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Chopped: Amateur Hour – Pork Chops

Chopped: Amateur Hour - Pork Chops

Pork chops, rice noodles, UGLI fruit, and … wait, what?

Over the weekend we decided to try something. I’ll call it, “Chopped: Amateur Hour.” We decided it would be fun to try our hand at a Chopped-inspired meal. For those of you unfamiliar, Choppedis a show that airs on Food Network that gives contestants a mystery basket of ingredients. They compete against one another, but more importantly, against the items in the basket. They don’t know what the ingredients will be prior opening the basket, and the producers of the show always try to throw them a curveball. Why, yes, that is a basket of halibut, fingerling potatoes, wild rice, and cotton candy.

So while H stayed at home, my brother-in-law and I went to the store to put together a “mystery bag” of ingredients. We settled on bone-in pork chops, UGLI fruit, thin rice noodles, and two varieties of Snack Pack – chocolate caramel and tapioca. H found the ingredients … interesting, but she was up to challenge. Regardless, our plan B was double-cheeseburgers from McDonalds.

Since I’m writing this blog entry, I am happy to report that we survived, and the results were quite impressive, all things considered. H crusted the pork chops in a chili powder and paprika rub and pan fried them. The rice noodles were prepared two ways – boiled and tossed with the juice of the UGLI fruit, and pan fried to a crisp as a textural contrast and placed atop the pork chops. The Snack Pack, as we suspected, proved to be the most difficult items. H cooked down both the chocolate caramel and tapioca Snack Packs and added shallots and garlic. Her idea was that the savory garlic and shallot flavors would help to cut through the sweetness of the pudding.

The flavor of the pork chop was really nice. The pork chop had a great smoky flavor that went well with the sweetness of the sauce. The rice noodles were a little on the bland side as the UGLI fruit really didn’t show up. And the Snack Pack sauce, if eaten alone, was a little too overpoweringly chocolatey. But, with a little of each component, it was surprisingly good. I’m not quite sure that it’s something that we would make again just as a planned meal, but given that the ingredients were a total mystery, H did a really nice job.

Of course, there will be a chance for revenge. I’m up next. We’ll see how it goes. I’m not expecting the same result, so we’ll have a plan B ready.

Happy fooding.

– C


Chicken, Bacon Mac & Cheese

Gooey Italian and jack cheeses, crispy applewood-smoked bacon and juicy chicken breast pieces . . . sounds great (and unhealthy) right?  Amazing as it is, this dish is lightened up enough that a serving of two cups is under 500 calories.  Butter is removed from this dish and replaced with cream of mushroom soup and skim milk.  Finished with reduced fat shredded cheeses and a single piece of crumbled bacon these ingredients add the perfect amount of creaminess and salt without going overboard.  For the chicken, I utilized a rotisserie chicken and removed the skin/fat and shredded the breast meat for this dish.  I then heated up the breast meat it the pan drippings from cooking the bacon.  I’ve gotten in the habit of buying a rotisserie chicken on Sundays and storing the meat for use later in the week.  Having the chicken done ahead of time makes this dish simple and quick to make.  I also recommend cooking this dish in a pan that can be put in the oven and on the stove.  This means a lot less dirty dishes to clean.


I promise that even though this dish is a lightened-up version of a favorite comfort food recipe – it tastes great!  Enjoy!



Recipe adapted from MyRecipes: Bacon, Ranch and Chicken Mac and Cheese


8 oz uncooked elbow macaroni (or shells)

1 slice applewood-smoked bacon (I’ve also used reduced sodium bacon)

1 cup shredded chicken breasts (rotisserie chicken with skin/fat removed works great!)

1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbs flour

1 1/2 cup fat-free milk

1/2 cup condensed, reduced sodium & fat, cream of mushrrom soup

3/4 cup reduced fat, italian blend, shredded cheese

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp dill

1/8 tsp salt

Cooking spray

1/2 cup reduced fat, shredded colby/jack cheese



1) Cook pasta according to package directions and drain.

2) Cook bacon in large nonstick skillet (that can go in the oven) over medium heat until crispy.  Remove from pan and reserve drippings.  Chop bacon and set aside.

3) Add shredded or cubed chicken breasts to pan and saute until heated through or cooked (3-6 minutes).  Remove chicken and set aside.

4) Add oil to pan and heat over medium-high.  Add flour and cook two minutes, stirring constantly with a whisk.  Combine milk and soup and add mixture to pan.  Continue stirring until mixture comes to a boil; cook two minutes or until thick. Remove from head and let stand four minutes so sauce can cool.  Add Italian cheese blend, onion powder, garlic powder, dill and salt.  Stir until cheese melts.  Add the past and chicken and stir to combine.

5) Preheat broiler.

6) Sprinkle with bacon and colby/jack cheese.  Broil 3 minutes or until cheese melts



Serving size – 2 cups

Calories: 497

Fat: 17g

Protein 33.3g


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General Tso’s Chicken

I’ve been making this recipe with my family for years.  It’s always been one of my favorite foods to make at home but fried in a wok and containing lots of sugar and cornstarch made it everything but healthy.  So this go around I tried to lighten it up while still maintaining the integrity of the dish.  I reduced the amounts of sugar, salt, oil and cornstarch to lower the calories and sodium in this meal.  The end result was great.  My husband and brother even commented it tasted better than the original recipe.  The sauce is thick and tangy with just enough heat and the chicken stays moist and tender. I hope you enjoy.




Ingredients – Sauce:

1/4 cup corn starch

1/8 cup water

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 inch of fresh ginger root, minced

1/4 cup white sugar

4 Tbs low sodium soy sauce

1/4 cup white vinegar

1/8 cup cooking sherry or white wine

1 cup reduced sodium chicken broth

2 cups green onions, chopped

4 dried peppers or 2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (alter to taste)


Ingredients – Meat:

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts

3 Tbs soy sauce

1 tsp white pepper

1 1/2 Tbs corn starch

1 1/2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil



1.  Combine all meat ingredients except olive oil in a large bowl.  Allow to marinate at room temperature while preparing other ingredients.

2. Combine all sauce ingredients except peppers and green onion in a large bowl.  Mix well until cornstarch and sugar is dissolved.

3. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add chicken and cooked until browned and cooked through (appx 15 min).  Remove chicken and set aside.

4. Reduce heat to medium and add green onions and peppers to remaining oil in skillet.  Cook until onions are tender and the peppers are fragrant (appx 2 min).  Re-mix the sauce ingredients and add to the pan.  Stir consistently until sauce thickens and starts to boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer and add chicken.  Cook until chicken is heated through (appx 2 min).

Serve with Jasmine rice.  Delicious!


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Skillet Beef Tenderloin

Beef Tenderloin

I could get used to this

Alert: It’s not tough to cook steak during winter. Either brave the cold – depending on where you live – and grill outside, or use a cast iron skillet. Last night, we did the latter.

The meal, which allowed us to indulge in steak, also kept us aligned with our healthy-eating resolution (we calculated this entire meal to be around 450 calories). The key? Lean beef tenderloin and fresh vegetables. The tenderloin was 4.5 lb originally, but for last night’s meal I cut off three filets that were around 6 ounces each. The rest we froze for later , which I’ll be honest, may be tomorrow given how good everything turned out. The beef I seasoned with a dry rub that I altered just a bit from Weber’s Real Grilling book. And for the vegetables, we kept it simple – sauteed onions and mushrooms, and in a separate pan, green and yellow beans. Definitely alter the rub or vegetable sides to your choosing. And dress the steak however you wish – H likes blue cheese and A1, I like mine as-is. Happy fooding! – C

Um. Yeah. Steak. Delicious, delicious steak.


  • 3 beef tenderloin filets, trimmed of any visible fat, 6 ounces each
  • 2 cups of fresh green beans
  • 1.5 cups of fresh yellow beans
  • 1 medium sweet yellow onion
  • 1 cup of sliced white mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Palm-full of fresh thyme

For the dry rub (again, slightly altered from Weber’s Real Grilling book):

  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon pure chile powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon minced, dried garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions for the beef:

  1. Let the beef stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes prior to cooking.
  2. Prepare the dry rub, and lightly coat each side of the beef with olive oil.
  3. Apply the dry rub and then follow The Kitchn’s directions on how to cook steak in the oven (skip to step 4 if you are using our dry rub recipe – and be sure to alter the cooking time depending on the type and thickness of your steaks). Nice and easy.

Directions for onions and mushrooms:

  1. Dice the onion and slice the mushrooms (or buy pre-sliced mushrooms)
  2. Put 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat
  3. Add the onions and mushrooms
  4. Season to taste with kosher salt and pepper
  5. Once onions begin to turn translucent, add the fresh thyme

Directions for beans:

  1. Wash the beans and remove any stems
  2. Over medium heat, add the beans to a non-stick skillet
  3. Season with kosher salt and pepper
  4. Add the lemon juice
  5. Cook until desired tenderness – we prefer our beans more on the crispy / crunchy side

Chicken Cordon Bleu

Found this recipe one day while randomly surfing websites for new recipes.  I’ve always loved chicken cordon bleu but have never found a recipe I really liked.  Most recipes either required a lot of work (stuffing chicken breasts) or were quite unhealthy.  Well this recipe totally fit the bill!  We loved it so much the first night we are literally making it again tonight – two days in a row!  The leftovers held up as well – the panko topping stayed crunchy and the flavors were spot on.  What makes this recipe so easy is all the traditional cordon bleu flavors are just piled on top of the chicken breasts and put in the oven.  A cream cheese and swiss cheese mixture adds a delicious creaminess and the ham chunks just enough salt.  We served it with a side a polenta as to not overshadow how awesome this chicken is. This recipe is so tasty, I promise you will enjoy!


Recipe adapted from EatingWell


1 1/4 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts (Should have four breasts – we cut two large ones in half)

Fresh ground pepper and kosher salt to taste

1/3 cup shredded swiss cheese plus a sprinkle more for topping

2 Tbs reduced-fat cream cheese

1/4 c panko crumbs

1 Tbs Italian breadcrumbs

1 tsp fresh chopped thyme

4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1/4 c chopped ham



1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

2) Heat 2 tsp oil in a large, ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Sprinkle chicken breasts with salt and pepper and add to skillet.  Cook chicken until browned on both sides – approximately 2 minutes per side.

3) While chicken is cooking, in a small bowl combine: cream cheese and swiss cheese.  In a second small bowl combine: pank0, bread crumbs, thyme and remaining oil.

4) Move chicken breasts to center of pan so all pieces are touching.  Top with cheese mixture and then ham.  Sprinkle a small amount of additional swiss cheese on top of ham.  Finish off with bread crumb mixture.  Bake in oven 10-15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

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Turkey Burgers with a Spicy Red Onion & Cucumber Slaw

When we cook the same dinner two weeks in a row, you know we found something we love.  This recipe for Asian turkey burgers is awesome.  Bulgur acts as the binder in this dish as opposed to breadcrumbs and eggs – this cuts down on some unnecessary calories and adds additional nutrition.  Along with bulgur, cilantro, ginger, garlic and scallions are combined to create the patty.  A homemade, spicy spread created with yogurt and chili garlic sauce adds just the right amount of zip and the cucumber and red onion slaw provides great texture and crunch.  Cooked on a grill pan for only a few minutes this meal is incredibly easy and filling.  I’m sure you will enjoy.


Recipe adapted of Food Network


1/4 cup bulgur wheat (we have also substituted quinoa)

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1 tsp sugar

1/4 seedless cucumber, sliced thin

1/4 of a red onion, sliced thin

1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt

1 tsp chili, garlic sauce (found in the Asian food isle)

12 oz lean ground turkey

2 Tbs hoisin sauce

2 scallions, chopped

1 tsp grated ginger

1 clove of garlic, minced

2 Tbs chopped, fresh cilantro

2 tsp vegetable oil

4 whole wheat hamburger rolls


1. Create the slaw.  In a bowl combine the vinegar, sugar and generous seasoning of salt and pepper. Add cucumber and onion and toss.  Marinate 30 minutes.

2. Cook the bulger according to package directions – ours said combine 1/2 cup of water with 1/4 bulgur.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover 15 minutes.

3. Create spread. Combine yogurt and chili garlic sauce. Season with salt/pepper to taste.

4. In a large bowl combine: bulgur, turkey, hoisin, scallions, ginger, garlic and cilantro.  Form into four equal sized patties.

5. Heat a nonstick grill pan (or skillet) over medium heat.  Lightly brush both sides of patty with oil and place in pan.  Cook, turning only once – 3-4 minutes per size.

6. Drain the pickled vegetables and toss with extra cilantro if desired.  Spread the yogurt sauce on the top and bottom of each bun and top with patties and cucumbers/onions.


Serves – 4 (does not include bun)

Calories – 186 g

Fat – 4 g

Protein – 18 g

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Pineapple and Green Pepper Chicken


I grew up eating this recipe at home.  Growing up I hated it – I hated anything with actual vegetables in it.  Needless to say, regardless of my hatred for this dish as a child my mom kept making it and soon I grew to love it.  This meal is now one of the staple dishes around our house.  A great mixture of flavors and textures this dish is simply awesome.  For this post I took my mom’s original recipe and changed it slightly to reduce the calories and add some additional whole grain/fiber.  I reduced the amount of sugar in half and substituted bulgur for white rice.  After my husband and I sampled the recipe this week, we ended up liking it better than the original.  The reduction in sugar made it less sweet – which we liked because the pineapple itself adds its own natural sweetness.  And the change to bulgur is just awesome – it’s texture and ability to soak up the delicious sauce made it a great accompaniment.  I really hope you enjoy.




1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, divided

3 Tbs cooking sherry

6 Tbs soy sauce, divided

1/2 tsp fresh ginger, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 green bell pepper, cut into 1 inch squares

1 can pineapple chunks in juice, separated

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup white vinegar

2 Tbs cornstarch

1/2 cup chicken broth




1. Combine: sherry, 4 Tbs soy sauce, ginger, garlic and diced chicken breasts.  Marinate at room temperature 20 minutes.

2. While marinating – combine: cornstarch, sugar, 2 Tbs soy sauce, vinegar, pineapple juice and chicken broth.  Set aside

3. Heat 1.5 Tbs oil in non-stick skillet.  Add the chicken and saute until cooked through.  Remove the chicken.  Add remaining oil, bell pepper and pineapple.  Cook until tender and pineapple starts to brown.

4. Add the cornstarch mixture to the pan (note – you may have to re-stir the mixture until the cornstarch dissolves).  Bring to a boil and cook until sauce thickens.  Stir in the chicken.

Serve with 3/4 cup cooked bulgur wheat



Servings 4 (does not include bulgur)

Calories: 344 g

Fat: 10 g

Protein: 23 g


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Skillet Gnocchi with White Beans and Diced Tomatoes

Gnocchi is one of my all time favorite comfort foods.  I’ve used it in a variety of recipes in the past but nothing you would ever consider healthy – mostly cream-based sauces and lots of cheese and butter.  Needless to say I was super excited when I stumbled upon this healthier version of gnocchi. It combines some really great ingredients including diced tomatoes, garlic, white beans and spinach that create quite a flavorful dish.  The recipe is really simple and can all be cooked in one pan making cleanup a breeze.  Start to finish I was done in 30 minutes.  The results were awesome.  The dish tasted like gnocchi from some of our favorite local Italian restaurants. I even ate some leftovers for lunch today and they still tasted awesome.  I highly recommend this recipe.



Recipe adapted from EatingWell


1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil plus 1 tsp – divided

1 16 ounce package shelf-gnocchi (found near the pasta/Italian food)

1 yellow onion, sliced

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 cup water

6 cups chopped spinach or chard

1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning

1 15 ounce can white beans, rinsed (we used large butter beans)

1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper

1/2 cup shredded park-skim mozzarella cheese


1. Heat 1 Tbs oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add gnocchi and cook 5-7 minutes, stirring often until plumped and starting to brown.  Transfer to bowl.

2. Add 1 tsp oil to skill with onions. Cook over medium heat 2-4 minutes until onions start to become transparent. Add water and garlic, cover and cooking 4-6 minutes until onions fully soft. Add spinach/chard and cook 1-2 minutes, until starting to wilt.  Stir in tomatoes, beans and pepper. Bring to a simmer.  Add the gnocchi and mozzarella cheese.  Cook until cheese is melted and sauce bubbles.


Serves 6

Calories: 325

Fat: 7 g

Protein: 14 g


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Quinoa and Black Beans – Everyday Delicious

Quinoa with Corn and Black Beans

So everyone says quinoa is one of those amazing foods. Not only is the pronunciation pretty cool – ‘keen-wah’ – but it’s packed with protein, iron, fiber, and is gluten free.  The name alone scared me at first but I never really tried cooking it because I thought it would be difficult or taste bad.  I was totally wrong.  It’s super easy to cook and very delicious.  This recipe in particular highlights how great it is.  It’s wonderful left over, combined with chicken, salsa or even low fat sour cream.  I literally ate this as my lunch at work for two weeks straight and loved it every time.  At around 140 calories for an entire cup, this tasty dish is sure to please and keep you feeling good.

– H

Recipe courtesy of AllRecipes – Quiona and Black Beans

Modified slightly by adding a tablespoon of tomatillo salsa, less black beans and low sodium chicken stock to the finished product


1 tsp vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

3/4 cup uncooked quiona

1 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth

1 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 cup frozen corn kernels

1 can (15 oz) black beans – drained and rinsed

chopped fresh cilantro to taste


1. Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat. Stir in onion and saute until brown.  Add garlic and saute a few seconds more until fragrent.

2. Mix quiona into saucepan and cover with chicken broth.  Season with cumin, cayenne and any salt and pepper to taste. Bring mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce head and simmer 20 minutes

3. Stir frozen corn into saucepan and simmer 5 minutes more.  Mix in black beans and cilantro

Recommended served with a few tablespoons of tomatillo salsa


Serving size = 1 cup

142 calories

1.7 g fat

6.9 g protein