Today is the holiday Dia de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead”), celebrated in Mexico and by many Mexican Americans.  It is similar to the Catholic holiday of All Saints Day, celebrated on November 1st and/or All Souls Day, celebrated on November 2nd. On this day, Mexican families traditionally gather together to pray for the souls of family and friends who have passed away. It is a celebration of the lives of those who are no longer with us and the traditions to mark the occasion vary by region.  Typically, Mexican people build private altars to the deceased or visit the graves, adorning them with flowers such as marigolds, photos and other memorabilia. Some people dress up on costumes and the skull and bones are very popular symbols of the day. Many families clean their homes and make the favorite food and drinks of the deceased.
In honor of the occasion, here is a new Mexican recipe that I adopted from Cooking Light magazine. It’s a great recipe to feed a crowd. You can make it ahead and it feeds alot of people! 

Fairytale Green-Chili Chicken Tortilla Pie

1 1/3  cups  fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1  cup canned chopped green chiles, drained
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1  cup fat-free sour cream
3/4  teaspoon salt
1/2  teaspoon ground cumin
1/2  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2  (10 1/2-ounce) cans condensed 98% fat-free cream of chicken soup, undiluted (such as Campbell’s)
1  garlic clove, minced
Cooking spray
24  (6-inch) flour tortillas (Authentic Mexican work best because they are thicker)
5  cups shredded cooked chicken breast (about 1.5 pounds)
1 1/2  cups finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups of shredded low fat mexican cheese mix (such as Sargento)

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine the first 9 ingredients in a large saucepan, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.  Spread 1 cup soup mixture in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 6 tortillas over the soup mixture, and top with 1 cup chicken and 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat layers, ending with the cheese.  Spread remaining soup mixture over cheese. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until brown and bubbly.  Let sit for about 30 minutes after removing from the oven so it has time to set.

Shred the chicken with a fork.
Cream base for pie layers.
The chicken tortilla pie before baking.

Anyone who knows me knows that there is, in fact, one thing in this life that I love MORE than food: MUSIC! In honor of this one true and unconditional love, every year I travel to Nashville, TN with my beloved crew for the CMA Music Festival, which is undoubtedly the best live country music event anywhere EVER. (Think: the Bonnaroo of Country Music).  For four nights at LP Field (the home of the Tennessee Titans), a celebration of the best of country music takes place. Artists this year included Alan Jackson, Carrie Underwood, Darius Rucker, Dierks Bentley, Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellem, Martina McBride, the Zac Brown Band, Blake Shelton, Trace Atkins, Josh Turner and my girl Miranda Lambert. On September 1 at 8PM this event will be featured on ABC. Being present for this yearly event feels like partaking in an absolute fairytale. Sampling the best foods of Nashville is no different. I’ve posted some highlights below. 
This year we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend the CMT Music Awards, which we immediately followed up with excessive pitchers of beer at from the Paradise Trailer Park. Hey, it is Tennessee after all and it was sweltering hot. But it made the greasy food we ordered all the better. Excellent grilled cheese sandwich on whole wheat toast with sweet potato fries with Carolina BBQ sauce. Other members of the crew enjoyed a chili cheese dog, chili cheeseburger, and macaroni and cheese. All served on top of wax paper in paper cartons on a red cafeteria style trays. The Paradise Park is one of our favorite drinking places downtown because it’s cheap and really fun – there’s always great live entertainment and great food! 

Another one of our Nashville staples is Rippy’s BBQ for multiple reasons including cost, convenience, atmosphere, speedy service and most importantly: AMAZING food!  This year we were a little disappointed because Rippy’s featured a special events menu which meant that our favorite Nashville sandwich of all time, the Pork Loin Sandwich on Texas Toast, was unavailable. (The horror!) But we still enjoyed their pulled pork bbq with a side of baked beans with jalapeños.  The cornbread is also a must have at Rippys – it’s as light and buttery as a pancake. 
One of our favorite things to do when we visit Nashville is to take a trip on the General Jackson Showboat.  This river cruise is an amazing way to enjoy the gorgeous TN weather. Good food, good drink, good company … there’s nothing better. We enjoyed a traditional southern bbq buffet on the outdoor deck before putting the bartenders to work inside. It was ridiculously gluttonous but worth every cent and every calorie. I attempted to capture the essence of this luncheon in one dish, seen below. 
A tossed mixed green salad, hot house grown cucumbers, grape tomatoes, blue cheese, croûtons and ranch dressing. (For some reason, it seems like everyone in the south LOVES Ranch dressing. It’s everywhere! This one tasted particularly fresh and may have been homemade.) To my delight, there was a fresh tomato and basil salad. “Rachel’s Sour Cream Baked Potato Salad” was absolutely amazing! I’ve never had this before and am wondering this twist on the potato salad is a southern trick? Rachel, if you are out there reading this, I would love this recipe! 🙂 
For the entree, we were treated to Coca-Cola Braised Beef Short Ribs, Buttermilk Fried Catfish and Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo. (Loved the gumbo – but I think that mine was just as good!) The sides were country herb roasted yellow potatoes, country style garden vegetables. For dessert, a vanilla bread pudding. 
The view from the General Jackson boat was beautiful but it was a little bittersweet as well. Remnants of the devastating flood were evident along the riverbanks of the Cumberland and it really saddened my heart to think about what the people of Tennessee went through and how much they have lost. Our driver tearfully told us how she lost all of her furniture in the flood. Thankfully, half of the proceeds of the CMA fest benefited flood victims of Middle Tennessee.  To learn more about how you can help: click here to visit the Red Cross; click here to visit the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee; and click here to visit Feeding America

All the barbecue in Nashville can seem a little bit overwhelming at times, so thankfully we were able to scour out a few places where we could find real lettuce, vegetables and other edible items not swimming in barbecue sauce, sugar and mayonnaise.  One of my favorite salads was the Hummus and Goat Cheese Salad with Grilled Chicken from the Big River Grille.  It’s a heaping pile of lettuce with roasted red peppers and tomatoes topped over warm grilled flat bread and drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. I was very happy with this salad. 
Our server also recommended trying the Smoked Tomato Bruschetta with fresh basil and asiago cheese, claiming it was the best in at least 5 states.  As soon as she said it, I knew it probably wasn’t but I appreciated her recommendation and ordered it anyway. The capers in the bruschetta were a nice touch, but I wasn’t really crazy about the fact that the tomatoes were not served directly on the bread and they were room temperature. My family has been making bruschetta from home grown Pittston tomatoes so I am a little bit spoiled and bias. But I enjoyed this dish nonetheless. I also included a pic of the lemons I ordered – which tasted like little pieces of heaven squeezed into my glass of cold water on a 98 degree day. I cherished those first few sips.
My only problem with this restaurant was that we waited a ridiculous long time for our food and an eternity for our check. But it was the CMA Fest and they were understandably extremely busy. (Or maybe people in the south just aren’t as rushed as we are? I’m not sure.)  But props to the the Big River Grille for even being open after the devastating flood! I’d go back again. And I’d get the Hummus and Goat Cheese salad. 

Another option to try if you are looking for a salad is Tazza Restaurant which is on Church Street downtown.  This place got mixed reviews online but I enjoyed it and would go back again. It was an Italian pizzeria and we felt at home inside. My Mediterranean Salmon Salad with strawberries and creamy feta cheese was refreshing and crisp and the service was really great. Our server was so sweet and really tried to give us some good suggestions about what to order. 
Another highlight of our trip was the Josh Turner fan club party. For $35 a ticket, we enjoyed an intimate private concert by Josh, one of my favorite country artists.  We were pleasantly surprised that this price even included a catered Cracker Barrel Country Style Breakfast.  I tried biscuits and gravy for the first time in my life – they weren’t bad either! he servers looked shocked when I firmly passed on all the hot fruit toppings though – the idea of hot fruit on pancakes is not appetizing to me, but apparently it’s a huge thing in the south.

Hope you enjoyed my pics! Check back soon as I will be posting more on my fairytale feasts from Nashville soon! 🙂

Here are a two more recipes to get your Cinco de Mayo celebration started this week! I love these recipes because they are healthful and delicious and not your typical taco feast! I hope you like them too!

Serves 4

4 8-inch whole wheat or multigrain tortillas
1 can black beans, washed and drained
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons of orange juice
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 clove of garlic
Handfull of chopped cilantro plus more leaves for garnish
2 limes
4 oz of cotija cheese
1 rotissieri chicken breasts, shredded
1 can of salsa verde (green salsa)

1/2 avocado
Dollup of sour cream

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

To make the black bean dip: Combine black beans, red onion, orange juice, olive oil, cilantro, garlic, salt and pepper, and the juice of one lime in a bowl. Puree in a blender until smooth. Put to the side.

In a separate bowl, place the shredded chicken and sprinkle with some of Emeril’s Southwestern Essence. Mix the shredded chicken with enough salsa verde to coat.

To assemble the tortilla pie: Coat a 9 inch round baking dish with cooking spray. Spread 1/4 of the black bean mixture onto a tortilla. Top with 1/4 of the chicken mixture. Sprinkle some of the cotija cheese on top. Repeat 3 more times. Squirt some lime juice on top.

Bake in oven about 20 minutes, until top is nice and brown and crunchy. Remove from oven and garnish with cilantro. Optional: Place some diced avocado slices on top and a slice of lime on the side. Serve immediately.

Mexican Watermelon Salad
Serves 4

1 small seedless watermelon
4 oz of cotija cheese
1 cup of cilantro leaves
4 tablespoons of lavendar honey
1 tablespoon of orange juice
1 lime

Use a melon baller to scoop out balls of the watermelon. Place in decorative glass salad bowl. Crumble cheese on top of watermelon. Add cilantro.  In small bowl, mix lavendar honey, orange juice and lime juice.  Add to Salad. Mix well. Serve immediately.

Have a  Happy Cinco de Mayo! Enjoy! 🙂 

Cinco de Mayo, Spanish for the “Fifth of May” is this Wednesday! Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the Mexican state of Puebla because it marks the day when the Mexican army triumped over the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It actually has limited significance in Mexico but is commonly celebrated in the United States and the throughout the world to honor Mexican culture. So what will you be cooking or drinking to celebrate?

One of my favorite Mexican dishes is simple: chicken tortilla soup. This soup tastes as good as it looks! Plus it’s a very flavorful and healthful dish that is really easy to make. You start off by pureeing tomatoes, peppers, garlic and sauteed onions in a blender. (I don’t have a food processer. My blender works just fine for this dish!) Then just cook the chicken in the broth. And when you are ready to serve, garnish with your favorite ingredients.

I used a chipotle chile pepper canned in adobo sauce to spice up my soup.  A chipotle chile pepper is actually a dried, smoked jalapeño. It has wrinkled dark brown skin and a smokey sweet and almost chocolate-like flavor. Chipotle chili peppers are commonly found dried, pickled and canned in Adobo sauce. Adobo sauce is a dark red sauce or paste made from ground chiles, herbs and vinegar.  Most grocery stores carry canned chipotles.  I found mine in the specialty Mexican section of Wegmans.  (I also used this sauce in my Renaissance White Chicken Chili.)  If you cannot find chipotle peppers canned in adobe sauce, feel free to substitute a chopped and seeded jalepeno.  Jalepeno peppers, named after Jalapa, the capital of Veracruz, Mexico, is a smooth dark green pepper that ranges from hot to very hot. These peppers are scarlet red when ripe (hence, the red chili icon from Chili’s!)

WARNING: For those of you who have never worked with hot peppers before, take heed: BE SURE TO THOROUGHLY WASH YOUR HANDS after touching any of these peppers, ESPECIALLY THE SEEDS OF THE JALEPENO!!! NEVER TOUCH YOUR EYES OR FACE WHEN WORKING WITH HOT PEPPERS! 🙂

I also used some cotija cheese to add another layer of flavor to this dish. Cotija is a Mexican cheese named after Cotija de la Paz, a town in the state of Michoacan. (It is pronounced koh TEE ha.)  It is a salty cheese similar to the Greek feta cheese. It can be made from cow’s or goat’s milk and can be semisoft to very hard. This cheese is optional – I didn’t use it when I was really trying to count my calories. But a little crumble of this cheese goes a long way! 🙂

Chicken Tortilla Soup
Serves 4

1 cooking onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 14 oz can of tomatoes
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (or 1 seeded jalapeño)
6 cups of low sodium chicken broth
Frank’s Hot Sauce
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Emeril’s Southwestern Essence
1 bag of Guiltless Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
1 handful of fresh cilantro
1 avocado
Salt and pepper to taste

Optional: Cotija Cheese

Sauté the onion and garlic in a large soup pot. When the onions are translucent, add them to a blender with the can of whole tomatoes and chipotle pepper. Add 1 teaspoon of Adobo sauce. Puree.

Return the mixture to the pot and add the chicken broth.  Bring to a simmer.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Rub a little of the Emeril’s Southwestern Essence onto the chicken. Add the chicken to the soup and let cook for about 10 minutes.  Remove the chicken from the pot when it is cooked and shred.  Add the chicken back into the pot.  Season the soup with salt and pepper and a dash of Frank’s hot sauce. (Be careful with this step unless you want the soup to be really hot!)
Scoop broth and chicken into a bowl.  Serve with blue corn tortilla chips, diced avocado, and fresh cilantro.


Anyone who knows me well knows that I have never been a huge fan of Chinese food. It’s alright and I will eat it if it’s there, but I favor other cuisines. The exception: this salad, a mix of chinese and new american flavors. It is crunchy, tangy, and incredibly fresh tasting (thanks to the cilantro!) I came up with this recipe after seeing it made several different ways in a few cookbooks that I have. Sometimes I make my own dressing but to keep it simple this time I just opted to use the Newman’s Own Low-Fat Seasame Ginger Salad Dressing. Boy, was I glad I did – the flavors were amazing!

I recently made this salad for the barbecue that I spoke about in my berry strata posting. I was really surprised at the overwhelmingly positive response I got from everyone! After one nameless individual who is normally a vegan unabashedly proclaimed that it was the best salad she had ever tasted, I knew it would be worthy a Fairytale Feast posting.

Serves 6 (maybe more, depending on how hungry you are!)

1 head red cabbage
1 head Napa Cabbage
2 chicken breasts, shredded (I used all white meat from Wegman’s plain Rotissieri Chicken)
2 cups cilantro
1 jar Dole mandarin oranges (drained)
3/4 cup slivered almonds
1 teaspoon sugar
La Choy Chow Mein Noodles
1/2 bottle of Newman’s Own Low-Fat Seasame Ginger Salad Dressing

Optional Ingredients (I didn’t add them here):
water chestnuts (sliced, drained)
shredded carrot

Direstions: Slice red cabbage and napa cabbage into thin strips. Discard cores. In a large salad bowl, toss cabbage and sprinkle with sugar.  Shred chicken and add to cabbage. Chop cilantro, discardding stems, and add to bowl.  Add slivered almonds. Mix well.

When ready to serve, add 1 jar drained mandarin oranges. Top with noodles. Season with dressing.  Mix well. Serve immediately.


I was a young and impressionable 18 year old when I first arrived in New York City. I didn’t know a lot about city life but I quickly learned that Manhattan cuisine was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted in my homeland of Northeastern Pennsylvania.  (Don’t get me wrong – NEPA has some amazing foods that cannot easily be replicated in NYC or anywhere else. AKA: square pizza, pierogies, cheesesteaks, Pennsylvania Dutch influenced menu items, WINGS and other items too numerous to mention.)  But in New York City, fresh of the Martz Bus, I felt like a girl who had just won the golden ticket.

From the corner deli to the Zagat rated restaurant, everywhere I went in New York City there was something new for me to taste. Authentic Mexican, Italian, French, Asian, Moroccan, Indian, Thai, Creole, Soul Food, Southern Barbecue were all easily within my reach.  Some were available via biker delivery, 24 hours a day.  Even ordinary items like pizza and bagels were available in so many variations and packed full of so many new flavors, I felt overwhelmed at times.  All of my life, I had loved food but never realized how much until I arrived in the city.    Every time I stepped foot outside of my apartment, I became a kid in a candy shop.  In many ways, when I visit the city, I still am.On one occasion during my first Spring season in New York City, I had one of the most incredible, flavorful chicken salad sandwiches while enjoying a sunny picnic lunch in Central Park. I had ordered lunch to-go from a little deli on the Upper West side. While I don’t remember the name of the deli, I do remember the chicken salad sandwich – in fact, my mouth still waters when I think about it.  Unlike any chicken salad I have ever had before, this chicken salad was composed of jumbo lumps of roasted white chicken breast that undoubtedly did NOT come from a can.  Scooped between two pieces of thick, crusty rustic rye bread, this chicken salad had a unique crunch that was intensified by slivered roasted almonds.  It was as goey as it was crunchy, mixed with just the right amount of creamy mayonnaise that dripped into the wax paper it was wrapped in as a I took each bite.  Most surprising to me were the chopped New York red delicious apples hidden in the chicken salad mix which took this chicken salad to an entirely new level of deliciousness for a sandwhich.

Now, years later, I still crave this sandwich so I’ve come up with my own quick and light version.  I switched full fat mayo for a lighter version and I cut down on the amount to save some calories.  To save time, I used canned chicken breast, but it is admittedly more flavorful if you roast your own chicken breasts. (Season with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake for 35-40 min at 350 degrees. Shred or chop.) But who really has time for that?

Diana’s City-Style Chicken Salad Sandwich
Serves 3-4

1 can of chicken salad
1 small tart apple, diced (can substitute handful halved grapes)
1/4 cup of diced red onion
1/4 cup of diced celery (1 stalk)

1/4 cup of slivered almonds
1/4 cup of fat free mayo
2 tablespoons chopped tarragon
Sliced red tomato
Handful of mixed greens

Combine all the ingred0ients. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve on crusty rye bread, pumperknickle toast, or mini whole wheat pitas.  Layer with thin slices of juicy red tomato, handful of mixed greens.

If you need a little bit more comfort and buttery goodness, try this salad on buttered and grilled Texas toast. Beware this will increase calories/fat but sometimes, its all worth it!


In my desire to “eat clean” this week in hopes of detoxifying my body from my edible holiday sins, I decided to make chicken tonight. (After all, what other choices are there really when you are “dieting,” besides chicken, turkey or plain fish?) 

Now, I’ve never been a big fan of chicken and would pick a rare, juicy steak or a succulent piece of fresh seafood over the bland bird anyday. Chicken can easily become dry and tasteless to me. But there ARE recipes out there that give it a little zest and this is one of them! 

This chicken with artichokes and melted lemons is a recipe from Bob Greene, Oprah’s trainer and diet guru. In my opinion, Greene has some of the tastiest recipes around to ensure one stays on a path to their “best life.”  This one, taken from his “Best Life Diet,” is sure to awaken your senses and excite your taste buds without breaking your diet bank. 

Warning: this dish is for LEMON LOVERS ONLY! It is a little tart –  so if you are wary, go light on the lemon juice. If you are a lemon lover, as I am, then you HAVE to try this!  Let me know what you think!

Chicken with Artichokes and Melted Lemons

“Simple and elegant, this is the kind of dish that’s perfect for entertaining.” ~ Bob Green
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 4 pieces boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth, such as Health Valley no-salt-added chicken broth or Pacific Foods low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons capers with juice
  • One 14-ounce can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in an 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat.  When the oil is heated, swirl it to cover the bottom of the pan.  Add the chicken breasts and sear them until browned.  Turn the chicken breasts and brown them on the other side.  Remove the chicken to a plate and increase the heat to high.  Deglaze the pan with the lemon juice, scraping up any browned bits into the sauce.

Add the stock and bring to a simmer.  Add the lemon slices to the pan, reduce the heat to medium, and place the chicken breasts on top of the lemon slice.  Add the capers, cover, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, covered, for 10 minutes.  Remove the lid and add the drained artichoke hearts.  Cover and continue cooking for 5 minutes, or until the breasts are cooked through.

Remove the chicken to a warm plate.  Increase the temperature and reduce the sauce to a glaze.  Taste the  sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.  Just a little salt will reduce the acidity of the lemon, capers, and artichoke hearts and balance the flavors.  Serve the chicken with the artichoke hearts, capers, and melted lemon drizzled with the glaze.

Serves: 4

Per serving, about: Calories, 186; Protein 29 g; Carbs 34 g; Dietary Fiber 6g; Total Fat 4g; Saturated Fat 1 g