Summer Pasta Salad

I like to keep my options open.

Example: I am a chronic overpacker. Who cares if I stuff so many clothes, shoes, and accessories into my trusty carry-on bag that I am unable to lift it into the overhead bin without the assistance of a kind stranger? At least I rest assured that while traveling, I will never be caught in a storm without an umbrella or have to turn down an invitation to a fancy dinner with the Duchess of Cambridge because I simply do not have anything proper to wear.

Okay, slight exaggeration. But the point about my Mary Poppins-style of packing is that I like to have options: a jacket in the event of an unanticipated cold front, an extra pair of heels for an unexpected night out, a swimsuit just in case…

You get the drift. Options.

I feel the same way about my recipes.

When I first started cooking, I was a strict recipe follower. Always adhering to the prescribed list of ingredients, measuring exactly, and never adjusting the cooking time, I played by the rules. Over time, I learned that the beauty of cooking lies in the ability to adapt traditional recipes and make them your own. Adding a little cinnamon to boost flavor, substituting the butter to cut back on fat, finding a way to incorporate more protein, throwing in some peanut butter or hot sauce because they make everything taste better — these are the tweaks that transform cooking from a science to an art.

This is why I absolutely adore this Summer Pasta Salad.

Summer Pasta Salad

First of all, the recipe is completely customizable. Going meatless? Forget the chicken. In the mood for Mediterranean? Add feta and crushed pita chips on top. Not a fan of balsamic? Switch up the dressing. Options abound!

After a summer of traveling (blog hiatus explained) including indulgent eats and a few extra glasses of wine, my body is craving only healthy and nutritious foods. This salad is a great way to get back on track while filling up on all the goodies: lean protein, fresh veggies, fiber-rich whole wheat pasta, and everyone’s favorite superfood: avocado!

If your style of cooking is anything like my style of packing, you will want to squeeze as much as possible into this salad to give you options with every bite. Try the recipe, enjoy the sweet freedom that having options brings, and let me know your personal twist on Summer Pasta Salad!

Summer Pasta Salad

Yields: 8 servings

3 cups whole wheat pasta, any shape (I used fusilli)
12 ounces cooked chicken, cubed
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 small cucumbers, sliced
1 cup black olives, sliced
1 large avocado, diced
1 cup fat-free balsamic vinaigrette (I love Cindy’s Kitchen, which you can find at Whole Foods.)
salt and pepper to taste

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Rinse under cold water until cool, and transfer to large serving dish. Stir in chicken, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and avocado. Pour dressing over the salad, add salt and pepper, and toss to combine. Cover and chill before serving.

Servings: 8
Serving Size: 1 heaping cup
Calories: 255
Fat: 7.8g
Saturated Fat: 0.9g
Carbs: 30.3g
Sugar: 5.8g
Fiber: 4.6g
Protein: 15.5g

Chicken Wild Rice Casserole

How do I love thee casserole? Let me count the ways.

If the name of my blog didn’t give it away at first glance, I have also previously shared with you my affinity for casseroles in my Baked Blueberry Oatmeal Casserole recipe. Casseroles are comforting to the max, they produce enough leftovers to feed a small army, and they are a great way to clean out the fridge–anything goes!

According to my mom, I wasn’t always such a casserole aficionado. I have been told that I would often ask for a sandwich for dinner instead of the casserole Mom had on the menu. (Sorry Mama!) Only once I was older did I realize the error of my ways. A creamy combination of savory chicken, zesty rice, and yummy good-for-you veggies all in one dish–what could be better?

Chicken Wild Rice Casserole is particularly dear to my heart, because it was my grandpa’s favorite meal in my mom’s recipe book. Much to my then-casserole-despising self’s dismay, Grandpa would request Chicken Wild Rice Casserole every time he came to our house for a visit. My saving grace at the time was that Grandpa never failed to take me to TCBY for frozen yogurt after dinner. In that regard, my tastes have not changed; to me, frozen yogurt is still a cure-all.

I have made a few changes to the original recipe to make it a bit lighter and easier to prepare–swapping out sour cream for Greek yogurt and purchasing ready-cooked chicken at the store. Using a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup saves time, but you can easily make your own if you prefer. (Try this recipe.)

If you’re still not sold on casseroles, I implore you to try this recipe. Chicken Wild Rice Casserole is a healthy, foolproof weeknight meal that is absolutely addicting. One taste and you’ll know you want seconds!

Chicken Wild Rice Casserole

Yields: 6 servings (approximately 1 cup each)

1 6-ounce package long grain and wild rice mix
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup sliced mushroom
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 10 3/4 ounce can 98% fat free condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 cups cooked chicken, cubed
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray 2-quart casserole dish with cooking spray.

Prepare rice according to package directions. While rice is cooking, heat a small amount of olive oil in a sauté pan and cook onion, celery, and mushroom until tender. In a large bowl, stir together soup, yogurt, wine, salt, and pepper. Stir in cooked rice, vegetables, and chicken. Pour mixture into casserole dish and bake uncovered for 35 to 40 minutes. Stir before serving.

Servings: 6
Serving Size: 1 cup
Calories: 210
Fat: 2.6g
Carbs: 29g
Sugar: 4g
Fiber: 1.5g
Protein: 15.5g

Beef and Beer Chili

Chili is my go-to winter meal.

My first few blog posts may convey the illusion that I only eat the following: 1) sweets and 2) breakfast foods. The reality is that my voracious sweet tooth has an equally zealous counterpart in my comfort food cravings. Curling up with a hot bowl of chili on a cold night is absolutely heart-warming and offers a distraction from the misery that is winter. In fact, I believe that chili is one of winter’s few redeeming qualities.

Especially my Beef and Beer Chili.

Hearty in texture, rich in flavor, and comforting as can be, Beef and Beer Chili is the perfect weeknight meal. You can throw everything in your crock pot in the morning and come home from work to a delightful smell and a delicious meal.

The key to keeping this recipe healthy is by choosing a lean ground beef. I usually choose 93% lean, which still packs a flavor punch without all the fat. Cooking in the crock pot allows the flavors to fully develop as the beer and the spices come together in a chunky, classic chili.

Let your slow cooker do all the work for you, and serve with cornbread, shredded cheddar cheese, plain Greek yogurt/sour cream, sliced jalapeños, tortilla chips, or sliced avocado, and, of course, a beer!


Beef and Beer Chili

Yields: 8 servings (about 1 1/4 cup each)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound lean ground beef (I use 93% lean)
1/2 cup white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 10-ounce can Ro-Tel diced tomatoes & green chiles
2 15-ounce cans beans of choice (I like 1 can of pinto beans + 1 can of black beans, but you could use kidney beans, white beans, etc.)
12 ounces beer (Shiner Bock is my beer of choice)
1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried cilantro

Optional toppings:
Shredded cheddar cheese
Sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
Sliced jalapeños
Sliced avocados
Tortilla chips

Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add ground beef, onion, and garlic, and cook until the beef is completely browned, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and place on a paper-towel lined plate to soak up any excess liquid.

Transfer beef, onion, and garlic to slow cooker and stir in the rest of the ingredients, except for toppings. Cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8 hours.

Serve warm with desired toppings. Freeze leftovers.

Servings: 8
Calories: 250
Fat: 4.9g
Carbs: 29.3g
Sugar: 5.3g
Fiber: 6.7g
Protein: 18.7