Healthier Comfort! {Lightened} Cheesy Cauliflower Quinoa Casserole Recipe

When you hear the words “melted cheese,” what comes to mind? I think of all kinds of comfort foods like homey mac & cheese, ginormous slices of mozzarella blanketed pizza blanketed, and hot Tex Mex queso and a basket of chips. However, all this ooey, gooey goodness comes with high-fat, high calorie consequences if I’m not careful. But, there are a few tweaks and tricks that will allow you to enjoy cheese in recipes while keeping you light on your feet (and hands)!

yoga handstand pose jennifer fisher

My cheese tips & tricks will keep you light on your feed (and hands)!

First of all, portion control. Just because you CAN eat a whole batch of cheese sticks, doesn’t mean you should. Second, moderation in the use of cheese as an ingredient – if a recipe calls for 1 cup, cut back and see if a little less will still yield the same effect. If you don’t want to sacrifice the “creaminess,” often you can also substitute a little Greek yogurt or a roux made with low fat milk as in my {Lightened} Cheesy Cauliflower Quinoa Casserole recipe below. Another way to keep cheese the star of the dish without globbing it on is to use a high quality cheese. Fresh cheese and artisan cheese taste so much better than the dried out, shredded stuff hanging in the bags at the supermarket – the taste is more pronounced and therefore you can use less!

aged cheddar cheese thefitfork

Recently, I took advantage of this last healthy cheese tip, by making a comforting casserole with a ton of healthy swaps.   First off, I used one of my favorite cheeses – Kerrygold Aged Cheddar – as the topping on my {Lightened} Cheesy Cauliflower Quinoa Casserole. Kerrygold Aged Cheddar is a cheese made from the milk of grass-fed cows and then aged for taste for one year – it’s described as “rich and full-bodied with a smooth finish” and I agree (nom,nom).  By using aged cheddar as the bold accent on top of the recipe, I was able to cut significantly on the cheese used within the interior of the casserole – in fact, only two ounces were stirred into the easy roux that had been kept light with low-fat milk and just a skosh of canola oil (no butter)! Also, instead of traditional rice or noodles, I used quinoa in this healthy casserole recipe for added protein – although it has no meat, it could make a hearty side dish as part of a Meatless Monday dinner.  Oh, and it has cauliflower – it just seems to turn to creamy, dreamy butter in this dish!

cheesy quinoa bake

{Lightened} Cheesy Cauliflower Quinoa Casserole Recipe

  • 1 ½ tablespoons canola oil (divided)
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 1 ¼ cup water
  • 1 12-oz bag microwave-in-bag frozen cauliflower florets
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 ½ cups chopped sweet yellow onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic from jar
  • ½ cup 1% milk
  • 2 ½ Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups chicken stock
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (2 ounces)
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
  1.  Heat medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 ½ teaspoons oil and coat pan. Add quinoa and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until lightly toasted; stir frequently.
  2. Add 1 ¼ cups water and bring to a bowl. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until water is absorbed.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.
  4. In large skillet, add remaining 1 tablespoon oil in pan and sauté onions for 3 to 4 minutes until softened and turning golden. Stir in garlic during last 1 minute of cooking.
  5. In small bowl, whisk together milk and flour; stir chicken broth, salt and pepper into this mixture.
  6. Add milk-broth mixture to skillet and bring to a boil; stirring constantly for 2 minutes or until thickened.
  7. Remove skillet from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese until melted.
  8. Microwave cauliflower according to package directions. Carefully remove from bag and very coarsely chop.
  9. Stir in quinoa and cauliflower into Parmesan mixture.
  10. Place in 1 ½ to 2 quart baking dish that has been lightly coated with cooking spray. Or, you can do in individual ramekins as pictured below.Top with grated cheese.
  11. Bake at 400 F degrees for 15 – 20 minutes, or until heated through and cheese bubbling and lightly browned on top.
  12. Serves 6 – 8.

cauliflower quinoa ramekins

Cooking Light Best Cheese RecipesOkay, so I won’t lie. I was inspired to make this cheesy, delicious dish after getting my October issue of Cooking Light magazine. Hello, the headline is “Our Best Cheese Dishes” and it included a kid-friendly, make-ahead recipe for a Broccoli Quinoa Casserole with Chicken — of course, I HAD to tweak it and make it my own. Check out some of the other healthier cheese recipes from Cooking Light – you will be drooling!


What is your favorite type of cheese or recipe using cheese?

This post is sponsored by Cooking Light and KerryGold. I received free products / gifts in return for this post; however, all opinions and content (unless otherwise noted) are my own. 

All Hail to the Hatch | Hatch Green Chile & Chicken Cheesecake with Avocado Drizzle Recipe

Holy hot peppers, the mother of all Hatch green chile festivals is about to hit town right here in the ATX (that’s Austin for you non-locals). Delivered straight from the fertile farms of New Mexico to greedy grocery shoppers like myself, Hatch season is a much anticipated event that only comes around once a year. The best way to prepare the peppers is by fire-roasting; it lends a yummy smoky flavor. Central Market and some other stores take care of this step for you, roasting them in a huge tumbler and then packaging them up read to go. While it’s not as convenient, it’s definitely well worth the time and trouble to roast them on the grill at home.  This precious pepper is a versatile addition to nearly every food imaginable, from classic quesadillas and rellenos to unexpected sweet dishes like ice creams and quick breads – seriously!


How would I know such a thing? Well, I’ve seen all sorts of eye-popping, taste bud-blasting Hatch creations as I battled it off time and time again at the Central Market Hatch Green Chile Festival Cook-Off. In the last four years, I’ve taken 3rd place, 2nd place and 1st place – and then last year my recipe made the finals but I had to bow out due to the Hood to Coast Relay with Nuun Hydration.  Right now, my creative juices are flowing, trying to figure out just exactly how I’m going to use the signature punch of Hatch peppers in my next recipe creation. Good thing I still have a good portion of a past prize, about 75 pounds of fire-roasted peppers, processed and packaged up in the freezer.

jennifer fisher - - hatch cheesecakeI’m sharing one of my past winning recipes and hopefully the rest of the recipes if time permits this month. Hatch Green Chile & Chicken Cheesecake with Avocado Drizzle isn’t exactly the most low-calorie recipe in town, but I did make some low-fat substitutions to bring it down a notch. Also, if you’re in a time crunch, I’ve found a great fresh product by Litehouse Foods (Avocado Dip) that can be substituted for the Avocado Drizzle portion of the recipe.

jennifer fisher hatch green chile cheesecake thefitfork

Hatch Green Chile & Chicken Cheesecake with Avocado Drizzle

For Cheesecake:

  • 1 1/3 cup crushed Central Market Hatch Green Chile tortilla chips (or plain)
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • 3 (8-ounce) packages reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons minced green onions
  • 1 ½ cup finely shredded cooked chicken (white meat)
  • ½ pound fire-roasted Hatch green peppers, skinned, seeded and chopped*
  • 1 ½ cups shredded pepper jack cheese
  • 8 ounces light sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • Garnish: hatch green chile tortilla chips

Avocado Drizzle:

  •  2 large Hass avocados (approx 8 ounce each), seeded, peeled and diced ½”
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • ¼ cup fire-roasted Hatch green peppers, skinned, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of jalapeño pepper; seeded and diced (more to taste if you like hot-hot)
  • 2 cloves roasted garlic
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In medium bowl, combine the tortilla chips and melted butter. Press mixture onto the bottom and 1-inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Set aside

In large work bowl of electric mixer, beat the cream cheese at high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. By hand, stir in the chili powder, cumin, Worcestershire sauce, salt and minced green onions.

Pour half of the cream cheese mixture into the prepared pan. Layer with chicken, Hatch peppers and pepper jack cheese.  Pour remaining cream cheese mixture on top.

Bake at 350 F for 10 minutes; then reduce the heat to 300 F and bake for an additional 1 hour or until set in the center. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

Combine the sour cream and seasoned salt and spread evenly over the top of the cheesecake. Cover and chill for at least 8 hours.

While chilling prepare sauce by adding avocado, chicken broth, roasted hatch peppers, jalapeño, garlic and lime juice until pureed. Add salt and pepper to taste. If coulis seems too thick, blend in a tiny bit of water a time until desired consistency.

To serve, remove sides of springform pan; slice into 8 servings. Place each slice on a serving plate and pour a share of the hatch-avocado coulis on top. Garnish each slice with a tortilla chip wedge artfully sticking out of the top.

*If you can’t get your hands on fresh peppers, you can substitute the canned variety. The recipe will still be great, but it just won’t have the same unexplainable effect of a true Hatch pepper.