Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Week of Healthy Dinners, Day 4: Baked Chicken Parmesan with Spaghetti Squash


We've made it to day 4 of our Week of Healthy Dinners series! I hope you are liking some of the recipes shared so far. You've probably figured out a few things about how I cook by now, like the fact that I'm not a very "precise" cook. There are lots of ways to make something, and I don't follow a recipe the exact same way every time, so that's why I sometimes give alternatives for ingredients. Recipes are just guidelines, right? That "wing it, go with the flow" method usually serves me pretty well. Except when it doesn't. You don't want to see those disasters.

You may have also noticed that I use lots of veggies and herbs. Love 'em. It wasn't always like that though. When I was a kid, I was a typical kid veggie hater, which was quite a challenge in our house since my parents kept a good sized garden and we usually had at least 2 different vegetables at dinner time that we HAD to eat. But now I grow herbs year 'round, we've tried our hand at growing various fruits and veggies over the years (some years better than others), and the produce department and farmer's markets are some of my favorite places to shop. It sometimes rivals the home decorating and craft stores for me, and that's saying a lot! When my son was little, it used to be a game for him and I to find a vegetable or fruit at the market that we hadn't tried before, bring it home, and figure out how to eat it or cook it up. We've liked most of them. Except durian. EWWWW! Let me save y'all the trouble of trying it and suggest you lick an outboard motor instead. It will pretty much taste the same. And all the work of prepping and chopping those veggies? Some people dread that task, but I find it kind of relaxing and zen-like. Is my produce love a little quirky? Maybe. I've certainly been teased about it, but the heart wants what the heart wants. :)

Okay, enough silliness, I'm getting sidetracked from our topic. So what's for dinner tonight? Chicken Parmesan! I love chicken parm but it's not usually on the top 10 list of healthy dishes. Breaded and fried and smothered in a sugar-y tomato sauce, then mounded with ooey gooey melted cheese and served with a huge portion of pasta, this is normally not a dish that people would think of to help them lose weight or to meet their health goals.

I used to make the full fat version of this meal as a regular rotation in our dinner menu, but over the last four years I've really tried to change the way I eat and have tweaked this recipe to fit into a healthy diet. Instead of frying, I now bake it or grill it, and instead of serving it with pasta, I use spaghetti squash. Now, I can hear some of you saying, "Whaaat, no pasta? Don't completely ruin it! That's veggie overkill!" If you can't get into the idea of eating spaghetti squash instead of pasta, I get it. No one's gonna force you to eat anything you hate, you're an adult now, but at least try it. I won't try to fool you into thinking that spaghetti squash tastes the same as pasta or has the same texture as pasta. It doesn't. But I like it and it goes well with tomato sauce, so that's how I eat it most of the time when I'm watching my carbs; or if I'm really jonesing for pasta, I'll have whole wheat or low carb pasta like Dreamfields instead. The rest of my family don't have the squash love that I do so they always opt for the pasta. Serve broccoli on the side using Alton Brown's Oven Roasted Broccoli recipe which we eat a couple times a week, and voilà, a filling and healthy meal with all the flavors that you enjoy in a chicken parm without all the fat.

Doesn't this look like the fatty fried version? It's not, it's baked! Oh little pleasures in life, come to mama!!
baked chicken parmesan spaghetti squash
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Baked Chicken Parmesan with Spaghetti Squash
Serves 4
Printable version

Ingredients:
2 cups crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce (I buy the lowest sugar content I can find)
One of my most used kitchen gadgets,
a Misto olive oil sprayer
1 packet Stevia in the Raw or other sugar substitute
1 tsp. + 1/2 tsp. dried basil, divided
1 tsp. + 1/2 tsp. dried oregano, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced or 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1 bay leaf
1 medium to large spaghetti squash
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs*
4 boneless and skinless chicken breasts, 5 oz. each, pounded to 1/2 inch thickness
Salt and pepper
Olive oil cooking spray. You can buy it, or use a sprayer like this--->
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffonaded (cut into long thin strips)

*If you're trying to watch your carbs and don't want to use the bread crumbs, then just skip 'em. It won't have that crispy texture, but sometimes we'll just grill the chicken on the outdoor grill with the seasonings and not use any bread crumbs. Still tastes good!

In a medium saucepan, combine crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce, stevia, 1 tsp. dried basil, 1 tsp. dried oregano, garlic, onion powder, and bay leaf. Simmer for 30 minutes over medium-low heat. If you can simmer it for a little longer, that's even better. Taste it a couple times and adjust the seasonings to your taste.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread panko bread crumbs onto a baking sheet. Bake for 7-10 minutes until light golden brown, stirring occasionally. Remove crumbs to a plate and add 1/2 tsp. dried basil and 1/2 tsp. dried oregano. Stir.

Spray each piece of chicken with olive oil cooking spray. Coat each chicken piece in about 2 T. of the bread crumbs. You don't need a heavy coating of bread crumbs.

On a baking sheet, add a rack if you have one and spray with cooking spray. If you don't have a rack, go ahead and put it directly on a sprayed cooking sheet. Place chicken on rack or sheet, then lightly spray the top of the chicken with cooking spray. Bake until chicken is cooked, about 12-15 minutes or until center reaches 165 degrees.

While chicken is baking, cook the spaghetti squash. Cut squash in half lengthwise. It can be hard to cut, so put some muscle into it and use a large sharp knife. But by all means, be careful! We don't want any squash accidents happening out there. Now that you've safely gotten through cutting it, scoop out the seeds and pulp. Microwave both halves on high for 8-12 minutes or until tender, rotating a couple times if you don't have a revolving plate. Let cool for a few minutes, then scrape the flesh away from the skin using a fork and a towel or oven mitt to hold the squash steady. It comes off in spaghetti-like strands! Scraping spaghetti squash still makes me slightly giddy, even though I've cooked a hundred of 'em ... If you're using pasta instead, prepare pasta according to package directions.

To serve family style, add spaghetti squash onto a serving platter. Top with about half the tomato sauce, then place the chicken on top. Add the remaining sauce and top with parmesan and fresh basil. If you want to serve it with broccoli, here's Alton Brown's Oven Roasted Broccoli recipe that we like.

Nutritional information* per serving:
425 calories
28 g. carbs (you'll cut about 6 g. carbs if you leave out the bread crumbs)
9 g. fat
52 g. protein
5 g. fiber
1045 mg. sodium
*estimated from myfitnesspal.com's recipe builder

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