Mexican Tater Tot Casserole

TT Casserole


I feel incredibly blessed to have such amazing neighbors. It sort of feels like college- always having friends around and I love that. A month or so ago (after a looong night of hanging out) we decided that we were going to do a neighborhood “Tater Tot Casserole Cook-off.” Now, I’d never made tater tot casserole and in my mind I’d previously decided that I hated it. However, being person that cannot back down from a challenge I said that I would enter my winning recipe to take the victory. Yea, big talk considering I’d never even made a tater tot casserole.  So, we set a date and off I went to find my winning recipe.

I knew I wanted to do something different than traditional tater tot casserole which usually calls for cans of cream of something and I also knew that I couldn’t go wrong with Mexican flavors. This casserole fit the bill perfectly. It came together quickly and easily and it tasted delicious.

I’m happy to report that all of our casseroles were delicious (you can see the other two in my picture above). We were very diplomatic in deciding that we were all winners and that each of our casseroles were awesome for different reasons.

Mexican Tater Tot Casserole
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 lb lean ground beef
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 package taco seasoning mix
1 (4 oz) can chopped green chiles, drained
1 (16 oz) bag frozen corn
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend , divided
16 oz frozen tater tots (about 1/2 bag)
1 (10 oz) can enchilada sauce
1 small can sliced black olives
Sliced pickled jalapenos
Chopped Cilantro

For Serving
Fresh Diced Tomatoes
Sour Cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9×13 pan with non-stick cooking spray. Heat canola oil in a large saute pan and add onions, ground beef and garlic. Cook until ground beef is cooked through and onions are soft. Drain any excess fat. Add taco seasoning mix, green chiles, frozen corn and black beans. Cook until warmed through and remove from heat.

In a large bowl combine beef mixture, frozen tater tots and 1 1/2 cups of cheese.

Pour 1/3 of the enchilada sauce into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Gently press the ground beef tater tot mixture into the dish, making sure its level. (I also pulled up some of the tater tots to make sure they were on top so that some got crispy in the oven.) Pour the remaining enchilada sauce over the ground beef and tater tot mix.  Bake in the oven for 40 minutes, uncovered.

During the last 5-10 minutes of baking add the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese, olives and jalapenos to the top of the casserole and bake until warm and bubbly. Top with chopped cilantro for serving.

Source: Blog Chef






“Feel Better” Soup

Chicken Soup

I got sick. A super-annoying, downright annoying cold has hit me. I’ve escaped it for long enough…I guess I was “due.” Last night I made this soup to try and clear my head make myself feel better and it certainly delivered. Slurping up this warming spicy concoction was like getting the warm hug I needed.

“Feel Better” Soup
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced thin
2 baby bok choy, chopped
1 jalapeno, sliced thin
3 green onions, sliced
6 cups chicken broth or stock
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
6 oz fresh Chinese rice noodles
Salt and pepper, to taste

Optional Toppings for Serving
Chopped Cilantro
Hot Sauce
Fresh Lime Juice

In a large heavy bottomed pot heat the sesame oil and saute the ginger and garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chicken, bok coy, salt and pepper to taste and cook until the chicken is almost cooked through. Add jalapenos and green onions and saute for another 30 seconds. Add the chicken broth. Bring the soup to a boil and reduce it to simmer for about 15 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, in a separate pot, cook the rice noodles according to package directions. Divide the cooked noodles among 3-4 bowls.

After simmering the soup for 15 minutes turn off the heat and stir in the soy sauce and rice wine vinegar.

Ladle the soup into bowls over the rice noodles. Top with chopped cilantro, hot sauce and/or fresh lime juice.

Note- If you’re planning leftovers, keep the noodles separate from the rest of the soup until you’re ready to serve. Otherwise, the noodles will soak up all the broth and turn mushy.

Source: Slightly adapted from Eat, Live, Run

Pumpkin Cheesecake Trifles

How old were you at your earliest memory? I think I was two or three at  preschool and my specific memory was one where I was eating cookies, go figure! My preschool always served one of two varieties…either the little sugar cookies shaped like flowers that you could stack on your pinky and eat around your finger (you didn’t do that? weird.) or ginger snaps. To this day, I think ginger snaps are my favorite. I love the crunchy spicy bite and how perfectly they go with a cold glass of milk. Anytime I can incorporate these perfect cookies into a dessert, I do. I think they bring a certain nostalgia to most and the flavor really can’t be compared.

For me, it’s the time to start thinking about what desserts I’ll bring for the Thanksgiving feast. Although usually I’m a fruit pie or cookie person, I know a lot of people “need” pumpkin pie in order to feel like Thanksgiving  happened. These little trifles are a perfect balance of something not to heavy after the big meal. I also love the idea of individual desserts. You get just enough to satisfy your sweet tooth and you don’t have to share with anyone…not that I mind sharing, it’s just nice not to have to sometimes.

The trifles have a perfect contrast of flavor and texture. The ginger snap crumbles provide a crunch while the pumpkin cheesecake is light and fluffy. This recipe makes a lot. Feel free to half it. Or, you could eat the leftover cheesecake mixture on pretzels…or a spoon. It’s good any way…not like I’d know😉
Pumpkin Cheesecake Trifles
16 oz bag of Ginger Snap cookies
3 Tbsp melted butter
16 oz cream cheese, softened (I used 1/3 less fat)
1 15 oz can pumpkin puree
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
32 oz cool whip, thawed per package instructions (2 16 oz tubs works best)

Optional: 3 gallon sized food storage bags

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Put the ginger snaps in a large food storage bag. Crush cookies into small pieces. Add melted butter and toss to combine. Pour cookie crumbs on a sheet tray and bake for 5 minutes. Toss and bake for a few minutes more, just until toasty. Cool completely and put in a bowl for easy trifle assembly.

In a large bowl combine cream cheese, pumpkin, vanilla, sugar and pumpkin pie spice with a mixer. Once combined, fold in 16 oz of Cool Whip. Fold gently until the Cool Whip is completely incorporated into the cheesecake mixture. Put cheesecake mixture in a gallon sized food storage bag. Snip a 1/2 inch opening out of the corner. Set aside.

Put the other 16 oz tub of Cool Whip in another gallon sized food storage bag. Snip a 1/2 inch opening out of the corner. Set aside.

Set out the cups you’re using for the trifles. Place a generous tablespoon of ginger snap crumbs at the bottom of each cup. Top with a layer of the pumpkin cheesecake then a layer of plain Cool whip. Repeat with another layer of crumbs, cheesecake and cool whip. Top with a final sprinkling of ginger snap cookies. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

– This recipe makes approximately 14 individual trifles using 10 oz cups. You can make this in a larger trifle dish for non-individual servings. If you do one trifle, you probably won’t need to use the food storage bags to pipe the cheesecake and Cool Whip into the trifle bowl.

Source: Adapted from My Baking Addiction

Buffalo Chicken Dip

I know what you’re thinking right now…where the heck is the dip?! Let me explain…

I had every intention of taking a picture of this glorious dip as it came out of the oven but, it didn’t quite work out that way. The lighting was awful, made the dip look green (yuck!) and most of all, it was too tempting to resist. By the time I remembered to get a snapshot of it, it was too late. So, the picture above just highlights how good it is…so good it’s gone!

As you can see, I used the leftovers as a spread in a turkey wrap. Yes, it was good. I’m pretty sure this dip would be good spread on a shoe although, I wouldn’t recommend you try that.

Buffalo Chicken Dip
1 large chicken breast, poached and chopped
12 oz cream cheese, softened (I used 1/3 less fat)
1 cup Ranch dressing (I used light)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I used 2%)
1/2 cup Frank’s Wing Sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Put in a medium-sized baking dish and bake for 30 minutes.

Serve with crackers, tortilla chips, potato chips or whatever you like.

Source: My dear friend Carrie :)

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Granola Bars


Knowing that the Pioneer Woman has new episodes showing on Food Network really makes my weekend. I set it up to record, plan when I’ll watch it, completely romanticize the whole experience. I love her. She’s so calming and relaxing to watch. I guess it doesn’t hurt that I’m completely jealous of her…living on a ranch, four beautiful children, that husband (and his Wranglers) and all the delicious food that she produces…oh, the food.

A few weeks ago she made homemade granola bars. I’d never thought to make them before but since seeing how easy it was I started thinking that I could do it. It is pumpkin season and I love pumpkin and chocolate together so I found a recipe for pumpkin chocolate chip granola bars and hit the kitchen. They came together really easily and tasted delicious…more like cookie than a bar but, hey, I’m not complaining.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Granola Bars
3 1/4 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
¾ cup light brown sugar
½ cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
¼ cup applesauce (sweetened or unsweetened)
¼ cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8×8 baking dish with cooking spray. Cover the dish with aluminum foil making sure that you have extra on the overhang to use as a handle for easily removing the bars from the dish once baked. Spray the foil with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl whisk together the oats, spices and salt. In a larger bowl whisk the brown sugar, pumpkin, applesauce, honey and vanilla. Once mixed combine the dry ingredients into the wet. Fold in the mini chocolate chips.

Press into your 8×8 pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown on top. Be sure not to under bake. They won’t dry out and you need them to be solid through.

Place pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes to cool. Remove from pan using the extra foil cut into bars using a sharp knife on a flat surface. Allow to cool completely before serving or storing in an air-tight container.

Makes 10 bars.

Source: Two Peas and Their Pod

Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki and Lemon Dill Rice

Whenever I go to a Greek restaurant I’m always drawn toward ordering Chicken Souvlaki. I love the garlicky and lemon chicken wrapped in warm pita and slathered with fresh Tzatziki sauce. When I made this dish for dinner I was surprised how much it tasted like a restaurant meal. Actually, it tasted better than some I’ve had in restaurants!  The best part was how healthy it was! The whole meal had virtually no fat and yet was completely satisfying. It’s perfect for quick weeknight cooking and is sure to please even the pickiest of eaters. Serve with warm pita, chopped tomatoes and crumbled feta.

Chicken Souvlaki
4 large garlic cloves, grated or chopped
2 tablespoons freshly chopped dill
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut in to large chunks
skewers (if wooden, be sure to soak them for 10 minutes before grilling)

Combine garlic, dill, Italian seasoning, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper  into a medium sized bowl. Add chicken and stir to combine, making sure to cover all chicken in marinade. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours but up to overnight.

Skewer the meat and grill over medium-high heat or until cooked through, about 6 minutes each side.

Tzatziki Sauce

1 English/seedless cucumber with skin removed and diced small
2 tablespoons freshly chopped dill
1 (8oz) container fat free plain Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
couple of dashes of hot sauce
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until served.
* Can be made in advance.

Source: Adapted from Sandra’s Money Saving Meals via Food Network

Lemon Dill Rice

Cook rice to package instruction, yielding 2 cups of cooked rice. Add 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped dill, salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine.

Source: Spatula Diaries Original

Low Fat Pumpkin Pecan Muffins

Pumpkin season is here! Ok, perhaps it’s a little early but I don’t care. This summer has been miserable…5 million degree heat, terrible storms, a Derecho, tornadoes…I’m over it and ready for Fall. These muffins were a perfect way to transition into slower, heartier and comforting meals. They are perfect for breakfast on the go, freeze beautifully and will make your house smell amazing while they’re baking. You would never know that they were low fat because they are really moist and almost taste like cake. These are going to be in the breakfast rotation for a while!

Low Fat Pumpkin Pecan Muffins
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup raw sugar
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup chopped pecans
non stick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with paper liners and spray the insides with non-stick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl combine whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, sugar, baking soda, spices and salt with a whisk.

In a large bowl combine pumpkin, vegetable oil, and egg whites. Fold in dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Fold in pecans.

Evenly fill liners with batter (an ice cream or cookie scoop makes this fast and easy).

Bake for 24-26 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely.

Makes 12 muffins.

Source: SkinnyTaste

Chickpea and Tomato Salad

Is anyone else OBSESSED with Pinterest?! I pinned this recipe a couple of months ago and have been thinking about it ever since! Summer is in full swing here in DC. It’s hot, humid and more hot. When it feels this miserable outside, I crave fresh and light food. This salad would be perfect to bring to a BBQ or as a light lunch over greens. It uses the best summer has to offer, juicy red tomatoes and fresh basil straight from the garden.TGFP! (Thank God For Pinterest!)

1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 14oz can chickpeas or garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
25 fresh basil leaves chopped fine
3 cloves of garlic, grated
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 Tbsp honey or agave
Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine the tomatoes, chickpeas, basil and garlic in a medium bowl. In a jar with a lid, combine olive oil, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper and shake to combine (you could also whisk these together in a bowl). Pour over chickpea and tomato mixture and gently toss to combine. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Source: Adapted from Green Lite Bites

Greek Layered Dip

This is an update on a classic party favorite. It’s the perfect appetizer for a summer barbeque.  It’s light, fresh and the flavors are definitely a surprise.  Although I wouldn’t classify this dip as “healthy” it certainly is a healthier version of its Mexican cousin especially when you make it with lower fat cream cheese and reduced fat feta.

I served this dip with pita chips but I think it would be equally as good with sliced red pepper, pita bread or even pretzel thins.

Greek Layered Dip
8 oz cream cheese, softened (I used 1/3 lower fat)
1 tsp powdered Greek seasoning or dried dill
3 cloves garlic grated, pressed or finely chopped
2 tsp lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
17 oz container classic hummus (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup seeded and diced cucumber
1 cup seeded and diced tomato
2 oz can sliced or chopped black olives, drained
4 green onions finely chopped
4 oz feta, crumbled (if you buy it pre-crumbled it comes in 3.5 oz packages, which will be plenty.)
1/2 cup fresh parsley choppped

In a medium bowl and using a hand mixer, combine the cream cheese, Greek seasoning, garlic and lemon juice until combined.

In a small to medium shallow dish or pie plate build your layer dip. Start with the cream cheese and continue with the rest of the ingredients. Continue to layer the rest of the ingredients: hummus, feta (reserving a little for the top), cucumber, tomato, green onions, parsley olives, then the last of the feta.

Southwest Salad with Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette

This salad is perfect for summer! I served it as part of my Cinco de Mayo menu alongside spicy grilled chicken but this would also make a great dip for tortilla chips, a topper for grilled meats or even on top of lettuce for a fun and interesting light lunch. The possibilities are endless! I was able to prep the salad the day before, only leaving out the avocado until the last minute before serving. The salad keeps great in the fridge and as I found, the longer it sits in the fridge the better it tastes.

Southwest Salad with Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette
For the Salad:
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 16 oz bag frozen corn, defrosted
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 avocados

For the Dressing:
2 cloves garlic, grated or finely minced
1 medium shallot, grated or finely minced
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons sugar
zest of one lime
6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

In a medium bowl combine black beans corn and red bell peppers. In a jar or storage container with a lid combine the dressing ingredients. Shake to mix. Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients and refrigerate.

When you’re ready to serve, cut the avocado into chunks and gently mix it into the salad.

Note: I knew we weren’t going to eat the entire salad the first night I served it so I took half the salad and put it into another bowl and only used one avocado, reserving the rest of the salad and the other avocado until the next time I served it. This made sure that the avocado was nice and green each time we ate it.

Source: Dainty Chef


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