Simplicity

Just thought I’d share my favorite quick meal with you all: A baked potato (microwaved) topped with steamed spinach (from frozen, also microwaved), and a big scoop of hummus (this one is curry hummus). Topped with a drizzle of sriracha, this is an easy, tasty, healthy meal that anyone can enjoy. Cheap too!

  

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A Day in the Life, Part 2

I typically start my day with a light, nutritious breakfast. When I worked in the afternoon and evening, I would cook first thing in the morning and have a big hearty breakfast and start prepping ingredients for cooking lunch. Now that I work a more standard 9-5 day, I don’t have time in the morning to do that any cooking. But I make my coffee and blend up a green smoothie. It’s easy to prep while the coffee brews and I feed the bunny, and easy to sip while I do my makeup and get dressed. I’ve tried having oatmeal or a sandwich instead, but it’s too messy while I’m rushing around and too heavy in my gut for the two mile walk to work. This week’s smoothies have been more purple than green – steamed beets, banana, blueberries or cherries, flax seeds, and almond milk.

For lunch, I do my best to cook something on the weekend to pack up for at least the first part of the week. Later in the week I will pack up other dinner leftovers. Worst case scenario, I take dry oatmeal with raisins or other fruit and nuts, or sometimes a savory version with peas and greens. This week we’re going out of town on Thursday, so I only need three meals, and I also need to use up some stuff in the fridge. I made tofu scramble with peppers, mushrooms, and peas for Sunday morning breakfast, then packed up the leftovers with some millet. There wasn’t a ton of scramble left, so I stretched it  out with extra peas and a tablespoon of sunflower seeds for each serving. I also packed up a side of raw broccoli and hummus. I have celery and cucumbers to take on the other two days.

Three little bowls: pre-millet, but post-sriracha.

Three little bowls: pre-millet, but post-sriracha.

My dinners can be a little scattered. My manfriend usually gets home much later than I do, so we don’t always have dinner together. That’s just one more reason I try to cram a lot of nutritious food into the first part of the day! After walking home in the heat, I want a snack right when I walk in the door. Depending on my mood, I might have a bowl of popcorn, some chips and salsa, or even just fruit. If I’m really hungry, I eat some leftovers or a bowl of oatmeal. I’ll cook something light later on if we’re hungry, although I do make it a point to cook a proper dinner for two at least once a week.

Today I picked up some whole-wheat pasta and cans of beans at the store on my way home. It’s going to be in the 90’s this week, so I don’t want to have to cook beans from scratch! I have an easy formula for weeknight dinners: whole grain + bean + vegetables. Tonight I went with whole-wheat elbow macaroni, chickpeas, tomatoes, and broccoli. Here’s a “recipe” for tonight’s dinner (I’m using that term loosely, since actual recipes usually include measurements and stuff.)

Pasta With Raw Tomatoes and Broccoli

Ingredients:

Whole grain pasta of your choice (maybe half a pound?)

1 can chickpeas, drained

Small head broccoli, chopped

3 or more cloves garlic, minced

Tomatoes (I used small yellow plum tomatoes and a big red beefsteak), diced

  1. Combine the garlic and tomatoes in a bowl with some salt and pepper. Let them sit while you prep everything else.
  2. Cook the pasta according to package directions. During the last 2-3 minutes of cooking, add the broccoli. When it’s done cooking, ladle off some pasta water and add it to the tomato-garlic mixture (this warms the tomatoes and makes it easier to toss). Drain the pasta.

    Sometimes there is pasta in the pasta water.

    Sometimes there is pasta in the pasta water.

  3. Toss the chickpeas, pasta and broccoli, and the tomatoes in a big bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add some fresh basil or parsley if you have it! (I didn’t.) Gobble it up!
Not gonna lie: I ate a lot of this.

Not gonna lie: I ate a lot of this.

I followed dinner with a tiny bit of dark chocolate. And that’s my day, folks! I recorded a good one for you, just to be clear. There are plenty that involve eating chips on my way home from work because my job is depressing sometimes, and others that feature wine and take-out Thai food, but I always strive for one like this. Aside from my after-work tortilla chips and salsa, it was pretty low on processed foods, including cooking oil. I’m always amazed at how many calories oil adds to a dish! Every time I cut it out, I drop a few pounds. If you want to learn more about why oil is not great for you, check out Forks Over Knives. The film is eye-opening and they have some super recipes on the website. Anyway, my point as always is that with a little planning, a healthy diet isn’t that hard.

To your health!

Easy Peasy Pilaf

Spring is a funny time of year in Pittsburgh. It’s either blazing hot and humid or cold and drizzly, and it’s nearly impossible to predict when the weather will change. So some days are worthy of light salads and avocado toast and bowls of strawberries, and other days I end up curled up under blankets with a bowl of soup bubbling on the stove and something toasty in the oven.

I know I haven’t posted in a while; my attention has been on crafty projects rather than writing, including a rag rug I started more than a year ago, as well as making progress on an embroidered tablecloth I started when I was 10 or 12 or something. I figure I’ll finish that by the time my grandkids are in college (optimism!)

I have been doing my usual experimenting in the kitchen, of course with my usual mixed results. Over the winter my manfriend and I discovered The Great British Baking Show on PBS and were immediately hooked. This inspired some wonderful, tasty, cold-weather experiments, including a savory pie that leaked, but was delicious and somehow free of the dreaded soggy bottom:

Pie! Tender pastry filled with layers of carrot, peas, and something tomato-based that hemorrhaged out the side.

Pie! Tender pastry filled with layers of carrot, peas, and something tomato-based that hemorrhaged out the side.

I also made Irish soda bread that was dense and leaden but had a pleasantly crunchy crust, and more recently I attempted pizza in spite of my fear of yeast doughs. It was shockingly easy and turned out great. If you want my recipe, go to Aldi and buy some instant yeast. That’s what I used, the yeast package recipe and jarred sauce.

Pre-oven: mushroom and walnut whole-wheat pizza

Pre-oven: mushroom and walnut whole-wheat pizza

Baked, sprinkled with lots of fresh basil.

Baked, sprinkled with lots of fresh basil.

And finally last weekend I made crepes filled with fresh strawberries, mango, and banana, drizzled with homemade vegan chocolate ganache, which were a lot of work, but positively scrummy, as Mary Berry would say. We inhaled the crepes before I could photograph them. They weren’t pretty anyway.

All of those recipes are still works in progress and decidedly too wintery for June (except the crepes), so allow me to share today’s one-pot healthy cheap-tastic meal that required few ingredients and minimal time at the stove. I’ve got it all packed up for this week’s lunches at work. I might add a side of baby carrots and broccoli to round it out, but more likely I will pack them and not have time to eat them till after work anyway.

Easy Peasy Pilaf

Ingredients:

1c millet (or quinoa, or bulgur, or that 10 minute barley or spelt from TJ’s, or probably steel cut oats would work (if you try that, let me know))

Onion, chopped

Mushrooms, 8-16 oz, sliced (I think I used 1.5 8oz boxes but can’t be sure)

2-2.5c vegetable stock (or water + seasonings)

1c peas (edamame or lima beans would be good too)

3T sesame seeds

1T apple cider or rice vinegar

drizzle of sesame oil

green onions for garnish

1. Start by sauteeing your onion in a saucepan with a little cooking spray or small amount of oil for a few minutes, then add the millet (or other grain) and stir. Let the grain toast, stirring often, for about 5 minutes.

2. Add mushrooms and stir some more. If the grain is starting to get too brown add your stock now. If not, continue to cook the mushroom-millet mixture for a couple minutes, then add the stock.

3. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed. Then stir in the peas, turn off the flame, cover again, and let it stand for at least 5 minutes to cook the peas finish absorbing liquid. You don’t want to overcook them; no one likes mushy peas! If you’re using edamame, you’ll need to add them sooner as they take more time to cook.

4. When your peas are warm and the last of the liquid has been absorbed, stir in the sesame seeds, sesame oil, vinegar, and green onions.

Ready for tomorrow in Tupperware!

Ready for tomorrow in Tupperware!

In other news, you know why green onions are great? They’re yummy and cheap to begin with, keep a long time, are fast and easy to use, and you don’t have to buy them very often because if you put them in a glass of water on your windowsill THEY WILL REGROW!!! Check out my stylish scallion set-up:

I "upcycled" that salsa jar because I am hip and eco-conscious.

I “upcycled” that salsa jar because I am hip and eco-conscious.

In other news, I’ve been doing the Happy Herbivore Yogivore Challenge, which is basically just getting yourself on the mat for a few minutes a day for 21 days. It’s helping a lot with the stiff neck I get from embroidering for hours at a time (I’m determined to finish that tablecloth someday). Plus it’s a not-very-intimidating way for me to get back in shape a little. My desk job doesn’t cut it in that respect; not like chasing children did! Anyway, since you read this far, I’m going to reward you with a picture of my bunny bothering me while I do yoga.

Annabelle thinks yoga time is petting time.

Annabelle thinks yoga time is petting time.

The Nine to Five

For a long time I really didn’t understand why so many people had such a hard time eating healthy food.  I got up every morning, ate a bowl of oatmeal or leftover soup for breakfast, and later cooked a big batch of something for lunch and packed a portion up for dinner at work.  Once or twice a week on my night off, I’d make a nice dinner for my manfriend, complete with dessert (usually something decadent from Chocolate Covered Katie).  I mean, yeah, I snacked on popcorn or crackers after work most nights, and would have a beer or some chocolate if my shift was stressful, but all it took was a little time and planning to make mostly healthy choices.  I secretly thought that the rest of America was just lazy.  Sorry guys.

This was my routine for years, from the time I was a Brooklyn nanny working after school, to when I moved to Pittsburgh and took an evening shift call center job. I usually worked part-time and although I didn’t have many evenings free to be social, I did have a lot of time to cook and experiment in the kitchen. Fast forward to this February, when I accepted a new position at my job that requires me to work mostly during the day.  I have some flexibility, but it’s a basic Monday through Friday, 9am-5pm job.

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This is Annabelle. I wish she liked cooking from this book as much as she likes eating the cover.

My routine is entirely different now and I don’t have it all figured out yet.  I get up every morning and make coffee and a big green smoothie.  I was beefing it up with a great protein powder from Arbonne for a while, but that’s not currently an option for various reasons, so now I’m adding oatmeal and a handful of almonds to give it staying power.  Lunch at work is usually leftovers or some basic grain/bean/veg combo, the usual stuff I make, although I do occasionally succumb to ordering in.  And dinner is where I struggle.  No matter what I eat for lunch or if I take an afternoon snack, I seem to always come home half-starved and ravenous.  So I snack.  Popcorn, cereal, leftovers, junk food…and by the time dinner time rolls around, I’m too full to cook (a reverse from when I got home and was too hungry to cook).  So I skip dinner and around 8 or so I realize I don’t have anything to take for tomorrow’s lunch and hastily throw a meal together.  It’s usually curried lentils or split pea soup, both of which I’m horrifically bored with, by the way.

I get it now!  This is why people don’t cook all the time.  You’re too tired and you forget to soak the beans before leaving for work and you end up making ramen and scrambled eggs for dinner or ordering sushi delivery, and then don’t pack a lunch and order Chipotle at work then next day.  I get it, I was totally spoiled.  So that brings me to this question:  What do we do about it?

Seriously, what are your strategies for cooking healthy meals on a busy schedule?  Share your wisdom with me, internet friends!

Here’s another picture of my bunny to reward you for your tips:

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Buddha Bowl

This week’s lunch has been the usual improvisation: What do I have, and how can I combine it so it tastes good?

Starting with starches, I almost always have some cooked brown rice on hand, which is the basis for such a wide variety of dishes.

Next come vegetables. I have some basics like carrots and celery, as well as loads of kale (it was on sale!) and some raw beets.

I also need something proteiny and some flavor. My options were a little limited this week as I had only dry beans and no time to cook them, and very few nuts. I do always have peanut butter and some frozen peas, which I think are the most budget-friendly and convenient sources of protein you can get, aside from lentils and split peas which still have to be cooked.

So let’s get cooking! I decided to forgo the peas since I had some in my oatmeal for breakfast, and whip up some peanut sauce. Three birds, one stone: Flavor + protein + healthy fats.

Beets and carrots were quickly run through the grating disk on my food processor and tossed with a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and a little salt to make my favorite Easy Beet Salad.

I steamed a couple of stemmed and torn leaves of kale in the microwave in my Tupperwave Stack Cooker, but a covered glass or ceramic dish will also do the trick.

I simply layered the kale, brown rice and peanut sauce on a plate (use a big bowl, it will be easier to stir), and put a hefty serving of beet salad on the side, thinking it wouldn’t be great with peanut sauce. I was wrong; it was pretty good with peanut sauce. There you go, beets are a peanut butter food! Also topped the whole mess with some scallions, since onions are both delicious and good for your heart.

 

I ate half of it before I remembered to take a picture.

I ate half of it before I remembered to take a picture.

Since this is lacking a bean or tofu, I wondered what the actual protein content would be, since folks seem to be obsessed with where vegetarians get their protein. Plugged the ingredients into Google, and based on 1 cup each of rice and vegetables, plus two tablespoons of peanut butter, you end up with around 18g of protein, about a third of what a woman my size needs for the day. Not bad, right?

 

PS – I’ve been eating black bean soup for dinner at work all week.  In case anyone wanted the recipe, you can find a version of it here.

2 Meals, 1 Pan

In the interest of using up some leftovers today, I happily created both my lunch to eat at home and dinner to carry to work. In the fridge I found some already chopped onions and peppers as well a box of sliced button mushrooms that needed to be used up before they turned slimy. Additionally, I had a ton of leftover couscous and some lentil soup that I was getting tired of eating. So into the skillet it goes!

Saute until lightly browned and the mushrooms release their juices:
1 small onion, sliced
1/2 box of sliced mushrooms
about 3/4 cup of sliced bell peppers

Add:
2 ladles full of lentil soup, draining off as much of the broth as possible
Heat through.

For lunch at home, I served it over some of that couscous with half of a diced avocado (they were on sale this week for $.49!) and a generous scoop of salsa. An apple for dessert and I’m all set!

For dinner at work, I mixed it with the rest of the avocado and used it with a dollop of garlic hummus to top a microwaved sweet potato.

Yummmm… who says healthy eating is hard?

Simple Skillet Suppers

If last winter was the winter of soup, this is the winter of the skillet.  All my meals lately seem to consist of whatever vegetables I have lying around tossed in a skillet and lightly seasoned.  Some of these meals turn out better than others for sure, but what I am really liking about them is how quickly they come together.  No need to simmer for hours at a time, hovering around near the kitchen lest it scorch or boil over.  Takes about 25 minutes if you chop as you go like I do (a good chef wouldn’t recommend that, but I’m not a chef, so there!)  Here’s one that was particularly delicious.

Southwest Skillet

Ingredients:

2 medium red or other potato (not russets, they fall apart), scrubbed and diced

1 onion, diced

8 oz package mushrooms, sliced

1 large green bell pepper, diced

1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained

1/4-1/2 cup your favorite salsa

salt and pepper to taste

1.  In a large non-stick skillet over medium-high flame, heat enough water to cover the bottom.  Add the onions and potatoes, cover and cook about 5 minutes.

2.  Add the mushrooms and cook uncovered for 5 minutes.

3.  Add the pepper, cover and cook 5 more minutes, adding a little more water if it’s starting to stick.

4.  Finally, add the beans and salsa, give it a good stir and heat through.  Depending on how big you chopped your potatoes, you may need a little more time with the lid on to get them cooked through.

What I liked most about this meal was its versatility.  It made an excellent reheat-able dinner at work, for one thing.  My boyfriend topped it with cheese and wrapped it in a tortilla, and I think he also added some kolbassy when I wasn’t home to wrinkle my nose at it.  I ate the last of it for breakfast today, topped with a fried egg.

Also, the variations are endless!  I’m seeing another version with sweet potatoes, red pepper, and black beans, finished with a squeeze of orange juice and maybe a handful of baby spinach. Yum.  Last week I made one with potatoes, leftover roasted squash, an apple, and some cabbage, finished with lemon juice.  Trust me, that one was much better than it sounds 😉