Layered Taco Dip

Football season has officially begun. That means baseball playoff time is about to start and hockey season is on its way. My husband and I enjoy fun game-day food and this 6+ layered taco dip is no exception. Don’t get scared it seems like a lot of ingredients when it’s 6 layers but believe me, it takes about 15 minutes to throw together. The layers are super easy and packed with tons of nutrients like heart healthy fats, protein, fiber, calcium, and a whole lot of vitamins.

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Here’s the deal, not everything that is low in calories is healthy and not everything that is higher in calories is unhealthy. Calories are not the measure of health. This recipe does not use fat free anything except the salsa, tomatoes, and lettuce that are naturally fat free. 🙂 The recipe uses real ingredients that provide your body essential nutrients it needs to improve your health.

I first took the cream cheese out of the frig and let it warm up a bit just so it was easier to incorporate into the Greek yogurt and taco seasoning. I added a touch of sour cream but you certainly don’t have to because the Greek yogurt does the job. Mixing in the taco seasoning, I whipped all of those ingredients together.

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The vegetarian refried beans went down into the dish first. It is a nice firm base and one of those power houses to this dish with tons of fiber and protein. I chose vegetarian because it has no saturated fat.

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The Greek yogurt mixture went on top of the beans. Salsa came next and is packed with lycopene, vitamin C, and many other vitamins and minerals. You can certainly use homemade salsa but I used canned for this recipe. Shredded romaine lettuce is one of the stars of the show and I put this on top of the salsa. It’s crunchy with a bold color, mild flavor, and a great source of vitamin A. Next came shredded cheddar cheese. If you wanted to lower the saturated fat in the recipe you can certainly leave it out. I personally don’t think it added much to the dish except a fun yellow color and a little bit of protein. After the cheese you can use your imagination. I used tomatoes, minced black olives, and avocado. You’ll see in the picture that half of it had all three and the other half didn’t have tomatoes or olives. My taste vs my husbands.

This is a fun dish that you can get creative with. If you wanted to go vegan you could omit the Greek yogurt and cream cheese and just use silken tofu with the taco seasoning likewise omitting the cheddar cheese and use dairy alternatives. If you wanted to add more veggies consider adding scallions, peppers, shredded carrots, or shredded zucchini. Go wild! Instead of refried beans you could do crushed black beans or hummus. Make as many layers as you want and try your own layered dip!

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Layered Taco Dip
Ingredients:
1, 16 oz can vegetarian refried beans
8 oz package of 1/3 fat cream cheese (neufchatel)
5 oz container of 2% Greek yogurt
1/2 packet of taco seasoning (without trans fats)
1/3 cup sour cream
8 oz jarred salsa (you can also use pico de gallo or  homemade salsa)
2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tomato or 2-3 small tomatoes diced
2-3 tablespoons black olives (I used minced but use whatever you like)
1/2 diced avocado (if you are keeping this dip out all day mix the diced avocado with lime juice

Directions:
1. Spread refried beans on the bottom of a square or rectangle glass dish.
2. Mix cream cheese, Greek yogurt, sour cream, and taco seasoning in a medium bowl and spread over refried beans.
3. Place salsa over the yogurt mixture and sprinkle lettuce over the salsa.
4. Sprinkle the cheddar cheese evenly over the lettuce.
5. Add the toppings.

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Serve immediately with flour, corn, whole grain, or your choice of tortilla chips. You can also keep this refrigerated until service. Remember to keep it on ice during your party!

This recipe is gluten free (check taco seasoning), nut free, egg free

Spinach, Kale, and Artichoke Dip

I’m a sucker for warm dips. From buffalo chicken, to crab, and spinach artichoke dip. There’s nothing better to eat on a brisk football Saturday or Sunday than a savory warm dip! I watch the Food Network a lot…by a lot I mean some of the cooks/chefs are no longer guests in my house but members of the family (Guy, I’m talking about you!). I’m inspired by their passion for food and cooking as well as their funny personalities. Lately I have been watching Nancy Fuller who has a show called “Farm House Rules”. Many of her dishes are high fat, calorie, salt, sugar, etc but the reason I like her is the love she puts into her food. The other day she was making spinach dip and it inspired me. I wanted to make a rendition of warm spinach and artichoke dip that is packed with nutrients, has a little less calories, and a little less fat but still tastes amazing!

When I’m creating recipes I take ideas from many different sources. Whether it is just general knowledge of food science and nutrition or it is various recipes that I have read I tend to tie all of that together and viola, a new recipe. I sent my husband to the store for these ingredients and let him run wild on the brands. I don’t usually have a specific brand that I’m attached to because I’m a budget shopper and try to select the least expensive yet healthiest option.

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Missing from the photo is chopped frozen kale.

In any rate I heated a medium pot over medium-high heat, added oil, garlic, and onions. I sauteed these until the unions were soft and began literally throwing in the other ingredients. It was pretty simple and took me about 10 minutes overall. I made it in a pot but you could also make it in a slow cooker for game day and keep in on warm the entire day stirring it once in a while. Notice my shortcut garlic and short cut onions. Those are staples in my house (check out my blog on kitchen short cuts).

Nutrition Lesson: Unlike a typical spinach artichoke dip I used Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, 1/3 less fat cream cheese (neufchatel cheese…an actual French cheese), and part skim mozzarella cheese. I do not like fat free options unless it’s yogurt or milk. Especially when something should have fat (sour cream is literally cream [fat] that has been soured) it probably needs that fat to be that product…follow me? All cheese needs fat to keep it together including cream cheese. If you completely take out an essential ingredient like fat you have to add other things to it. There’s way too many food additives in what we eat so my tip is either use an alternative ingredient (like Greek yogurt) or use the real deal and just eat less.

Back to the recipe. I enjoyed playing with this recipe. It was the first time I’ve made it and it turned out pretty good! The only changes I would make would be to add even more veggies including artichokes (probably 1 1/2-2 cans), cooked cauliflower, shredded carrots, and shredded zucchini. I think they would be fantastic additions to this and boost those antioxidants!

Spinach, Kale, and Artichoke Dip
Ingredients:
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/3 cup diced onion (add more if you like)
8 oz 1/3 less fat cream cheese
16 oz plain Greek yogurt
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
16 oz shredded part skim mozzarella cheese
1, 14 oz can artichoke hearts in brine, chopped (save the brine)
8 oz chopped frozen kale (defrosted and drained)
10 oz chopped frozen spinach (defrosted and drained)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
salt to taste

Directions:
Heat canola oil over medium high heat in pot. Add 1 teaspoon minced garlic and diced onion. Saute until onion is tender. Lower heat to medium – low heat and add cream cheese, yogurt, Parmesan cheese, and mozzarella cheese and mix well until cheese is melted. Add chopped artichoke hearts and the brine and mix. Place kale and spinach in the cheese mixture and mix. Sprinkle nutmeg, pepper, and salt and mix. Allow dip to cook until ingredients marry (about 5 minutes). Place in serving dish, slow cooker, or keep warm on the stove until service.

NOTE: this is definitely a make ahead dip! Make it ahead and keep refrigerated until the party. Take it out and place into a small slow cooker. Serve with whole grain tortilla chips (corn, wheat, mix of grains). Nutmeg may seem weird but it adds another dimension of flavor!

Dietary restrictions: this recipe is gluten free (get GF tortilla chips), vegetarian, nut free, and soy free

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Final thoughts: Eating healthy doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor or fun. This recipe isn’t the lowest in calories but it is better than the original and also provides some nutrients through the veggies, probiotics with the yogurt, and and protein with the cheese. Enjoy!

Challenge: even if you don’t make “healthier” versions of your game-day favorites, just simply eating smaller portions. This will help your overall health!

Simply Salad Dressings

Salads…mmm. I love salads. They definitely falls into my favorite foods category. I enjoy any kind of salad too – lettuce, vegetable, pasta, potato, fruit, bean…really, any! I think it’s the flavor combinations that I like. There’s nothing more delicious than a good salad dressing that brings out the best tasting salads. Not just any salad dressing but a good homemade

Sure, I have some store bought salad dressings in my refrigerator for parties and a good ranch dressing is a staple in my refrigerator to mix with buffalo sauce! My every day salad dressings are homemade. I like them better than any store brand plus it’s simple whole ingredients. Similarly to my mother, I don’t really have a salad dressing recipe but I’ll let you in on the delicious secret: as long as you have the basics, you can make a delicious homemade dressing yourself.

Here’s what you need:

  • Acid:
    • Vinegar – balsamic, red wine, white wine, even a simple apple cider vinegar works well!
    • Lemon/lime – fruitier salads pare well with lemons and limes.
  • Oil:
    • Canola: tons of omega-3 fatty acids
    • Olive: great source of mono-unsaturated heart-healthy fats
    • Other oils: grape seed, avocado, nut oils (walnut, almond)
  • Herbs:
    • My favorites: chives, parsley, basil
    • Others to try: cilantro, thyme, sage, rosemary, mint
  • Spices:
    • My favorites: turmeric, black pepper, paprika, celery seed, garlic
    • Others to try: coriander, cayenne pepper, chili powder, oregano, poppy seed
  • Salt:
    • Types: kosher, iodized, sea salt, pink hymalain
    • Salt substitutes: check with your doctor first but these go well in salad dressings
  • Sweet:
    • My favorites: honey and sugar
    • Other alternatives: agave, stevia, maple syrup
  • Others:
    • Dijon mustard makes an appearance in 90% of my homemade salad dressings
    • Mayonnaise is a great emulsifier and is a source of healthy fats
    • Spice/seasoning mixes: Mrs. Dash, Italian dressing seasonings, McCormick’s Salad Supreme. I may use any number of these depending on the salad and my taste mood at the time.
    • Fruit. You can make a great strawberry, pomegranate, blueberry, peach, or plum vinaigrette dressing just by simmering the vinegar with the fruits to get out the flavor.

Mix any of the above combinations based on your flavor profile.

Here is one of my favorite vinaigrette to make.

Amanda’s Herbed Vinaigrette

2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 + cup canola oil (I pour in a little over 1/3 cup and you could also use olive oil)
1/4 cup fresh parsley
1/8 cup fresh chives
2 teaspoons honey (more if you want to balance out the acidity…I like mine more acidic)
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
2 teaspoons minced onion (fresh or dried)
1 teaspoon oregano (I use dried)
1 teaspoons minced garlic (shortcut)
1/2 teaspoon salt (less if you have high blood pressure, CHF, or are sensitive to salt)
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon turmeric

Pour vinegar and oil into a salad dressing carafe (a mason jar with a lid would work). Place all herbs and spices in jar and shake. Let set for at least 1 hour to allow the herbs and spices to marry into the vinegar and oil.

Notes: you can also use white balsamic, white wine, or champagne vinegar for this recipe.

Pour over your favorite vegetable salad and enjoy!

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OTHER IDEAS:

  • Feta vinaigrette: red wine vinegar, olive oil, feta cheese, dried oregano, dried basil, salt, and pepper – goes great with a Greek quinoa salad or your favorite Greek tossed salad
  • Strawberry poppy seed vinaigrette: diced strawberries, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, poppy seed, honey, salt, and pepper – pairs well with a strawberry spinach salad

Final thoughts: It is important to have fat in your diet. If you are choosing store bought dressing (which is totally fine I have an array in my frig) make sure you select ones that do have fat. Fat free salad dressings tend to have a lot of sugar and other additives. Purchase regular salad dressings and just eat less!

Challenge: have fun with dressings! Make those fruits and veggies pop with excitement and flavor!