Friday, September 26, 2014

Lightened-Up Slow Cooker Creamy Mexican Chicken

You all already know how much I love my crock pot. Even more so now that fall is here because who doesn't love coming home to a warm, cooked meal after a long day of work. I am always looking for new recipes and ways to lighten them up, even just a little bit. I recently came across this creamy Mexican chicken recipe, but you probably think the same thing when I see the word, "creamy". Creamy = high calorie (but boy does it probably taste good!). It doesn't have to be though. You know I wouldn't lead you down the wrong path here. At least I hope you know that by now. 

The original creamy Mexican chicken recipe called for chicken thighs and cream cheese - these are the two highest fat and calorie items of them all. There's also some black beans, corn, and salsa in there (we'll get to all that in a minute), but let's step back to the chicken and creamy goodness. I never used to like chicken thighs (I am a white meat girl), but over the past year or so, I have grown to love them both in crock pot meals and on the grill. Don't ask me why I suddenly changed my mind. I just did. Nevertheless, I still love chicken breast. So, to lighten up this dish in anyway I could, I decided to use chicken breasts. Now, you can use thighs if you want, but chicken breasts in this recipe are just as good. It's up to you though. Now comes the cream cheese. Of course, this is what makes the dish so creamy and I thought, what other ways could I lighten it up. Light sour cream first came to mind, but sometimes that breaks up and doesn't blend well into hot dishes. Cream and half and half came to mind too, but those are even worse than cream cheese. No such luck there. Then it came to me - light cream cheese. Why have I never noticed this in the store before? Maybe it's because I try to stay away from it (I am a former bagel and cream cheese addict). The best part of it is that it has 33% less fat and you'd really never know the difference. If you put them side by side, you may notice that the regular cream cheese is just a bit richer. But honestly, you'd never know that unless I told you. 

This creamy Mexican chicken could not be easier to throw together and all you need is chicken breasts, a jar of salsa, a can of corn, a can of beans, a couple of tablespoons of ranch seasoning, a dash of garlic powder (optional) and a package of light cream cheese. You literally place the chicken on the bottom of the crock pot and dump everything else in - just don't add the cream cheese yet! Close the lid and let everything cook for about five hours or so. It may take longer or shorter depending on the size of your chicken breasts. Once the chicken is cooked and can shred easily, take the chicken out and shred it up. Place the chicken back in the crock pot and place the block of cream cheese right on top. Don't mix. Just leave it there. Close the lid and let it sit for about 30 minutes. After you've patiently waited for half an hour, stir the cream cheese around. It will be perfectly soft and gooey and will blend just wonderfully into the chicken and saucy goodness. 

Now it's up to you to choose how you want to enjoy this creamy Mexican chicken. You can enjoy it over rice, in burritos or tacos, make homemade baked taquitos or even in a big salad. No matter which way you choose to enjoy it, I am sure you and your family, friends or whoever you serve it to, will love it. 

PS. This also freezes well for a quick freezer meal for those nights when you have no idea what to cook!

just throw it all in... just a few hours, add the cream cheese


Lightened-Up Slow Cooker Creamy Mexican Chicken (adapted from

4-5 chicken breasts

1 (15 1/2 ounce) can black beans (or any bean of your choice), drained
1 (15 ounce) can corn, drained
1 (15 ounce) jar of your favorite salsa
3 tablespoons dry ranch seasoning
1 tablespoon garlic powder (optional)
1 (8oz) package of light cream cheese

Spray slow cooker with non-stick spray and place chicken breasts in the bottom. Then place all of the remaining ingredients (mins the cream cheese) into the crock pot and cover with the lid. Cook on slow for 5-6 hours or until your chicken breasts are cooked. 

Once the breasts are fully cooked, remove and shred the chicken. Then, place back into the crock pot and place the block of cream cheese on the top. Do not stir in. Place the lid back on the crock pot and cook for another 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, the cream cheese will be softened and warm. Stir in to combine and enjoy!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

I know what you are all thinking - cheese in cookies? She must be crazy. Trust me, I'm not. Okay, well, maybe a little, but not when it comes to these cookies. They are the perfect combination of lightness and lemony goodness. These cookies are something that you must add to your regular cookie rotation. A chocolate chip cookie is always my go to cookie (okay, maybe it's just the dough), but sometimes you just want a cookie that's a little different and something refreshing. This lemon ricotta cookie will do just the trick.

This cookie first starts out with something you may never have thought to put in your cookie dough - ricotta cheese. Now, if you are anything like me, you probably have a tub (or half a tub) of ricotta somewhere in the back of your fridge. Okay, you don't have that in the back of your fridge? I guess that's just me then. I'm always making lasagna, but I digress. If you don't have ricotta in your fridge, go get some now. These cookies are so simple and a must make the next time you need a new cookie. You'll need all the usual go to cookie ingredients (sugar, flour, butter, etc.) as well as a container of ricotta and some lemons. That's it. When you mix everything together, the batter will be a bit thinner than cookie dough, but thicker than cake batter. Does that make sense? You'll know what I am talking about when you see the batter. Don't be concerned when it's not too thick. You did everything right. I was a little worried too, but trust me, everything will turn out just fine. Promise!

Now, keep in mind that the cookies will grow a bit during the baking process so don't put them too close on the cookie sheet. Once all the cookies are baked, they will be golden on the bottom and soft and almost cake like in the middle. They are like little lemony pillows of goodness! When all the cookies are cooled, you will top them with this amazing lemony glaze that hardens slightly and gives the cookies and extra punch of lemon flavor. You can't forget the glaze. It makes the cookies pop and gives them an extra fancy touch you wouldn't expect. Don't forget though - fancy cookies do not have to be difficult cookies to make. And trust me, I've made some difficult cookies in my life. This cookie is definitely not that and I am almost willing to bet that it's soon become one of your favorites. Especially so if you are a lemon lover. And if you aren't, well, you might just become one. 

vodka not included

look at all that zest!

remember, don't put the batter too close

look at all that sticky glaze - yum!

Lemon Ricotta Cookies (Giada DeLaurentiis)


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 lemon, zested

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 lemon, zested

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the large bowl combine the butter and the sugar. Using an electric mixer beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating until incorporated. Add the ricotta cheese, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Beat to combine. Stir in the dry ingredients.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Spoon the dough (about 2 tablespoons for each cookie) onto the baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, until slightly golden at the edges. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 20 minutes.

Whent the cookies have cooled, combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Spoon about 1/2-teaspoon onto each cookie and use the back of the spoon to gently spread. Let the glaze harden for about 2 hours. Enjoy!

These cookies would be amazing as a gift or even as part of your holiday cookie rotation. They are fancy without being over complicated. Now that's the best type of cookie!

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!