Chicken & Grapes Waldorf Salad (and a slightly bent resolution)

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How many of you resolved to eat better this year? I’m guessing a lot. It’s a pretty popular resolution. (Actually, that might be why you’re here right now!)

I resolved to eat clean as much as possible by eating fewer foods that have more than five inrgredients on the label. (More than 5 ingredients is okay as long as I make it myself). Essentially, I’m trying to cut processed foods. Just a few weeks into the year I’m already realizing how hard that is. Bread is impossible to buy in the store without a ton of ingredients and preservatives (and as much as I’d love to, I’m NOT making my own bread on a regular basis). I’ve spent a lot of time reading food labels in 2015.

So when I had a craving for waldorf salad, I was in a bind. (Waldorf salad is usually a chicken salad with apples, grapes, and/or nuts.) I wanted a fresh, crisp dish to start off a healthy New Year, but there was one barrier in my way: mayonnaise – the base for the waldorf dressing.  Sadly, the mayonnaise I had in my fridge had exactly 10 ingredients. Too many.

I thought about substitutes, but couldn’t come up with any that could properly replace the creaminess of the tradition dressing for a waldorf salad. So I went for it – but in a small quantity. The dressing in this recipe includes a little mayonnaise, but also apple cider vinegar and olive oil. Overall, this is a healthier, lighter version of a waldorf salad. So what if I cheated a little bit? Rules are meant to be broken (or just slightly bent)!

Light Chicken Waldorf Salad

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Yield: 1 serving. Per Serving: $3.28, 434 calories, 13g fat, 70g carbs, 39g protein.

Slice ¼ cup grapes in half, cook ¼ cup faro according to package instructions, and slice 1 large stalk celery on a bias. Prepare dressing the dressing by whisk together 1 teaspoon each of mayonnaise, olive oil, and apple cider vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss grapes, faro, celery, 1 cup arugula, and 6 ounces of sliced, cooked chicken breast with the dressing.

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Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai

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In college, my most popular Google search term was probably “healthy cheap recipes for college students.” I spent a lot of time trying to make decent food at an incredibly low cost – it was a challenge. That’s how I developed one of my go-to recipes at the time, Fiesta Rice. Fiesta Rice is essentially rice with ANY type of canned vegetable in it – usually corn, tomatoes, and black beans – topped with cheese. (Looking back, I realize this dish was probably very heavy on the sodium, but at the time it felt relatively healthy.) If I felt like splurging, sometimes I’d buy a  fresh green pepper to add into the mix. It was cheap, easy to make in bulk, and pretty good considering my parameters.

When Googling these recipes, I often came across spaghetti squash as a main ingredients. I had never heard of spaghetti squash before and really didn’t know anything about it. It wasn’t something we ate growing up, Rachael Ray never used it in a recipe on the Food Network, and I can’t remember ever seeing it on a restaurant menu. Probably because it can be cooked in the microwave, it was often on the “meals perfect for college students” websites that I scoured for ideas.

I didn’t try spaghetti squash right away – it took me a long time to warm up to the idea. I still feel like a newbie using it in recipes. I’m not sure why this vegetable doesn’t get more attention – it’s just 31 calories per cup and actually looks like spaghetti and can be cooked in the microwave. I can’t think of a better low-calories noodle replacement.

This recipe felt like a natural use for spaghetti squash – Pad Thai is a favorite take out meal of mine but I often feel like it’s too greasy or heavy (and then end up regretting the purchase). This is super light, low calorie, and much less expensive than the take out version. You can also super-load it with veggies to ramp up the nutritional value. Don’t be afraid of the spaghetti squash!

Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai

Yield: 5 servings. Per Serving: $3.60, 379 calories, 19g fat, 31g carbs, 28g protein.

Using a fork, poke holes in the skin of a 3 pound spaghetti squash. Microwave the squash for 12 minutes on high. Let sit in microwave for 5 minutes to finish cooking.

While the squash is microwaving, prepare your vegetables: julienne 2 cups of carrots (about half of a small bag of baby carrots, cut into fourths), chop 8 green onions, mince 2 cloves garlic.  2 cups bean sprouts. Cut 2 chicken breasts into thinly sliced bite sized pieces and toss in ¼ cup flour seasoned with salt and pepper.

When the squash is done, cut it in half at the equator (not lengthwise) and use a spoon to remove the seeds. Use a fork to gently scrape out the noodle like flesh into a bowl and set aside.
To make the sauce, combine the juice from 1 lime, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons honey, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, and sriracha to taste (start with a teaspoon). Heat in a small saucepan over low heat until combined and smooth. Stir frequently to prevent burning.

Cook the chicken in saute pan in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Set aside. Add carrots and 2 cups bean sprouts and cook for one minute. Add garlic and cook for another minute, then transfer the mixture to a large stock pot. Scramble 1 egg in  the saute pan and add to stock pot. Add the chicken, squash, sauce, and green onion to the large pot and cook for 1 minute to combine. Garnish with ½ cup chopped peanuts and cilantro. 

Orange Chicken with Roasted Bok Choy

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Greg must have been 10, meaning I was about 12, and we were all crammed around our circular kitchen table in what seemed to be a who-could-eat-the-most-the-fastest competition. Mom and Dad had ordered take-out from our favorite Chinese place. My face buried in a bowl of pork fried rice and chicken fingers, I was hardly paying attention to Greg – until he starting screaming.

“Something’s happening in my mouth!” he yelled in panic, his eyes wide with fear. He had mistaken a hot chili pepper for an orange peel in his favorite dish – orange chicken.

You’d think our response would be concern – and initially it was. My mom went to his rescue, giving him a glass of milk to counteract the heat. But once we learned what was going on, we all started laughing. Something’s happening in my mouth? He couldn’t have come up with something more specific to say? Maybe, “I ate something too spicy!”

To this day, every time my family orders Chinese (which is often) the “something’s happening in my mouth” story comes up. Although we laugh at how funny it was and tease Greg for his over-reaction, we all take extra care to examine our plates and avoid those hot chili peppers. None of us want to be the family joke for the next 15 years (notice I skipped the peppers in this recipe!).

Orange Chicken with Roasted Bok Choy
Yield: 2 servings. Per Serving: $3.28, 477 calories, 18g fat, 60g carbs, 24g protein

Cook ½ cup quinoa according to package directions and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine 2 tablespoons flour with ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cut 2 chicken breasts into bite sized pieces and toss in the flour mixture. Cook the chicken over medium heat in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a nonstick frying pan (this helps reduce the amount of oil you need). Cook about 5 minutes on each side, until the chicken is lightly browned.

While the chicken is cooking, juice 2 oranges. Combine the juice, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and ½ tablespoon honey in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until bubbling, about 5 minutes. Add to the skillet with the (cooked) chicken and simmer on medium-low heat until the mixture sticks to the chicken.

Quarter 2 bok choy and remove the core by cutting the ends off at a diagonal. Put in baking dish in a single layer and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for about 10 minutes, flipping once, until the leaves are bright green and starting to brown.

Chicken Fried Quinoa

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When my whole family gets together, we usually order Chinese for dinner. I’m the oldest of five siblings and things can get a little hectic when we’re all in the same place at the same time. Although I love cooking for my family, it can be hard to please everyone. Chinese seems to do the trick because there’s something for everyone. We even have it for dinner on Christmas Day – it’s become a tradition.

For as long as I can remember, my favorite dish from the Chinese food menu has been pork-fried rice. I love the peas, stir-fried scrambled eggs, and the soy sauce soaked rice. But it’s a treat for me, usually something I only eat when ordering in with my family. The take-out version usually has way too much sodium and the rice to vegetable ratio is less than ideal.

To fill my craving for pork-fried rice, I recreated the recipe myself. As I’ve mentioned before, I love recreating take-out meals. It’s a challenge to make something healthier and tastier than the restaurant-prepared version.

When you cook for yourself, you get to control everything that goes into your meal. When making this recipe, I deliberately went easy on the salt and soy sauce and added tons of veggies. It takes all of the guilt out of eating your favorite take-out meals. Oh and guess what? Cooking it yourself usually makes it cheaper. And personally, I think it tastes better.

What’s your favorite take-out meal? Have you ever tried recreating it?

Chicken Fried Quinoa

Cook 2/3 cup quinoa according to package directions, replacing half of the liquid with low-sodium chicken broth.

Combine 2 tablespoons flour, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Toss 1 pound chicken in the flour mixture. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a fry pan over medium heat. Fry the chicken until just cooked, about 2 minutes per side. You’ll know the chicken is ready to flip when it easily comes off the pan. You might have to do this in batches depending on the size of your pan.

In a separate, large pan (preferably with taller sides) heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over medium heat. Sauté 1 cup diced onion about two minutes. Add 1 cup diced red bell pepper and sauté for an additional 2 minutes. Add 1 cup shredded carrots and sauté about 3 more minutes. Finally, add 1 cup frozen peas.

When the chicken is finished, add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil to the pan and heat again. Add two large eggs, and cook until scrambled and cooked through. Break into small pieces.

Add the quinoa and egg to the vegetables and stir to combine. Add 2 tablespoons soy sauce and serve warm.

Yield: 4 servings. Per Serving: $3.22, 439 calories, 15.5g fat, 36g carbs, 39g protein.

 

Curry Chicken Salad with Grapes

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At around noon every day, lunch begins at my office. Staff wander out onto the streets of Harvard Square, each hoping to find something to eat at one of the many restaurants within walking distance. About 20 minutes later they return, carrying paper bags holding their lunch of choice.

Everyone else gathers in the kitchen to prepare their bring-your-own lunches. They pull their labeled Tupperware (there’s a system – initials and the date – to keep things in order) out of the fridge or pop lean cuisines into the microwave. Except on special occasions (like birthdays, lunch dates, or I’m-too-busy-to-make-food days), I’m in the bring-your-own lunch group.

Most of the time, I’m satisfied with what I prepared in advance. But there are times when those paper bags are filled with food that looks so good. And smells so good. That’s when lunch envy sinks in: that feeling when you’re sitting around a table and everyone else’s lunch looks better than yours. On those days, I spend the entire hour pushing my salad or pasta or chicken around on my plate with my fork as I steal sideways glances at the other meals, wishing I had chosen to purchase a roll-up from Falafel Corner. It happens to everyone.

Sometimes I succumb to my lunch envy and purchase something else (as I did today – opting for a chicken salad sub from Al’s rather than the chicken, carrots, and rice I had packed). But if I did that all the time I’d be broke and have nothing to post on this blog. To deter the inevitable feeling of lunch envy, I often resolve to make the lunch in question myself, which is where I found the inspiration for this recipe.

This twist on a traditional chicken salad recipe adds grapes for sweetness and cuts calories with the use of Greek yogurt as a replacement for mayonnaise. It can be served in a pita as described, or in a sandwich, on top of a salad, or as a dip for celery sticks or pita chips. Take that, lunch envy – this version is cheaper and healthier than yours!

Curry Chicken Salad with Grapes

Boil 2 chicken breasts in water for 15 minutes until cooked through. Let cool in the fridge for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, dice 2 large celery stalks and slice 1/2 cup of red grapes in half. When chicken is cool, dice into small pieces and combine with celery and grapes in a medium size bowl. Add 3 tablespoons plain greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon mayonnaise, ¼ teaspoon curry powder, zest from ½ a lemon¸ and salt and pepper to taste. Mix to combine and serve in a mini pita with a handful of baby spinach.

Yield: 3 servings. Serving size: 1 pita filled with 1 cup chicken salad. Per Serving: $2.73, 329 calories, 8g fat, 22g carbs, 41g protein.