Category Archives: Poultry

Sweet Potato Turkey Shepherd’s Pie

Sweet Potato Turkey Shepherd's Pie. A lighter, healthier version of the original with a delicious mashed sweet potato topping.

Well folks, it appears I am on a casseROLL. Get it? Oh, food humor.

We’re still freezing our faces off in Chicago so we need all of the comfort we can get.

Until recently, I wasn’t a big fan of “lighter” versions of more indulgent recipes. I didn’t see the point. My thinking was you could just have a reasonable-sized serving of the original and don’t have it every day. Recently, my thinking has shifted.

While there’s still a time and a place for those more indulgent recipes like special occasions and dinner parties, when you’re making something you’ll be eating throughout the week like we do, it needs to be nutritionally dense and, yes, lighter. So I see those richer recipes as templates or inspiration and then dream up ways to transform them.

How I did that here: Instead of ground beef I used a mixture of ground white and dark meat turkey. There are tons of veggies {though minimal chopping because I relied partly on frozen organic vegetables along with fresh mushrooms}. And instead of mashed potatoes I mashed sweet potatoes with only four ingredients: sweet potatoes, a tiny bit of butter {just 2 Tbsp}, salt and pepper.

In the end, the result is something completely different from traditional shepherd’s pie, but every bit as satisfying and better for you.

Sweet Potato Turkey Shepherd's Pie. A lighter, healthier version of the original with a delicious mashed sweet potato topping. Sweet Potato Turkey Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients

For the mashed sweet potatoes:

  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • Salt & pepper

For the shepherd’s pie filling:

  • Olive oil
  • 1.5 pounds ground turkey (I used 3/4 lb ground white meat and 3/4 lb ground dark meat)
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth, divided
  • 2 1/2 cups frozen mixed vegetables (such as carrots, peas, corn, and green beans)
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 Tbsp flour

Preparation

For the mashed sweet potatoes:

Place sweet potatoes in a pot and cover with a few inches of water. Bring to a boil, continue cooking until potatoes are fork-tender, about 5 to 10 minutes. Drain. Place potatoes in a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or use an electric mixer/handheld masher). Add butter. Season with salt and pepper. Mash until light and fluffy.

For the filling:

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add ground turkey. Season with salt and pepper. Cooked until turkey is cooked through. Use a wooden spoon to break turkey up into smaller pieces. Remove turkey from pot, place in a bowl, and set aside.

To the pot, add onion. Saute 1 minute. Add celery. Saute until soft, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add garlic, mushrooms, and 1/2 cup chicken broth. Use wooden spoon to deglaze bottom of the pan. Cook until mushrooms start to cook down, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add frozen mixed vegetables, 1 cup chicken broth, tomato paste, worcestershire sauce, rosemary, and paprika. Add flour and stir until thoroughly combined. Add turkey back into the pot. Simmer about 10 minutes

**Preheat oven to 350 degrees while turkey filling simmers**

Prepare the casserole: Fill bottom of baking dish {I used 9 x 13in) with turkey filling. Top with mashed sweet potato and smooth across the top. Bake about 25 minutes until bubbly.

Healthy Cabbage Roll Casserole

Healthy Cabbage Roll Casserole

What in this world is more comforting than a casserole? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And this recipe is no exception. Where it is the exception: Unlike 99.999999 percent of casseroles out there, it’s actually good for you. Yes, indeed! At the same time, it is sooooo tasty.

I still can’t believe this recipe happened. I mean, cabbage rolls? Really? Does anyone eat that anymore? Maybe not, but they should! For those who aren’t familiar with cabbage rolls, they’re usually ground beef, white rice, seasonings and some other good stuff rolled into cabbage leaves and then simmered in a pot of tomato sauce on the stove for hours. {Keep reading, my recipe can be made in under an hour and contains many healthy upgrades.}

I honestly have no explanation for how it came about except a bizarre craving that happened one day even though I’d never had a cabbage roll in my life. Next thing I knew I was researching cabbage roll recipes like it was my job. I took one stab at developing a healthier version with ground turkey and brown rice and quickly learned how challenging it is to perfectly roll each of the cabbage leaves and then eat the leftover cabbage rolls at your desk without splattering tomato sauce over your keyboard while answering e-mails. Yeah, that wasn’t pretty. But they sure tasted great!

So that’s how this happened: Deconstructed cabbage roll casserole. Easier to make and easier to eat. You’re looking at layers of ground turkey, brown rice, onion, garlic, shredded carrot, and herbs in a tomato sauce, along with layers of lightly seasoned sauteed chopped cabbage. If you’re a texture fiend like I am this dish delivers – the cabbage maintains a slight crunch amidst the softer turkey, rice, and tomato layers.

It’s totally weeknight doable. I chopped the onion, garlic, and cabbage, shredded the carrot, and cooked the brown rice the night before and then put it together the next day. It makes fantastic protein-packed leftovers and freezes beautifully.

I can’t guarantee it’ll be the most attractive thing you’ve ever made when you serve it from the dish {result below}, but if you adore a bowl of food where lots of components mingle together like I do, well, you’re in luck. Comforting doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Healthy Cabbage Roll Casserole

Healthy Cabbage Roll Casserole 

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 1 lb ground turkey (I used 1/2 lb ground turkey breast & 1/2 lb ground dark meat turkey)
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large carrot (or 2 smaller carrots), peeled and shredded
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 15 oz tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth or water
  • 1 head green cabbage, cut in half, remove & discard the core, roughly chop leaves
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice

Preparation

**See note below about when to preheat oven**

Heat about 1 Tbsp olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add the ground turkey. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until lightly browned, remove from pot, and set aside.

To the pot, add 1 Tbsp olive oil, if needed. Saute onion and garlic until softened, about 5 minutes. Add shredded carrot, thyme, paprika, and cinnamon. Mix to coat everything in spices.

To the pot, add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and chicken broth or water. Add ground turkey back to pot. Simmer about 15 minutes. Add brown rice to  turkey-tomato mixture and simmer 5 minutes more.

**While turkey-tomato mixture simmers, preheat oven to 350 degrees and saute cabbage (see next step below)** 

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add chopped cabbage, season with salt and pepper, and saute until softened, about 10-15 minutes.

Spray casserole dish {I used 9×13 in} with non-stick cooking spray. To make the casserole add half the sauteed cabbage to bottom of the pan, layer half the turkey-tomato-rice mixture on top, layer the remaining cabbage, and layer the remaining turkey-tomato-rice mixture.

Cover casserole with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake 20 minutes more until sauce is bubbling.

White Chicken Chili

White Chicken Chili. ABalancedLifecooks.comThis chili makes me so stinkin’ happy I can hardly stand it. It is soooooooo good. If I made it once a week every week for the rest of the winter I’d be one seriously happy camper. All of the credit goes to my sister, Leah, who’s tweaked this recipe over time to get it just right. The recipe, however, only lived in her brain…until now!

All day Tuesday while I’m sure she was doing more important lawyering things, I sent her a flood of emails to get the deets: ingredients, quantities, instructions. The good stuff.

Be sure to give yourself some time while cooking it. Maybe save it for a Sunday afternoon when there’s a holiday movie on TV. It takes a little while to brown the chicken and cook down the liquid so it slightly thickens, but it’s worth every single second–and then some. The longer your chili cooks the better it tastes.

In addition to your usual suspects like tender chunks of chicken, white beans, corn, and heaps of spices I love that she sneaks swiss chard in here, too. I mean…what? Yeah, not the first chili ingredient you’d imagine. But trust me, you’ll love it. Or at least you’ll barely notice it.

Serve your chili with some chopped avocado and cilantro and a delicious pile of buttery cornbread. Not only is it hearty and healthy, we loved eating leftovers for as long as they lasted.

White Chicken Chili. ABalancedLifeCooks.com

White Chicken Chili

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken breasts, bone-in and skin on
  • Salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts, chopped (optional)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeño, seeds removed, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 3 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp fennel seeds (optional)
  • 1 cup white wine or beer (enough to deglaze the pan – you may need more or less)
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 (15 oz) cans white beans, drain and rinse all but one*
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, stems removed, chiffonade leaves
  • 2 cups frozen corn
  • 1/2 tsp crushed chili pepper

Preparation

Season chicken breast with salt and pepper. Heat about 1 Tbsp olive oil in a big stock pot. In two separate batches, brown chicken breast two at a time, about 5-8 minutes per side. Chicken doesn’t have to fully cook through. Remove to a plate and set aside.

To the pot, add onion and leek. Saute until onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeño, sauté about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add cumin, oregano, chili powder, and fennel seeds if using. Coat vegetables in spices and toast in pan, about 1-2 minutes, until slightly browned and fragrant.

Pour wine or beer into pot and use a wooden spoon to deglaze bottom of the pan. Add chicken broth, white beans, and all four whole chicken breasts to the pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 60 minutes.

Transfer chicken from the pot to a cutting board. Remove skin, pull chicken off the bone, and chop into bite-sized pieces. Discard the skin and bones, place chopped chicken meat back into the pot. Add the swiss chard, corn, and crushed chili pepper. Cook about 10 minutes more until corn is heated through.

To serve, ladle chili into bowls. Top with any toppings of your choice such as avocado, cilantro, or cheese.

*In order to avoid BPA, I limit cooking with canned foods as much as possible. I almost always use organic beans from Whole Foods that come in a cardboard box/TetraPak. Since I know they’re not as widely available I use the word “cans” in the ingredients to avoid confusion.

Turkey Meatloaf Meatballs

Turkey Meatloaf Meatballs. ABalancedLifeCooks.comI don’t believe I’ve ever professed my love for ground meat here before. So here it is: I love it. All kinds and all ways: meat sauce, turkey meatballs, meaty ziti, meatloaf, and more. It’s probably a texture thing. Whatever the reason may be…love love love.

Recently, worlds collided and lead to this newest creation: turkey meatloaf meatballs. It’s everything you love about turkey meatloaf plus some delicious surprises such as chopped chipotle in adobo for a punch of flavor and heat, but in cute meatball form. Because food should always be as adorable as possible.

If you’ve always associated meatloaf with cardboard or something worse I promise this will change your mind. There are just so many layers of flavor in every single bite. There’s sauteed  onion, shallot, and garlic with thyme, worcestershire sauce, and other yumminess. Add that to ground turkey, the chipotle peppers, other goodness, and mix. Really get your hands in there. Form palm-sized meatballs, place each one in a muffin tin slot, and top with a mixture of ketchup and adobo sauce. POW! It makes an awesome dinner, but I love eating the leftovers for lunch, too. There’s nothing like a healthy dose of protein to power you through the afternoon.

Turkey Meatloaf Meatballs. ABalancedLifeCooks.com

Turkey Meatloaf Meatballs

Makes 18 meatballs

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt, black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves (or 1/4 tsp dried thyme & 1/4 tsp dried oregano)
  • 1 Tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1.5 lbs ground turkey (it’s even better if it’s not all turkey breast)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobo, minced
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2-3 Tbsp adobo sauce

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, add about 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add onion, shallot, garlic. Saute about 10 minutes until onion is softened. Add salt, black pepper, thyme (or dried thyme & dried oregano), worcestershire sauce, chicken stock, and tomato paste. Stir until combined. Cook about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a bowl, add ground turkey, beaten egg, bread crumbs, and chipotle peppers. Add onion mixture. Using your hands, mix until totally combined.

Spray 2 muffin tins with cooking spray. Form palm-sized meatballs with your hands and place one meatball in each muffin slot. Bake 20 minutes.

Meanwhile combine ketchup and adobo sauce in a small bowl. Remove pan from oven at 20 minutes, top each meatball with the sauce, return to oven and cook 5 to 10 minutes more until cooked through.

Ground Turkey & Peppers Over Quinoa

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I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that the older I get the more aware I become of the different seasons of life. We’re coming off one of the busiest times in our life ever. The funny thing about being busy, I’ve recently learned, is that it becomes even easier to stay busy and to take on more and more commitments that keep you busy.

Don’t get me wrong–it has been awesome. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. During it all, I was totally aware that we were in this harried phase of life and I just rolled with it. I will always look back at the last six months with so much love, gratitude, and awe. I’m so proud of and humbled by everything we’ve accomplished and created this year.

But now…now I am so ready for rest; for things to slow down; to back off; to let go. Conveniently, we’re heading into a time of year that makes this so much easier to do. Soon, I’ll share more about how I plan to do this. You can rest assured it’ll include lots of cooking (and posting here), hot mugs of tea, and quality time by the fireplace. If that doesn’t sound like a dream I don’t know what does!

Over the next few weeks, I also plan to share some recipes that I turned to time and again (like, weekly) to help us through this busy season of our lives. We didn’t let our jam-packed schedules cause us to eat out or order in any more than usual. Instead, I created some super simple, healthy, quick, and clean recipes to power us through. So if you find yourself in a busy time of your life right now, I hope they’ll help you, too.

First up is one that I made consistently throughout the summer: Ground turkey and peppers over quinoa. You just brown the turkey and add some spices (chili powder and cumin), saute some peppers and onions, and serve atop fluffy quinoa. Top with chopped cilantro, a generous heap of guacamole, a few spoonfuls of salsa, and shredded cheese (if you like). It’s somewhere between deconstructed chili and fajitas, but completely its own thing.

I didn’t even take the time to make the guac. I used Trader Joe’s Avocado’s Number Guacamole, which cost about $4. You get two big packages of the stuff, and it only contains five ingredients: avocados, jalapeno, onion, salt, and garlic. Whether you find yourself in a season of busyness or a reason of rest, it totally hits the spot–along with everything else in this dish!

DSCN2496

Ground Turkey and Peppers Over Quinoa

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • Quinoa
  • Olive oil
  • 1 to 1.5 pounds ground turkey breast
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • Salt & pepper
  • 3 bell peppers, such as one red, yellow, and orange, seeds removed and cut into thin strips
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • For toppers: Cilantro, guacamole, salsa, shredded cheese

Preparation

Cook quinoa according to package instructions. Set aside.

In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add the ground turkey. Let it cook, without stirring, until it begins to brown. Add chili powder, cumin, and some salt. Use a spatula to break the turkey up, and flip it over so the other side browns. Once cooked through, remove the turkey to a plate and set aside. Add the peppers and onion to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and saute until softened, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the turkey back to the pan and cook until heated through again.

Serve turkey and peppers over quinoa and top with your toppings of choice.