cup coconut milk (make sure it is unsweetened, plain, not lowfat)
  • honey (I always use local honey) for drizzling on top of soup upon serving (omit to make this vegan friendly and try maple syrup instead)
  • rosemary for garnish (optional)

Directions:

  1. In an extra large saucepan (one large enough for a lot of soup), heat olive oil on medium-low and add onions with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until they soften and turn a little golden (about 7-10 minutes).
  2. Meanwhile, using a vegetable peeler, peel the outer skin of the squash, like so:
    how to peel butternut squash
  3. Next, cube the squash. Remove the seeds. Tip: I simply cut out the parts of the squash that have a lot of seeds.
    how to cut butternut squash
  4. In your saucepan, add the cashews and all seasonings, and garlic. Stir and cook about 5 more minutes.
  5. Add your cubed squash to the saucepan. Stir to combine.
  6. Add 4 cups of stock to the saucepan, and cover on medium-low. Cook at a simmer for about 30-40 minutes.
  7. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a standard blender, but be very careful because your soup will be HOT!
  8. Stir in your coconut milk. Check consistency. If you would like a thinner consistency, add water or more coconut milk.
  9. Serve with a drizzle of honey on top!

dairy free butternut squash soup

Atlanta Nutritionist

Daiya Cheese Review

I have always been a skeptic of non-dairy cheeses. I always just thought they were frankenfood. Daiya recently contacted me to see if I would be interested to try their “cheese”, and I happily agreed because it would be a great way to test out the product and see if I can stop calling it “frankenfood”. I was especially interested in Daiya cheese since it is gluten free, dairy free, and soy free–perfect for those with allergies and/or food sensitivities.

Daiya cheese review

You may ask, well what could it be made out of? Tapioca flour, oil, and pea protein mainly.

Ingredients: Filtered water, tapioca and/or arrowroot flours, non-GMO expeller pressed canola and /or non-GMO expeller pressed safflower oil, coconut oil, pea protein, salt, vegan natural flavors, inactive yeast, vegetable glycerin, xanthan gum, citric acid (for flavor), titanium dioxide (a naturally occurring mineral).

I don’t have a problem with any of these ingredients. So far, so good.

Nutrition Facts: (1/4 cup serving) 90 calories, 6 g fat, 7 g carbohydrate (1 g fiber), 1 g protein, 280 mg sodium.

I would categorize this product as 1 fat serving.

Taste and Texture

I tested out the cheese on top of some broccoli and cooked it right next to real cheddar cheese (picture on top). The middle cheese is the Daiya mozzarella shreds, and the bottom is the Daiya cheddar shreds. You can see how real cheddar cheese sinks into the vegetable. The other melts right on top.

Daiya cheese review

But, yes, it does melt! It melts pretty well, too. I would say it melts much better than fat free cheese. I would prefer this non-dairy cheese over fat free cheese any day.

The taste is pretty darn good for a fake cheese product. It almost reminds me of the taste of nutritional yeast. I would say that Daiya did an excellent job creating a healthier cheese analog for those who can not eat dairy and are looking for something that reminds them of cheese.

I prefer the “cheese” not fully melted. When it completely melts it almost starts to taste slimy because of the oil, but that is understandable. So, I just make sure to add my Daiya at the very end of cooking so that it does not fully melt.

non-dairy cheese

I also recommend nut “cheeses” for those who can not eat dairy, but can eat nuts. Cashew “cheeses” are super tasty. I love to make cashew cream sauces for pasta and other dishes. I would rate nut cheeses as my number one favorite cheese alternative, and then Daiya would be number two!

Have you tried Daiya yet?

Healthy Slow Cooker Chicken with a Kick!

I call this Mexi-chicken because I don’t really know what to call it! Haha.

It is very simple–mostly a can of Rotel, seasonings, and chicken! Super easy and great for weeknight meals.

slow cooker chicken

healthy slow cooker chicken

I added my chicken on top of a bed of lettuce and added avocado. But, you could also use a tortilla and make tacos. Whatever you prefer!

Healthy Slow Cooker Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 4 small-medium chicken breasts (about 1 lb.)  TIP: It is OK if your chicken is still frozen; it will cook perfectly
  • 1 can of Rotel
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced (I forgot to add to mine this last time!)
  • 1-2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1-2 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. chili pepper seasoning
  • 2 Tbsp. of your favorite hot sauce if you like it extra spicy OR add 3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (minced)
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Turn your slow cooker on high.
  2. Add all of your ingredients to the slow cooker. Cook for about 30 minutes, then turn to low, and continue to cook about 5-6 more hours.
  3. Shred your chicken with two forks. Turn down to the keep warm setting. Serve when ready!

So easy!

Atlanta Nutritionist