Friday, March 29, 2013

Breakfast Tacos

Remember when I first talked about breakfast tacos after my trip to Austin?  Well, it took a few months but I finally got around to re-creating them at home.  And I'm glad I did because a bite into these is enough to remind me all the good eats in Austin!

The beauty of breakfast tacos, unlike the pillow-sized breakfast burrito you might see at your favorite brunch place, is their portion control, which makes them much more figure-friendly.  Breakfast tacos are small, portable, and can be eaten in just a few bites.  And they come together in minutes.  I am able to to whip up two tacos for myself in the morning before work.  (When I am cooking for two, it takes a little longer to cook the eggs since there are more of them, so I reserve those for weekend breakfasts). 

See how the taco is a nice hand-held size?

There is a lot of flexibility in the fillings, I made these meatless to make it simpler to make a quick weekday breakfast.  But you could certainly add bacon, chorizo, sausage, whatever you like.  Just go easy on the filling on each taco.  Overfilling tacos = mess. 

Another tip I learned from my friend Molly, is to make a big batch of the fillings, assemble the tacos, wrap in foil and freeze for an even quicker weekday breakfast.  She gives a vegan breakfast taco tutorial here.  I want to try this with a non-vegan version, but I am unsure how well scrambled eggs do in the freezer. Perhaps replace them with hashbrowns?

Quick Breakfast Tacos
(makes 2 tacos, but can be easily doubled to make more)

1 large egg
splash of milk
2 Tbs shredded cheddar cheese
2 Tbs Black bean dip (I used Desert Pepper brand, can substitute re-fried beans, or regular canned beans)
1/4 avocado, diced
5-6 grape tomatoes, sliced in half
a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce (I used sriracha.  Conventional? No.  Delicious? Yes, very much so.)
2 6" corn tortillas (or flour tortillas, if you like)
Cooking spray
salt and pepper to taste

Beat egg with a splash of milk.  Spray a small pan with cooking spray and heat over medium-low heat.  Add egg and cook to your desired level of doneness.  Remove from heat and set aside on a plate. Season egg with salt and pepper to taste.  

Heat another pan over medium-high heat.  Add tortillas and heat the first side for about 10-15 seconds.  Flip, let it heat up for about another 5-10 seconds, then carefully sprinkle cheese onto the tortilla.  Continue to heat until cheese is melted.  Once melted, transfer to plate.  Top with beans, avocado. tomatoes, and hot sauce.  Take a bite and pretend that you are enjoying the fun and live music in Austin.

Some interesting links about breakfast tacos..
Recipe from the Homesick Texan
Where to find breakfast tacos in NYC
A short video about breakfast tacos featuring Fonda Nolita in NYC

Monday, March 25, 2013

Overnight Oats + Chia Seeds

This post is part of a "Healthy Living" Series that I have started on Monday evenings. Read more about the series and my journey to a healthy lifestyle here.  

What you see here is culmination of two things I keep coming across on my favorite healthy living blogs for the last few months - overnight oats and chia seeds.  I finally tried both of them for the first time last week. While I recognize I am late coming to the party,  I'm glad I made it, because together, overnight oats and chia seeds make an easy nutritious breakfast. Overnight oats are simply rolled oats (not quick cooking) soaked in liquid overnight (clever name, huh?).  Chia seeds are now making their reappearance into pop culture.  Yup, that's right, these are the same chia seeds that children "plant" on to animal-shaped pottery. Except now, they are being recognized for their nutritional benefits, are marketed as a "superfood," as opposed being recognized for the catchy jingle.  (Which anyone reading this who grew up in the US during the early 90s has running through their heads right now).

What's great about overnight oats is that it takes minutes to prepare the night before, so there is virtually no prep time in the morning and no cooking involved.  The time the oats spend soaking make them thick and chewy. When the chia seeds are soaked in the liquid, they become gelatinous, sort of like tapioca balls, which was made them good for adhering onto terracotta pots, but also good for giving the oatmeal a nice thickness.  So the oats start out looking like this at night....

And look like this in the morning!

Sorry, no matter how hard I try, oatmeal is just not photogenic.  You'll just have to trust me that it tastes good.

I had to play around with the ratios a bit and read up on a lot of variations.  The possibilities for spices and toppings are endless.  This version, which is adapted from Kath Eats Real Food, has been the best for me so far.  Below the recipe is a list of other versions that I plan to experiment with soon.  Don't be surprised if there is an Overnight Oats: Part II sometime in the near future...

Overnight Oats
Adapted from Kath Eats Real Food

1/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not the quick cooking kind)
1/3 cup low-fat plain yogurt
1/2 cup 1% milk
1 Tbs chia seeds
1/2 tsp brown sugar/splenda blend (can substitute with 1 tsp brown sugar)
4 medium strawberries
1 oz blueberries (a small handful)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt
dash of cinnamon

The night before you plan to eat this, combine all the ingredients into a bowl and mix together.  (You could also save the fruit for topping in the morning, but I wanted to have one less step to worry about in the morning).  Cover and put in the fridge.  In the morning, put in the microwave for about 20 seconds on high to take the chill off it, if desired.  Stir and enjoy.

Other Overnight Oats Recipes I want to try:
Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie Dough from Peanut Butter Fingers
Pretty much all the variations from Kath Eats Real Food
Not overnight oats, but I really want to try this version of microwaved oats from Fannetastic Food

Monday, March 18, 2013

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Corned Beef

Perhaps you celebrated St. Patrick's Day a little too hard  this weekend.  Or maybe you didn't.  Either way, there's always the same question, what to do with the leftover corned beef? My sister's solution was to send some of it home with me, which I was more than happy to oblige.

Since I didn't actually get to eat the corned beef at my sister's house this year, I wanted to make something similar to the traditional corned beef and cabbage, but different enough that I wouldn't be bored with it.  While I love corned beef, I actually don't care much for cabbage.  And since I never had brussels sprouts as a kid, I don't have the same aversion to it as many people do.  When roasted to a rich caramelized color, brussels sprouts actually become much more flavorful than its limp, bland cousin.

So here is a lighter take on the traditional corned beef and cabbage, that you can make to make with leftover corned beef, to make up for a weekend of high-calorie debauchery.  Or just make it because it tastes good.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Corned Beef

1 lb brussels sprouts, sliced in half
3 oz (about 3/4 cup) cooked corned beef, diced
1 Tbs olive oil
2-4 tsps dijon mustard, divided
freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss sprouts and corned beef in roasting pan with oil, 2 tsps mustard, and black pepper until sprouts and beef are well-coated.  Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, flipping over sprouts and corned beef once, about halfway through cooking time.  When sprouts are fully cooked and browned, transfer to a bowl or plate. Stir in1-2 tsps of mustard and more ground pepper, if desired. Serve as a side dish (or half of it as a meal as I did.  I won't tell anyone that you did.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Take-Out Lunch Ideas

We've all been there.  You didn't plan ahead to pack your lunch the night before.  You wake up late.   You're still adjusting to Daylight Savings. You open the fridge and find that you have nothing but condiments and beverages.  You have absolutely nothing to bring for lunch.  So you have to eat out for your mid-day meal.  Which is not a necessarily a bad thing for me because I enjoy the chance to escape the office. But it's not always great health-wise.  Here are some strategies and tips I use to get a health(ier)* lunch outside out of the office.

Usually when I know I will be eating out for lunch, I try to scope out the menus of the restaurant that I am going to eat at on the internet, and if available, review the nutritional information.  Around my office, there a lot of chain restaurants, and while it may not be the most interesting of meals, the nutritional information is readily available on the internet.  This way I already know what I want to order when I get there, and I am less likely to be tempted by the higher calorie options.


 Cosi has a bit of a nostalgia factor for me because there was one on my college , campus, and it was our go-to place to eat, drink fancy lattes, and toast s'mores among my friends.  I also love their flatbread sandwiches.  So it was much to my dismay the first time I pulled up the Cosi menu to find out how many calories were in the Chicken t.b.m. (I won't say how many for the people who don't want to know, but for those who do, click here).  Cosi does have a few options that are a bit more figure-friendly like the Fire-Roasted Veggie Sandwich pictured here.  Veggies are always a tasty option, and the feta cheese spread on this sandwich is nice.  Order it warm with a side of baby carrots instead of chips.  My other favorites are the Turkey Light, which uses a spicy mustard, and the Chicken Tandoori Light (with fat-free vinaigrette  on their "Lighter Side" menu.  I also like that Cosi offers the option of multigrain bread instead of their original signature bread.

Au Bon Pain

ABP sandwiches were once a college staple for me, but nowadays I stick with their soups with a breadstick on the side.  ABP features different soups each day, you can find a list of their soups of the day and their nutritional information on their website. Usually what I do before I go to ABP is check out the soups of the day on their website, choose one in which a medium soup is around 200 calories, and another alternative soup, in case the particular location I go to doesn't have the one I picked.  When I get there, I know exactly what I want to order, and plus a breadstick.  Generally, the lower calorie soups are the broth-based soups, as opposed to the cream-based ones.  Pictured here is the roasted eggplant soup with an asiago breadstick. A few of my other favorites are the Vegetable and Beef Barley,  Portuguese Kale, and Turkey Chili.

Taco Bell

Believe it or not, there are healthier options at Taco Bell! I get the bean burrito which you see here.  (Sorry for the atrocious picture, but Taco Bell is unfortunately very unphotogenic.) It's also the cheapest option you see in this post.

Salad Bar Lunch

Got a company cafeteria or a local deli with a salad bar?  With some careful selection of salad bar toppings, you can put together a healthy salad that is both satisfying and tasty.  Just go easy on the meat, cheese, sauces, and dressing.  I usually go with a few small pieces of chicken, a tablespoon of shredded cheese and a drizzle of olive oil and vinegar, on top of lots of veggies

Don't have any of these options near your work? Going out to lunch with co-workers that doesn't have these options available.  I just try to eat a normal-sized meal, and then eat a lighter dinner.  Balance is key in eating healthier.

* I say "health(ier)" because these options are healthier then say, ordering a big mac and fries, but not necessarily healthier than bringing your own lunch, where you can control the amount of fat and sodium.  Also, since restaurant food tends to be higher in sodium, I try to limit eating out for lunch to about once or twice a week.

Note: I was not compensated to mention any of the products or businesses named above.  They have no idea who I am.  I am not a registered dietitian or medical professional.  These are simply strategies and tips that I use that have worked for me.  You should consult with a registered dietician or medical professional before making any changes in your routine.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

First JC Food Co-op Book Club

Yesterday, I attended the first meeting of the JC Food Co-op Book Club at Tachair Bookshoppe.  This month's book was Mark Bittman's Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating.  I had downloaded the book on to my kindle a few months ago, so it was a happy coincidence when I found out that it was the first book for discussion.

I have to admit that I was a bit nervous about meeting and talking about a topic as sensitive as personal eating habits with strangers (though I do recognize the irony in that statement since I blog about my eating habits all the time!). But it actually turned out to be worthwhile experience.  It was refreshing to meet and speak with people who are as interested in food as I am.  I also learned more about the Jersey City food community and the food co-op, who organized the event.  And all while sipping Good Earth "Sweet and Spicy" tea, which they serve at the book shop, and has now become my new favorite tea!

As for the book itself, Bittman advocates "sane eating," that is a diet of that focuses on mostly plants, but with some meats as an accent or flavor, and minimizing processed foods.  This is similar to the diet I have already been following since I began to lose weight last year, so it hasn't changed the way I eat.  But one thing I did learn from the book was how political the way we are taught to eat is.  For example, take the "4 Basic Food Groups" that many of us learned as children, which later evolved to the "Food Pyramid" and now to "Choose My Plate." Perhaps it was my own naivete, but I was somehow under the impression that some learned health professionals or dietitians were developing these models as the way we are supposed to eat.  But rather, as Bittman highlights, these models were largely driven by the agricultural industries.  Learning about this aspect of food education has made me question what we know about food and nutrition and how many common misconceptions there are about food.


Have you read Food Matters?  Is there something from the book that changed how you thought about food?

Special thanks to the Jersey City Food Co-op and Tachair Bookshoppe for making the book club meeting possible! I highly recommend anyone in the Jersey City area to check them out!

Note:  I have not been compensated to make this review of any of the products or businesses discussed here. I just really like them.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Healthy Portable Lunch Ideas

I really like to bring my lunch to work when ever I can.  Not only does it save money, but it also ensures that I eat a healthy and nutritious lunch.  (Not that eating out has to be unhealthy - more on that next week!)

Most frequently, I bring leftovers from dinner the night before. What I love about doing this is that it gives me something to look forward to in the middle of the day since I still have the memory of the tasty meal I had the night before. So when I am making dinner, I often will cook an extra serving so that I will have lunch to bring the next day.  For example...

This basil pesto salmon with quinoa pilaf, with an apple on the side.  I usually supplement my lunch some fresh fruit to help fill me up (without adding a lot of calories).  Plus, I enjoy having something sweet at the end of a meal. 

Slow cookers are great for cooking large batches of food to bring to lunch.  In the past, I have brought a tupperware of these yummy recipes to work with me....

Spicy Enchilada Chili

Albondigas Soup

Minestrone Soup

Tortilla Soup

Or other times, I will have a small piece of chicken or fish that I put on top of salad, like this chicken breast on top of this spinach salad with avocado and carrots.  (Pretty sure there are grape tomatoes in there somewhere too...)

But when I don't have leftovers available, I bring a lot of sandwiches...

Like this Tomato, Cheese, and Hummus on Whole Wheat Pita, with tomato slices on the side.  When I first saw this sandwich in The Supermarket Cookbook, I thought it was so weird.  But now it's one of my favorite sandwiches to bring to work! (By the way, you are also treated with a glimpse of my work keyboard  and mouse in the background there).

Smoked Salmon and cream cheese on whole wheat bread, with steamed broccoli on the side.  Okay, I cheated a little on this one - I made this for dinner one night when J. was in out of town for work.  But this could easily be packed into lunch. (Just bring some breath mints or chewing gum, if you don't want fishy breath for the rest of the afternoon).

So there you have it, my Healthy "Bring to Work" lunches.  Stay tuned for next week when I will show you my strategies for healthier take-out lunch options.