Healthy Chili's Southwestern Egg Rolls

>> Monday, April 11, 2016

Healthy Chili's Southwestern Egg Rolls

I tasted these rolls stuffed with chicken, cheese, corn, black beans, and other kinds of goodness last week at Chili's restaurant. The sauce itself I could have sipped with a straw, but since I was in polite company, I just casually wiped a bit of the last egg roll around and around the little dish. I think I drooled a little, too.

I was on a double mother/daughter date with Jessie, her boyfriend's mother Kim and his sister Kelly. We wandered around the mall, a place I haven't visited since my girls were teens. Kim wanted to get her ears pierced at Claire's Boutique. Did you know Claire's still exists? Actually, it's hard to imagine a mall without that teenybopper place. It hasn't changed - lots of glitter, BFF necklaces, and boy band posters. And of course, that piercing booth in the front window. I really, really wanted these avocado earrings.

After Kim got pierced, she treated us to appetizers at Chili's - another place I haven't visited in forever. It was nice to spend an afternoon doing nothing in particular except talking and hanging out. My life is clearly too busy, because I actually felt guilty for not doing something productive or goal-oriented with my time!

Anyway, these little Tex-Mex style egg rolls were a hit with everybody, and I definitely wanted to make them again. I looked for a recipe online when I got home. On some recipe copy-cat sites (Top Secret Recipes is pretty helpful) I found a recipe that weighs in at 870 calories. Eek! I decided to experiment with a lighter version of the recipe. I don't know exactly how many calories there are in my version, but they're not fried and they use low-fat ingredients. They taste just about the same, too.

Corn, bean, cheese and chicken wraps

By the way, the recipe calls for the vegetables to be finely chopped; I suggest putting them into the blender or food processor, if you have one, and let it do the work.


3 oz chicken breast
1 tsp chili powder
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup white onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp jalapeno, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 plum tomato, finely chopped
2/3 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup fresh spinach, finely chopped
2 tbsp cilantro
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1/3 cup egg white
3/4 cup shredded low fat sharp cheddar cheese
8-10 seven inch flour tortillas

For the Avocado Ranch Sauce

1 ripe avocado
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
1/2 cup low fat mayonnaise
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp ground pepper


Whisk together the oil and chili powder. Cut the chicken breast into fine pieces and allow to marinate in the oil mixture for 15 minutes. In a large skillet, cook the chicken pieces until browned on all sides. Set aside. 

Add a little more oil and saute the rest of the vegetables for 5 minutes. Stir in the egg, cheese and chicken and remove from heat. 

Oil a cookie sheet with spray oil. Wrap the tortillas in a damp towel and heat in the microwave for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until they are soft and flexible. Lay them one at a time on a cutting board and place about 2/3 cup of the filling down the middle of the tortilla. Fold over the end, then roll up the tortilla and place it, seam side down, on the cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining tortillas and corn/bean mixture.

Place the freezer for 15 minutes to solidify the filling. While the rolls are chilling, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Blend together all the sauce ingredients until very smooth, and let it chill until you're ready to serve it.

Spray the tops of the rolls with oil. Place the sheet on the center rack and cook for about 20 minutes, turning once, until the rolls are nicely browned and the filling is cooked through. Slice the rolls halfway through on a diagonal, and serve with the avocado sauce.

Serves 6-8.


Orange-Jicama Salad

>> Friday, April 1, 2016

Orange-Jicama Salad

I was middle-aged before I ever tasted a jicama, a Mexican vegetable that looks like a giant beige turnip and tastes like...crunch. Maybe starchy and crunchy like a water chestnut. That's why it is so versatile; it takes on the flavors of everything around it. The chameleon of vegetables. Jicama in this salad adds crispness to the delicate combination of tangy orange slices and creamy avocado, all in a lime-pepper dressing.


4 cups chopped romaine lettuce
1 orange, peeled and thinly sliced
1 avocado, peeled and chopped
1 cup jicama, peeled and julienned
1/2 small white onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup lime juice (juice of 3-4 whole limes)
3 tsp honey
1 small jalapeno chile, sliced paper-thin (optional)
Dash salt and pepper
1/2 cup olive or canola oil


Toss together the lettuce, onion, and jicama. Sprinkle the avocado with a bit of lime juice to prevent it from turning a dark gross color. Whisk together the lime juice, salt and pepper, and oil. Stir in the chile slices. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve, place lettuce mixture in salad bowls, and allow each person top with orange, avocado, and the salad dressing. If there are any leftovers, store the lettuce mixture separately from the avocado and oranges, because if you mix it all together, these will make the salad gooey and runny.



Italian Sunday Gravy

>> Saturday, March 26, 2016

Italian Sunday Gravy

If you've spent any time around big Italian-American families, you've probably had the pleasure of tasting a thick, meaty Sunday gravy - the end-of-the-week belly-busting dinner that fortifies family and friends for the week ahead. Joe was blessed to know a wonderful cook, Florence, who was Danish but married into an Italian family. From her he learned to make the best Sunday gravy we've ever tasted.

This tomato and meat sauce takes a while to make, but it also makes enough to feed all of the Jersey Shore, or enough extra to freeze for quick weekday meals. Once I start smelling the opera of aromas while it's cooking, I'm nipping off to the kitchen to snatch a little shred of pork here and there when Joe's not looking - it's that tempting.

Next time we make this, you're ALL invited over to dinner. We love nothing better than a crowd around our dinner table.


2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste - Joe likes more)
2 cups onion, chopped
1 cup carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
2 cups sliced mushrooms
8 cloves of garlic, minced fine or pressed
2 lb pork neck bones
1 lb Italian sausage (or turkey Italian sausage) in casing
2 64 oz cans of diced roma tomatoes
1 6 oz can of Italian tomato paste
4 cups homemade stock - beef, chicken, or vegetable
2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tsp crushed dried sage leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup good dry red wine (more if sauce is too thick)

1 16 oz box of pasta, such as rotini or farfalle (spaghetti is fine also)
1/4 cup fresh grated Pecorino Romano cheese or good Parmesan


Heat a large Dutch oven or heavy stock pot over medium low heat. Add the olive oil and heat until shimmering, about 1 minute. Stir in the crushed red pepper flakes and heat in olive oil for about 1 minute to release the flavor and aroma. (Hot pepper oil can be used instead if it is made ahead.) Toss in onions, carrots, mushrooms and celery; saute until tender. Mix in the minced/pressed garlic cloves and saute for another 2 minutes.

Increase the heat to medium high, and add the pork neck bones, stirring occasionally. Cook evenly for about 8 to 10 minutes until just beginning to brown and cooked through. Pour in the chopped tomatoes with juice, and the stock. Stir in the tomato paste. Add the herbs, salt, pepper, and sugar. Stir in the dry red wine. Bring to a very low boil and reduce heat to low, simmering for 1 hour. Stir occasionally.

Italian Sunday Gravy

After 1 hour add the Italian sausage in casings. Stir and simmer for another 1 to 1 1/2 hours (or longer if you like - Joe has cooked this all day sometimes) checking for thickness as it simmers. If the sauce is too thin add more tomato paste, if it is too thick add some more red wine or stock.

Remove the pork neck bones and Italian sausage links onto separate warm platters. Serve the Italian Sunday Gravy over pasta and the Italian sausage links on the side. Sprinkle with fresh grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Joe likes the neck bones for the tender meat that is on the bones. That is his meat course with a plate of pasta with the gravy.

Serves 8.


Almond-Coconut Macaroons with Dried Cherries

>> Thursday, March 17, 2016

Almond-Coconut Macaroons with Dried Cherries

Every spring a group of friends from my church gets together for a Seder meal, to honor our Jewish neighbors' tradition and experience the kind of celebration Jesus would have had every year. After many years of celebrating between ourselves, we're hosting a church-wide Seder ceremony this year.

Joe's braised leg of lamb is always a big hit, but last year he did a beef brisket and I decided to try a new dessert. These coconut-almond-cherry macaroons are light and tasty and perfect!

If you like quick and easy baking, these are just about the easiest cookies you can make. Stir together a couple of ingredients, bake 20 minutes, and that's it! I wish I had made a double batch, because people couldn't get enough. I was blushing from the compliments.

If you want to go over the top with these, press half a maraschino cherry into the top of each cookie, and then dip the bottoms into melted semi-sweet chocolate.


1 8-oz can unsweetened almond paste
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg whites, well beaten
1/3 cup slivered almonds
1/3 cup dried cherries, chopped
1/2 cup sweetened coconut


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cover a baking pan with a sheet of parchment paper.

Break up almond paste into a mixer or food processor bowl. Add the sugar and egg whites and blend well. Scrape down the sides. Stir in the rest of the ingredients.

Drop spoonfuls of the dough onto the sheet. Bake at 325 for 18-20 minutes, until a little golden and puffy. Let cool for a few minutes before removing from the pan.

Makes 15 macaroons.


Greek Meatballs in Avgolemono sauce (Lemon-Egg Sauce)

>> Thursday, March 10, 2016

Gray, chilly March has sunk into our bones. We’re fighting steady against seasonal darkness blues and late winter cold germs, but a dose of sunshine and a glimpse of Greek islands are welcome.

Would like to join us on the island of Santorini?
This recipe is a mash-up of two of our current favorites. Yes, we’re continuing our love affair with the lowly meatball, and we’ll never get tired of the tangy avgolemono soup. This traditional Greek egg and lemon soup turns into a creamy and fortifying stew with our turkey-beef blend meatballs (keftedes). Keftedes are often made of ground lamb, but I just can’t handle the taste of lamb , so it's beef for me!

If we were dining in Santorini, we might order avgolemono because it’s a tradition during Lent, when some people avoid eating meat. We might also lay out in the sun all day until our creaky joints loosen up. I think it’s time for a trip someplace warm!


½ lb. ground beef
½ lb ground turkey
1/3 cup long grain rice, uncooked
½ cup red onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp mint, finely chopped
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1/3 cup finely crumbled feta cheese
1 large egg
1/2 cup fine bread crumbs3 cups chicken stock or broth

For the sauce:
2 large eggs at room temperature
1/3 cup lemon juice (about 2-3 lemons)


Stir together all meatball ingredients except  the broth. Roll into meatballs the size of a ping-pong ball. Place in a dutch oven and cover with the broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cover. Cook for 30 minutes. Pour the broth into a measuring cup and allow to cool slightly. You can keep the lid on the meatballs and keep them warm in the oven while making the sauce.

Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl until light and frothy. Slowly whisk in the lemon juice, then whisk in the broth a little at a time. Pour the lemon sauce over the meatballs and return the pot to very low heat. Allow the mixture to thicken slowly on low heat – be careful not to let the pot boil or the eggs will curdle.
When the sauce is at a thickness you like, remove from heat and serve.
Serves 4.

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