Quick and Easy Mango Salsa

One of the top tips to eating healthy is making sure there are a lot of bright, vibrant colors on your plate. So I got pretty excited when I went to the supermarket last week and mangoes were on sale… my mind immediately drifting to thoughts of a delicious mango salsa. I’ve had mango salsa a few times on fish at restaurants, but never made my own before, so I started researching some recipes as soon as I got home to find some inspiration. I ended up finding a perfect one on Cooking Light that I only slightly modified for my version below.

Note: I love cilantro – and I know it’s one of those things that you either love it or you hate it. If you hate it, don’t try this recipe.

Fresh Mango Salsa
Inspired by this Cooking Light recipe

  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 1/2  cups  diced peeled ripe mango
  • 1/2  cup  diced white onion
  • 1/2  cup  chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2  tablespoons  fresh lime juice
  • 1  tablespoon  cider vinegar
  • 1  teaspoon  sugar
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  black pepper
  • 2  cloves garlic, minced

Combine first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and garlic. It’s that easy! And voila…

Mango Salsa - Add a Pinch of Salt

Delicious fresh mango salsa

The best part about this salsa is that it has a lot more to offer than just it’s delicious, refreshing flavor. It’s incredibly versatile… you can use it to top fish (any white fish, salmon, the possibilities are endless) or chicken to add a splash of color and fresh flavor to a main course, or you can serve it with tortilla chips as a snack or appetizer… or you could even eat it with a spoon if you love it as much as I do!

There are also so many variations you could make to this recipe. I’m already thinking of adding a pop of spice to my next batch – perhaps adding some diced jalapeño and maybe a touch of cayenne pepper. If you don’t love spice, bell peppers would add a nice crunch and some more bright colors to the salsa. Pineapple would also make a delicious addition if you want to make it more sweet and fruity to add to the mango.

I still have more of my salsa left over and I’m so excited to eat it, and also anxious to finish it so I can make more and try new versions of this recipe. I was shocked that even my husband, who is a very straightforward and not-so-daring eater, loved the addition of the fresh fruit and herb flavor on top of his fish. I definitely think that this recipe is going to become a staple in my spring and summer cooking!

Have you ever made a mango salsa before? What other ingredients do you like to include?

Chicken, Chicken, Chicken!

ChickenAfter I boiled a whole chicken earlier this week to make my chicken noodle soup, I was left with a large amount of cooked chicken to use for other things. You may have read my earlier post regarding my need to use leftovers to create new meals… this post is essentially a sequel to that one, focusing solely on using cooked chicken leftovers.

Since most chicken dishes require the chicken to be cooked in a certain way, or marinated before cooking, I had to think creatively to figure out what I could do with plain old cooked chicken so I didn’t let it go to waste. I had a total of about 5 cups of chicken once it was all chopped up/shredded, so I decided to split my leftovers into 2 different dishes:

1. Chicken Salad

I’ve always loved chicken salad, and you really can’t beat the homemade kind. I kept it simple both because I didn’t have many ingredients that I would have needed to make a more complex recipe (such as this holiday chicken salad from Allrecipes.com which I need to try at some point!) The recipe I used was a simple mix of the following ingredients in a medium bowl:

  • 2 cups cooked chicken meat, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1/4 cup low fat mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

This seems like it will make about 5 sandwiches, so it’s the perfect amount of chicken salad to last for the week. It’s also a healthified version, as I replaced half of the mayonnaise with non-fat Greek yogurt. Replacing only half of the mayo helps to keep the essential flavor there, but make the overall recipe more healthy.

2. Chicken Divan

I didn’t want to get sick of eating chicken for weeks, so I decided to use the remainder of my extra chicken to make something I could freeze and defrost at another time for a quick and easy pre-prepared meal. I remember my mom making Chicken Divan when I was younger, and I always loved it, so I looked up a recipe for this delicious casserole and decided to whip it together. The recipe I found that seemed closest to what I remembered from my past was a Paula Deen recipe on FoodNetwork.com.

Again, I made some additions and substitutions to ingredients in this recipe. The recipe typically calls for cream of mushroom soup, but I used cream of chicken instead because it was what I had on hand. Additionally, I added sliced mushrooms and croutons to the recipe; the mushrooms, to add the flavor I may have missed out on by using cream of chicken instead of cream of mushroom soup, and the croutons, because my mom used to always add these and I loved the different texture that they added to the dish. Finally, I substituted half the mayonnaise again with plain non-fat Greek yogurt to make the recipe a bit healthier.

The recipe I used in the end is as follows:

Ingredients

  • 1 10-ounce package frozen broccoli, chopped

    Chicken Divan

    Photo Courtesy of CampbellsKitchen.com

  • 3 cups shredded chicken, cooked
  • 1 small can mushroom stems and pieces
  • 1/2 cup seasoned croutons
  • 1 (10 3/4-ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp Cheddar
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup soft bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted

Microwave broccoli on full power for 2 minutes, until thawed. Drain the broccoli and put into a casserole dish. Add the chicken, mushrooms, and croutons.

In a medium bowl, combine the soup, mayonnaise, yogurt, sour cream, Cheddar, lemon juice, curry powder, salt and pepper, to taste, and wine. Whisk together to make a sauce. Pour the sauce over the broccoli and chicken. Mix well with a spatula or wooden spoon.

Place the mixture into a 9-inch square casserole dish or disposable aluminum foil pan that has been sprayed with vegetable oil cooking spray. Pat down evenly and smooth with a spatula. Combine the Parmesan, bread crumbs and butter and sprinkle over the top.

Since I made this casserole for a later date, I stopped here, wrapped the casserole dish in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil to ensure a tight seal, and placed it in the freezer. When I take it out, I will defrost it and then bake for 30 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees, as the recipe instructs.

I love when making one dish can turn into 3… and those 3 dishes should equate to over 20 separate meals!! Between the soup that we have been eating, the other half of the soup that I froze, the chicken salad for lunch, and the casserole, which will amount to at least 2 dinners, I feel extremely proud of myself for making the best of what I had!

Do you have a favorite meal to make with already-cooked chicken? Let me know in the comments… I’ll need more ideas for the next time I decide to make my chicken noodle soup!

Chicken Noodle Soup

Chicken Noodle SoupIn the cold winter months, my cooking is all about comfort foods. Not only do they make you feel good, but when you’re snowed in or it’s just too cold to go outside, I think it’s fun to spend a day cooking some nice soup or stew over the stove in large quantities so it makes multiple meals for weeks!

Soup also freezes really well, so when you make a nice big pot, you can immediately freeze half of it for dinners in a few weeks or a month– doing this really makes you feel like it’s worth all the time you put in to make it in the first place, because you get to enjoy it for so long afterward!

I admit, this was my first try at making a chicken soup, including stock, from scratch. I was a little nervous when I began, assuming I’d screw something up along the way. But honestly, while it was a lot of work and I can’t say it was easy, if you follow good directions it’s really not super hard… and the results are well worth it!

Since I had never made a chicken soup before, I searched long and hard for a good recipe I could use as a base. I found a great one on the Food Network website courtesy of Tyler Florence. I made very few tweaks since this was my first chicken soup, and was very pleased with the result… I would make this exact recipe again any time!

The recipe is split into 2 parts: the stock first, and the soup second. The stock needs to be finished before you can start with the soup part, so the recipe should be followed as it reads below, from start to finish. Of course, if you’re looking for a quicker solution, you can buy a box of pre-made chicken stock, and start with the Soup recipe below, using the boxed stock in place of the homemade stock. This will cut a good 1-2 hours off of your prep time!

Chicken Stock Recipe

Ingredients:Homemade Chicken Stock

  • 1 whole free-range chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds), rinsed, giblets discarded
  • 2 carrots, cut in large chunks
  • 3 celery stalks, cut in large chunks
  • 1 large white onion, quartered
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 bunch fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Place the chicken and vegetables in a large stockpot over medium heat. Pour in only enough cold water to cover (about 3 quarts); too much will make the broth taste weak. Toss in the thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns, and allow it to slowly come to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and gently simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, partially covered, until the chicken is done. As it cooks, skim any impurities that rise to the surface; add a little more water if necessary to keep the chicken covered while simmering.

Carefully remove the chicken to a cutting board. When its cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones; hand-shred the meat into a storage container.

Carefully strain the stock through a fine sieve into another pot to remove the vegetable solids. Use the stock immediately or if you plan on storing it, place the pot in a sink full of ice water and stir to cool down the stock. Cover and refrigerate for up to one week or freeze.

Chicken Noodle Soup Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium carrots, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 2 celery ribs, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 4 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 quarts chicken stock, recipe follows
  • 8 ounces dried wide egg noodles (or any type of pasta you have on hand- I used gemelli)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Place a soup pot over medium heat and coat with the oil. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, celery, thyme and bay leaf. Cook and stir for about 6 minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned. Pour in the chicken stock and bring the liquid to a boil. Add the noodles and simmer for 5 minutes until tender. Fold in the chicken, and continue to simmer for another couple of minutes to heat through; season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with chopped parsley before serving.

I was very pleased with the results of my first-ever completely from scratch chicken soup, and I will absolutely be making it again sometime. Another benefit of making the stock from scratch is that now I have a lot of extra already-cooked chicken so I can make even more quick dinners, or freeze it for another time. Since it’s already been cooked, another thing I can do is make it into a casserole and freeze it so I have a really easy made-ahead meal for some night that I get home late from work or I’m too busy to prepare a meal from scratch.

Do you have a favorite soup recipe or any tips/tricks to making soups from scratch? Share your ideas with me in the comments!

Quesadillas

El Paso Quesadilla MakerOne of my most fun Christmas presents was the El Paso Chile Company Quesadilla maker. This is one of those things that I never thought I would need, but wow does it help make quesadillas easier to cook! Because I was so excited about this gift, I just had to use it right away. I was inspired to create my own quesadilla recipe, which I’ve included below. This is actually the first recipe I’ve really created from scratch that I am proud of! It was a big day for me :)

There are so many different ways to make a quesadilla… beans or no beans? Chicken, steak, or vegetarian? Shredded chicken or sliced chicken? The possibilities are endless. This does make it easy to make a quesadilla with whatever ingredients you have on hand at the time, though. I decided to make mine chicken because that’s typically my favorite kind of quesadilla to order out. My goal was to make it as good as the Mexican restaurants I’ve been to!

Quesadilla Ingredients

Ingredients (makes 2 quesadillas)

1 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 packet taco seasoning
1 plum tomato, diced
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 red pepper, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup shredded Mexican cheese
4 soft tortillas
Sour cream, cilantro, and chopped lettuce for topping

Directions

  • Pre-heat oven to 350 and pre-heat quesadilla maker by plugging it in
  • Rub chicken with taco seasoning
  • Lay chicken on a baking sheet and place in the oven until chicken is cooked through (about 20 minutes)
  • While chicken is cooking, heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a skillet and cook peppers until soft
  • Once chicken is cooked, slice it and set it aside on a plate
  • Lay out one tortilla on each of 2 plates
  • Place chicken and peppers on each tortilla so the tortilla is covered
  • Mix together tomatoes and onions in a small bowl (add some cilantro to the mix if you like cilantro), and set aside half of the mixture. Take the other half and sprinkle it atop the chicken and peppers
  • Top the whole tortilla with Mexican cheese, and then place your other tortilla on the top
  • Place quesadilla carefully into quesadilla maker and close and latch (if you can… mine were too thick to latch the device!)
  • Take quesadilla out when maker says it is ready
  • Garnish with remainder of tomato and onion mixture, a sprinkle of cilantro, a dollop of sour cream, and some shredded lettuce

And the finished product should look something like this…

Chicken Quesadilla

The best part… you never have to flip it!

I’m not so good at flipping things, so this quesadilla maker is definitely for me. And it encourages me to make them, when it wasn’t something I would typically think of making before. I’m very excited to try new and different varieties, but for now, I hope you enjoy my first!

If you have any quesadilla recipes that you love, please share them with me in the comments so I can try them next time!

Balsamic Chicken

Balsamic glazed chicken

I typically don’t get home from work until 7 or 8pm, so my ultimate quest is to find delicious meals that I can make in under an hour for dinner. Ironically, one of my favorite recipes that fits this requirement is adapted from one that I can’t even fully recall where I got it from, as I’ve got the recipe scribbled on the back of an envelope from a piece of mail from 3 years ago. However, I almost don’t even use the recipe anymore since I’ve had enough practice with it that I’m comfortable playing around and adjusting the flavors to find the ideal balance.

One of the best things about this recipe is its versatility. While the main ingredients in the sauce should always stay constant, different veggies or amounts of each can be added or removed from the recipe based on personal preference or what you have in the house. It also pairs well with mashed potatoes, or can be served over rice!

Balsamic Glazed Chicken

  • Balsamic Chicken Recipe4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/3 onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/3 stick butter (I tend to only use about 1-2 tbsp)
  • 4 tbsp balsamic vinegar (I occasionally add more)
  • 2/3 cup red wine (or to taste)
  • 2/3 tsp salt
  • dash black pepper
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup mushrooms (I switch between canned and fresh sliced mushrooms)
  • 1 tbsp parsley (for garnish)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet, heat butter and vegetable oil over high heat. When it starts bubbling, add the chicken. Cook it for about 1 minute per side, and then set aside on a plate.

Balsamic chicken

Add the onion and garlic to the skillet (don’t wash it out in between) and let them cook for about 5 minutes, or until theonions are soft. Then, add the tomatoes, mushrooms, balsamic vinegar, wine, salt and pepper. Bring it to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer for about 5-10 minutes, until all of the veggies are soft and the liquid has reduced by about half.

In a baking pan, place the chicken and pour the veggie mixture on top of the chicken breasts. Bake on the top shelf of the oven for 20-25 minutes. Garnish with parsley and you’re finished!

This dish is great because it not only tastes delicious but it’s so versatile that it can be made in many different ways. I’m a huge balsamic vinegar fan, but the amount of balsamic vinegar used in the recipe can be adjusted to taste (the original recipe I used only called for 2 tbsp, but I always use at least 4).  I also added the mushrooms for an additional veggie and to introduce a new flavor and texture to the dish that was less acidic than some of the other ingredients. Eventually I will also experiment with adding other vegetables such as broccoli or zucchini, which I think would also be great additions!

The other great thing about this dish is that it’s so loaded with veggies that you just need to add a starch and you’ve got a full meal. Whip up some quick mashed potatoes or rice, pour yourself a glass of wine and you’re good to go.

Do you have a favorite versatile dish that is a go-to for an easy but delicious dinner? Share it in the comments!