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 hcuforu.com

image c/o hcuforu.com

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.

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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!

Ingredients:

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. 

lightened up spinach artichoke dip

A lot of times, what we deem as “traditional” appetizers often get a bad rep. I mean, it’s not hard for that to happen. When we peel back the layers of ingredients and really dive in, we find that most are loaded down with heavy, not-so-healthy ingredients…full-fat mayonnaise, cream cheese, sour cream, an oftentimes an exorbitant amount of cheese on top. And that doesn’t even take into account the accouterments {fried chips, toasted bread, crackers and pretzels}. Now don’t get me wrong! – I am a big believer in maintaining a balance; everything in moderation, exercise portion control when needed. But sometimes, you might just want to do some serious work on appetizers and not feel guilty about it!

Enter this dish…

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It’s bubbly, browned, crusty and FULL.OF.FLAVOR. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to your new favorite {and jazzed up!} spinach artichoke dip! Glancing down through the ingredient list, you’ll recognize instantly a few of my staples: Greek yogurt, blended cream cheese, etc. But what really makes this dish shine and stand out from its cousins is the explosion of spices and vegetables that we’re packing in. In just about 3 cups of dip, we’re utilizing smoky paprika, spicy garlic, onion powder, red pepper flakes{!!}, and tangy Parmesan. Seriously, your taste buds won’t know what hit them upon the first bite.

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This is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, and is on constant rotation in our home. This can easily be doubled or tripled for the countless summer BBQs we will all surely be attending this summer; is wonderful spread onto sandwiches; I’ve even thrown it into a fritatta with shredded chicken. A dish with many purposes; not only super healthy, but super flavorful and oh-so-flexible!

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Lightened Up Spinach/Artichoke Dip

A perfect dip for throwing together at the last minute, this is one of our go-to items for date nights at home. It’s tangy, refreshing, bubbling over with flavor…and good for you!

Ingredients:

12 ounces frozen spinach, cooked {make sure you drain it really well}

1 {14 ounce} can artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped

5 ounces of plain, non-fat Greek yogurt

2 Tbsp. cream cheese {I like to use a Greek yogurt/cream cheese blend that is available at my grocery store}

2 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping

1 clove garlic, finely diced

1 tsp. smoked paprika

1 tsp. onion powder

large pinch of red pepper flakes {optional}

nonstick cooking spray

salt & pepper, to taste

To Prepare:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a round glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside {mine holds about 3-4 cups worth of dip}.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients. Mix well to combine; take extra care to make sure that the cream cheese and yogurt are thoroughly mixed into the vegetables and spices.

Spoon dip into the prepared baking dish. Top with additional Parmesan cheese.

Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the top is starting to turn golden brown and the edges are bubbling over slightly.

Serve hot with toast points, sliced vegetables, chips, etc…whatever you like.

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Enjoy!

peanut butter power bites

Even a kitchen fail can produce beautiful results. I mean, just take a look at these…

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I am certainly no stranger when it comes to the occasional kitchen “mess up”. There are things, simple things, really…I just can never seem to get it right! My favorite example of this is brown rice – I don’t know what it is, but I have a tendency to either undercook/overcook the rice, or add slightly too much salt when preparing it. White rice, cous cous, or any other grain is no problem for me, but that darn brown rice and I just don’t get along!

But I digress. Back to today’s recipe.

I was making a batch of my homemade peanut butter and I accidentally over-processed the mixture. While still delicious, the end product was far too grainy and chunky to really be called spreadable. It was so thick I could barely get it out of the food processor, let alone into a Mason Jar for storing it! But I sucked it up and saved it anyways; I hate throwing out food, and I knew that if I gave it a day or two to roll around in my foodie brain, I’d eventually come up with something.

And boy oh boy did I; the end product is so wonderfully delicious {and nutritious!}. I was snooping around my pantry and my eyes danced over the rolled outs near the top shelf. So of course I thought of peanut butter cookies, but then I started pondering a no-bake, freezer-style version. Thin the peanut butter out with some honey and add in oats for binding, and you’ve got the perfect power snack! I was giddy with excitement, practically dancing into the kitchen to pull out my trust food processor yet again.

Y’all, the process doesn’t get much simpler than this. Everything goes into the bowl, a few quick pulses, and you’re there. I scooped them into greased mini muffin tins, popped them in the freezer, and fell in love. Truly. These are the perfect bites for between meals; great healthy snacking for outdoor activities, or a tasty little treat before bed. I even offered up a few suggestions for add-ins, should you feel so creative : ) These have become a staple in our house; I hope they will become the same for you!

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Peanut Butter Power Bites

Perfect for snacking on the go, and just comprised of three ingredients, there’s no reason to not whip up a batch right now. You’ll be glad you did! 

Ingredients:

2 cups peanut butter {here’s my homemade version!}

1 cup rolled oats

1/4 cup honey

optional: dried fruit bits, chopped nuts, mini chocolate chips

To Prepare:

Place all ingredients {except the optional ingredients} into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until combined; it won’t take long!

Fold in the optional ingredients by hand.

To assemble:

1.  Bites can be rolled into balls and placed on a greased sheet tray.

2. Using a greased mini muffin tray, balls can be formed and molded into rounds.

3. Spread evenly into a greased 9″ x 9″ baking dish.

Freeze until solid, about 3-4 hours. Store tightly covered.

“snickerdoodle” cookie dough dip

I’m a woman obsessed. Obsessed with making and eating cookie dough.

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Many of you may remember way back to this post, when I finally put to the test the oh-so-popular “cookie dough” dip. I wasn’t really one to doubt the idea, as I am all about making indulgent treats healthier, but I knew that a certain someone in my household might not be so keen. After all, beans are the main ingredient! Am I crazy?!

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Well, fast forward about 15 minutes later, and both the hubs and I are going all at the batch of dip that I whipped up. It was a total, 100% success! Not that I had any reason to believe otherwise. heh.

It’s been quite some time since that day, and many a batch have been whipped up since then. I’ve experimented with a few different flavor combinations to see what else I could come up with, but none shone as bright as the one we’re making today. It’s snickerdoodle style, y’all. And wow, is it incredible. I have to thank the hubs for this one, because not only is this his favorite type of cookie, but it incorporates a childhood favorite as well; cinnamon toast cereal is acting as the “grain” of the cookie, resulting in the most glorious cinnamon-sugar flavor punch imaginable. It’s fantastic, delicious, and…well….delightful.

Of course, any brand of cinnamon-sugar cereal can be used, but I had those crazy squares on hand. You could use a gluten-free option, or go the more organic route, too! It comes together in a matter of minutes, and probably won’t last much longer than that.

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Sneaky Cookie Dough Dip {a twist on this recipe!}

The best way to indulge in all the goodness of cookie dough, but without the guilt! This dip will fool even the pickiest of eaters; they’ll be going back for seconds, and then thirds!

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups chickpeas or white beans, drained and rinsed very well

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup nut butter of choice {my homemade peanut butter works excellent here!}

up to 1/4 cup of milk {I used my favorite sweet cream coffee creamer}, only if needed

1/2 cup cinnamon-sugar cereal, plus additional for garnish

To Prepare:

Add all ingredients into the body of a good food processor, and process until very smooth. This will take anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes. Add in the liquid, a tablespoon or so at a time, until your desired consistency is reached.

Scoop into a dish and sprinkle with additional cinnamon-toast cereal pieces. Garnish with graham crackers, sliced fruit, or cinnamon-sugar toast points. Enjoy!

insta-lately

Here’s a glimpse of what’s been happening lately – a hodge podge of good food, good times,and good friends. Tell me in the comments…how have your past weeks/months been? 2015 off to a good start?

-Alicia xoxo

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superbowl snacks!

Are you ready for some football??

I must say, I am super excited! It took me quite some time to develop my love for the sport, but ever since college {go hokies!} I’ve been rather fanatical. On any given Sunday during the season, you’ll find the hubs and I curled up on the couch flipping between the games. I absolutely love it. And let’s not forget – the football food! Snacks galore, y’all.

As always, I try to balance the unhealthy with the healthy. So that means enjoying dips with crunchy vegetables instead of chips; spritzers and wine instead of the {oh-so} delicious dark beers that we love in our house; lightened up sweet versions. So with all that being said, I thought it would be fun to do a recipe round-up of what to prepare for the game!

Appetizers & Snacks:

Entrees:

Drinks:

Desserts:

 

Happy SuperBowl Sunday, y’all!!

sneaky cookie dough dip

This fun little snack has long been on my list of “must try” recipes, so not long ago, I decided to give it a whirl!

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And y’all, I would be crazy if I didn’t say that it wasn’t amazing. Delicious, fantastic, stunning, and fabulous also came to mind. But I shouldn’t ramble…

I always find it so wonderful that you can transform the healthiest of ingredients into something that is totally opposite of its original inspiration. I mean, this “indulgent” dessert dip has a base of beans{!}. Is that not absolutely crazy? I mean, who would have thought of taking said ingredient and deciding to throw it in with traditional chocolate chip cookie dough materials?

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…if I could, I would like to give them a hug, or at least a high-five.

This dip is the perfect snack for anyone who has a sweet tooth and can’t say no to multiple spoon dips when making cookie dough, for the person who likes to munch on chocolate chips {I mean, who doesn’t do that?!}, or just anyone who like sweet treats. You will fool even the pickiest of eaters with this snack. And the best part is that you can indulge without feeling guilty! The beans are packed with fiber and vitamins, the nut butter adds in GOOD-FOR-YOU healthy fats, and there is minimal sugar. You could even swap out the chocolate chips for extra dark chocolate to get the antioxidant benefits.

But I won’t judge if you want to up the ante and use mini chocolate chip cookies for your dunkers. Just sayin’.

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Sneaky Cookie Dough Dip {recipe adapted from Chocolate-Covered Katie}

The best way to indulge in all the goodness of cookie dough, but without the guilt! This dip will fool even the pickiest of eaters; they’ll be going back for seconds, and then thirds!

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups chickpeas or white beans, drained and rinsed very well

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup nut butter of choice {my homemade peanut butter works excellent here!}

up to 1/4 cup milk, only if needed

1/4 to 1/2 cup brown sugar

1/3 to 1/2 cup chocolate chips

2 to 3 Tbsp. oats

To Prepare:

Add all ingredients {except for chocolate chips” into the body of a good food processor, and process until very smooth. This will take anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes. If the mixture is too thick, drizzle in a tiny bit of milk until desired consistency is reached.

Fold in the chocolate chips and scoop into a dish. Garnish with graham crackers, sliced fruit, or cinnamon-sugar toast points. Enjoy!

hot & sweet baked chicken wings

Chicken wings. Everyone loves ’em, myself included.

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BUT! One of my biggest issues with this delicious indulgence is that it veers slightly {ok, a lot} on the unhealthy side. I’ll be the first to agree with “everything in moderation” and “it’s ok to indulge once in awhile” but what is a girl to do smack-dab in the middle of football season, when wings abound at almost every game gathering?

Rather than spending my time mulling over the loss of eating wings, I decided to come up with my own! Easy or not, it’s always fun for me to come up with healthier recipes on more indulgent treats. Y’all should know that by now.

And let me tell you, this wings are a WINNER. Every time I’ve made these beauties, there is not one scrap of a leftover. They are THAT GOOD {the emphasis of caps is totally necessary for these, I’m not joking}. The flavor of the sauce, both sweet and hot, permeates down to the core of these wings, making every bite as delicious as the one prior. The exterior remains crispy, due to the high heat of baking {no frying here!},yett the meat itself is so perfectly moist and tender. These are to.die.for.

But be forewarned! – if you show up at a party with these, don’t expect to get away attending your next one without a batch or two. Your friends might not let you through the door.

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Hot & Sweet Baked Chicken Wings

the perfect balance of spicy and sweet, these beauties are sure to please! & because we’re baking them in high heat for a long period of time, these are guaranteed to come out perfectly moist and delicious – every single time. 

Ingredients: marinade can be mixed and used to soak the chicken before cooking; I suggest a good 3-4 hours for maximum flavor absorption

2 large packages (anywhere from 2-3 lbs. & will be about 12 pieces) of bone-in, skin-on chicken wings {make sure you look for the ones that have the wing tip connected to the actual arm of the bird!)

1-1/2 cups Frank’s Original Hot Sauce

1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce

1/2 to 1 tsp. ground ginger, or to taste

drizzle of honey, optional

To Prepare:

If you have pre-marinated your chicken , remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before preheating the oven to allow them to remove some of the chill. This helps the wings to cook more evenly. 

In a large measuring cup, combine the 1-1/2 cups of Frank’s Original Hot Sauce, 1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce, ground ginger, and optional honey. Whisk well to combine, and set aside.

Remove the chicken from its packaging and pat dry, making sure to remove any excess moisture. Add all pieces into a large mixing bowl, and pour in the marinade. Toss to coat, making sure every nook of the wings are coated. I really like to get in there, and just use my hands to do the mixing; it’s up to you! {just make sure to wash your hands really well}

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Prepare your baking trays – along the bottom and sides of a rimmed baking sheet, line generously with heavy duty aluminum foil. Place a cooling rack directly atop the foil, and spray generously with cooking spray. Repeat with the second baking sheet, and set aside.

Evenly disperse your chicken wings among the two baking sheets. Should you have any extra marinade left, make sure to drizzle on top of the wings!

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Bake for anywhere from 60-75 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the chicken {at its thickest point} reads 165.

Serve with slices of crunchy vegetables {celery, carrots, etc} and blue cheese dressing!

Let’s Discuss: what are some of your favorite wing flavors? Do you like sweet, savory, zingy, or any other combination?

savory sausage roll

Y’all, today’s recipe is another classic bread machine recipe.

This savory dish evokes memories of my childhood. Most Christmas Eve celebrations were spent with just the family at home. After attending Mass, my sisters/mom/myself would spend time together in the kitchen, putting together a veritable spread of tasty treats out for us to nosh on and enjoy for the rest of the evening. I can’t quite put my finger on the first year we had this, but after one bite of trying this dish, you’ll understand why it’s a frequent culinary visitor in our home.

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While I’ve veered ever so slightly from my mom’s original recipe, the foundation and flavors of this remain the same. The smoked turkey sausage holds up brilliantly to the flavors of the dried rosemary and Italian cheese we will be incorporating into the filling. Using some whole wheat flour in the dough adds a slightly warm and nutty flavor, which is perfect for this early autumn season. Its exterior is perfectly crisp and golden, making it the perfect vehicle for dipping a la fondue style, or for building an open-faced sandwich {if you’re feeling particularly adventurous!}.

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This is a great dish for entertaining with, too! It can be 100% prepared in advance, and after it has cooled, can be wrapped tightly in foil and either refrigerated or frozen until needed! Simply pop it in the oven until warm and crispy throughout, and you’ll be the hit of the party.

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Savory Sausage Roll {recipe adapted from The Bread Machine Cookbook III}

Easy to prepare and insanely delicious, this dish is great for easy meals and entertaining. The filling can be tailored to suit any taste – hot or sweet Italian sausage can be used, the type and amount of cheese can be adjusted, and other flavorings/spices can be added. This one is sure to win the stomachs over of whomever tries it! 

Ingredients: for a medium-sized roll

1 cup water {you can use apple juice, if you’d like}

1-1/2 tbsp. olive oil

1-1/2 tbsp. honey

1/3 tsp. salt

1 tsp. dried rosemary

1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1-1/2 cups bread flour

1-1/2 tsp. yeast

Ingredients: for the filling

1 package of smoked sausage {I like to use a smoked turkey sausage}, cut into slices

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 green pepper, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup of shredded Italian blend cheese

salt and pepper, to taste

To Prepare the Dough:

Add ingredients listed above into your bread machine, and cook on the prescribed manufacturer settings. As a point of reference, my dough cycle runs about 1 hour and 50 minutes, or I can opt for the quick cycle and have it done in 45 minutes.

To Prepare the Filling:

When the dough has about 40 minutes left, start to assemble the filling.

In a large non-stick skillet, drizzle in some olive oil and let it heat up to medium heat. Add in the sliced sausage, and cook until the edges begin to brown and the insides start to caramelize. Add in the diced onion, diced pepper, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and cook 7-10 minutes, until the onion is translucent and the peppers have softened slightly.

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Remove from heat, and transfer the mixture into the bowl of your food processor. Pulse several times, or until the sausage has been broken up slightly {you want it to look like ground meat, with the flecks of garlic and vegetables running throughout}.

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Allow to cool until the dough has run its course; we want it to be room temperature, ideally. Once cooled to room temperature, fold in the shredded cheese.

Assemble the Sausage Roll:

Preheat your over to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with either a Sil-Pat sheet or parchment paper {I like to give it a good spray, too, for good measure}.

Once the dough cycle is complete, flour a large surface where you will do your rolling. Turn the dough out onto the surface, and roll out into a large rectangle.

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Spread filling mixture evenly across the entire surface, leaving a small border around all four edges. Roll up, jelly-roll style, until completely encased in itself. Pinch all edges closed, and transfer to lined baking sheet.

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Rub the top with a little olive oil and sprinkle with additional rosemary to garnish, if desired. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. IMG_3627

*if you find your roll taking longer than the prescribed 45 minutes, increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees and allow to finish off. It is also helpful to rotate the pan halfway through the baking process. 

Let’s Discuss: what are some other fun ingredients you could imagine putting into a dish such as this? I can totally see myself making a chicken florentine style roll….complete with shredded chicken, Itlain meats, spinach and spicy peppers!

 

perfectly perfect hard-boiled eggs

These have been a summer snack time staple – say that three times fast!

I don’t know about y’all, but I tend to get in a groove of sorts when it comes to my daily routine. For weeks at a time, I’ll hardly deviate from a certain breakfast {steel cut oats loaded with fresh fruit and granola is a particular favorite}, a mid-afternoon snack {fruit and cheese plate makes for a wonderful workday treat} or an after-dinner treat. There’s something quietly comforting, knowing exactly what to expect out of your lunchbox, when there are so many variables that can affect how you day goes.

That’s where this gorgeous little gem comes into play. I don’t know what took me so long to remind myself of these treats, but I tell you, I don’t know how the hubs and I have made it through so long without these! Formally reintroduced to us from my wonderful mother-in-law on our earlier summer trip to Tahoe, I was smacking my head because I hadn’t made these in so long. These were a daily staple in our hiking packs – perfectly contained in their “natural” tupperware {egg shell for the win!}, they make the perfect snack on the go. A perfect balance of protein and vitamins, these will keep you going without holding you back.

Ever since that wonderful trip, said eggs have become commonplace in our refrigerator. It’s safe to say that, come our weekly grocery trip, a dozen eggs will be bought solely for the purpose of hard-boiling. They’re just perfect; I don’t foresee us tiring of them anytime soon!

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Perfectly Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs {adapted, minimally, from Martha Stewart}

Ingredients:

12 large eggs, room temperature

9 cups of water, room temperature

1/4 cup distilled white vinegar

*special ingredients – large sauce pan, slotted spoon and colander, large bowl full of ice 

To Prepare:

Place eggs in a large sauce pan. Cover them with water by 1 inch, and add in the vinegar, stirring to combine. Be careful and stir gently; you don’t want to crack the eggs.

Slowly bring water/vinegar mixture to a boil over medium heat. When the liquid has reached a boil, cover and remove from heat. Let sit for 10 minutes.

Transfer eggs to a colander; place under cool running water to stop the cooking. Eggs can be peeled and served immediately, or stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.