Category Archives: Mexican

Grilled Salad, Y’all

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Yeah, it’s a thing, and it’s epic.

You know how sometimes you’re walking home from work, or maybe hanging laundry on the line, and you catch a whiff of someone’s grill, and you stop dead in your tracks because the heavenly aroma invades your brain and YOU. MUST. HAVE. GRILLED. MEAT. NOW?

The charcoal fever can be tough when you’re a pescetarian, and even tougher when you’re trying to eat healthily. And it’s darn-near impossible when you haven’t shopped for a week.

Then it occurred to me—some lettuces hold up nicely to pan heat… so why not try to grill it? Bam! The great experiment was on.

I took a big, hearty head of romaine and split it right down the center, vertically. Brushed both halves with olive oil and seasoned with a touch of cracked black pepper and kosher salt. Then I tossed them on a charcoal grill. They cooked for about two to three minutes, I turned them, and they cooked for about two minutes more. The end result produced a mix of softish pieces and crispier leaves. I did a rough chop of the lettuce while it was still hot.

Add to your lettuce:

  • one grilled (almost blackened) ear of corn, kernels removed
  • a heap of black beans
  • avocado, cut into cubes or chunks
  • a few tablespoons of some wonderful cheese (don’t mess with the shredded-from-the-bag stuff—I went with an aged goat’s milk feta and it was divine)
  • a few spritzes of lime juice

Here’s what happens: the olive oil (all warm and smoky from the grill) combines with the avocado and lime juice, creating an unctuous, creamy, decadent “dressing.” The tangy cheese warms ever-so-slightly, contrasting with the charred corn.

It is bliss, my friends. Sweet, summery, salad bliss.

 

 

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The food item you need to have in your kitchen, always

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Yes, you. You need this. Go buy it. Now.

It’s FlatOut bread–specifically the Pinwheel party-sized variety.

It’s big–like, the size of a full cookie sheet–and it has just 5 PointsPlus. That means you can do just about anything with it.

  • Do what its name implies and cover it with sandwich fixin’s, roll it up, and cut it into pinwheel finger sandwiches.
  • Cut it in half (only 2 P+) and use as a bread or wrap for hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches, spreads, or gyros.
  • Cut in halves or thirds and use in place of higher-Point tortillas for burritos.
  • Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with herbs and seasonings, and bake at 350 for five minutes for awesome pita chips. Dip in hummus, guacamole, salsa, or PB2.
  • Brush with olive oil, add garlic seasoning and Parmesan, and bake for a delicious (much healthier) alternative to garlic bread.
  • Top with fat-free ricotta cheese, sliced Roma tomatoes, fresh spinach, artichoke hearts, garlic, and reduced-fat mozzarella cheese for a ginormous and super-satisfying personal pizza. If you stick to 1/4-cup serving sizes for both cheeses, you’re looking at just 9 PointsPlus for the ENTIRE thing. That’s not to say you can’t share… but you can also say, “back off, bitches” and eat the whole damn thing. That was my strategy.

Here’s what the hell to do with portabella mushrooms

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Ugh, mushrooms.

I have broadened my veggie palate considerably in the last year or two. But I just can’t get on board the mushroom train. They’re slimy, they’re mushy, and they smell like unwashed feet. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I decided to try them again for the same reason I try half the things I do: because someone on Pinterest told me I just had to. Apparently they’re amazing in fajitas. I was skeptical but game for the challenge.

I bought a single portabella cap–no five-count value packs for this shopper. I cut the little stump from the bottom, plugged my nose (crusty feet smell; oh the humanity!), and sliced the ‘shroom into strips. I threw them into a pan with 2 t. heated olive oil, then added slices of fresh yellow bell pepper and onion. Stirred ’em all around and let them brown up a bit, then added a liberal splash of water and a T. of dry fajita seasoning spice mix. They simmered down for about ten minutes.

I piled them on charred tortillas with fresh salsa, tomatoes, Greek yogurt, and shredded lettuce. The result? Magic. Pure magic, I tell you. Turns out, portabella mushrooms are like amazing little sponges. They absorb the spices and flavors around them and come out looking and tasting like meaty little steak strips (except better because they’re good for your body and no animals had to die to make your dinner dreams come true).

So now you know.

Kitchen must-keep: pizza crust

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People often tell me they don’t have time to cook. I hear that; I work 50-hour weeks and often arrive home starved and cranky. The secret is prep.

Not every meal needs to be a production. Just say no to your next takeout fat bomb or mac ‘n cheese binge by stocking your freezer with Golden Home Ultra Crispy & Thin Pizza Crusts. Each serving (a third of a crust) is just 130 calories, 1.5 g fat, 26 carbs, and 3 WW Points+. That means if you top wisely, you can eat the whole thing. Cue singing angels and hallelujah chorus.

The possibilities are literally endless:

Rub with olive oil and garlic and top with reduced-fat mozzarella for a crispy take on garlic bread.

Top with sliced Roma tomatoes, garlic, spinach leaves, basil, and fresh mozzarella for a healthy margherita pizza.

Pile high with seasoned taco meat (use veggie crumbles for cruelty-free and low-fat yum!), Rotel canned tomatoes/chilies, avocado slices, black olives, green onions, shredded lettuce, and Greek yogurt for a feast of a Mexican pizza.

Cover with homemade sauce of puréed fat-free ricotta, garlic, and fresh spinach and basil, then add mozzarella and bake for a bright, flavorful “green goddess” pizza.

Add scrambled egg whites, peppers, onions, fresh snipped chives, and smoked salmon or sausage crumbles for a breakfast omelet’za.

No matter which option you go for, it’ll take you from freezer to dinner in like ten minutes or less. It’s a huge leap up from greasy drive-through, but (shhh!) you don’t actually have to cook.

Roasted zucchini + sweet corn salad

“Mmm… WHAT is this dressing?”

It’s the response I get whenever I make a batch of this delicious roasted-veggie summer salad. And it always surprises me.

When I was super-fat, I couldn’t fathom how foods could be considered flavorful without liberal amounts of butter, oil, cream, or cheese. Helpful friends and coworkers would share recipes with me–“it’s healthy, but soooo delicious, I swear!”–and I would nod and smile and promise to try them, while in my head I was mentally crumpling that stinking recipe and drop-kicking it into the nearest trash can. Quinoa-with-pistachios-and-dried-cherries-whaaaaat? I think not. See you bitches at McDonalds; Kara OUT.

That’s why I love unveiling the mystery behind this delectable sauce that so many people ask about. Ready for the big secret? Here it is: fresh lime juice. That’s it. Turns out, the REAL secret is that when veggies are beautiful and fresh, you don’t need butter, cheese, or sodium-filled sauce. And yes, it’s really good.

Ingredients

  • Zucchini, 3-4 cups, cubed
  • Sweet corn, 2 cups (sheared directly from cob, or high-quality canned if you don’t have access to fresh–bypass cheaper cans and go straight for Green Giant Steam Crisp whole kernel sweet corn; the difference in taste is incredible)
  • Avocado, 1 medium
  • Red onion, 1/4 cup chopped
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • Cumin, 1 tsp
  • Olive oil, 1 tbsp
  • Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, to taste

Recipe
Combine cubed zucchini and corn in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, add cumin, and mix well to coat. Cook on a roasting pan at 400 degrees or in a large frying pan on medium-high for about 10 minutes, until zucchini is cooked through and starting to brown at edges.

Cut your avocado into small chunks and chop your red onion. Combine all veggies in a large bowl, then add lime juice, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Chill until serving. (The longer it sits in the fridge, the better the flavors meld. Deliciousness factor = off the charts.) Works well as a salad, or as a topper for tacos or tortilla chips.

Consider me the helpful friend passing this recipe on to to you. Now don’t fuck it up by tossing it away and going to Micky D’s. “It’s healthy but soooo good, I swear–try it!”

Loaded nachos, skinnified


I was given a challenge by a friend: make a Weight Watchers-friendly loaded nachos.

Game on.

Nachos are one of my all-time favorite foods. They’re easy, they taste like junk food, you can eat them with your hands… what’s not to like?

I spend so much time futzing around with low-Point nachos recipes, I could probably add it as a professional skill on LinkedIn. Needless to say, I’m happy to share my tips. Some may seem weird, but have faith: for me, it’s all about the taste. Nutritional awesomeness is purely a bonus. : )

Kara Can’t Cook’s tips for making amazing skinny nachos:

  1. Choose a better chip. Tortilla chips—even the baked kind (and who likes baked chips anyway?)—are Point heavy and contain tons of salt. Oven-crisp seven wontons instead. No salt or oil necessary; just stick them under the broiler for a few minutes. They’re bigger than chips and provide a sturdier base for all of your fixin’s. (5 Points+)
  2. Lighten your cheese. Rubbery fat-free cheese sucks. But never fear: Sargento makes an awesome reduced-fat sharp cheddar that tastes (and melts) virtually the same as regular. (2 Points+ for 1/4 cup)
  3. Swap your sour cream. Fat-free sour cream? Gag. My greatest Mexican-food discovery in ages is Fage nonfat Greek yogurt. It’s soooo thick, creamy, and non-yogurty tasting, you’ll swear it’s the real deal. Even better? Used in small doses, it’s ZERO Points. (0 Points+ for 2 tbsp)
  4. Heap on the guac. It’s worth the extra Points. Guacamole is absolutely packed with flavor and healthy fats, so it punches up the taste and keeps you full. And it’s ridiculously easy: just mash a ripe avocado with a fork, add a touch of garlic, a splash of lime juice, a tbsp of diced onion, and a pinch of kosher salt. (3 Points+ for 1/2 of a small avocado)
  5. Pick a smarter protein. I’m a long-time vegetarian so I’m used to finding animal-free alternatives for traditionally meaty dishes. This one’s a snap: buy a bag of Quorn meatless soy-free grounds. It looks like beef and cooks like beef. Add some taco seasoning and mix with black beans. You won’t miss the meat, I swear. (2 Points+ per 3/4-cup serving)
  6. Finally—pile on the produce! Embrace the Weight Watchers free-fruits-and-veggies freedom, people! I add mountains of sliced green onions, cilantro, chopped leafy green lettuce, tomatoes, jalapenos, and fresh pico or salsa. (0 Points+)

If you’re keeping tabs, that’s 12 Points+ total, and for a big-ass heap of food. Give thanks to the Mexican food gods and DIG. IN.

Cheesy stuffed jalapeno pepper-poppers

Stuffed jalapenos

I ate SO many of these stuffed jalapenos at a friend’s barbecue this weekend, I gave myself sore lips and and a burnt tongue. And yet, looking at this picture right now, I want more. More, more, more.

You probably won’t believe that these are as wickedly delicious as they are. But take my word for it: once you try these crispy, spicy little dudes, you’ll be addicted. We’ll be running into each other at support meetings. “Hi, my name is Kara and I’m addicted to poppers.”

“Hi, Kara.”

Ingredients

  • 12 fresh whole jalapenos, big and firm (that’s what she said)
  • 1/2 cup Sargento reduced fat sharp cheddar, shredded
    I only use Sargento—when going reduced fat, it’s simply the best. It tastes no different than regular.
  • 6 tbsp reduced fat cream cheese
    I am in love with a new brand: Green Mountain Farms Greek yogurt/cream cheese blend. It looks like cream cheese, tastes like cream cheese, spreads like cream cheese—but for a fraction of the fat (less even than most reduced-fat cream cheeses).
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • Garlic salt
  • Chili powder

Recipe

This one came straight from weightwatchers.com. Normally I wouldn’t be the type to rip off another’s recipe without giving a link, but since WW makes you pay to access their recipes (shame, shame, Weight Watchers)—I’m going to be sassy and spill the beans.

Preheat oven to 400.

Cut off a thin slice from one side of each pepper, leaving stems intact; scoop out seeds with a grapefruit spoon or a small spoon (be careful not to touch seeds with bare hands). Rinse with cold water.

Add jalapenos to a frying pan heated to medium and allow to cook until backs are slightly charred/blackened, about 7 minutes. (Use no oil or cooking spray.)

Meanwhile, microwave cream cheese for about 30 seconds to soften it, then mix in cheddar, onions, and garlic salt and chili powder to taste (I used 1 tsp of each).

Remove jalapenos from pan and lay on an oven-safe baking sheet. Divide your cream cheese filling into twelve portions and fill each pepper. Sprinkle panko over peppers and bake for 5-8 minutes, depending on your preferred doneness.

These are only 1 PointPlus each. ONE. That’s bananas. You could literally eat the entire pan. (But don’t, because you’ll be in pain later.)

Beer cheese queso

Is it actually possible to make a cheesy, Weight Watchers-friendly queso dip? Spoiler alert: yep.

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During my first week on Weight Watchers, I had a dream. Not an MLK kind of situation–an actual dream. In it, I was eating Applebee’s soft-pretzel and beer cheese appetizer. Stick after salty, oven-warmed stick drenched in buttery-thick cheese sauce. I woke up drooling on my pillow.

Some evil fucking genius invented that dish, which weighs in at 31 PointsPlus and has about the same level of addictive lure as crack cocaine. I mourned giving those things up. (Yeah yeah, I know, I can have a small amount and count it. If I was really capable of stopping at three bites of hot-pretzel heaven, do you think I’d be on Weight Watchers?)

At first I experienced phantom pretzel syndrome–it was like I could still taste it. But I adapted. I had actually stopped fantasizing about bubbling beer cheese–and then I stumbled across this recipe on laaloosh.com (an amazing site).

A WW-friendly queso. What-what?

Don’t be doubters. This is good. Like, really good. And–I kid you not–less than 2 PointsPlus per quarter cup. Is it the same as an Applebee’s soft-pretzel app? Nah. It doesn’t have that heavy cream base and bite of salt. It’s a lighter, brighter version–the onions, garlic, and chillies pop in every mouthful; the creamy, dark ale adds a nice undertone without overpowering; and the finished product is sooo freaking rich and cheesy.

Here’s the recipe: http://www.laaloosh.com/2011/02/01/chile-con-queso-recipe/. I calculated the PointsPlus on my own and–even using less beer–found it higher than listed: about 1.5 PP per quarter cup. (Totally worth it!) I served with wonton chips and celery spears.

You too can quit the hot-pretzel app. Just take it one day at a time… and make this queso dip.

Black bean taquito

Put down your fork and step away from your fussy little salad, your soulless frozen dinner, or your rice cakes with gelatinous cheese spread.

New life rule: diet food sucks; make a heaping pan of taquitos!

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These are crispy on the outside, spicy-creamy on the inside, and literally bubbling over with hot, melty cheese. Serve them with a pile of chopped greens and some awesome, salty-sweet guacamole. Top with a few hearty dollops of salsa and plain Greek yogurt. Leave the fork in the drawer—prepare to nibble, dip, crunch, mop up guac, get sloppy, and lick your fingers.

Now THIS, my friends, is dinner.

Ingredients

  • 10 small corn tortillas
  • 1 can black beans
  • 5 tbsp low-fat cream cheese at room temperature—Philadelphia 1/3 less fat
  • 4 oz reduced fat shredded cheese—Crystal Farms reduced fat cheddar jack
  • 1 cup corn (I used roasted corn—simple recipe that yields awesome results)
  • 1/4 cup chopped onions, red or white
  • 1 tbsp fresh garlic
  • 3 tbsp cilantro, dry or fresh
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cayenne (or more—muy caliente!)
  • 2 tbsp taco sauce, enchilada sauce, or salsa
  • 4 tsp Olive oil

Recipe

It looks like a lot of ingredients, but it’s easy-peasy—I swear!

Rinse black beans and add (whole or rough-mashed) to a medium bowl with cream cheese, corn, onions, garlic, and dry spices, mixing well. Add cilantro (if using fresh) and taco sauce and mix. Set mixture aside.

Grab your stack of corn tortillas; wrap once in a damp paper towel, then again in a dry paper towel. Microwave for 45 seconds. This steams and softens the tortillas so they don’t tear when filling and rolling.

Spray a casserole dish (9×12) with Pam Olive Oil cooking spray. Add a scoop of the bean mixture and fill the center of a corn tortilla. Add a layer of shredded cheese. Roll medium-tightly and place it in the pan; repeat with your next nine tortillas, using all of your bean mixture and shredded cheese. Brush the tops with olive oil and bake at 425 for 15 minutes.

Serve with a quick guacamole, shredded lettuce/greens, and a tbsp of plain Greek yogurt.

Two taquitos = 9 PointsPlus.

Awesome-easy guacamole + roasted corn

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In my original KaraCan’tCook blog in early 2008, I stated, “Gun to head, I couldn’t pick an avocado out of a vegetable lineup.” As the cigarette ads used to say: You’ve come a long way, baby.

First of all, the avocado is a fruit, not a vegetable—so it would be fairly unlikely that it would even be in a vegetable lineup. Note to self: Before penning snarky prose, Wikipedia that shit. But I digress.

I have spent a lot of years hating the avocado. Like, hating. Loathing. Abhorring. Skin like a hard, discolored scrotum. Innards like baby diarrhea. Gag reflex.

But from-scratch guacamole at a local restaurant recently forced me to rethink my position. A friend ordered it and I reluctantly sampled a bite: not bad. Then another trip to the restaurant—this time I ordered the guac myself: pretty good, actually. Then a third trip, because oh-my-freaking-god, for the love of all that is holy, I NEED that guacamole in mah belly! And that, folks, is how an obsession is born.

Short of permanently changing my address to “Mexican Restaurant, Table 17,” I thought it might behoove me to learn a recipe for myself. I wanted something authentic-tasting—none of that tub-o-guac bullshit at the grocery store—but also simple. This is me, after all—Kara. Who cannot cook. So I tested and sampled and found my tried-and-true winner.

Ingredients

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • Red onion, finely chopped (to your taste—a few tbsp for me)
  • Juice from a fresh lime (1 tsp)
  • Cilantro, leaves and stems, rough chopped (a few tbsp)
  • Fresh salsa or pico, from the produce section—use in place of tomatoes and jalapenos/chilies for a quickie recipe (2-3 tbsp)
  • Cumin, ground (to taste—try about 1/4 tsp)
  • Cayenne, ground (to taste—about 1 tsp for a guac that punches back!)
  • Kosher salt (2 pinches)

Recipe
Mash the avocado in a bowl with a potato masher or butter cutter (don’t over-mash—some chunks are good). Add everything else and mix well, tasting as you go. Eat it right away, or let the flavors meld a bit.

Perfect with crudites, baked wonton chips, or corn tortillas. I also served with pan-roasted corn: canned sweet corn (the good stuff, not the crap: Green Giant super sweet yellow and white niblets) spread out on a cookie sheet or roasting pan, sprinkled with cayenne, and broiled for about ten minutes. Roasty, smoky, and dark, with a heated kick. Yee-owza.

Guacamole itself (the entire bowl): 7 PointsPlus. With fresh crudites, a serving of baked wonton chips, and 3/4 cup corn: 14 PointsPlus. I’m still full five hours later.