Fun With Chia Seeds

ChiaSeedsI agree with this ABC news post that chia seeds have replaced kale as the “it food” this year. These tiny seeds, which most of us are more familiar with as giving Chia Pets their “hair” or “fur,” have gotten a lot of attention for being loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. They are also chock-full of protein and fiber, for few calories.

What’s the advantage of dumping some into your food? A nutrient boost, as well as fiber to help you feel fuller longer.

I decided to buy some on my last visit to Whole Foods, and then the experiment was on. My first stop: breakfast.

I added the chia seeds to fat-free Greek yogurt, along with honey, and I topped off this breakfast bowl with diced banana and strawberries. It was delicious, as you would expect honey and Greek yogurt to be, and the chia seeds added extra crunch. (Shout-out to ripe banana and strawberries as well.)

The interesting thing about chia seeds is that they become a bit gelatinous when exposed to moisture for a bit–which explains the paste you’ve seen slathered on Chia Pet heads in the past–so you could also consider them a thickener for whatever you ChiaYogurtwant to make. It is something to get used to, and I’d think that would be what would make this a love-it-or-hate-it superfood. I didn’t mind; my yogurt got a little thicker over the course of time, but was still enjoyable, partially because despite swelling to sport a gel-like coating, the crunch doesn’t go away from the seeds.

I purchased my bag of chia seeds on sale for about 6 bucks, but a bag can hover around the $10 mark, give or take a few bucks, from what I’ve seen from the other options at Whole Foods. (I’m still on my first bag after having made several meals with chia seeds now, though, so I think it’s worth the price when on the left side of $10.) I haven’t explored yet whether chia seeds have hit the regular grocery stores of if they’re still a specialty item to be found at health food stores, but I imagine they’ll make their way to a Pathmark, Ralph’s, or Publix near you soon. (Wheat germ is still on the shelves after making its debut in 1936, according to this New York Times article, so why not?)

Chia seeds seem like they’d be a little more shelf-stable than wheat germ and, from what I understand (without having tried them), flax seeds.

Interested in adding chia seeds to your meals? Let you know what you come up with! I’ll have more recipes to share here soon myself.

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Super Bowl Sunday and My Dad’s Burger Trick

Super Bowl Sunday coincided nicely with my usual weekend cooking routine. I shifted the menu to turkey burgers and grilled chicken and beef, for burritos and salads, to add a little pizzazz alongside the roasted chicken, broccoli rabe, rice and honey-glazed carrots I’d also made.

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As I was prepping the burgers (see recipe below!) I couldn’t help but think of my father. While I’ve gotten my interest in health from my mom (who introduced me to wheat germ as a child, takes an apothecary’s worth of vitamin and mineral supplements every day as a relatively spry near-octogenarian, and phased out red meat from my childhood home), I’ve gotten my love of cooking from my dad, who once worked as a short-order cook.

I wasn’t ready to grill the burgers right away, so I individually wrapped them in waxed paper, just like he used to do. I thank him for teaching me how to prep things like burgers and chicken for future use–cutting whole chickens and leg quarters into parts. What else have I gotten from him about food?

I thank him for letting me know there’s nothing wrong with putting sugar in grits (though I prefer the savory kind… Note to self to make shrimp and grits sometime soon!)

I thank him for instilling in me an interest in grilling–though I still have to bow down to him on charcoal, as I’m a gas girl.

I thank him for teaching me how to make scrambled eggs (and I thank Julia Child for teaching me how to make omelets!)

I thank him for encoding into my genes the kind of rapid-fire, assembly line cooking and prep needed to keep a family well-fed for road trips and beach and amusement park outings.

My dad passed away more than 10 years ago, but I bet that if I had asked, he would have helped me to understand football when I was younger. But I guess there is something fun about learning football in fits and starts during the Super Bowl and other lower-priority, regular season games. Just as it was this past Sunday. Regardless of the state of my football knowledge, though, I know he would have been proud of the burgers.

Here’s my recipe for the turkey burgers I made (serves 8):

2lbs lean ground turkey
2 envelopes onion soup mix
4 capfuls of liquid smoke

Mix the ingredients. Plan to grill right away, or marinate for a bit by  forming patties and individually wrapping them in waxed paper. (Bundle the patties in a foil parcel.)

When ready, grill the burgers to desired doneness, place on a light hamburger bun, and add your favorite toppings.

Sausage Gravy and Biscuits Remix

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Do you ever have food-related moments in time that stand out in your mind? One of those moments for me was the first time I had sausage gravy and biscuits.

Maybe I didn’t get the official Southern experience, having had them at Temple University in Philadelphia, but the velvety cream gravy dotted with pepper and small chunks of sausage, lovingly draped over an airy, melt-in-your mouth biscuit, is a moment in time that I can’t shake–even though it was probably hastily eaten on the way to an obscenely early morning journalism class.

I still think about the dish, and I’ve seen it many times, patiently waiting in a breakfast buffet set-up, gravy in one partitioned area, biscuits in another, for someone to assemble this delicacy for their own plate.

A stroll through my supermarket, and a chance sale on bulk chicken sausage inspired me to remake this delicacy in a lighter manner. Here’s my take one on this:

  • 2 tsp oil
  • 1 tube of bulk chicken or turkey sausage (the kind that you shape into patties)
  • 3 c fat-free beef broth
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • 1 c fat-free Greek yogurt
  • Fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1 roll of biscuits

Preheat your oven as specified on the biscuit roll.

Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the sausage, breaking into small pieces with your spatula as you cook. Cook until thoroughly browned and any liquid that has been released has dried up. (If you get brown bits on the bottom of your pan, that’s a good thing!) Remove the sausage from the pan once cooked through.

Put your biscuits in the oven, and bake according to package instructions. They’ll finish before the gravy; remove them from the oven when they’re done.

Add the broth to the pan, scraping any bits from the pan. Add the pepper; slowly add in the cornstarch and stir until the gravy has thickened a bit. Add the yogurt, and do the same. Bring the sauce to a boil; let it boil until it has thickened a bit more, then add the sausage back. Turn the heat down, and keep cooking, if needed, until the gravy is your desired consistency. (This process took me about 15-20 minutes.)

Plate your biscuit and top with 1/2 cup of sausage gravy. I ate it with fruit on the side.

Notes: Be sure to get a low-sodium beef broth, as the sausage will likely have an ample amount of sodium.

This will not make a white gravy, as I realized as the gravy was staring back at me from the pan. But for my next experiment: skim milk and the fat-free Greek yogurt.

My best idea for something lighter than the biscuits: a light hamburger bun.

Review: Mexican Weeknight Easy

I read. A lot. Whether it’s reading what my digital peeps and Tweeps are up to, reading music blogs, scouring Pinterest for new recipe ideas, or trying to make a dent in my Kindle book pile (I’m currently reading the Sherlock Holmes collection, in hopes of getting ideas in how he survived the fall on the British show), I’ve always got words whizzing by my eyes for some reason.

Sometimes the writing comes from magazines that I’ve picked up at the market. That’s how I got my hands on Mexican Weeknight Easy, a magazine devoted to Mexican cooking for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as information on spices and produce that figure prominently in Mexican cooking.

I probably confess to my Mexican food addiction just about every week, but let me tell you, I still learned a lot from this publication.

Here are the 5 most useful things I got out of parting with $5.99:

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One of the five things I learned was how to make this!

  1. How to make sophisticated chips. I routinely microwave tortillas into crispy chips, but I typically don’t spruce them up with anything more exciting than salt. I will, however, be trying the smoked paprika, cumin and salt chips, as well as the lime jalapeño ones.
  2. How to pickle red onions. There’s a pretty easy recipe for picking red onions in citrus juices and spices that sounded interesting. A little web research told me that picked red onions, aka cebollas encurtidas, pair nicely with a variety of foods. I have a weak spot for onions, so I will definitely be doing this!
  3. How nachos (supposedly) got their name, and other tales. I won’t spoil the story for you, but I really enjoyed this, and the other factoids that run throughout the magazine.
  4. What to do with a chayote. I’ve seen this puffy pear-looking piece of produce in the market, but I didn’t know it was (technically) a fruit. Or that I could cook it like squash.
  5. How to make a delicious, healthy Mexican breakfast. Huevos oxaqueños, eggs poached on a bed of vegetables, will become a staple dish for me, served with corn tortillas and a little cheese.

I’d recommend this magazine to anyone who likes Mexican food like me, or anyone who’s looking for new ways to make flavorful meals with tons of fresh ingredients. I’m looking forward to expanding my Mexican repertoire!

Between a Vegetarian and a Paleo

My eating tends to be all over the place. By that, I mean that I don’t play favorites with the kind of food that I eat–from being a South Beach Diet follower, to dabbling with vegetarian eating in my 20s, there aren’t too many modes of eating or kinds of food that I turn my nose up at. (With the exception of sardines and okra…I don’t know that there will ever be hope for me with those two things!)

Because of that, I’m not surprised that my Pinterest food board reads like a split-personality eater. I follow a lot of vegetarian and vegan pinners (here’s one of my favorites), and their mealtime picks are heavily represented among the things I like and the things I’d like to try. But on the flipside, I have posted some paleo recipes, and there’s one grill-master in particular whose ideas I’m always excited to see come up on my timeline.

As someone who has had weight loss and healthy eating on her mind for a few years now, one of the most important things that I do is to keep looking out for new foods, new recipes, and new ways of creating meals that are designed for the most nutrition in the most modest amount of calories possible. In my pursuit of new ideas, I’m don’t harbor any biases about the kinds of eaters who are supplying those ideas. I’d encourage you to look beyond the cookbooks, Web sites and pinboards that focus on the kinds of food you typically eat and look to the people who combine ingredients in a different manner to still generate tasty, nutritionally sound entrees.

Here are some things that have caught my eye on the Web lately:

  • Tofu steaks with chimichurri and baby spinach, from Stone Soup: I never knew how to fry tofu, but from the picture, this recipe seems to offer the alternative protein with a beautiful crust. Plus, the chimichurri recipe can be repurposed for a lean steak.
  • Roasted garlic sweet potato and poached egg, from Naturally Ella: Breakfast tends to be the meal that’s hardest for me to consistently come up with good ideas. I like the sound of this because it sounds filling, and the carb is coming in the form of a vegetable.
  • Roasted Dijon chicken, from Framed Cooks: I like that this recipe creates meat and a side. It helps to take the guesswork out of pairing up items on the menu!
  • Kale with oranges and mustard dressing, from MarthaStewart.com: I am a big fan of leafy greens, and I’ve heard of the kale-citrus one-two punch before. I’m curious to try it!
  • Crockpot Indian-spiced lentils, from The Diva Dish: I love Indian food, and I was excited to find a recipe to make some by setting and forgetting.
  • Red snapper Azteca, from Paleo Plan: Fish is always an excellent lean protein choice. In this recipe, it gets a flavor boost that sounds tasty.

I am glad to know that no matter what kind of food I’m looking for, there are tons of people out there with delicious ideas. Happy hunting to you!

Question of the Day: How has your diet changed since you’ve started eating healthy? What foods are you eating that you never thought in a million years would touch your plate?

Breakfast Kofta Kebabs

The brunch-worthy end result, served with a microwave-heated sweet potato and sauteed baby spinach leaves.

The fourth installment of my kebab-a-week challenge is a breakfast take on the kofta style of kebab.

I was largely inspired to do this by finding bulk turkey sage sausage at Walmart. You know the tubes of Bob Evans pork sausage that you shape into patties? Good luck finding the turkey analogue–few stores in my region carry it. But Walmart came through for me.

Recipe

  • 1 tube of bulk turkey breakfast sausage
  • 1 small sweet potato, shredded (I shredded it by using the shred side of a grater.)
  • 1/8 cup shredded onion (I used red onion, but go with your favorite)
  • Your favorite seasonings to taste (I’d recommend seasoned salt or soul seasoning)

Boil some water (approximately 3-4 cups) on the stove or in the microwave and add the sweet potato shreds to the boiled water for at least 5 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes have softened a bit. This keeps the sweet potato from being too crunchy in the finished kofta kebab. Remove as much water as possible from the sweet potato shreds by blotting on paper towels and/or letting them cool a bit and squeezing the water out.

Add the sausage to a mixing bowl, along with the softened, dried sweet potato shreds, the shredded onion, and your seasonings of choice. Mix everything together and form into 8 portions. (Shape them as cylinders–they’ll look like the snakes  you used to make with Play-Doh, only shorter and fatter.)

Grill the kofta on skewers (or not, as I did), or cook them in a nonstick pan sprayed with cooking spray until done.

Notes: Removing the water from the sweet potatoes is very important, as otherwise the koftas become extra watery and don’t keep their form well. (Yes, I learned this the hard way).

I served them brunch-style, with a sweet potato and spinach, but eggs and a slice of toast or fruit would also work.

Coconut Cream Yogurt Options

I want to confess that I like coconut. Coconut shrimp, coconut cream pie, tropical mocktails, you name it. The sweet, nutty taste, the unique texture that shows up unexpectedly… You’ll never get a complaint from me.

I had some coconut left over from making skinny pineapple cupcakes a while ago, and I had a sweet tooth after lunch one day, so I put this together.

Recipe

  • 1/2 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1-2T shredded coconut (I used sweetened because that’s what I had on hand, but next time I’ll seek out the unsweetened.)
  • 1/2 to 1 packet of sugar-free vanilla-flavored milk mix

Mix everything together!

Notes: I didn’t think of it at the time, but you could omit the vanilla powder and add some finely diced pineapple to this instead, going with the sweetness of the pineapple, or adding a little Splenda. Making it ahead of time may soften the coconut a bit as well.

To go a little heavier, make an Almond Joy-type dessert by omitting the vanilla powder and adding a little bit of crumbled almond and fat-free chocolate sauce into this, in place of the vanilla powder–I’m guesstimating a tablespoon of nuts and a tablespoon max of the sauce. Or, make it for breakfast with almonds and banana, with or without the vanilla powder.

I found the vanilla milk powder mix in the coffee aisle of my grocery store. It also comes in chocolate and strawberry flavors. Let me know of any experiments you make with them!