Thursday, September 4, 2014

Slow Cooker Pesto Ranch Chicken

In sharing the homemade ranch seasoning mix with you all last night, I realized that I have yet to share one of my quickest, easiest and favorite slow cooker recipes with you - pesto ranch chicken! I could have sworn that I already shared this with you, but after pouring over all my posts, I just couldn't find it. I am already going crazy and the new school year has just started. That is scary. Nevertheless, this recipe is a must try and it could not be easier. Seriously. All you need is your favorite pesto (homemade or store bought), ranch seasoning mix, a bit of chicken broth and chicken thighs. Place all four ingredients in the crock pot and close the lid. No fancy mixing here - just dump everything in! You can cook these on high and have them ready in 3-4 hours, if you need a fast and quick meal or on low for 6-8 hours, if you have a bit more time. Whether you cook them fast or slow, it doesn't matter. They are amazing either way. There is something that happens when the pesto and ranch cook together. I can't explain it, but boy is it delish. I'll be the first to tell you that I was skeptical when I first saw this recipe, but I am now a believer that ranch seasoning + pesto = amazing.  Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

yummy chicken!

Slow Cooker Pesto Ranch Chicken (Picky Palate)

8 boneless skinless chicken thighs
6 ounce jar of pesto
1 package Ranch Dressing Seasoning Mix (or three tablespoons homemade seasoning)
1/2 cup chicken broth

Turn crock pot to high setting. Place chicken thighs, pesto, ranch dressing and chicken broth into crock pot. Stir gently to combine all seasonings. Close with lid and cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-8 hours. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Homemade Ranch Seasoning Mix

I must be going crazy because I thought I had shared this fabulous recipe with you months ago, but it looks like I never did. Oops. I know many have you been waiting for this and I have apparently been holding back. I promise you it was worth the the wait though! This ranch seasoning mix is just like the packets you get in the store, but no added salt, preservatives or any of that funky stuff. Don't get me wrong, the packets at the store are great - easy to grab, add to your favorite recipe and boy are they tasty. But, they also can add up. I think one packet alone is $1.50. It doesn't seem like much now, but if you use ranch seasoning quite often, it can get expensive! So, I thought to myself - I bet I can make my own at home and in a big batch so I always have it on hand (especially for my all time favorite creamy dill dressing and slow cooked pesto ranch chicken (coming soon!)!). Why not right? If I could make my own taco seasoning, I knew I could make my own ranch seasoning mix too!

This seasoning mix could not be any easier to throw together. Plus, you probably have most of the spices in your pantry already. The only thing I needed to get was dried buttermilk and onion flakes. Dried buttermilk should not be too hard to find, but if you can not locate in a store near you, you can always order if off Amazon (and for a good price too). Most stores sell it these days though. Especially in the baking isle. That is where I found mine! Also, onion flakes are part of the normal spice display at your local store, so that shouldn't be too hard to find either. If for some reason the onion flakes are difficult to find, you can leave them out, or double the onion powder. Either way, it will still be just as good. Mix it up, shake it up and you are good to go. If you like your mix nice and smooth, you can grind it up in a blender or food processor. I left mine as is, but that's because I like to see all the spices. Blend if you want, blend if you don't. This ranch seasoning will be good for about three months, but I am almost certain you will you use it all before then. If not, gift the rest away. Everyone is sure to love it!

If you want to make ranch dressing using this mix, add one tablespoon of the seasoning to 1/3 cup mayo and 1/3 cup water. Mix to combine and enjoy. If you want to lighten things up, use light mayo or even your favorite Greek yogurt!

Homemade Ranch Seasoning Mix (Gimme Some Oven)


1/3 cup dry buttermilk
2 Tbsp. dried parsley
1 1/2 tsp. dried dill weed
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. dried onion flakes
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried chives
1 tsp. salt (if desired)

Whisk all ingredients together until blended. If you want a more finely-ground seasoning mix, you can pulse the mixture in a food processor or blender until it reaches your desired consistency.

 3 Tablespoons of this mix = 1 packet of the store-bought seasoning mix

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Lightened Up Slow Cooker Sweet & Sour Chicken

With the end of summer just around the corner, the heat sure is not letting up here in California. In fact, yesterday, it was over 100. Yes, you heard me right, 100 degrees. I am so over the heat and am more than ready for Fall. It's my favorite season. Not just because it's cooler, but because the leaves start to change and the scarves and sweaters can finally come out. Plus, there's rain. Well, I hope there will be rain. California really needs it! Whether it's summer or fall, the crock pot is one of my favorite kitchen tools. It's great to prepare a warm and satisfying meal on a cool day or to make a super yummy dinner without having to heat up the kitchen on a hot day. You can't really go wrong when using a crock pot. Maybe I am biased, but I think everyone needs one. Especially to make this lightened up sweet and sour chicken!

A month or so ago, I came across this fabulous slow cooker sweet and sour chicken in my Cooking Light magazine. I have made a couple of other Chinese dishes in my crock pot, but never sweet and sour chicken.  Of course had to try it! This chicken is a little sweet, a little sour and a whole lot delicious. And it couldn't be easier to make. There are no strange ingredients and takes just a few minutes to throw together (and it only takes four hours to cook from start to finish!). Are you ready for the best part? Here we go. 2/3 cup chicken plus 1/2 cup rice is 330 calories, 3 grams of fat and 18 grams for protein. Now we're talking. That's my kind of meal! Plus, no one will ever know this is lightened up. In fact, they will probably think that you got this at your favorite local Chinese restaurant. It's that good. I kid you not. Plus, this freezes great for a meal at a later date. Make a double batch - one for now and one for later. You won't regret it. Promise!

yummy ingredients

saucy sauce

look at all those bright colors!

seriously, it's so good!

Lightened Up Slow Cooker Sweet & Sour Chicken (Cooking Light)

1 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium) 
1/3 cup sugar 
1/3 cup ketchup 
1/4 cup orange juice 
3 tablespoons cornstarch 3 tablespoons cider vinegar 2 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce 
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces 
2 (8-ounce) cans pineapple chunks in juice, drained 1 large green bell pepper, cut into 3/4-inch pieces 
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 3/4-inch pieces 
3 cups hot cooked white or brown rice

Combine first 12 ingredients in an electric slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours or high for 4 hours. Serve over rice. Enjoy! 

Who needs take out when you can make your own at home!


Friday, August 29, 2014

Cheesy Zucchini Rice

Cheesy. Zucchini. Rice. Now, say that three times fast. Okay, maybe that was a little too easy, but so is this rice. With most every one having access to fresh zucchini this time of the year (especially homegrown), this rice is a must make. It's super simple to throw together and only takes 20 minutes. By the time you whip up everything else, your rice will be done and ready to enjoy. Talk about perfect timing.

Now, go over to your pantry and pull out the following - white rice, chicken broth, zucchini, some cheese and salt, pepper and a bit of garlic powder. Just a few simple ingredients to make such a yummy side dish. Or to be honest, you could just eat it on your own. I would. I mean, I have. Wait, I take it back. I didn't just tell you that. You can't really go wrong with zucchini and cheese. There is just something magical about those two things. Seriously. Plus, this rice goes with just about everything  - chicken, pork, fish. Do you need me to keep going? I am sure it's even good with just grilled veggies or tofu. Don't kill me for saying tofu. It's really good. At least I think so. Some people may beg to differ, but I digress. This rice is sure to become a favorite on your table and even better, you get your veggies in there too (which parents will love and kids will never know - sneaky, sneaky). Talk about win, win!

look at that rice-y goodness

how pretty does that look! yum!

Cheesy Zucchini Rice (Mel's Kitchen Cafe)

1 cup long-grain white rice
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 medium or 2 small zucchini, grated (no need to peel!)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (sharp or mild - whatever you like!)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper, to taste
1-2 tablespoons milk, if needed

In a medium saucepan, combine the rice and chicken broth. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and let the rice simmer for 15-20 minutes until the rice is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Remove the rice from the heat and stir in the grated zucchini, cheese, and garlic powder. Add salt and pepper to taste (don't skip this step - I needed at least 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt to boost the flavor). Add a tablespoon or so of milk to adjust the texture if needed. Serve warm. Enjoy!

Who knew rice could be so good!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Skinny Baked Chicken Chimichangas

Yes, you heard me right. Skinny baked chicken chimichangas. Sounds complicated, but I promise they are super easy to make and are even better to eat. And the best part, one chimichanga with guacamole (yes, with guacamole!) is only 350 calories. That's compared to over 1,000 calories for a chicken chimichanga you'd get at your favorite Mexican restaurant. Talk about saving your waistline and your wallet. These babies are so good, that you'll no longer have to go out to Mexican. I kid you not.

To make these fabulous chimichangas, you'll need just a few ingredients - low calorie tortillas, a rotisserie chicken, a cup of shredded low-fat cheddar cheese, cumin, oregano, a cup of your favorite salsa and some green onions. That's it! You don't have to use a rotisserie chicken, but it's the quickest and easiest way to go and you can usually find them for a pretty good deal. Of course you can cook up some chicken breasts as well. You'll need about two cups worth of shredded chicken, so two large breasts should do the trick. Maybe three if they are smaller. Now, for the tortillas. You and I both know that this is what kills the calorie count at many Mexican restaurants. Flour tortillas can range anywhere from 120 calories for a small one to over 500 calories for a large one. Can you believe it? Boy are they good though. I am always on the hunt for ingredients that taste great but are low in calories. A few months ago I came across these amazing light tortillas. You should be able to find them in most stores these days and they are simply the best. Just trust me. If you can't find them, let me know and I may just send you some to try. Just maybe.

Once you have all your ingredients to go, take your rotisserie chicken, remove all the skin and shred up all the chicken. If you have used your own chicken, shred that and place it in a big bowl. Then add chopped green onions, your favorite salsa, cheese, and spices. Mix well and then evenly disperse the mixture into about six tortillas. I use about a half cup measure to evenly distribute the filling. You may find you get seven chimichangas. That's okay. That just means more for you! Wrap each one tightly, tucking all the ends in and place them in an oven safe pan. From this point, you can freeze them for later, save for the next day or bake right away. If you plan to bake right away, don't forget to spray the tops with a little non-stick spray. I know that sounds strange, but it will help them get brown and crunchy without adding too many calories. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until golden brown and you will have a fabulous dinner on your hands that everyone is sure to love. I served mine with a dollop of guacamole (I used half a 100 calorie container of Wholly Guacamole), chopped tomatoes and extra green onions. All of that goodness is only 350 calories (with lots of fiber and protein too!) and so delicious. Serve with a big salad and you are good to go!

so delish!

Skinny Baked Chicken Chimichangas (Slightly adapted from The Girl Who Ate Everything)

2 cups cooked chicken, chopped or shredded
1 cup of your favorite salsa
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1 cup shredded low-fat cheddar cheese
2 green onions, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
6 (8 inch) flour tortillas
Non-stick spray (such as Pam)

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Mix chicken, salsa, cumin, oregano, cheese and onions. Place about 1/3 cup of the chicken mixture in the center of each tortilla. Fold opposite sides over filling. Roll up from bottom and place seam-side down on a baking sheet.
Spray with non-stick spray and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.

Garnish with desired toppings and serve with salsa on the side. Yum!

You'll definitely want to make an extra batch and keep in your freezer for a quick go to meal!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Frozen Lemonade Pie

It's been hotter than you know what the last few months here in California and when it's over 100 degrees, I don't want to turn on the oven to bake anything. As hard as that may be, it's just too darn hot! The other day I wanted to make something quick and refreshing and I knew just the think - frozen lemonade pie! I first had this pie up in Oregon made by the wonderful Barby. As strange as this sounds, I had never had a frozen pie before. At least that I can remember. When Barby first pulled it out of the freezer she told us it was an ice cream pie, but when I tried it, it was so much more than that. This pie was cool, sweet and tart (yes, all at the same time) and so refreshing. To be honest, I could have eaten way more than the sliver I asked for. It was that good. I can't explain it. There was just something about it. So, when the temperature rose this week, I knew I had to make this pie myself.

I sent Barby an email asking her how she made hers because all the recipes I could find after searching "frozen lemonade pie" were made with lots of ingredients. I remember her telling me that hers was only a few and sweetened condensed milk or cool whips was definitely not one of those ingredients! Come to find out, her fabulous frozen pie only had three ingredients. Only three! I couldn't believe it. All I needed was a graham cracker crust (homemade or store bought), vanilla ice cream and lemonade concentrate. A three ingredient pie that tasted amazing? Now that's what I am talking about. 

You will need a bit of patience with this pie though. You'll first make the crust and then need to place it in your freezer to harden up. It doesn't take long, but about 20-30 minutes or so. When the crust is nice and hard, you'll want to mix up the ice cream (make sure it's soft, but not too soft!) and the concentrate. Again, make sure the frozen lemonade mix isn't too liquidy. Mix the two together until nice and mixed. Give it a quick taste to make sure it's to your liking. If you want to add more lemonade, add it. If not, then don't. I added a bit more because I felt like the lemon flavor wasn't strong enough, but that could just be me. Then, once the ice cream mixture is ready to go, pour it into the crust and, smooth it out and then place the whole thing back into the freezer. That's it. You'll need to keep it in the freezer until it's nice a solid - at least a couple of hours. I'd say three to four, just to be safe. Once it's nice and firm, cut slices and enjoy. This pie may just become your new favorite quick and easy dessert. No one will ever guess just how quick and easy it was!

I made my own crust, but you don't have to.

ice cream + frozen lemonade concentrate

I could eat this whole thing by myself

frozen crust

smooth out the ice cream

and don't forget to add the extra crumbles. yum!

Frozen Lemonade Pie (The one, the only, Barby!)

For the crust (or you can use a store bought crust):

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

For the filling:

2/3 of a 12 oz container of frozen lemonade concentrate (regular lemonade or raspberry lemonade - I used raspberry!)
2/3 of a 1/2 gallon of your favorite vanilla ice cream (I used Dreyer's vanilla bean ice cream)

To make the crust, combine the cracker crumbs, sugar and butter until the mixture is moist and well mixed. Set aside about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of crumbs. Press the remaining crumbs into a pie pan. Remember to coat the bottom and sides evenly. Place in freezer for 20-30 minutes to harden while you make the filling.

To make the filling, combine the softened lemonade concentrate and ice cream (make sure it's soft and not melted!) until everything is well mixed. I used my stand mixer, but you can do this by hand too. Once well mixed, pour the mixture into the frozen graham cracker crust and top with the additional crumbs you set aside. Place the pie back in the freezer for three to four additional hours to harden and set. Enjoy!

Who knew a three ingredient pie would be so good!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Baked Peach Almond Oatmeal

I am sorry I have been away from blogging for so long, but things have been busy the past month. Too busy. And school hasn't even started yet - yikes! We went on on a wild road trip vacation through Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. Our dog got a horrible ear infection. I had my third blogaversary. I got a promotion at work. And, we started working on our bathroom remodel again. see, I told you I was busy. I wasn't ignoring you, promise! Nevertheless, just because things have been busy doesn't mean I haven't been trying out new recipes. I won't dare tell you how many times I've run the dishwasher today. That just tells you how many dishes I've been using and how much of a mess I have been making in the kitchen.

Last week, someone left a bag of fresh and homegrown peaches in the break room at work. I walked by once and didn't grab any. I wasn't sure if I would have time to use them and wasn't sure what I would make. It took me walking by those things two more times before I grabbed a handful. And then I went back again and again. The last time, I just took the whole bag. I am pretty sure the people in the conference room next to the break room thought I was crazy. The peaches smelled so wonderful and I knew I just had to take them.

To be honest, those peaches sat on my counter at home for a few days before I started smelling them when I walked through the front door. It was at that point that I knew I needed to use them before they started molding. One already was and it was only a matter of time before they all started getting funky. Funky peaches are bad peaches. Luckily, I had enough peaches to make two dishes - peach cobbler, which is a must make, and baked oatmeal. Baked peach almond oatmeal to be exact.

I love baked oatmeal. I don't make it all the time, but there are so many flavor combinations you can do. Even better, you can make it ahead of time and even freeze it for another time. Plus, it lasts for days in the fridge for a quick grab and go breakfast. That is if it even lasts that long. It doesn't around here, that's for sure. I've made several other baked oatmeal varieties before, but nothing with peaches. Nor with almond extract. Some may say I have a mild obsession with almond extract. Or was that amaretto? Okay, I love both. This oatmeal is super simple to throw together and will some become a breakfast favorite with your family. I made mind the night before, but you can make your's as soon as you want it. My only word of advice is that if you make your oatmeal ahead of time, add a splash of milk when you warm it up. It makes the oatmeal a little extra special. When life hands you peaches, make this baked oatmeal!

super yummy ingredients

dry ingredients. can you smell that cinnamon?

wet ingredients

sprinkle the peaches all over the bottom

all  baked and ready to enjoy!

Baked Peach Almond Oatmeal (Two Peas and their Pod)

2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped almonds
2 cups Almond Breeze Vanilla Unsweetened Almond Milk (or any milk you like)
1 large egg
3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted and cooled slightly (or melted and cooled butter)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups chopped peaches
Peach slices for the top, optional
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  and spray an 8x8 square baking dish with non-stick spray. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix together the oats, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and almonds. In another medium bowl, whisk together the almond milk, egg, coconut oil, vanilla, and almond extract. Arrange the chopped peaches on the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Pour the oat mixture evenly over the peaches. Pour the almond milk mixture over the oats. Gently shake the baking dish to make sure the milk covers the oats evenly. If desired, add a few sliced peaches to the top of the oatmeal. 
Bake for 40 minutes, until the top is golden and oatmeal is set. Let cool for 5 minutes and serve warm.

Peaches make everything better.