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A Healthy Mexican-Style Burger

In my attempt to provide my family with healthy meals, I have cut out several recipes only to find that the cravings for exactly those increased among the husband as well as the kids. Chinese food has almost been named food group at my house and none of us was really able to stay away from Mexican food either. Luckily, every dish can be given the health-twist and I have just made a Mexican Burger that will leave even the toughest crowd pleased! I served a chicken-thigh patty on a whole grain roll with green salsa and refried beans. Here we go for 6 burgers:

Puree the following for the green salsa:
8-10 tomatillos (quartered, charred under the broiler, and peeled to get the flesh)
1 charred and peeled poplano pepper
1 cup (not packed) fresh cilantro
salt, pepper, ground cumin (about 1/2 tsp of each)
1 tbsp olive oil

1 lb ground chicken thigh meat
1 package of low-sodium taco spice mix
small can of refried beans
appr. 1 cup grated Mexican (or Cheddar) cheese
6 whole grain hamburger rolls
1 cup chopped lettuce (butter lettuce)

– Mix ground chicken meat with taco spice, form 6 patties and cook in olive oil until golden brown and fully cooked
– cut open rolls and arrange on baking sheet
– spread 1 heaping tbsp of refried beans on the bottom part, 1 heaping tbsp of grated cheese on top part of the rolls and bake in oven until cheese is melted and bean spread is warmed through
– top the parts with the bean spread with chopped lettuce and patty
– spread a generous amount of green salsa on patty and cover burger with top

Serve immediately with non-fat sour cream, guacamole or any other sides. This dish is high in proteins, vitamins and numerous other nutrients and definitely hits the spot when you crave a good Mexican-inspired meal. You could boost the benefits of this meal by using chicken breast meat instead of the thigh but I found this to be juicier and a better option for being served on a grain. However, if using the breast meat, try mixing in some precooked oats to make your patties moister.

Thanksgiving Sweet Potatoes

I try to offer sweet potatoes quite often as they are known for their health benefits. Healthy cooking is not my Thanksgiving agenda and I do not feel guilty for the amounts of butter and cream I use throughout the holiday season. With that said, here is my recipe for the Thanksgiving version of the sweet potato… a tat different from the rest of the year.

5 lbs sweet potatoes
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup granulated brown sugar
1 stick (4 oz) butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 cups small marshmallows

Peel and cube potatoes. Boil until slightly tender but not completely done.

In small saucepan heat up water, butter, brown sugar, and spices and bring to a boil.

Transfer sweet potatoes into oven-safe casserole and cover with the butter-sugar mixture until evenly coated. Bake at 325F for about 30 minutes. Then top with marshmallows and bake until marshmallows turn golden brown.

(This dish is even better when warmed up again. So, it is easy to make ahead without the marshmallows. When reheated, top with marshmallows and bake.)

Preparation is King

Planning multiple dishes for Thanksgiving means heating all dishes at the same time right before serving them. I am lucky enough to have two ovens which allows me to keep all sides nice at hot while I am finishing the turkey. If you have one oven, raise the temperature while the turkey rests on the counter to heat up all your sides. I use the dishes I am serving in to test how everything will fit on Turkey-Day. The dishes that are served in bowls that are not oven-safe will be heated in aluminum bowls.

Thanksgiving Stuffing

While I am personally no fan of stuffing, my husband is even more so. Not only is he a fan, stuffing seams to be the most important dish on the Thanksgiving table. In other words: The stuffing better be good. I try to stick with a traditional stuffing… white bread cubes, broth, herbs, apples, raisins. About two days before Thanksgiving, I cube and dry my bread cubes. I mix 3 tsp broth granulates and spices (1/2 cup dried celery leaves, 1 tsp dried thyme, 1 tsp pepper, 1/2 dried sage, 1/2 tsp salt). When putting it all together, I will add water (to your personal liking) to the broth granulates and let the dried spices soak for a bit. In a small pan, I heat up 1 cup of finely diced apple and 1/2 cup of chopped raisins. Top the bread cubes with the apple/raisin mix and slowly pour the warm broth over the bread. After a couple of minutes, gently mix the stuffing and transfer to a oven-safe dish to bake for about 30 minutes. If you like a crispier stuffing or if your stuffing mix is very moist, bake uncovered, otherwise cover with tin foil.

Thanksgiving Table Setting

When preparing for a holiday, I start early… way early. Several weeks prior to the date, I will think of the menu, the table decor, and some little touches I might find online or inspirations I see in stores. Somewhere, I saw the idea of these little Mayflower ships for place cards. We have three children in our family for Thanksgiving and I thought they would all get a kick out of these ships. I bought brown felt and cut the shapes for the ships. With off-white yarn I sewed around the edges. To help the ships stand, I filled them with corn kernels. I inserted a stick for the sail and dripped hot glue to fix the corn and stick. For the sail, I bought an antique-looking paper and burned off the edges to give it more of a weathered look. The names are written with a simple black pen. I truly love personal touches and hand-made things. I like the effort and the joy the preparations can bring to a family.

Part of preparing for a holiday like Thanksgiving is also to plan which food you will serve in which dish. I personally like variety when it comes to foods and will prepare 12 different dishes. I make sure all my bowls and casseroles are clean. I mark them with little labels and will set them on my sideboards to assure that all will fit come Thanksgiving day. Better leave nothing to chances.  For all my recipes, I created an ingredients list which I took as a shopping list. For the preparations in the kitchen (recipes and schedule of when to cook what) I had print outs for each dish noting the recipe, the dish it will be served in, and when I will do which steps of the cooking.

Wild Mushroom Stew

I made this dish for about 10 people. Modify the amounts according to your needs or freeze leftovers. This is a great meal to keep stored in the freezer.


1 tsp caraway seeds

1 tsp marjoram

3 tsp paprika powder

1 tsp dried rosemary

peel of 1/2 lemon


1 red onion, finely chopped

6 lbs beef chuck

wild mushrooms (I used dried wild mushrooms as follows: 1 oz black trumpet, 1 oz morels, 1.5 oz porcini, 1 oz wild mushroom medley)

Cover dried mushrooms with warm water and soak until soft. Drain through filter and reserve soaking water.

In dutch oven, brown meat in 2 parts in butter until all the juices are gone (this can take a while). After setting the first batch aside, brown onions and add lemon peel and spices. Add the second batch of the meat and brown. Combine with the other meat and slowly add 2 cups of merlot as the juices of the meat get less. Add water or mushroom water if needed and season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar.  Add the mushrooms and bring to a simmer. Cover and roast for 2 hours; turning half way through. Mix a little flour with water and thicken to your liking.

Harvest Potato Bake

I found this recipe in a magazine and tried it a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. I loved it and decided to replace my mashed potatoes with this this year. I have modified the original version and will post the recipe the way I made it.

5 lbs russet potatoes
2-3 sweet potatoes
2-3 medium carrots
4 oz butter
1 cup milk
2 tsp dried tarragon
1 tsp fresh (or dried) parsley
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 cup shredded cheddar
salt & pepper

1) Peel and cube potatoes and carrots. Cover with water, add 1 tsp tarragon and boil until tender. Drain and mash.

2) Add all other ingredients (hold half the cheddar cheese for topping) and mash well. Adjust butter and milk amounts to your liking. Season with salt and pepper.

3) Top with the remaining cheddar cheese and bake until heated through and golden.

The Devil is in the Detail

When preparing for a larger meal such as Thanksgiving, think ahead and consider not only the cooking times but all the little preparations certain dishes will need. I am planning to prepare some herb-buttered vegetables and thought about the time the cleaning of my veggies will take. As something that will last well in the fridge, I have cleaned my vegetables early (Tuesday) and wrapped them to be stored until I will cook them. A lengthy task…all done! 🙂

Veggies Before

Veggies After

My Thanksgiving Menu

I love being well prepared. On holidays like Thanksgiving nothing should be left to chances. Several weeks prior to the holiday, I prepare my menu. Since preparing and planning to feed a crowd takes time, I found it worth the effort of creating a cheat sheet. Mine is a slide show which, printed, serves as kitchen aid, shopping list, and organizer. I select recipes and images from other websites and gather them for quick and easy reference. As I go, I might depart from some of those recipes and modify them to the liking of my family or according to what I find when shopping. However, having this print-out on hand is priceless.

Preparing for the Holidays

Hosting a holiday is my one of my favorite things to do. I love to treat people. I enjoy hosting for my guests just as much as for my husband and children. Only two days until Thanksgiving and I have all my china cleaned and my crystals polished… The fewer things are left for the last minute, the more enjoyable the holidays will be for everyone.


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