FALL RECIPES- Acorn Squash and Chicken Chili

So, fall is here in Southern California…even though it doesn’t particularly feel like it. Today the forecast says it will get down to a chilly 70 degrees, only to get back up to 91 degrees on Saturday. I am dusting off my UGGS as we speak…haha!

Anyhow, even though it hasn’t cooled down a ton here, the fall vegetables are out in full force at the grocery stores, so I picked up a few of my favorites last week. I always buy spaghetti squash, but one of my other favorites during the fall is acorn squash. This little green and orange nugget of joy has a sweet flavor when baked. One cup has only 56 calories and 25% of your daily Vitamin C!

One of my favorite acorn squash recipes is to just cut one in half, bake it in the oven for about 25-30 minutes and drizzle it with coconut oil, a little cinnamon and brown sugar. But today I decided I wanted to do something a little more filling and put together a delicious chili that will last for a few days in my refrigerator…which is a good thing, because I have a busy week. Any time I can make a healthy and hearty meal that I can put in tupperware and carry with me to work for lunch is a good meal.

This chili was a little different. It called for a cup of pilsner, which is a light beer. It also called for unsweetened cocoa powder, which has become a staple in my chilies, because it adds a rich but subtle dash of flavor.

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ACORN SQUASH AND CHICKEN CHILI

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 acorn squash seeded, cooked, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into 1-inch pieces
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes with their juices
1 cup pilsner/light beer
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Navitas Naturals)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 15 1/2 ounce can black beans, drained
Juice of 2 limes (about 3 tablespoons)
Cilantro, for serving

Feel free to add sour cream, greek yogurt or sliced avocados as well!

DIRECTIONS

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the bell pepper, garlic, five-spice powder and chili powder and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the squash pieces, chicken pieces, tomatoes, beer, cocoa powder and brown sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Stir in the black beans and lime juice and cook for 5 minutes. Let the stew cool slightly, then ladle into bowls and top each serving with some cilantro.

ENJOY!

Have A Healthy Cinco De Mayo? It Is Possible…

Today is Cinco De Mayo. This day is actually meant to commemorate the Mexican Army’s 1862 victory over France at the battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. It is not Mexican Independence Day, which some of you may not know. What it has become for many Americans however,  is a day where we excessively chow down on greasy Mexican fare and margaritas.

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I do happen to LOVE Mexican based foods…however, the grease, heavy meats and cheese don’t always agree with me, or my hips. Here are some of my thoughts on how to have your Cinco De Mayo and eat it too…still delicious…and healthy!

-Use guacamole instead of extra cheese and sour cream. Guacamole (check on how it is made if you go to a restaurant!) is made with avocado, which is good fat; make it with onions, tomatoes, cilantro, lime and pepper.

 -Grill some chicken seasoned overnight with lots of garlic, onion powder, black pepper, Dijon mustard, red pepper flakes.

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-If you are at a restaurant, choose fajitas. This should be chicken, steak or some sort of fish grilled with bell peppers and onions. This is one of the healthiest restaurant items, because you can mandate whether or not you use the tortillas and it is easy to share with a friend. Ask for black beans instead of refried.

-Carbs will be hard to avoid. If you are trying your best to do so, nix the chips (good luck with that!!) and order black beans instead of refried as your carb option. These are high in fiber and protein and a good choice provided they are not cooked in a ton of lard, which they usually should not be.

 -Make or ask for grilled vegetables-Asparagus and poblano peppers are great grilled with a little lemon pepper and lime.

-Pico de gallo, your new best friend– Salsa in general is a good idea over buttery, creamy sauces. Chose the variety made with fresh tomatoes (that are high in lycopene, which fights off certain cancers!), yellow onion, cilantro, jalapeños,  and lots of lime.

 -Caramelized onions-Cook the onions on top of your meats/chicken to get all those flavors until they are brown and juicy.

 -Use a whole wheat tortilla (sprouted brand like Ezekiel or gluten free) when you have the option. Corn tortillas are another gluten free option.

-Grilling is a great method that locks in all flavors without the need of using excess oils. Grilling or pan “frying/sautéing” are healthier methods.

 -Use a lot of lime. Lime’s citrus properties will help you use less salt and all the spices mentioned above will compliment eachother.

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Greatist.com has a few “healthier” margarita recipes for if you are doing your celebrations at home. At a restaurant, my best advice is to stick to either one drink of your choice or sip on a tequila shot. Those sugary frou-frou drinks can have up to 800 calories in ONE GLASS. That could add up to more than your ENTIRE MEAL. Not to mention the sugar…yikes!

Enjoy yourself and be safe!!

Rainy Day “Comfort Food”-Chicken With Spicy Tomato Sauce, Kale Salad and Garlic Green Beans

A rainy day Sunday in Los Angeles definitely means I am going to be cooking something. Not only am I in the mood for something warm but I really do love making a big meal on Sundays. That way I don’t have to scramble for lunch the first few days of the week because I will have leftovers from a meal like this.

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Making food from scratch doesn’t have to be tough. This recipe has very few ingredients and the ingredients it does use are simple. You could also technically use fish instead of chicken if you wanted.

Fun Fact-There are tons of vitamins and minerals in this delicious and healthy dish. The tomatoes have vitamin A, C, lycopene and beta-carotene, among other vitamins, that are more readily absorbed when cooked healthy fats like the avocado oil used below. One cup of kale is equivalent to nearly 20% of the daily recommended dietary fiber intake and also contains powerful antioxidants that protect our cells from free radicals that can cause oxidative stress.

Broiled Chicken With Spicy Tomato Sauce, Kale Salad and Garlic Green Beans

In a bowl, combine:

4-5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (organic preferred)

1/4 tsp.sea salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

2 tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice

In another bowl, toss together:

3-4 cups of lacinato kale, chopped

1 tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 and 1/2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

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In a large pot, bring to a boil:

3 quarts of water, and once the water is boiling, add 1 lb of fresh green beans, trimmed

When the green beans are al dente (just slightly cooked), drain and toss them with

While the green beans cook:

Preheat the oven to BROIL and line a baking pan with foil.

Place the chicken breasts that have been soaking in the lemon juice and spices onto the foil and broil for 12-15 minutes.

When the green beans are al dente (just slightly cooked), drain and toss them with:

2 chopped garlic cloves

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

a dash of sea salt and lemon pepper

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While the chicken cooks:

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium high heat and coat with non-stick pan spray, add:

2 tbsp. oil of choice ( I used avocado oil)

3/4 cup yellow onion, diced

3-4 garlic cloves, diced

When the onions are soft (about 2 minutes), add:

1 tbsp. red wine vinegar

4 roma tomatoes, diced

2 tbsp. fresh Italian parsley, chopped

1/4 tsp. sea salt

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Simmer the tomatoes until they begin to soften. Serve the tomato mixture over the chicken with the sides of the green beans and kale salad.

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Healthy Crock Pot Chicken…Mexican Style!

It was really cold in Los Angeles yesterday (hey, it was in the low 50s and raining…we don’t get that a lot here!) and I was in the mood for some comfort food, as I often am when its grey out, and decided it was time to pull out the crock pot. I love the crock pot because it makes whatever I cook in it (chicken, usually) very tender and flavorful and the whole apartment smells like whatever I am cooking. I tend to use the same go-to crock pot chicken recipe. I buy a kosher organic whole roaster chicken, rub it in some spices, put a few garlic cloves in it and stick it in the crock pot with some chicken broth and some sliced up sweet potatoes, carrots and onions. While this comes out great, I really wanted to try something different.

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When I was home visiting my parents in Novato this past month, my dad and I went to a Mexican restaurant for lunch in Healdsburg. This was a very innovative, haute cuisine type place called Mateo’s Cocina Latina. One of the menu items my dad ordered as an appetizer was called sikil p’ak. At first I was a little miffed because I was hoping for the traditional and beloved chips and guacamole, but out came this creamy rich dip made of ground raw pumpkin seeds, tomatoes and spices and I was hooked.

You are probably wondering why I am bringing up that moment at lunch with my dad…well, I decided to try to re-create this “pumpkin seed salsa” as a dressing for my crock pot chicken. It turned out pretty great. I don’t recommend making this dip unless you have a food processor or a really great blender, because it is best that those pumpkin seeds are finely ground for the sauce, or else it will be too clumpy.

FUN FACT- Pumpkin seeds. They are super high in fiber (if you eat them whole, of course), protein (9 grams per ounce), iron and are also a great source of magnesium, which is a key player in energy metabolism and goes hand in hand with our friend calcium. 1/2 a cup of pumpkin seeds will provide you with around 48% of your daily magnesium needs.

Once your dish is cooked you can add anything you like to top it off. I used a cilantro based salsa and slivered green onions. You could also do pico de gallo or sliced avocado, but I like the tang the salsa gives in contrast with the more rich, nutty pumpkin seed flavor.

One other thing is that I made a fairly large batch of this recipe, because I will eat the chicken for lunch all week with either black beans or red quinoa (I also made a large batch of that and stored it in tupperware). Feel free to halve it if its just for you, or just for two people for one meal.

Healthy Crock Pot Chicken, Mexican Style!

1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seasoning
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
Juice of two freshly squeezed lemons
1 cup low sodium chicken stock
6 boneless skinless organic chicken breasts
Finely chopped green onion, for garnish
Salsa, optional

Directions

In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the pumpkin seeds until they are popping. Transfer to a mortar or spice grinder and grind. Add the cumin seasoning and set aside.

This is what ground up pumpkin seeds and cumin looks like.

This is what ground up pumpkin seeds and cumin looks like.

In the same skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, tomato paste, peppercorns, oregano, salt, cinnamon, and cilantro. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Transfer contents of the pan to a food processor or high powered blender. Add the lemon zest and juice, chicken stock, and reserved pumpkin and cumin mixture. Process until smooth.

The sauce before going through the blender! Fresh ingredients are beautiful, aren’t they?

Arrange the chicken evenly over the bottom of the slow cooker. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours or on high for 3 hours, until the juices run clear when the chicken is pierced with a fork. When ready to serve, garnish with any extra cilantro, green onion, lemon zest, and salsa, if you wish.

ENJOY!