Move over, McMuffin

You can taste it, can't you?

You can taste it, can’t you?

This sandwich (and all possible variations of it) is an absolute staple in my diet.  Since I try to steer clear of sodium-loaded packaged deli-meat and strive for an almost vegetarian lifestyle during the week, eggs and egg whites are a popular source of protein in my quick everyday meals. Perfect for breakfast or lunch, the five minute prep is the same (if not less) than that wait in the drive through to spend a few bucks on a sub-par fast food egg sandwich.  Whole grains in the bread + protein in the egg and cheese + good fat in the avocado + fiber, iron and other minerals in the spinach = well-balanced perfection. Did I mention it tastes down-right fantastic? I make several different versions but my favorites tend to be either this Tex-Mex spin or an Italian/Greek flavor (sun dried tomatoes, feta, pesto). I also switch around between all egg whites or one whole egg, and also sometimes use regular whole wheat bread in place of the English muffin. Why not take a break from that boring bowl of cereal for your morning meal or that monotonous turkey sandwich for lunch and try it out?

Ingredients

1 whole wheat English muffin

1/4 – 1/3 c liquid egg whites

1/2 – 1 oz EXTRA sharp cheddar, sliced or shredded

1/3 medium avocado

Handful of fresh spinach

S&P/garlic powder/cumin/chili powder

chopped fresh green onion

chopped fresh cilantro

Choice of salsa

Directions
While toasting the muffin, pour the egg whites in a small bowl (the size of the muffin is best so it fits nicely) sprayed with cooking spray.  Add seasonings, green onion, cilantro, and top with cheese.  Microwave on high to desired doneness (maybe 45-60 seconds).  Spread the avocado on one side of the toasted muffin, top with spinach, salsa, and cooked cheesy-egg mixture. Eat up and enjoy!

Lemon Basil Spinach Pesto

If I had to choose only one condiment to eat the rest of my life, I’d probably pick pesto.  The original genovese recipe is basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmigiano reggiano, and extra virgin olive oil, but it’s ridiculously versatile and easy to play with different ingredients to make a unique version every time (just don’t tell your Italian grandmother if you decide to stray from tradition). I love it with pasta, sandwiches and wraps, as a base for a salad dressing, or just drizzled on some toasted artisan bread.  Actually having been to the region where it was first invented in Italy and tasting the true authenticity of it there was an amazing experience.  I have tried a few times in the past to grow a small basil plant to supply my never-ending cravings, but my apartment patios’s low sunlight just doesn’t cooperate.  I visited my sister and brother-in-law this past weekend, and I always take advantage of their bounty of fresh basil in their annoyingly perfect garden.  Of course I used it right away, and to make it stretch a little (and up the superfood factor) I added a couple handfuls of spinach.  Another fun tweak I did was to replace the pine nuts with my favorite Blue Diamond almonds that are rosemary black pepper flavored.  This recipe is also lighter than many jarred brands because some of the liquid is water and lemon juice instead of way too much oil.  I like my pesto more paste-like and not too runny, but feel free to adjust the amount of liquid to reach your preferred consistency.

Ingredients

1 cup fresh basil leaves

2 cups fresh spinach

1-2 garlic cloves

3 T rosemary black pepper almonds (or plain)

2 T lemon juice

2 T water

3 T extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano (sharper than parmesan)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

In a food processor, combine basil, spinach, garlic, lemon, and almonds and chop until there are no large leaves or chunks of garlic.  Add the water and oil a little at a time until the consistency is how you want.  Add the cheese, salt, and pepper and pulse to combine.
IMG_3715

BBQ Sweet Potato Chip Nachos

Call me crazy, but these three glorious things good on their own came together as one incredible unit of major flavor that can still be enjoyed guilt-free.  This was one of those nights when I didn’t really have a real meal prepped or even thought up in advance, and it was already getting pretty late.  I knew I wanted to watch the NBA finals game, so of course my mind and cravings went straight to sports-related unhealthy snacking food perfect for vegging out on the couch. After looking in every cabinet and fridge drawer, I somehow managed to put this concoction together in my mind and immediately ran with it.  I’ve been having a recent obsession with combining two of my favorite flavors – sweet potato and BBQ – and it never turns out bad. Why not eat an entire plate’s worth of sweet potato chips (but just from one medium potato), top it with some tasty vegetables and cheese, and call it dinner?

Ingredients

1 small/medium sweet potato

1 T olive oil

Spices of choice to taste for chips (I did S&P, cumin, garlic powder, Adobo blend, truvia)

1/2 small onion, sliced thin or chopped

1/2 bell pepper, chopped (any color)

1/3 c chopped red cabbage

1/2 oz shredded reduced fat sharp cheddar

1/2 oz shredded part-skim mozzarella

1/2 oz reduced fat feta crumbles

1-2 T BBQ sauce

1 green onion, chopped

Handful of chopped fresh cilantro

Directions
Preheat oven to 425 (I started here and ended up turning down to 400 towards the end to try to keep them from burning too quickly). After washing potatoes, slice uniformly with a mandolin on almost the thinnest setting.  You want them to crisp up but be able to hold the toppings. Rinse with water to remove some of the starch and dry thoroughly.  Place potatoes in a gallon ziploc and add 1/2 T olive oil.  Close and shake the bag to coat evenly.  Add spices and shake again.  Spread out onto one or two sprayed baking pans in a single layer and bake for 15-20 minutes, keeping an eye on them and flipping halfway.  Heat the other 1/2 T oil in a skillet over low/medium heat.  Add onion and seasonings (I did same as chip flavorings) and let caramelize a few minutes.  Add peppers and cook another couple of minutes.  Finally add the cabbage right at the end just to soften it a bit.  In a microwavable bowl, add all the cooked veggies, BBQ sauce, and mix of cheeses.  Microwave on high 30-45 seconds or until cheese is melted and BBQ sauce is warm.  Arrange the sweet potato chips on a plate (yes, ALL those are for you) and top with cheesy BBQ veggie mixture.  Top with fresh green onions and cilantro and sit down to a seemingly unhealthy, “snack-y” meal full of chips and cheese that’s actually good for you! After all, the sweet potato has been deemed “the perfect food.” Don’t feel bad for eating nachos for dinner because in reality it’s tons of vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and healthy fats!

P.S. You might need a fork 🙂

After

After

Before

Before

Snacks for Success

I’m a big fan of snacking.  I was always that girl in school with the lunch box or backpack full of countless Ziplocs of healthy snacks to fuel those never-ending days of volleyball away games or night band practices.  You would not find me spending money at the concession stand or vending machine (since when are nachos a good pre-game fuel anyway?) buying an after-school “snack” that had more than enough calories to count as a meal but lacked any kind of balanced nutrition. To this day, I usually throw something quick together in the morning before I head out, so I’m never without a healthy nosh for in between cycling class, chemistry lab, or long hours at the library. Snacking the right way is so important to keep your metabolism humming throughout the day instead of overloading your system only two or three times a day to feel bloated and full then sluggish and hungry.  Eating smaller amounts every 3-4 hours will keep energy levels up, your brain happier and functioning at its peak with fresh glucose, and you won’t have to endure the desperate stomach growls nagging with unhealthy cravings.  If you are into counting calories, I’ve found it’s best to try to keep your snacks around 150-250 calories (keep in mind your level of workouts and if additional protein or carbs are important to you).  This will keep you satisfied and give you energy to last until a meal a couple hours later.  It’s also good to think about a balance of protein, carbs, and fats in your snacks just like you would for meals.  Whenever you can, focus your snack around a fruit or vegetable to amp up your daily count.  I thought I’d give you some snacking inspiration and make a list of some of my go-to foods.

Sweet 

Apple or banana with 1 T nut butter

Smoothie with milk (I use unsweetened almond) and frozen fruit (plus any other healthy add-ins you want)

Smart Pop popcorn 100 calorie mini bag kettle corn with cinnamon and 1 T dark chocolate chips

1/2 c nonfat plain Greek yogurt with fresh berries and a few chopped walnuts

1 orange with 1/2 serving cocoa roast almonds (Emerald brand)

Salty

Carrots and broccoli and any flavored hummus

1 piece of toast with mashed avocado and dash of Siracha or salsa (if you need more calories top with a fried egg or egg whites- SO good)

6 Triscuits (recently obsessed with the new sweet potato/onion flavor) and light string cheese or Laughing Cow cheese

1 serving Blue Diamond Habenero BBQ almonds (another new obsession)

Smart Pop popcorn 100 calorie mini bag butter flavor with a sprinkle of parmesan and italian herbs

1 small corn or wheat flour tortilla filled with avocado, sharp cheddar, and salsa

Becoming a Pizza Pro

If I’ve ever had you over for a food get-together of sorts, chances are I’ve made my homemade pizzas the main event.  Ever since my sister and I traveled to Italy two years ago, my hunger for artisan pizza and how to perfect it has been a never-ending project.  Since good, authentic pizza is one of my top comfort foods, I never get tired of it.  I’ve never made a pizza that let me down, and I always leave the night with a fresh appreciation for interesting flavor combos, a new level of perfectly blistered crust, and surrounded by happy people I love.  Many people think of homemade pizza-making as something beyond what’s possible with their limited kitchen experience or simply are fine leaving such a seemingly daunting task to one of their foodie friends.  I’m here to tell you that you can have the confidence to create a beautiful night of imperfectly perfect pizza that you can proudly deem “from-scratch.” Another tasteful and healthful benefit of making your own pizza is you know exactly what’s going into it as opposed to the mysteries of sodium-loaded (yet still bland) sauce, piles and piles of cheese (low quality mozzarella trying to cover up sub-par toppings), and dough that wasn’t hand-kneaded just hours before eating (like yours will be).  Trust me, it’s worth it.

Now onto some of the pizza making tips that really take it to the next level.

1. HEAT! Seriously, this is what makes a pizza great.  If you go to any pizzeria, those ovens are usually close to 1000 degrees and the pies get flash-baked for less than three minutes.  So unless you’re cooler than me and have your own wood-fired pizza oven in your backyard, your kitchen’s oven can be maxed out to give you that perfect pizzeria crust.  I have a pizza stone that I really believe is a key player for the perfect crispy crust, but if you don’t want to invest in that for $20 or less, a baking sheet/pan that’s been preheated with your 500 (or as high as it will go) degree oven for about thirty minutes will give you similar results.  I’ve also grilled my pizza which can be even better, and I might make a later post about that as an option.  To maneuver a delicate pizza in and out of that fiery furnace, I recommend a lightly floured with a sprinkle of cornmeal pizza peel (those giant wooden “spatulas”).  Usually ten minutes (max – just check periodically to make sure nothing is burning) or until the crust is lightly charred and the cheese is bubbly.

2. As far as ingredients go, try to resist the urge to load up one pizza with every single topping that you love. Your pizza won’t be able to handle all that love at once and will give you a soggy crust.  When I make pizzas, I typically will have 2-4 different kinds, each with no more than about 3 different toppings. That way, I can experiment with different flavors and try to make all my guests happy.  Since I am a self-proclaimed “flexitarian,” I’m not known to have a meat-lovers pizza, but I do love the occasional splurge on prosciutto or pancetta for my pizzas.  The main thing here is to have fun and play with toppings that YOU like, but don’t be afraid to branch out and try new things.

3. I’m a fan of light sauce.  Again, to not weigh down your beautiful hand-made dough, but also so you can actually taste that dough as well as the individual toppings or maybe that specialty cheese that would otherwise be drowning in sauce.  I usually have a general menu of one tomato sauce-based, one pesto, and one “white” (no sauce – just maybe an herb/oil brush or ricotta base).

Those are essentially the basics! I’m attaching the link to the whole wheat dough that was the first dough I made, and I’ve stuck with it.  Adjustments I make are to usually divide it up into two or three pieces because I’m a fan of thin crust, as well as sometimes freezing the dough balls before I let it rise for a later day.  Then I just take it out about 4-5 hours before to allow thawing and then rising.  Dividing it up can make the same size pizzas, just with the crust being 1/2 or 1/3 as thick.  I also like to mix in a pizza seasoning (basically just S/P and italian herbs).

http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/thin_crust_pizza_dough.html

Here are some of my creations to get you thinking, but I didn’t want to post pizza “recipes,” because that’s the fun of pizza making! It really is an art-form because you create YOUR work with your hands, your imagination, and your friends. If you have any specific questions, just comment on this post, and I’ll try to answer them.

Balsamic fig, prosciutto, fresh arugula, shaved parmesan

Balsamic fig, prosciutto, fresh arugula, shaved parmesan

Ricotta, caramelized onion, lemon-marinated asparagus ribbons

Herbed ricotta, caramelized onion, lemon-marinated asparagus ribbons

Classic Margherita (mozz, tomato, fresh basil)

Classic Margherita (mozz, tomato, fresh basil)

Grilled veggie

Grilled veggie

Ricotta, green apple, prosciutto

Ricotta, green apple, prosciutto

Kale and spinach pesto, sun dried tomatoes, caramelized onion

Kale and spinach pesto, sun dried tomatoes, caramelized onion

Balsamic peach, goat cheese, fresh basil

Balsamic peach, goat cheese, fresh basil

Now go make some pizza. Tonight.