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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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?

My Friend the Wawa Store

During this period of crazy, crazy work for me, I haven’t been cooking as much as I normally do, and that has been hard for me, in not having the same delicious options, and also in losing a creative outlet. But I had to be realistic and come to terms with the fact that I really can’t do it all. So how have I been eating for the last 3 or 4 weeks? Quite often, it was thanks to the good people at Wawa.

Wawa is a convenience store in the Midlantic region (that also has decent gas prices, if you’re ever in my neck of the woods). As far as convenience stores go (ahem, 7-11), they do have a fair amount of healthy options for breakfast and lunch. I got to know many of them very well lately.

On my way to work in the morning, there were days when I was stopping at Wawa for breakfast, lunch, and a 16-oz. jolt from kona and fat-free vanilla creamer (newly introduced there). And getting familiar with the cashiers.

What was I picking up to buy from there?

Fruit. There were some days when I was able to scrape together a reduced fat peanut butter sandwich at home, and on those days, I rounded out my breakfast at Wawa with a cup of coffee and a banana or an apple. Or, I picked up a cup of pineapple or grapes, or a fruit salad as a snack or lunch dessert.

Salad. Wawa offers a variety of salads that are packaged in bowls, with meats and cheeses separated from the lettuce until you’re ready to eat. I passed on the salad dressing and enjoyed the turkey club salad, the chef salad (sometimes ditching the egg)  and the Caesar salad (minus the croutons). I typically ate my salad with a bag of baked chips. On days when I had leftovers to zap in the microwave at work, I opted for the garden salad, tossing the chickpeas and egg.

Sandwiches. If you have time, you can build your own sandwich at Wawa and go light on (or without) the cheese and mayo, opt for whole wheat bread, or select a small roll rather than a 10-incher. If you’re short on time, their prepackaged sandwiches are decent. I typically ate the tuna sandwich or the peppered turkey and bacon sandwich, with fruit or baked chips.

Nutritionally sound carbs. There is a big selection of granola bars and meal replacement bars at Wawa. I didn’t get to really investigate the nutritional value of all of them (and I suspect some of them wouldn’t pass my protein/fiber test), but one that worked for breakfast one morning was the BelVita biscuits.

I saw them promoted in magazines and in my supermarket a couple months back, and they sounded interesting, but I paid them no further mind. But I liked what I saw for the fiber/protein content when I was looking for something different to eat at Wawa one day, and tried the Golden Oat flavor. You get four biscuits (like overgrown cookies, really) per serving, and no high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, or artificial flavors, according to their Web site. I ate them with a light yogurt (also from Wawa)  and a piece of fruit.

A lighter breakfast sandwich. There was a day or two when I felt like having a breakfast sandwich. The winner was the turkey sausage and egg white bagel sandwich. On the Weight Watchers points scale, it’s a bit more than I typically prefer to eat for breakfast, but it sure tasted good!

Despite not cooking much, and despite stressing and stretching myself thin mentally, I have maintained my 40 lbs. lost during this time. I guess I owe Wawa a big thank-you for that.

What are your favorite healthy convenience store meals/snacks?

Peach-Mango Turkey Kebabs

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Here’s my first recipe, from my challenge (to myself) to make a kebab recipe a week this summer. I’m kicking off the season with a recipe that’s grill-ready: ground meat skewer kebabs.

I enjoyed the peach mango sausages I had a few weeks ago, and figured I’d try my hand at combining those flavors with other Southwest seasonings. The end result is this half sausage, half burger hybrid.

Recipe

  • 1 package ground turkey
  • Peach mango salsa (1/3 to 1/2 cup)
  • Red or sweet onion, finely diced (I used about a quarter of a medium-sized onion)
  • Cilantro to taste
  • Adobo powder and cumin to taste
  • Minced garlic to taste
  • Lime juice to taste (I used half a lime, but consider it optional)

Mix your ingredients together, and let them sit in the refrigerator a bit to blend. (I waited an hour or so, but you could also refrigerate overnight if you’d like.)

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When ready to make the kebabs, start heating your grill. Divide the meat into 4 servings. Fashion them around skewers sausage style. (I used long, flat metal skewers, as I will for the rest of the recipes this summer. If you use the shorter bamboo skewers, you would likely have to make more than 4.)

Grill away! Until the meat is cooked through.

Notes: Try adding a little bit of the salsa at a time to your meat, to avoid making the kebabs too goopy to stay on the skewers. (It’ll depend on how firm or watery your ground turkey is. Making this recipe confirmed my suspicion that I need to stop buying Aldi ground turkey… another rant for another day.) You’ll want a consistency that’s pretty close to what you’d have for burgers, but a bit more moist. If you find you’ve gone overboard with the salsa, add bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon at a time. Another thought: lean ground beef would likely hold up to the salsa a bit better.

I served these on fat-free tortillas, topped with a little more of the salsa, some reduced-fat cheddar, spinach, and thinly sliced red onion. I’d also try queso sauce instead of the cheddar.

A Flavorful Evening

Yesterday I went to a baby shower for  an in-law relative who lives four hours away. As we chose seats to settle into for the festivities, the smell of lighter fluid and pungent spices filed the air, as more guests trickled in. Grilled chicken was on the menu.

My family and I chatted amongst ourselves, watched the children play,  reminisced on the old music playing, and took in the new tunes with interest. And, of course, we kept inhaling the delightful spicy chicken smell.

Presents were exchanged, a prayer was said, and then it was time to eat. We were treated to chicken leg quarters that were blackened with a crust of spices, and fried plantains and attieke, a West African couscous made of cassava, were also on the menu. I savored every bit of the chicken and  plantains that I had.

We spent the night with relatives a couple of hours closer to home and debated getting more food for a post-dinner, but when we thought about it, we realized we weren’t really hungry enough for a full-blown meal. I ate a couple of oranges from the refrigerator instead. It has been a while since I had had oranges, and their sweet juciness was a revelation.

It was a long day of hastily eaten meals in the first half, but the second half of the day was punctuated with meals that reminded me of the importance of choosing simple foods with big flavors, something that seems to be key to satisfying meals.

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!