Homemade Taco Seasoning

Did you know a lot of the dried herbs and spices in your kitchen pantry are full of healthy antioxidants?

They are!  And they’re a great way to add tons of flavor to your dishes without fat and lots of calories.

I created this homemade taco seasoning because I questioned all the foreign-sounding ingredients in the packaged kind you can buy at the grocery store.  This way I know and can control exactly what’s going into my food.  It tastes delicious on shredded chicken or ground beef, it takes just two minutes to whip together, and it’s really good for you too!

Here are the ingredients.  Your kitchen is probably already stocked with all of them, but if not, they are all good additions to your pantry that you’ll find useful in future recipes.

Simply combine all the spices in a small bowl, and you’re ready to add to the Mexican dish of your choice or try it with my Cheesy Potato Nachos.  Easy, healthy, delicious?  Done, done, and done.

Homemade Taco Seasoning

Total Time:  2 minutes
Prep: 2 minutes
Cook: 0 minutes

Yield: 1/4 cup

1 1/2 tablespoons oregano
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons cumin
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.  Try it with Cheesy Potato Nachos

Lightened Up Beef Stew

To say I’m not the biggest fan of red meat would be an understatement.  To put it more into perspective:  I’ve never been known to order anything but seafood at steak houses.  Any big meat-and-potatoes fans will find this extremely strange, and I couldn’t argue with you there.  I am so weird.  So I started making beef stew mainly because I thought my husband would really like it. And he does really enjoy it, but I’ve been amazed at how much I love this dish.  Allowing the stew to cook for a couple of hours with tons of fresh vegetables and spices is the key.  It creates such a rich, flavorful broth and the meat just falls apart with your spoon, it’s so melt-in-your mouth tender.  It’s really, really good.

Here are the key ingredients.  Items not shown include stew meat, salt, and pepper.
So to start this recipe, we should address the meat.  I think stew meat is an economical choice that works well for this long and slow-cooking recipe. Grass-fed stew beef is a good choice if you can find it.  Grass is what cattle were designed by nature to eat, so grazing on their most natural diet of grass is better for the animals and for the environment.  Grass-fed beef is better for us too, not just because it’s the more natural choice but also because it has a much high proportion of omega-3 fats, which is something most of us need more of in our diets.
Begin by browning the meat in a large stock pot.  Season well with salt and pepper.  You can add a bit of oil, but I didn’t add any because the meat on its own is already quite fatty, so added oil isn’t really necessary here.  Here is the secret: allow the meat to cook until it becomes nicely browned on the outside and you see a brown crust forming on the bottom of your stock pot.  That brown crust is a key to developing all the rich flavor!
Next, chop up the onion and garlic.
Add the onion and garlic to the pot and cook for a couple of minutes, until the vegetables soften.
Add the tomato paste, bay leaf, oregano, herbes de provence, paprika, allspice, and sugar.
Add the red wine and allow it to simmer and cook down, for about 5-7 minutes.
Add the carton of beef broth, put a cover on the pot and allow the broth to simmer for about 1/2 an hour (or more is even better if you’re having a particulary productive day and got a really early start to making your dinner!)
Next, chop up lots of vegetables.  I like to use carrots, celery, mushrooms, and parsnips.  One key to this healthy recipe is that it calls for a lot of vegetables.  This is important because 1) they add a delicious combination of flavors and 2) they stretch one pound of meat into 6 servings – this means you’re getting far more nutrients and far less fat and calories per serving than a traditional (mostly meat and potatoes) stew.
If you’ve never tried parsnips in your beef stew, I highly recommend them!  In this stew, they’re tender and sweet and the perfect compliment to the savory meat.  So delicious!
Prepare them just as you would carrots with one note:  if you happen to buy especially large parsnips, you may want to remove the core because it can be a bit tough and chewy.
My parsnips were medium-sized so they didn’t need the core removed, but here’s how just to demonstrate:
Peel the parsnip, cut off the ends, and cut them in half lengthwise.  Place one half, flat-side-down on the cutting board for stability and quarter it.  You’ll be able to see the darker color of the core – holding each quarter, flat-side down on the cutting board for stability, cut out the core.
Chop up the carrots and celery.  No need to take the time to finely dice these vegetables (or even peel the carrots) – big, chunky vegetables are better for this hearty stew!
Clean the mushrooms just by brushing off any dirt with a clean cloth or paper towel.
Then quarter the mushrooms.
Add everything to the pot, cover and allow it all to simmer for another half an hour.  Yay, inactive time perfect for running a quick errand or, if you’re like me, intending to start on your laundry but then sitting riveted by a Friends re-run you’re already seen 3 times.
Chop the potatoes into large chunks (again no need to peel them) and add them to the pot.
When the potatoes are fork tender, after about 15 minutes, the stew is just about done.
If you’d like to thicken the broth a bit, use a slotted spoon to scoop about half of the potatoes into a large bowl.  Mash up the potatoes, then stir them back into the stew.  Allow the stew to simmer for a few minutes uncovered and the broth will thicken nicely.
Laddle into big bowls and serve.  So full of meat-and-potato goodness, you’ll never think of it as a healthy, super-nutritious dish.  But it is!
I think this must be what cold, snowy weekend evenings were made for.  It’s so filling and heart-warming.  Try it this weekend and enjoy!

Here’s the complete recipe:

Lightened Up Beef Stew 

Total Time:  2 hours 30 minutes
Prep: 25 minutes
Cook: 2 hours

Yield: 6 servings

1 pound beef stew meat cut into 1-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon herbs de provence
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1 32-ounce container beef broth
5 large carrots, chopped
5 small parsnips, chopped
6 ribs celery with leaves, chopped
10 ounces cremini mushrooms, chopped
3 medium russet potatoes, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the stew meat over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or other large stock pot.  Season with salt and pepper and cook until the outsides brown.  Add the garlic, onions, and bay leaves and cook until onion begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add the oregano, herbs de provence, paprika, allspice, sugar, and tomato paste.  Add the red wine and allow it to reduce, about 7 minutes.  Add the beef broth, cover, reduce the heat to a simmer, and allow the beef to cook for 1 hour.  Add the carrots, parsnips, celery, and mushrooms.  Season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook another 1/2 hour.  Add the potatoes and allow them to cook until fork-tender, about 20 minutes.  Thicken the stew by transferring half of the potatoes to a large bowl and mashing to a puree with a potato masher.  Mix the potatoes back into the stew and allow it to simmer uncovered for another 7 minutes. Season to taste. Laddle into bowls and serve.

Crispy Parmesan and Dijon Chicken Strips



This is my go-to recipe when I’ve had a crazy day, I’m running 30 minutes behind, and I’m starving.These chicken strips are healthy, delicious and nearly as easy to throw together as the frozen chicken tenders you find at the grocery store.Served with a couple quick sides like a tossed salad and sliced carrots, it’s complete meal that’s ready in 20 minutes.




Here are the key ingredients.  The skinless, boneless chicken breasts unfortunately did not make it into the photo-op.  Mainly because I’ve yet to figure out how to make chicken breasts look nice for a photo.



Begin by cutting the chicken breasts into thirds lengthwise so that you end up with long strips.



Using a knife, spread the dijon mustard over each of the chicken strips.  Season with salt and pepper.  Flip the chicken strips over and repeat.



Now prepare the breading.Begin by grating 1/2 cup of fresh parmesan in a large casserole dish.The secret here is to use the real thing: freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.  The taste of real, freshly grated parmesan is deliciously sharp and salty, and it makes a big difference in the final flavor of the chicken strips.



Next add the whole wheat panko.  You can find this in just about any grocery store and it lends a delicious, really crisp texture to the chicken strips.The whole wheat variety also adds over 2 grams of fiber per serving, so it’s a healthy choice.Add the dried thyme and minced garlic.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper and mix everything together.



Toss the chicken strips into the breading and be sure they are well-coated on all sides using a fork, or – even better – your fingers.



Place the breaded chicken strips on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  The parchment is extremely helpful in ensuring that the chicken strips do not stick to the baking sheet or burn on the bottoms.



Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the chicken strips.This is an important step because it’s the olive oil that helps the chicken brown and crisp in the oven.Extra virgin olive oil is extremely healthy but it’s also very high in calories, so I just try to portion out and control how much I’m using.This tip is helpful for me:  I pour the olive oil into a tablespoon and then use the tablespoon to drizzle the olive oil over the chicken.  This way you know exactly how much oil you’re using.  And you’re able to pour just a drizzle over each chicken strip whereas it tends to pour out when drizzling directly from the bottle.



Put the chicken strips into the oven, and they’re ready about 12 minutes later.  You’ll know they’re ready when they begin to turn a nice golden brown color on top.



With the hint of dijon, the hint of garlic, the parmesan, and the crispy breading, these chicken strips taste indulgent and delicious.



They’re also a healthy choice you can feel good about and really easy to prepare any day of the week.  How great is that?


Here is the complete printable recipe:
Crispy Parmesan and Dijon Chicken Strips
Recipe type: Healthy Chicken Dish
Total Time:  20 minutes
Prep: 8 minutes
Cook: 12 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • ¼ cup dijon mustard
  • ⅔ cup whole wheat panko (Japanese bread crumbs found in ethnic section of grocery)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • ½ cup fresh grated parmesan
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 485 degrees F.
  2. Cut the chicken breasts lengthwise into thin strips.  Using a small spatula, spread the dijon mustard on both sides of the chicken strips.
  3. Combine the panko, garlic, thyme, and parmesan on a large plate. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Dip one chicken strip at a time in the seasoning, ensuring the chicken is thoroughly covered in seasoning on all sides.
  5. Place strips on a large baking sheet covered with parchment paper.  Drizzle each strip lightly with olive oil.  Bake chicken in the oven for about 12-15 minutes, until panko crumbs are golden brown.

Mashed Cinnamon Squash with Almond Butter

There is a local restaurant in my town that serves delicious steak and seafood entrees along with a ‘seasonal vegetable.’  This ‘seasonal vegetable’ is always Cinnamon Squash (made with mashed butternut squash and, I would guess, cream, butter, sugar, and cinnamon).  When I went in mid-July, I thought surely they would have switched it out for zucchini or even summer squash.  Nope.  Cinnamon Squash.  But I was actually very happy because this cinnamon squash is really velvety, sweet, and so delicious. I must have tried to recreate a healthy version of it at home about 5 times before I finally got it right with this recipe.  The key to its rich, silky flavor is the almond butter.  The hint of almond creaminess is the perfect compliment to the sweet squash and the cinnamon.
Here are all the ingredients.
Butternut squash is full of vitamins and nutrients so it’s always a great choice for a healthy side dish.  It’s an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin E as well as potassium, beta-carotene, and fiber. I don’t recommend tackling a whole butternut squash after a long day at work when you’re starving though.  Just save yourself a whole lot of frustration and buy the pre-cut and peeled squash.
Begin by tossing the peeled and diced squash into a steamer basket over a pot of boiling water.  The squash should only take about 12 minutes or so to cook this way.  Fast and easy!
When the squash is ready (you know it’s ready when you can pierce through it with a fork), scoop it into a large bowl.  Puree the squash with an emersion hand blender.  If you don’t have a hand blender (or you prefer a chunkier texture) you can just use a potato masher.
Next, add the cinnamon, nutmeg, maple syrup, and  just a pinch of salt.
Then add the almond butter.  I love using almond butter as a healthy substitute for butter in this recipe.  It adds the same creamy richness, but without the saturated fat (1 tablespoons of almond butter has only .5 g of saturated fat as compared to 14 g of saturated fat (!) in 2 tablespoons of butter)  And, equally important, it tastes just delicious in this recipe.
Now stir it all together until well-combined.
And you’re already done.  This recipe is super quick and easy.
It’s velvety smooth with a rich, sweet, cinnamon-y flavor.  Sooo delicious and a perfect winter recipe (or anytime really!)
Mashed Cinnamon Squash with Almond Butter

Total Time:  17 minutes
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 12 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

1 20-ounce package of peeled and diced butternut squash
1 tablespoon almond butter
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat.  Place the squash in the pot in a steamer basket, reduce the heat to medium, and cover. Steam the squash until fork tender, about 12 minutes.Transfer the squash to a mixing bowl and puree using a handheld emulsion blender or a potato masher.  Add the almond butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, and maple syrup.  Season with salt if desired and serve.