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.

Healthy and Convenient? Here, It’s a Yes

On the Friday before Super Bowl Sunday, I had jury duty. Basically I sat around for four hours, watching morning shows and reading from the Sherlock Holmes anthology. (High point: learning five ways to make nachos from Rachel Ray for guilty pleasure moments. Low point: when a couple of potential jurors spoiled some Downton Abbey plot points for me.)

When the jury pool’s “babysitter” announced that it was time for lunch, I happily left the courthouse, not just in excitement at the opportunity to stretch my legs, but also because I was excited to check out the restaurant offerings in the area.

The courthouse is nestled in a quaint, burgeoning trendy community, with lots of restaurants. I wanted to check out a Mexican place (naturally), but I ended up going to a local produce/food spot instead.

I had duck confit and a parsnip salad, both delicious. While I was savoring the food, and marveling at the fact that I would get a juror discount for it, I overheard the owner say that she was opening another location in a suburban shopping center…and that it would have a drive-through window.

It sounded like an interesting idea: fresh ingredients, local food, available for a few bucks (she was planning for a lower price point than the restaurant I was in) and a quick lean out my driver’s side window for it all? I would love to check it out.

This restaurant would be taking over an old KFC building, which explains the drive-through window. I don’t how many restaurants there are like this, but I hope to see more of them.

Imagine how much easier it would be to eat healthy if you could get something healthy–food as close to your own cooking as it gets, food that doesn’t have “extreme,” “super,” or “grande” in the name–quickly and with little effort. (This is me assuming that the restaurant won’t cut corners with its new endeavor.) I would love to have options besides rotisserie chicken or salad, and I would love for it to cost less than Whole Foods. (I gotta say that Trader Joe’s has economical options that come together with minimal effort, but unfortunately I don’t have one nearby.)

I’d like to think that I’m not wishful thinking. If I had a wand to wave, I’d turn food deserts into healthy food oases, and I’d have a convenient, wallet-friendly healthy eating spot next to each regular fast-food joint. It would be nice if our neighborhoods actually reflected the healthy environments that we claim to want.

In the meantime, I’ll have to track down this mythical healthy drive-through and see if the reality lives up to my imaginings of it.

Hoodwinked by Pinterest

Pinterest is typically a place where I love to hang out, a place where I find good ideas. Whether I’m browsing slowly through a boatload of pins on a weekend day, or I’m taking a quick peek during a slow period at work, it’s always entertaining and educational.

So you can imagine my surprise when I came across two recipes in one week that totally bombed for me. I’m used to recipe links leading to dead ends, but getting a recipe, trying it out, and being underwhelmed? That was new…and disappointing.

Which recipes were the ones that failed me?

Whipped cream icing. The promise with this one, which consists of a box of vanilla pudding, a cup of milk, and a container of whipped topping, is that you can have a light icing in minutes. What I got was a delicious vanilla soup instead, or a sauce or dip for fruit, not something that will adhere to cake or cupcakes as I imagined. (To be fair, maybe it would have worked better if I hadn’t used the fat-free whipped topping.)

Popcorn in Pyrex. The claim: place 1/4 c of popcorn kernels in a Pyrex bowl, top with a ceramic plate, zap for nearly 3 minutes, and voila! The reality for me? Nothing but hot kernels, hot Pyrex, and an extremely hot plate. Not one kernel popped. The recipe said you could zap the popcorn again if any wasn’t popped, but I decided not to try again. The recipe didn’t specify a microwave temperature, however; be my guest if you want to experiment.

Those recipes definitely disappointed me, but I’ll be back on Pinterest in no time. Here’s hoping for no more letdowns anytime soon!

Question of the day: Have you ever had a Pinterest fail? What did you make? What happened?

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?

Chipotle Meatballs

Probably about 10 years ago, I picked up a Mexican cookbook, made by the Ortega company to celebrate a key milestone in their history. The book is now well-worn, the pages dusted with flour and cornmeal. It has been one that I’ve used over and over again.

So when I saw a McCormick seasoning packet for chipotle meatballs (Yes, I intend to try every seasoning packet that catches my eye!), I knew exactly what they were, thanks to that Ortega cookbook. I never made the book’s recipe for albóndigas al chipotle (chipotle meatballs) in a soupy sauce, but in looking at the ingredients and process on the seasoning pack, I knew it would be simple to try.

The Ortega recipe takes you from start to finish, making meatballs from scratch, but this prices is much quicker, thanks to frozen meatballs.

Recipe

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30 1-inch turkey meatballs (cooked and frozen or thawed)
1 McCormick Albóndigas al Chipotle seasoning packet
15-16 oz of tomato sauce (depending on whether you use two 8-oz cans or one 15-oz can)
Water per package instructions

Mix the water, tomato sauce and seasoning in a saucepan. Boil the mixture, then add the meatballs. Heat until the meatballs are heated through.

Notes: I ate these with couscous and steamed spinach, but brown or white rice would also work, as would whole wheat or white pasta. You could also mix some grilled peppers and onions into the finished meatballs/sauce combo.

Product Review: McCormick Bruschetta Chicken Spice Blend

One fun (nosy?) thing that I like to do from time to time is to walk the aisles of grocery stores to see what new products are available, or what things I have never noticed before. A perfect place to do this is at the Walmart superstore.

I finally had enough time to really scope out the aisles, rather than zero in on a particular item, jewel thief style, to get in and out as fast as I could before going into work. Being able to browse at my own leisure, I saw a lot of interesting items.

One was this item, pictured, a packet of Italian blend spices to use on  chicken and tomatoes, to be roasted and served with pasta. I’m not sure if it was the mention of “all natural” that drew me in, (all of the ingredients have names I can pronounce) or the name conjuring up the taste of bruschetta in my mouth, but either way, this packet went home with me, for well under $2.

The recipe calls for 1 lb. of chicken, 1/3 cup of oil, 10 plum tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and pasta. I opted against the pasta when I used the packet yesterday, pairing a double measure of chicken and tomatoes with couscous instead. (I figured adding more meat and tomatoes would make better use of the substantial amount of oil called for, and provide more leftovers!)

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Here’s what I did:

  • Cut the chicken breast into strips, as requested on the packaging. (Or you could use raw chicken tenders.) Cut the tomatoes into lengthwise quarters, also as originally requested. Placed the chicken and tomatoes in separate 13×9 baking pans, sprayed with cooking spray.
  • Mixed the seasoning with the oil, and added the vinegar at this time. (The package says to hold the vinegar to the end, when you would’ve been mixing everything with the pasta, along with 3 tablespoons of the spice mixture, but I thought using the vinegar upfront couldn’t hurt.)
  • Brushed the spice mixture over the chicken and tomatoes, and then topped with a bit of kosher salt–the mix didn’t have much salt in it. I suppose that’s a good thing, though, as spice blends are often overly salty.
  • Baked the pans in a 425-degree oven until the chicken was done, per package instructions. Let the pans cool, then attempted to dice the tomatoes as requested. But I ended up smashing the tomatoes a bit with a meat tenderizer before cutting, to avoid a juicy mess as much as possible.
  • Added the chicken and tomatoes over top of couscous cooked in the microwave. (I went with a half-cup of couscous for myself, and served the dish with sauteed spinach.)

Notes: I think McCormick’s intended recipe would be good as well, as roasting the tomatoes and mixing with pasta would yield a nice, fresh pasta sauce. They also suggested topping with parmesan, which you can never go wrong with doing!

Here are some other ideas I had:

  • If going in pasta mode: top with some slivered fresh basil.
  • If going in couscous mode: try adding golden raisins and olives to add another sweet/savory dimension.
  • I’d consider grilling the chicken, but I’d let it sit in some of the spice mixture for a bit, as a marinade. I might use a bit more balsamic (or even red wine vinegar) for a marinade.