Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Chickpeas and Avocados

     Growing up I never realized what a narrow selection of foods we ate. And to my mother's credit, it could not have been easy to plan meals for 6 very different people, 4 of which were picky, snot nosed, little kids who would whine at the very thought of trying something new. And when it comes down to it, feeding 6 people is expensive, so if you're going to be spending that much money on feeding everyone you are going to be sure everything will be eaten... maybe even joyfully. And growing up, I was perfectly content to not try anything new. Ever.

     But I'm the Mom now, so I can plan the meals. And while I take my daughter's preferences into account, I don't let them dictate my overall grocery list. I'm branching out and trying all sorts of things that I never tried when I was growing up, in hopes that it will help encourage my daughter to not be afraid of trying something new. Two ingredients that never crossed our plates as kids were the inspiration for tonight's meal: chickpeas and avocados. Both of which hold a wealth of nutritional value for vegetarians and dieters alike.

Quinoa Falafels Ingredients
     First we'll take a look at chickpeas. Now, these are something I ate one time as a kid. It was an awful experience too. My mom agrees with a, "What was I thinking?!". I want to say we had them whole on a salad or something similar. All I really remember was chocking down these hard little balls while my younger brother sat at the table refusing to eat his. He sat there until bedtime and never did have to finish them. Lucky kid. That experience was more than enough to keep me away until years later when I was expected to make hummus at work. And of course, we had to taste everything we made. Turns out ground chickpeas taste pretty good with oil, garlic, tahini, and cilantro. In fact, hummus has become one of my all-time favorite afternoon snacks. As for their nutritional value: Good source of protein, iron, dietary fiber, and calcium, reduce the risk of heart diseases and certain cancers, and great for weight loss because they can keep you full feeling longer. Read up on them here if you want to learn more.

Avocado and Tahini Dressing Ingredients
     On to the avocado. These funny looking things were never a part of my childhood. I can understand why though, my brother's and I would have never willingly tried them and I don't think they are my father's favorite either. This is another food I came into more recently having made guacamole at a previous job and being a big fan of sushi. These fruits were long thought to be unhealthy with their caloric and fat content, but the inverse has since become the popular food theory. Read up on the nutritional facts here. On to tonight's meal:

     Originally I was just hunting the internet for something interesting that used avocados. I found a smoothie that I'm excited to try, but that wouldn't make a great dinner I'm afraid. And a couple clicks later I'd fallen into an internet wormhole that lead me to Vegangela. Falafel's were a perfect idea for my daughter since in one show she enjoys the main characters are always eating at Falafel Phils. So it was a good tie in that had her hooked on really trying to like something. And the dressing had the avocado element I was looking for! And quinoa! Three superfoods in one meal?! SOLD!

     I can honestly say I didn't change much from her recipe. I thought it read great as is. Only changes I made were: blending the cilantro and seasonings in with the chickpeas, adding a little bit of avocado oil to make it blend better, and changing the two vegan eggs into one regular egg. As for the sauce, I added some garlic. I also didn't fry in as much oil, just pan sprayed my pan.

     I mixed mine up and used an ice cream scoop to portion out 7 fairly large falafels, pan seared them off, and then served them on a piece off naan. My daughter was not a fan of the avocado sauce sadly. So after trying it she ate her falafel 'burger' with ketchup instead. Which she thoroughly enjoyed. I really like the sauce though and am glad to have it for future dinners and possibly as a dipping sauce for carrots at a later date.

Quinoa Falafel
Avocado Tahini Dressing

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Italian Quinoa Casserole

     This week I did a little bit of exploring into the super food quinoa. It's one of those grains that is highly recommended for vegetarians because it is one of the few places to get all 8 amino acids in one place. Usually to get complete proteins, vegetarians have to eat combinations like beans and rice. It is also full of other goodies like B vitamins and magnesium. Which, I just found out is good for people who suffer from migraines  Good to know as I've been known to be a migraine sufferer. Less so since I've embarked on this fitness journey though.

     Again, once confronted with something new I did some digging on the internet to find some inspiration that would hopefully pass my daughter's picky palate. This time I found a Pizza Quinoa Casserole. It looked more like a side dish than main course though so I added a healthy dose of veggies including mushrooms, zucchini, red pepper, and onion. I also cheated a bit and used premixed Italian/pizza seasoning.

   It's really a fairly simple and straightforward recipe to put together and doesn't use too many dishes. Perfect for a busy mid week meal! I was easily able to get this made up between my daughter getting home and rushing her off to Girl Scouts. With enough time, by the way, to let dinner settle before going for my Tuesday evening run.

     As for the taste? I really enjoyed it. Could have maybe used a bit more sauce, but as is is not unpleasant  My daughter thought it was alright, not something she'll mind eating as leftovers, but not one of the star dishes I've made within the last few weeks. It is also really filling, so as a side dish, you could probably get 8+ servings out of it.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Butternut Squash Mac&Cheese

     Since the beginning of this journey, my daughter has been begging for me to make one dish: Mac&Cheese. As with many young children, it is her favorite dish. And to be fair, it is vegetarian as well. But with many recipes coming in around 600 calories for a small serving, I just couldn't bring myself to make it. Until the internet lent me a hand...

     I've slowly been working on trying out new vegetables. As a kid, I hated almost all vegetables. If it wasn't carrots, cucumber, green peppers, onion, corn, or iceberg lettuce I was not having it. Those habits have followed me into my adult life and until a year or so ago it didn't bother me too much, I didn't feel deprived of anything. But nowadays I'm looking everywhere and seeing that these veggies I've previously shunned (some without even trying!) have quite a bit of value to my overall health. Take tonight's star vegetable... doctors and dietitians recommend it to control cholesterol and reduce weight. It's also full of vitamins A and complex B vitamins. Read all about it here! Anyway, I figured it was time I gave butternut squash a try. So with a rough outline of a recipe in hand, I set out to make a healthier mac&cheese.
     I did alter the original a little bit based on the comments and reviews and according to my own personal preferences. Fancy cheeses like Gruyere can be expensive and not as palatable to kids. Not to mention a little higher in fat. So I'm using some of my leftover low fat cheese from my chard quiche and some low fat smoked Gouda. Use whatever cheeses you like or have on hand though. I also removed the panko topping, I find it unnecessary. A few other small adjustments along the way and I'd say mine and the original are two different recipes.

     It was fairly simple to make up. If you have the time, you can reduce the dishes by cooking up your noodles, draining them, and rinsing with cold water then using the same pot to cook up the squash. But what's one more pot really? I also wish I had used my immersion blender to mix in the Gouda, as it looked a little lumpier that I had hoped. But it tasted great! Even my daughter liked it. To the point that she almost wanted to skip going out to eat leftovers! That's saying something! My friend that was joining us enjoyed it was well, so I'd say it received 6 thumbs up.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Slightly New Format...

   Sorry for the absence here. Work has been crazy and just started settling down. Sort of. Just getting settled into the busy season once again.

     Anyway, with the time off I've been thinking about what I can do to this blog to be slightly more informative. Such as actually writing down my recipes so you can make them at home. And with the power of technology I can even provide nutritional information! How awesome is that for everyone! Tonight's dinner was the first test run I've had with all this, and while it took a little longer to measure everything out in a way my app can understand it wasn't too bad and certainly something I'd be willing to do. Especially if doing so allows me (and thus you!) to better track my calorie intake and make better choices. On to the blogging!

     If you haven't heard of the nutritional powerhouse that is Swiss chard... you aren't alone. I only recently stumbled upon it myself. But it is high in vitamins A,C, and K, high in dietary fiber, and also high in protein. It also is a natural way to help control carbohydrate breakdown and blood sugar. For a more in depth look at all the health benefits, check out this site.

     With all those benefits  it's no surprise I decided to try and find a way to work this leafy green into my diet a little more often. Most preparations I've found online remind me of how I've seen spinach prepared, so I venture into chard territory with a slightly altered recipe from my childhood: Chard Cheese Pie. Or if it sounds more appealing, Crust-less Chard Quiche. 
Click to make it readable...
     It's a fairly simple recipe to make, fiveish simple steps and dinner will be on your plate! A few things I learned along the way though. You have to saute your chard enough to remove a good bit of the water, but not so much as to make it bitter. I under cooked it just a little bit and as a result there was a little bit of water in the bottom of my pie plate. The eggs were cooked perfectly, so I wasn't concerned about that. If you error on the side of caution like I did, it's all good. I rather have a little water than a bitter dish!

     Also, feel free to make additions or substitutions. It's a flexible recipe. Add mushrooms, spinach, peppers, bacon if you aren't going veggie... Egg Beaters instead of whole eggs. Almond milk, soy milk, or rice milk instead of skim. Use whatever cheese tickles your fancy.  I opted for 6 ounces of Cabot's Sharp Light Cheddar and 4 ounces of their Jalapeno Light Cheddar. I like a little zing in my dinner, but feel free to use whatever you have in house! I also seasoned mine with some Trader Joe's African Smoke Seasoning Blend. I love the flavors in that.

     This is mine, straight from the oven. I could have possibly even cooked it a bit longer to get more of that browned cheese flavor, but dinner was smelling good and everyone was getting hungry! I shared this dish with my parents as well as my daughter, and it went over fairly well. My parents loved it, my dad even took a second slice! My daughter... she liked the browned parts quite a bit, and after quick run through the microwave to help dry it out, she liked it well enough. Perhaps not a favorite dish for her, but not a least favorite either.

     Now, as promised nutritional values! Just some background on how these were calculated... I have a new app on my phone that I absolutely love called "Lose It!" In this app you can record what you eat and it will track your calories for you. With a little bit of information, it sets a budget for you to help you reach your goals. Mine for example are set to lose 2 pounds a week until I reach 150 pounds. So I am allotted 1,285  total calories a day. Which doesn't sound like a lot, but when I started recording everything I ate, I realized most of the calories I ate in a day were from grazing at work. By cutting that out, I've actually had trouble even getting to my budget goals. Also, by recording any (and I mean ANY... they have it all figured out including housework, romance, and music playing) exercise the app gives me those burned calories back to have a chance to eat them again. So really... you don't have to exercise to lose weight, just don't go above your budget! Anyway... in the more section, it gives you the opportunity to plug in a recipe and number of servings and it will calculate it all out for you! Which is what you see here, my recipe, broken down into eight servings. So if you alter the above recipe, the nutrition facts will be different for yours. But hey, at least I've given you a frame of reference now! Happy quiche making!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Refrigerator Roundup

Seem to be a decent pinch hitter
     While I normally have Mondays off to menu plan and grocery shop, today was not one of those days. After working 8 hours I drove home to to have a cup of coffee with my Mom and get my daughter off the bus and I was honestly too tired to bother going to the grocery store and putting together much of anything. Thankfully I keep a small stash of fake meat options in my fridge and other pantry staples for such occasions. So I chose the 'hot dogs' my daughter wanted to try a week ago and started staring within my fridge for a side dish.

     It didn't take too long for a bowl of leftover mashed potatoes to catch my eye. Whipped those up last night with butter, sour cream, and salt and pepper for St. Patrick's Day. Certainly a solid side dish on their own, but I decided to instead make them into potato pancakes... of a sort. I started by sauteing 1/4 of a leftover onion, about 1 stalk of celery, and 1 clove of garlic. Once sauteed, I mix into my mashed 'taters along with 2 small handfuls of flour (That's a valid for of measurement, right?), and a heaping handful of shredded pepper jack cheese. Finally I formed some patties, pan fried those suckers up, and tossed them in a 250 degree to keep warm while using the pan to fry up the hot dogs. Dinner made in under 30 minutes (for once!).
I'd venture these are not that "good for you", but they sure are good!

     Dinner was overall a success tonight. The 'hot dogs' were a bit spongier than I'm used to, but the last time I had a hot dog it was more than likely a Hebrew National or Nathan's, which tend to be denser and meatier in texture anyway. My daughter didn't seem to notice though and she's had hot dogs far more recently than me. The potato pancakes were awesome, nice crust on the outside and creamy and flavorful on the inside. All they needed was a sprinkle of salt on top, though ketchup or sour cream would certainly be tasty as well. The girl gave me two thumbs up and was sad that I cut her off after 3 potato pancakes. As for me... I'm excited for potato pancake leftovers, and while I wouldn't dread eating another one of those hot dogs, I think I'll be leaving the rest of those to her to finish off.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tacos! Olé!

     Want to start this post off with a bit of bragging, it may be minimal but I did break through my plateau from last month. Lost 2 ¼ inches overall and a fraction of body fat percent! As I close in on my “ideal” weight and fat percent progress seems to be slowing, but it is progressing at least. And in immeasurable ways I’ve seen progress as well. I fill up faster, I have more energy, my tastes are changing, I feel more confident, and I’m overall more comfortable with myself. I even managed to get myself to the gym without an appointment last night. It felt pretty good too, I may make it a Tuesday habit. We’ll have to see about that though J.

     On to the food... Tacos still remain a favorite in my household, and the spices allow me a lot of room to play around with protein options. This time around I used straight up tofu and lentils instead of going the fake beef soy protein route. Once again I pressed my tofu dry and sliced up real thin. This time I used Trader Joe’s Enchilada Sauce as a marinade.

     A few hours later my daughter came home, we spent an hour jumping on our new trampoline, and then I meandered inside to get started on dinner. I strategically had my mom and daughter stay outside so I could sneak the tofu past my daughter and the lentils past my mom.

Using these guys!
     I didn't go for the broiling option this time with my tofu, I chose to crisp these suckers up in the frying pan with a drizzle of Peruvian lime olive oil. Even sliced thin and on high heat it took longer than expected to get a good crisp on both sides. Which was fine, I just used the extra time to chop my peppers, onion, tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, and lettuce. I also got our tortilla bowls ready. Handy tip, spray with Pam or brush with oil and then season your tortillas before placing in the molds... so much tastier!

     After the tofu was done pan searing, I cut each strip in thirds length wise and then 5-6 more times in the opposite direction. Just to make smaller pieces that would get lost in the taco filling mix. While cutting those down I put all my veggies (less the lettuce) in to the fry pan with some homemade taco seasoning. I used to buy the stuff in stores and packets, but I'm also trying to watch sodium intake... when I remember... so I've been mixing my own seasonings recently. Most have turned out well, this one included. But this is the only one I have a recipe for! Anyway, once everything was near done I put in half of a leftover pouch of Trader Joe's precooked lentils and half a bag of frozen roasted corn. Once those were warm, in went the tofu for a quick reheat. Just as I was finishing up, the girls came back inside looking for dinner.

     As with burgers, I've learned that taco topping are incredibly personal, so we assemble the bases at the stove top and final touches were performed at the table. We had black olives, sour cream, Mexican cheese, pepper jack cheese, and fresh tomatoes to garnish our taco salads with. We have guacamole in house too... but we forgot to get it on the table. Ooops!

I tend to skip the sour cream and fresh tomatoes

     These tacos went over without a hitch. Mom enjoyed them, my daughter enjoyed them, I enjoyed them. That's six thumbs up around Monday night's table. The smaller sized tortillas make a perfect sized salad bowl. Enough to make a meal, not so much that you are tempted to over eat. Get the whole wheat, reduced carb ones and you have a huge winner all around! 

     As for leftovers... that's what we had tonight! I did add a little salsa to the mix as I was reheating to provide some moisture. I suppose water could have worked, but why be plain when you can be flavorful? Even reheated, these tacos are a winner. I think I may see tomorrow's lunch in my fridge.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Not So Fast Fast Food

     A few weeks back, I was shopping the aisles of Trader Joe's with my mom looking at all of the, sometimes strange, offerings. One such item that caught our eyes was the Tri-Colored Quinoa. We like rice and cous-cous so why not try something else?

     Weeks went by and the bag got pushed around in the cupboard and near forgotten about. On a Monday off with my daughter she and I were grocery shopping and trying to figure out what to make for dinner. In the bakery section we found a bag of mini burger buns, so we settled on mini veggie burgers. And then instead of fries I would make oven roasted potatoes. TJ's didn't have fake beef product that I was comfortable making into burger patties, so we planned to get that at another grocery store.

     Back at the house, it was confirmed that I was going to be making diner for my parents as well. When I mentioned mini burgers, Mom got all excited and asked if I wanted to use the quinoa to make black bean burgers. Oh yeah! There was a recipe for that on the back of that bag! Dinner plans were finally set. Couple condiment purchases later and the kitchen counter looked like this:
It's not even all in the picture!
     As the quinoa boils away on the stove, I get to chopping, slicing, and sauteing. The recipe is fairly straight forward and easy to follow. I did omit the egg, since it was optional anyway, and made them slider sized instead of a full burger. Other than that I stuck with the directions for once!

     The recipe made A LOT of 'burger' mix. I made enough to fill all the burger buns, plus 6 patties to enjoy at work for lunch, and I have enough mix to make 12 more sliders hanging out in my freezer. But I'm grateful to have those extras because it took over an hour to get these suckers made! So much more labor intensive than a beef burger for sure.
Two sliders, a serving of asparagus, and roasted potatoes
     I left condiments up to personal preferences, so mine have guacamole, fried red onions, and Mexican cheese. My daughter had cheese and ketchup. Mom had hers like mine. Dad had cheese and maybe that's it? I only have one teeny tiny regret... I wish I had toasted those buns... it would have made them perfect. Other than that though, everyone really enjoyed their black bean burgers. Mom enjoyed them so much she split the final burger with me, Dad said he would eat them again, and my daughter gave them "all the thumbs up in the whole world!" The leftovers at work attracted quite a bit of positive attention, but no way was I sharing! I put the time in, I'm enjoying my burgers. Speaking of time... I'm glad everyone enjoyed these and they made so much mix... made me feel the time in the kitchen was worth it.