I am a regular reader of The Root, and being the domestic bella that I am, I particularly enjoyed Veronica Chambers column, The Nest. I’m a little heartbroken that she’s ending it today. (But she just started an ADORABLE children’s clothing line! Good for you, Veronica!)

Anyhoo, she did a post in June that got me to thinking — what’s MY easy go-to meal? Hers is a Rachael Ray recipe, steak on pitas with feta cheese and yogurt sauce, which I made for a little dinner get-together the other week. It went over like gangbusters — everyone loved, loved, loved it. But as much as I enjoyed the meal, it wasn’t MY go-to dinner.

I’m always on the hunt for a new spin on my faves, but I do have two main go-to very versatile dinner staples in regular rotation — dinner salads and lettuce wraps. Super healthy and super easy. I made these last week.

These are filled with lean ground beef, but of course you could use ground turkey, chicken, lamb, Boca burger or any veggie substitute… or just beans. Whatever’s your fancy. I spiced up my filling with Cholula Mexican Seasoning and Maggi Seasoning Sauce (which reminds me of home cooking). I prefer butter lettuce leaves for my wraps (although iceberg is also great), and I don’t buy the expensive fancypants hydroponic kind either — I’ve found that good ol’ store brand lettuce tends to have the big, sturdy leaves a lettuce wrap requires, if you don’t want it to completely fall apart while you’re eating it. Is it the hormones and pesticides? Perhaps. Any advice from my in-the-know healthy bellas and fellas would be appreciated in this department.

These are basically lettuce tacos — topped with black beans, salsa, and 4-blend Mexican cheese. Yummy, crunchy, healthy, and oh so easy. A one-pot dish you can make with minimal effort. And lettuce wraps are incredibly versatile — there are some GREAT suggestions at What’s Cooking America for Asian-influenced or Tex-Mex style lettuce wraps.

Dinner salads are on the come up at my casa these days — I am really trying my best to stick to my New Year’s resolutions with regards to eating healthier. I’ve been avoiding fast food and dessert (except for special occasions), and trying to put a fresh new spin on dinner. I still do frequent stir fry dinners, but I serve it on a bed of greens, instead of rice. Tuesday night’s Asian chicken dinner salad was out of this world — unfortunately I lacked the foresight to take a photo. But I’ll tell you my recipe. It all begins with chicken thighs.

I’m a dark meat kinda gal, always have been. So I baked chicken thighs with a yummy teriyaki glaze, and when they were done, shredded the meat for the salad.

I used Dole Spring Mix, added steamed shelled edamame (they sell them frozen at Whole Foods), Mandarin orange wedges (which are super yummy and also good for you, Sunsweet cherries (OMG I love them), and oven roasted Almond Accents in lieu of croutons, tossed it all with Island Grove Oriental Sweet Heat dressing. Incredible.

The New York Times health blog featured a list of The 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating — some are easier to love than others, but I’m slowly trying to enjoy them all. Cinnamon and pomegranate juice are no brainers. Cabbage is a popular Caribbean veggie so I am no stranger to the squeaky crunch… it takes me back to being little when my dad would make corned beef and cabbage sometimes on weekends (my island people know about that. And question — are corned beef and sardines the only kind of foods that come in a can with a frickin’ key on it? That is kind of weird, no?)

Speaking of sardines, they’re also on the NY Times list, big time — “Dr. Bowden calls them “health food in a can.’’ They are high in omega-3’s, contain virtually no mercury and are loaded with calcium. They also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese as well as a full complement of B vitamins.” Well how-de-do — I have never been a sardine lover. Until very, very recently, when I ordered a Caesar salad from a restaurant that kept it authentic like that. I was dismayed at first, but then I was surprised at how much I enjoyed their particular salty tang. Funny how that works — all of a sudden I’m learning to love the foods I shunned as a kid. Sardines + Caesar salad FTW, so there’s another go-to-dinner fave right there. I frequently make a seafood Ceasar topped with grilled shrimp or Parmesan tilapia, and a few sardines will add to the flavor quite nicely, and up the health factor.

My next recipe mission will be to incorporate as many as possible of these 11 best foods into a dream dinner salad — I heart beets, but the hubby does NOT. They’re so sweet and yummy….mmm, beets in a salad with goat cheese and carmelized pecans? Forget about it. But he has bad associated memories of slimy and gross beets in a can. But real, fresh beets are absolutely awesome, and according to the NYT, “a rich source of folate as well as natural red pigments that may be cancer fighters.” Raw is better, but here’s hoping that this roasted beet and Mandarin orange salad makes my reluctant hubby discover a new favorite veggie of his own.

Do you have a go to dinner favorite? Tell me — I’m always down to try something new in the kitchen!

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von says:
July 10, 2008, 1:21 am
mmm, those look so yummy! my mom and best friend love the lettuce wraps from P.F. Changs. My go to meal, hmm....Steak on the george foreman grill, boiled rice, and boiled spinach. Everything pretty much cooks itself, so it's not much trouble, and my brother and I like it. That's my go to meal http://socialitedreams.wordpress.com
nyc/caribbean ragazza says:
July 10, 2008, 4:20 am
Veronica's line is so cute. She is one of my favorite people, super talented, kind and down to earth.
Tamara says:
July 10, 2008, 8:01 am
Corned beef and cabbage...that brings back memories! My French-Canadian mother always made that on Sundays...
Bebroma says:
July 10, 2008, 8:09 am
I take leftover whole wheat pasta (I always make extra so there will be leftovers), throw in whatever is in the fridge that is left over or will add some zing (roasted chicken from a previous meal, crab meat, cheese, capers, whatever) some fresh garlic and onion, S&P, stir in a couple of eggs to hold it together, and then sautee it like a frittata, always in olive oil, in a big iron skillet. Slice and serve with bagged baby spinach or whatever. My kids love it, and it's easy and uses up the odds and ends. It never has the same flavor combo, so my kids always wonder what it will taste like THIS time. It's good for you, too, if you don't get too crazy with the stir-ins!
Mrs.Mckinzie says:
July 10, 2008, 8:45 am
I keep a bag of chilli in my freezer,because I love it,and all I have to do is thaw ,heat,and eat.Kidney beans or black beans with morning star farms ground meat,onion,green peppers,can tomatoes,Mccormic low sodium chilli powder,garlic powder,and ragu six cheese spagetti sauce.I like garlic bread,or tortila chips,and extra cheese with mine.
Wes says:
July 10, 2008, 9:44 am
Well you'll need a wok- slice up some onions and peppers, chicken breast and toss into the wok (at high heat)... When its almost done I throw in some of the Lawry's marinade sauces (My favorite at the moment is the Sesame Ginger), I also add some cayenne pepper to the sauce b/c I love my food spicey! Serve over rice. I cooked that on Monday and have brought in to work for lunch everyday this week!
Amy says:
July 10, 2008, 9:46 am
Yum, that beet and orange salad is so gorgeous and colorful; I think we'll be having that this weekend! I'm always trying something new in the kitchen, but do have a couple of go-to recipes that I can pull out depending on the weather. During grilling season my go-to recipe is a delicious cabernet-marinated grilled chicken I saw on an episode of Mark Bittman's show. When it's colder out, I love pasta con le sarde -- pasta with sardines. Both recipes are beyond simple, pretty healthy, and come together in no time at all (apart from the marinating, of course).
Tamra says:
July 10, 2008, 10:17 am
There are these wonderful gourmet bean soups in little bags that you can buy in the neighborhood of $3.99 at Cost Plus World Market--the brand is Bean Cuisine. Most of the soups call for you to add fresh veggies like peppers, tomatoes, onions, etc. Seasoning packets are included. They're good for folks who are vegetarians because you can cook them as is; and, if you're a meat-eater like me, of course you can add chicken, etc. Only thing is--because you are cooking dried beans, it takes a few hours for the soups to cook. So, it's best to do them at night on the day before you want to eat them. http://www.gourmettrading.com/bean_cuisine/index.html
puff says:
July 10, 2008, 11:07 am
lol i feel you on the cornbeef and sardines that come in a can with a key! growing up in west africa, that was all we ate. actually, i have a pretty good recipe using corned beef - an omlette. chop up some red onions and chillies (the spicier the better) and fry them up in a little vegetable oil. beat 4 eggs (if you're making this for 2 people), throw in a couple heaped tablespoons of cornbeef and a lil salt and mix it all in. put the eggs in with the onions and chillies and cook until done. i usually eat a couple slices of whole wheat bread with it, so so good.
Tamz says:
July 10, 2008, 11:30 am
Bella, thank you for these ideas! I'm adding the lettuce wraps to my personal cooking repertoire, as well as that website about more lettuce wrap recipes. My go-to easy dinner is Garlic-Broccoli Penne Pasta: One box Penne pasta 2 Boca Chicken Patties (or whatever meat/"meat" you want) 1 bag frozen steam-in-the-bag broccoli (lazy! lol) 1 tsp red pepper 3 tbsp olive oil 1 tbsp minced garlic (or more if you like more) Season-salt So yummy and takes about 15 minutes to make.
Joi says:
July 10, 2008, 11:39 am
My fav go to meal is Morrocan Stewed Chicken from my hubby's Men's Health Mag: Chicken Thighs 1 can of garbanzo beans 2 tbsp olive oil 1 tbsp Cumin 1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper 1/2 tsp Cinnamon 1 Can Diced tomatoes 1 Zucchini saute chicken thighs in olive oil. Add zucchini and cook until tender. Add garbanzo beans and tomatoes along w/ spices. Let simmer. Enjoy over brown rice or couscous (I prefer couscous).
Viva La'Fro says:
July 10, 2008, 11:48 am
Bella, I gotta tell you, I don't know about that Parmesan Tilapia being healthy....delicious, more than likely; healthy, not so much. The broiling isn't offsetting the the butter, mayo and cheese in the ingredient list. Just trying to look out for ya! ;)
p1tey1 says:
July 10, 2008, 8:40 pm
I love cooking. Food network is my home page. LOL!! Thanks for the recipes Bella! I look forward to trying some of them. YUMMY!!
Get Togetha. says:
July 10, 2008, 11:08 pm
I love thirty minute turkey chili. You can find the recipe on the Food network! It's made with beer and its dalish!
LBellatrix says:
July 11, 2008, 1:10 pm
Like you, I'm reeducating my palate. I was never a big fan of salad but just as I taught myself to like oatmeal, I'm teaching myself to like salad...especially now that I know they don't have to be a certain way. (For example, my mother always used cucumbers; I hate cucumbers so I don't use them.) My go-to dinner is pretty basic: it involves frozen pasta (MUCH better than dried), bottled or tinned sauce of choice, and chopped veggies of choice. I try to keep a supply of all three at all times. With the right seasonings, it can be dressed up or dressed down as needed.
Make Fetch Happen says:
July 11, 2008, 1:12 pm
I loved Veronica's book "Mama's Girl." My mother is also Panamanian and reading her book was like reading my own diary. I didn't know she was writing for The Nest, thanks for the link!
Jenene says:
July 11, 2008, 5:25 pm
I make a decent 30 minute meal consisting of chicken cutlets and drunken pasta. Chicken cutlets - season with garlic powder and Good Seasons Italian salad dressing (dry), and red pepper flakes. Drizzle with olive oil and throw in the oven (about 20 mins.) Drunken pasta - cook your fave pasta for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile heat a skillet with olive oil, garlic, and capers. Pour out the water, reserving about a half cup. Cool with cold water. Put the pasta into the heated skillet. Add about a bottle of red wine. Toss in some broccoli. Let the pasta absorb the wine. If it sticks before the broccoli is done, add a little pasta water. In 25-30 mins you will be at the table.
melissa says:
July 11, 2008, 7:43 pm
For me and my vegan little one, it's whole wheat rotini pasta, pasta sauce, frozen veggies ( all Whole Foods organic) and Boca Ground. It's good and quick!
Irie Diva says:
July 14, 2008, 1:15 pm
Jenene's dish sounds real good! i am myself trying to perfect my chicken/shrimp pasta dish to be used as my go-to dinner because its one of my favorites. i currently make curry chicken/shrimp and mashed potatos all the time for something quick and tasty am trying to love the taste of lettuce tho...eating healthier is fast becoming priority with my waistline going awry!
Julia says:
July 19, 2008, 12:28 am
This blog talks about a dish which contains iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese and many other nutrients. One can easily try this dish out at home.
blackwomenblowthetrumpet.blogspot.com says:
July 20, 2008, 10:24 pm
Hi there, That first photo looks soooo nasty.... eww....makes me wanna call Fido! The second photo looks soooo scrumptious!! (smiles) Lisa
bella says:
July 20, 2008, 10:50 pm
I didn't make it to be photogenic, I made it to taste yummy and be healthy...


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