healthy ranch dressing

When preparing a salad, it deserves nothing but the best. Fresh, wholesome ingredients that a full of flavor. Toppings that complement the salad itself, but don’t weigh it down. And of course, there’s the dressing – for many, a necessary component. And more often than not, it’s what takes a salad from fresh, healthy and fabulous to a total calorie bomb. Why waste all that wonderful nutrition and flavor, just to be topped with something that essentially eradicates all the goodness you’ve prepared?

That’s where this salad dressing comes to play. In college, I did my fair share of overdressing my “healthy” salads with many a preportioned dressing – seemingly so innocent in its neat little package, but erasing all the healthfulness of my dinner with each satisfying squeeze of said packet. I do wish that I could go back and tell my previous self “NO!!” but alas, it’s a lesson learned. These days, I look for flavor in other ways – tangy mustard, olive oil and {lots!!} of fresh lemon juice, and today’s recipe…ranch dressing.

image c/o

image c/o

Yes! It’s true! Ranch dressing can be healthy, and delicious all at the same time! After stumbling upon this recipe, I tentatively tried it {you see, I was not a big fan of cottage cheese for some time, but that’s another store for another day} and both the hubs and I immediately fell head over heels for it. The texture is perfect, it’s bursting with flavor from the fresh ingredients and herbs, perfectly tangy from the buttermilk. A total win. And the bonus? – you get a pretty hefty dose of protein from the cottage cheese itself! Your salad won’t be complete without this on top from now on, trust me on this.


Healthy Ranch Dressing {recipe adapted from Eating Well}

By making a sneaky {and healthy!} swap into one of the most beloved salad dressings, the classic Ranch gets a face lift! Cottage cheese, when pureed into a silky texture, makes the ideal replacement and base for a healthy salad dressing. The addition of fresh ingredients and plenty of herbs result in a salad topper sure to please anyone! 

…and why stop there!? Use this condiment for dipping baked French fries, drizzled into sandwiches and wraps – the possibilities are endless!


1 small shallot, peeled

3/4 cup nonfat cottage cheese

1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise {I like to use the olive oil/mayonnaise combination, available at most stores}

2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

1/4 cup buttermilk*

1 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

*the amount may vary, depending on how thin or thick you prefer your dressing; simply adjust as desired

To Prepare:

With the food processor running, add shallot through the feed tube and process until finely chopped. Add in the cottage cheese, mayonnaise and vinegar. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary, about 3 minutes. Pour in the buttermilk while the processor is running. Scrape down the sides again; add in the dill, salt and pepper. Process until combined.

make ahead tip: cover and refrigerate for up to one week. 

strawberry-lime jam

Don’t let the feature image fool you…these sweet strawberries and fresh lime and going to converge together in what might just be my new favorite spread.




We’re taking {yet another} trip down the road that leads to my bread machine today, y’all. Except today’s recipe is one that has a sweet twist! Spreadable and delectable, and with uses beyond imagine…it’s jam day.

If you would have asked me a few years back, I never would have known how multifaceted a bread machine really is. I know, I know – I probably say this all the time, but it is so true. The uses outweigh the cost more than I thought possible. Hands down, it’s been one of the best investments I’ve made for my kitchen repertoire.

…but I digress. Let’s return to focus, yes? JAM. Wonderful, luscious, colorful and bright; the combination of strawberry and lime might sound more fitting for a cocktail or frozen drink that a spread, but let me tell you. It will change the way you approach breakfast. In the morning, my taste buds crave a punch, something that will knock my socks off and kickstart my day. And the best way to do this, I’ve found, is with flavorful foods! It may sound silly, but I truly believe that bold flavors first thing in the morning really awakens me, both mentally and physically. By creating the perfect balance between the sweet berries and the oh-so-tart-but-oh-so-wonderful lime, it’s a match made in heaven. We grate in some of the lime zest, as well – hello essential oils!

Perfectly suited for smearing on toast/waffles/muffins, this jam can also be transformed with a bit of warming up into an amazing syrup for pancakes. And don’t be shy, get creative! – I have plans for a sweet and savory breakfast sandwich, bursting with tangy goat cheese, a piece of proscuitto, and yes, this jam. Mind blown.


Strawberry-Lime Jam

Frozen fruit, at the peak of ripeness, is transformed into a tasty spread perfect for any time of the year! Bright strawberries and crisp citrus come together, creating the perfect flavor marriage sure to please any palette {or piece of toast!}.


1 lb. frozen strawberries, thawed to room temperature and mashed slightly

juice of one lime, freshly squeezed

1 box {about 2 ounces} of fruit pectin

1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar

To Prepare:

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific cycle and preferred method of loading the ingredients into the well of the bread machine {the ‘JAM’ cycle on my model lasts about 1 hour and 20 minutes}.

Once the cycle has completed, allow the jam to cool slightly before handling – it will be very hot!

Spoon into one large, or several smaller sized, Mason jars.

Store in the refrigerator; jam will keep for 3 to 4 weeks.


bleu cheese dressing

I may have mentioned this before {does anyone remember my lightened-up buffalo chicken dip?} but as a child, I had a severe aversion with anything and everything bleu cheese. As in, my dad would enjoy it on his salad every night, but you couldn’t pay me to get near that bowl with a 10-ft. pole. That’s a bold statement, considering at that point I was just a kid with an allowance.

However- times change, and so do taste buds. And thank goodness for continual growth and change! I’ve been a huge fan of bleu cheese for at least the past several years, most notably starting in my post-college days. Too many slices of pizza and wings dipped in basic Ranch dressing led me and my palette to seek something new and bold, full of flavor and “adult”. I chuckle when I say this.

Hands down, this is easily one of my favorite condiments nowadays. And because you all know me so well at this point, making this dressing my own was bound to happen. Obviously. But I have to credit my mom for this one, as she was the one who introduced me to making homemade bleu cheese dressing awhile back. Her mixture of full-fat sour cream and local buttermilk, flecked with salt and pepper, was absolute perfection. So naturally, I’ve done little to change her structure. By subbing in low-fat sour cream and low-fat buttermilk {I find it slightly tangier and thus, more flavorful for cooking), you will certainly not be lacking any flavor whatsoever! I can also advocate a few dashes of Worcestershire in here, or perhaps if you’re feeling adventurous…some hot sauce!

If anything, you can enjoy twice the amount you’d typically have….at least, that’s how I look at it.


Bleu Cheese Dressing {makes about 1.5 cups}

A perfect salad topper, veggie dipper, or just eaten by the spoonful. I won’t judge or tell, I promise.


1 wedge of good Bleu Cheese {about 5-6 ounces}

1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk

1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream

salt and pepper, to taste *I went a little heavy with both, because they accent so nicely the flavor of the cheese
To Prepare:
Crumble the cheese, leaving some pieces larger than others. Add into the bottom of a small mixing bowl.
Measure out the wet ingredients, and add into the cheese crumbles. I incorporated the buttermilk first, then gently folded in the sour cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Dressing will stay well in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to one week.
Let’s Discuss: did you have any dressing aversions when you were younger? Do you still? 

crockpot bolognese sauce

I’ve always felt that the crockpot is a severely underutilized kitchen tool.

Now, now, don’t get me wrong – I know there are plenty of people out there who swear up and down with this culinary piece of cookware heaven (myself included) , but I feel certain in the fact that many people don’t appreciate all the great things this versatile tool can do. Sure, it’s great for soup and stews…but how many people can say that they use it for other times of year, to make jams and jellies with fresh summer produce, applesauce in the fall, and roasts in the winter? let me know if you do below, and how you like to use it! 

It’s high time that I bring this appliance out into the blog and let it shine. Today, my dears, we’re talking sauce. Bolognese sauce, to be exact.


Let’s just take a minute to appreciate that beauty, the base for our sauce. Wow.

This is by and far one of my husband’s favorite recipes. Thick and rich, gloriously dense and meaty, flavors cooked to perfection – how can you go wrong? Truth be told, you really and truly can’t. It’s chock full of flavors, herbs and spices, the perfect dish to soothe any soul.


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However, and I’m being painfully honest, it’s one sauce that I don’t find myself drawn to making often. The reason?…you ask, scratching your heads and wondering why….

It’s quite simple, actually. Bolognese sauce is painfully long and attention-grabbing to make. While I wish, more often than I care to share, that I could spend all my days in the kitchen, quietly stirring pots of simmering goodness, making bread and cranking out pies and cakes, it’s just not in the cards for me right now. That’s what my weekends are for, and I am extremely thankful I have the opportunity to do just that {the husband doesn’t complain, either!}. But there are just some days when you need the benefits and warm hug of a dish that has been slowly simmered all day, had love poured into it, and that is where we bring in the crockpot.

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I would be lying if I told you that this particular crockpot dish is a simple one. As many of you all know, a vast majority of said recipes require little to no prep work…chop and dice you veggies, brown your meat {if you feel so inclined}, then pour it all in, set the timer, and forget about it until your cooking time has elapsed. With this one, we have a bit of browning, a bit of sauteeing, and a bit of stirring to take on. I find that this is the perfect thing to do the evening before you want to have it for dinner, when there are still dinner dishes piled in the sink {because who wants to do dishes more than once on any evening?} and you still have your cooking groove – because yes, that is a thing. A bit of work the night before makes for a smooth transition to crockpot heaven in the morning. A simple plug in of the appliance, placing in the ingredients, and folding in the tomatoes – DONE! All that’s left do you once it’s almost time for dinner is to prepare the noodles, and pour a glass of a bold and spicy red wine. I can’t be the only one who loves a good red with this type of sauce, eh?


Crockpot Bolognese Sauce

{adapted from Kelsey Nixon via the Cooking Channel}


2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 large carrot, finely chopped

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

6 ounces tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon each rosemary, basil and oregano

1 cup dry red wine

2/3 cup milk {I used 1% because it’s what I had on hand}

Two 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes

1 pound ground pork

1 pound ground sirloin

Several cheese rinds {I always keep these in the freezer – this time, I had one each of  Romano and Parmesan}

Pasta, for serving

To prepare:

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, carrots, celery and onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook about 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste, thyme and nutmeg, and continue cooking until the vegetables have softened and started to brown, about 2 minutes. Deglaze with the wine, pulling up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.


In the same pan, drizzle in a few more tablespoons olive oil. Add in the pork and sirloin, seasoning liberally with salt and pepper. Cook until browned through, then remove any drippings from the pan.

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Carefully transfer the vegetable mixture and meat mixture to the slow cooker. Stir in the milk and tomatoes. Toss in the cheese rinds.

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Cover and cook on high for 4 to 6 hours or on low 8 to 10 hours. Serve with your pasta of choice and, of course, a hearty glass of red wine!

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This, like many of my earlier recipes, is a great one to make a large batch of and freeze for later use. While great reheated and served atop pizza, it’s fun to get a little creative with this sauce! – try ladling it atop pizza, stirred in with a saute of veggies, or even on top of mashed potatoes. It is truly a multipurpose sauce. 

kale pesto

Kale is, easily, one of my favorite greens. Aside from its gorgeous green color, it’s chock full of nutrients!

One cup of chopped kale has:

-33 calories (!)

-9% of the daily value of calcium, 206% of vitamin A, 134% of vitamin C, and 684% of vitamin K {wowzers!}

-it is a good source of copper, potassium, iron manganese, and phosphorus

-rich in the anti-oxidants {carotenoids and flavonids} associated with fighting cancer

-rich in lutein {great for eye health}

-its high fiber content helps to bind bile acids, helps lower blood cholesterol

-reduces the risk of heart disease

…..makes you want to run out and buy some right now, right?

 Aside from being a nutritional powerhouse, kale is also easily adaptable into many of your run-of-the-mill recipes. Chopped and eaten raw in salads, sauteed and served as a side dish, run through your juicer for the delicious “green juice”, wilted and served atop salads, let’s not forget the hugely popular kale chips – the list goes on and on.

I’ll take a leap and say that this particular pesto is one of my favorite ways to jazz kale up. Don’t get me wrong, I love a traditional pesto packed with fresh basil, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese, but this is such a fun twist on it! I made it one evening for a quick pasta dinner not too long ago, because…right now…as we all know, fresh herbs are hard to come about before the bounty of spring/summer starts hitting the market {I just can’t bring myself to buy basil when I grow it in groves during the summer!}.

So….enter kale – the hearty leaf is the perfect substitute! Aside from the benefits listed above, I also set out to slightly lighten the pesto sauce. I’ve found in the past that replacing some of the extra virgin olive oil with a splash of two of stock does nothing to the flavor, but rather, adds another depth and richness to the dish. It also lets you go back in for an extra big scoop without the guilt, amiright?

I love to serve this as an appetizer, with crusty bread or whole wheat crackers. It’s also great for smearing on sandwiches {think a grilled cheese topped with a fried egg!}, or just tossed with warm pasta and olive oil. Whichever path you choose, you will be sure to enjoy the bright and fresh flavors of this pesto!


Kale Pesto {original recipe}

Makes about 1 to 1.5 cups


5 cloves of garlic

1 lb. kale

juice of half a lemon

1/4 C. grated pecorino romano cheese

1/3 C. chicken stock {feel free to use a combination of olive oil and stock, making sure you keep the overall amount of 1/3 consistent with the recipe}

salt & pepper, to taste

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To Make:

Fit your food processor with the standard blade. Add in the kale and garlic, and process well to combine {you want the kale to be very finely processed, and the garlic as well}.

Add in the chicken stock and lemon juice, processing again. Lastly, add in the cheese and season with salt and pepper. Give it one last final whirl.

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Pesto will last up to one week, tightly sealed, in the refrigerator. It also freezes extremely well! 


french market meatloaf

Sometimes, you can’t help but feel bad for a certain food, or entree, or combination of the both. I hate to say it, but meatloaf is probably up there on the list. Poor renditions of it in the school lunch line, or dry and overcooked because of poor preparation, it’s no wonder that so many people have an aversion to it. Today, I’ve made it my personal mission to vindicate this dish. To give it a new, tasty spin – so moist and full of flavors, you’ll want to make this again and again.


I spent a lot of time digging through my archives, searching and searching for the perfect recipe (or combination thereof) to make for dinner one chilly night not too long ago. I have more recipes that I care to admit ::read, it’s a lot:: so I settled in and got to work. I knew that I wanted something slightly different than usual – more than just the classic combination of Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, simple herbs, and bread crumbs. I wanted flavor!…bright herbs, clean flavors, and most importantly, a juicy, tender bite. I do have a reputation to maintain, no? I couldn’t very well steer you wrong. I was determined to make this right. If it meant going out of my comfort zone, then so be it.

As you all know, I have a tendency for cooking mostly with ground turkey or chicken; red meat really isn’t a high priority for me. But sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do…and for this, I had to. A lone pack of ground sirloin had made its way into our grocery cart earlier on, and I figured “why not?” Sirloin is great, and the slightly higher fat content makes it a great base for meatloaf. I had opted for a 90/10 package, so the decision was made. And besides, I told myself, a little red meat is good for you once in awhile. Not only is red meat high in protein (shocker), it supplies a good amount of the recommended daily dose of iron (2.4 mg in a 3-ounce serving), zinc (which helps to build muscle mass), and B vitamins (helping to support a healthy body and healthy immune system).


Once I stumbled on this title “French Market Meatloaf”…I was immediately intrigued. Looking closer, I began running through my mental checklist for what I wanted to achieve with this dish:

-full of flavor? CHECK.

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-will it stay moist? CHECK.

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-different and unusual ingredients? CHECK,PLUS.

Boom, a winner was found.


French Market Meatloaf {recipe adapted from Southern Living}

serves 4


1 medium onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. dried basil

1/2 tsp. rosemary

1 lb. ground sirloin {I used a 90/10 ratio}

1/4 C. chicken stock

1/4 C. tomato sauce {I used an organic tomato and basil pasta sauce, which I thought worked fabulously}

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

1/4 C. breadcrumbs

1 large egg, lightly beaten

salt & pepper, to taste

Tomato Gravy

To Prepare:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place a cooling rack atop the sheet, and spray liberally with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

Cook the first six ingredients in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, stirring often, 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and cool.

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Stir together the ground sirloin and next five ingredients in a large mixing bowl, being careful not to overmix (you don’t want to make the meat too tough!). Fold in the cooled vegetable mixture. Shape meat and vegetable mixture into a rectangular-shaped loaf, and place atop the stacked cooling rack/baking sheet. Bake 40 to 50 minutes, or until the meatloaf is no longer pink in the center, and let cool for 10 minutes.



…while the meatloaf is cooking, let’s make the Tomato Gravy.


2 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1/3 C. chicken stock

1 (8-ounce can) of tomato sauce {I used the same organic tomato and basil pasta sauce I used in the meatloaf}

1/2 to 1 tsp. dried basil

salt & pepper, to taste

To Make: {I recommend doing this with about 15 minutes left of meatloaf cooking time}

Melt butter in a small saucepan; whisk in flour and cook, whisking constantly, for about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in stock and tomato sauce; reduce heat, and simmer until thickened. Whisk in dried basil, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep covered over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the meatloaf is done and ready to plate.

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I love to serve this atop a bed of steamed vegetables; I really like how the flavor of the meatloaf and the gravy seems into them. All flavors merry so well together, resulting in the perfect bite. And if you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, the meatloaf and gravy combination makes one killer sandwich. I’m just sayin’.

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tomato sauce with onion & butter

Let’s talk tomato sauce, shall we?

Tomatoes and I go way back. In elementary school, when all my friends were chomping down on apples in their lunch, I was “that girl” diving into a fresh tomato sprinkled with salt and pepper. My mom would cut the ends off, tupperware it, and send me on my way. To this day, a vine-ripened tomato is still one of my favorite snacks. Take a look at the nutritional information:

-low in sodium and carbohydrates

-chock full of Vitamins E, B6, A,C, and K

-a good source of Folate, Magnesium, and Potassiun

You can’t complain about chowing down on that, now can you?

To me, you can put tomatoes on anything and I will be as happy as can be. One thing in particular, one thing that I’ve always loved, is a good tomato sauce. And no, I’m not talking about any of the canned sauces you can pick up at the grocery store (I always thought that, no matter what the “flavor” was, that all canned sauces tasted the same!). I’m talking slow cooked, homemade, thesecretingredientislove kind of tomato sauce. When you know what is going into your sauce, and you know that it simmered away for hours, you’re getting the real deal. My mom had an arsenal of great sauces she would rotate through when we were growing up, and today, I’m going to introduce to my favorite one. Tomato Sauce with Onion & Butter.

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It’s as simple as it sounds. San Marzano tomatoes are simmered low and slow with sweet white onions and unsalted butter, until the flavors marry and all you’re left with is a velvety smooth, rich, and luscious sauce. The combination of flavors is unmatched by any other sauce, in my opinion, and pairs well with any type of pasta. It is also amazing as the basis for any tomato-sauce-based casserole (think lasagna, baked ziti, etc.).

Be sure, when shopping for ingredients, that you use San Marzano tomatoes. These beauties have a stronger taste than regular Roma tomatoes, and are slightly sweeter and less acidic than their relatives. Many chefs consider these the best tomatoes to use in pastes, sauces, and the like – and in my humble opinion, I couldn’t agree more.

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Tomato Sauce with Onion & Butter

This particular amount will make at least 4 servings; feel free to scale back on the amount if you’re only cooking for one or two. However, this sauce freezes so well, you’ll definitely want to make at least the size listed below. 

{“original” mom recipe, adapted minimally from Smitten Kitchen}

Two 28 ounce cans of whole San Marzano tomatoes

2-3 tbsp. unsalted butter*

2 large white onions, halved

salt, to taste (I typically don’t use any)

In a medium saucepan, add the San Marzano tomatoes and their liquid, the halved onions, and the butter. Stir to combine. Bring the sauce to a vigorous simmer, but not to a boil. Scale back the heat, and simmer over low heat for about an hour. You’ll start to see the top shimmer with the melted butter, and the onions will turn soft and become translucent. Serve with your favorite pasta, fresh or packaged.

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*the link above uses slightly more butter than I call for in my recipe. I don’t feel that you need that much butter in the sauce; you want to taste it, certainly, but you also don’t want the flavor of the butter to overpower the lovely tomato and onion combination. Feel free to use as much, or as little, as you like!