Monday, February 25, 2013

Healthy Breakfast Ideas

After the positive feedback I've been receiving on my journey to a healthier lifestyle, I've started a "Healthy Living" series, which I will endeavor to post tips and strategies that I use to live healthier every Monday. (For those of you reading this for recipes, or just not interested in this topic, rest assured, I will still post the occasional sweet treat or otherwise indulgence food when it meets my fancy.  Variety is the spice of life!)

This week's topic - Breakfast!

Your mother was right, breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day. There are countless reasons why eating a healthy breakfast is good for you; it jump starts your metabolism, it provides you with energy for the day... I won't bore you with a lecture on the specifics as there is plenty of literature out there on the topic, such as here and here.  Fortunately for me, as a kid, my mom never let me leave the house in the morning to go to school without eating breakfast first, which in turn developed a very good habit for me into adulthood.  On weekdays, I usually eat breakfast after a workout at the gym, so that doesn't leave me with much time to prepare an elaborate breakfast.  But being pressed for time doesn't mean that you can't eat healthy.  Here are some of my favorite weekday breakfast ideas:

Whole-wheat toast with peanut butter, banana, and a drizzle of honey
Elvis had the right idea with combining peanut and bananas.  I use a tablespoon of reduced fat peanut butter to "save" on calories (I'm partial to Skippy, but J. prefers Jiff, so I buy which ever one is on sale).

Whole grain cereal with berries and nuts
My favorite brand of cereal to use for this is Kashi Heart to Heart - either the warm cinnamon or toasted oat flavor.  The toasted oat flavor reminds me of a more grown-up Honey Nut Cheerios.  I also sometimes change up the fruit, such as a banana or apple.  

Low-fat (or nonfat) yogurt with fruit preserves, berries and nuts
I find mixing plain yogurt with a quality fruit preserve actually tastes better than the packaged "fruit at the bottom yogurt."  And also depending on the brand of preserves, you can avoid some of the scary chemicals and artificial flavoring.  

As you may have gathered, we had a lot of berries in the fridge last week.  But if you are looking for a savory breakfast, try this:

"Rocky Mountain toast" toast with avocados, cheddar cheese and grape tomatoes, and a few drops of sriracha sauce.  "Rocky Mountain toast," also known as "Man on a raft" is simply a piece of bread with a hole cut into the center.  You put the toast in the frying pan and cook the egg in the center.  (The egg is buried under all the toppings in the picture). 

What do you like to eat for a healthy breakfast? Do you eat different breakfast foods during the week and on weekends?

Note: I was not compensated by any of the products mentioned here.  I purchased all the products with my own funds. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Shrimp and Vegetables in Sherry Sauce

I love shrimp.  Not only are they tasty, they are a low-calorie protein, and inexpensive too.  On top of that, they don't require planning ahead in that you don't have to defrost them the night before.  Just run cold water over the shrimp in a colander for five minutes. (Shake the colander around so that the shrimp defrost evenly).

Plus, adding shrimp makes any meal look fancy, when really you hardly spent any time on it, and didn't even plan ahead!  What's not to love? (That is of course, so long as you are not allergic to them)

And doesn't this dish look fancy? In reality, though, it was really simple to make, and I used ingredients I usually have on hand. I often cook shrimp with vegetables this way, but this time, I threw in a shot of sherry on a whim because I love how sherry tastes with seafood.  It turned out to really make the sauce for this dish.

Shrimp and Vegetables in Sherry Sauce

1 lb shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 zucchini, diced
1 yellow squash, dished
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup (a handful) grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 Tbs fresh oregano, chopped
1 shot dry sherry
dash of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil

Heat olive oil with a dash of red pepper flakes.  When the oil is hot, beginning cooking onions.  When the onions start to soften, stir in garlic, and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds).  Add zucchini, bell pepper, and yellow squash. Add a pinch of salt to taste  Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until soft. Push the vegetables to the sides of the pan, creating a "well" for the shrimp.  Add shrimp to the "well" and cook for about a minute on each side, or until pink.  Add sherry.  Let it reduce for about a minute.  Add grape tomatoes, and cook for about another two minutes, until heated through.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with quinoa, pasta, or rice.  (Earlier this week, I made a big batch of quinoa pilaf with a slightly modified version of this recipe, which is what is pictured here.)

Monday, February 18, 2013

My journey to a healthier lifestyle

I've mentioned before that I lost weight last year and now pursue a healthier and more active lifestyle.  It wasn't always an easy journey, but I want to share my story in the hope that maybe it will motivate or inspire others who enjoy food as much as I do.

As a teenager, I was lucky - I could eat whatever I wanted, I never exercised, and I didn't gain weight.  (I know, I hate the teenage version of me too).  With my hobbies being reading books and singing in my high school choir, I was prone to a sedentary lifestyle.

In college, when more and more girls were worrying about the Freshman 15, I had friends who counted calories, something I refused to do.  I was someone who loved cooking and baking cookies and brownies.  How could you possibly enjoy your food, when you are worrying about how fat it is going to make you?  In my mind, I analogized it to keeping a record of every penny you spend (something I did do for about a year); it was harder to enjoy fun activities like going to the movies, when you were preoccupied about how much it was costing you.  So I steadfastly refused to count calories, and at that my point of my life, I really had no need to.

How can you enjoy this ice cream if you know how many calories are in it!?

Finally, during my first year of law school, the over two decades of never watching what I eat and rarely exercising finally caught up with me.  I weighed the most I had ever weighed in my life and I was not happy about it.  So in January 2007, I went to Barnes and Noble, and perused the diet and healthy living display (always prominently displayed at the front of the store in January) and I chose Good Housekeeping's The Supermarket Diet Cookbook.  I chose this book because its premise, as the title suggests, was that you could lose weight and still eat normal food that you buy at the supermarket, rather than some fad diet, or other weight-loss programs that require you to buy their special meals.  Inside it had tasty, healthy recipes and helpful tips on how to read nutrition labels and exercise.  That same day, I also bought my first exercise DVD.

 New Year's Resolution 2007!

I'd like to say that this was when my life turned around, that I lost tons of weight and kept it up since then.  I did lose some weight. But the book did advocate calorie counting, which I still refused to do.  So I lost weight in little ways, switching to skim milk, eating low-fat cheese, and cutting out orange juice.  (That last one was hard for me, I loved orange juice and drank it like it was water - 3 to 4 glasses a day, but it has about 110 calories per glass!)

Unfortunately, I wasn't very disciplined, and after graduating from law school, my little shortcuts no longer worked. J. and I had started dating, and while relationships are wonderful, it also meant eating out frequently and drinking copious amounts of alcohol.  And even on the nights when we stayed in and cooked, I found that I was eating the same size portion as J, who weighs nearly twice as much I did.  Not to blame J. for all of it, of course. I was also having fun doing things like going to the Chocolate Show, or baking cheesecake brownies.  The unfortunate result of all this was by the end of 2011, I weighed more than I ever had before, even more than I had in law school before I began my "shortcuts."  I was unhappy with the way I looked. My clothes didn't fit me, and it was hard to buy new clothes that fit me properly. My body unfortunately gained weight mostly around my belly and not much anywhere else.  It got to the point that well-meaning strangers and distant acquaintances were asking me when I was expecting.

I finally came to the realization that if I wanted to fit in my clothes again and not have strangers asking me if I was pregnant, I had to lose weight. I will be the first to admit my primary motivation for weight loss was vanity.  So in the beginning of 2012, I made a resolution to lose thirty pounds by Labor Day.  I pulled out the Supermarket Diet Cookbook again, and this time, actually took the advice to heart. I started exercising at the gym 4-5 days per week for about 40 minutes each time.  I took up running when the weather warmed up and started training for 5K races, and eventually my first 10K race.  But the biggest challenge for me was to mentally accept the idea of calorie counting.  I downloaded the Fat Secret calorie counter app for my phone, which made it easy for me to keep track of my calories no matter where I was.  With the help of the Fat Secret app, I calculated that I had to eat no more than 1500 calories per day to gradually lose weight, but not feel hungry all the time.

Enter lots of veggies and whole grains into my diet, like this veggie and hummus on whole wheat pita

Surprisingly, it was a lot easier than I thought it would be.  Calorie counting helped me learn portion control and to think about what I ate before I ate it.  I also bought a kitchen scale so I that I have an idea of what a portion of meat, fish, or fruit should look like and more accurately calculate my calorie intake.  I learned that I really shouldn't be eating the same amount of food as J.  So I still enjoyed food, I was simply eating less of it.

All things in moderation, like these tasty sweet and sour pork ribs!

I wish I could tell you that I reached my 30 pound weight loss goal by Labor Day of last year, because it would make my story all the more inspirational.  I came pretty close, about twenty seven pounds.  But I feel much healthier and more energetic than I ever did before.  My enjoyment of food has actually increased because I learned to savor it in smaller quantities.  On top of that, I am in the best shape of my life.  Before, I could never imagine running a mile, never mind a 5K race. But in October 2012, I completed my first 10K race. My new active lifestyle has also given me confidence and a new-found appreciation for my body. When I was younger, I took my physical appearance for granted.  But now that I had to work hard to get in the shape I am now, I finally feel happy about the way I look.

Disclaimer (I am a lawyer, after all...): I was not compensated to discuss any of the products mentioned here.  They are simply products that I chose that worked for me.  I am NOT a registered dietitian or health professional, and none of the above should be construed as medical advice. If you want expert advice, you should talk to a doctor before beginning any weight loss program.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Spicy Chicken Enchilada Chili

I made this last weekend when "Winter Storm Nemo" hit the tri-state area (apparently naming winter storms is now a thing...). Cold snowy whether always makes me want to cook up a hot soup or stew in the crockpot.  I've made this chili before, but I wanted to adapt it to make it spicier.  I chose to make my own enchilada sauce because the store bought ones usually have tons of sodium in it, and it really doesn't take that much longer to make the sauce.

Spicy Chicken Enchilada Chili
Adapted from A Year of Slow Cooking

1 cup prepared enchilada sauce (recipe to follow)
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 large onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, removed from skins
1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 can low-sodium pinto beans
1 oz tomato paste (I bought a 6 oz can of tomato paste, so I used about 5 oz for the enchilada sauce, and used up the rest of the can for the chili)
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 Tbs chopped pickled jalapenos
dash of cayenne pepper
dash of crushed red pepper flakes
2 skinless boneless chicken breasts

Throw in all the ingredients except for the chicken breasts in to the crockpot. The order doesn't really matter  Mix to combine.  Place chicken breasts on top.  Cook on low for about 6-8 hours.  When done, take out chicken breasts and shred into bite size pieces with two forks and mix back into the chili.  Serve with cheddar cheese, sour cream, or more pickled jalapenos, if desired.

Enchilada Sauce
(adapted from Emeril Lagasse)

1 1/2 Tbs vegetable oil
1/2 Tbs all-purpose flour
1/8 cup (about 2 Tbs chili powder)
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
About 5 oz tomato paste
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano, crushed
1/2 tsp kosher salt
dash of cayenne pepper (to taste)

Heat vegetable oil on medium heat and stir in flour.  Cook for about a minute, stirring constantly.  Stir in chili powder, and cook for about 30 seconds more.  Add chicken broth, tomato paste, and remaining spices.  Stir to combine and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, lower the heat to low.  Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasonings to taste.