Mexican Egg Breakfast Sandwich

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These icy temperatures are relentless. Is it just me, or has this winter been colder, longer and more of a bummer than those in the past? It seems like the whole country has been beaten and battered by the ugly bully named winter. Isn’t it technically spring? I just want to see some tulips and daffodils in the tree lawns already!

One of the biggest struggles I’ve had this winter is just getting out of bed in the morning. My bed is just so warm and cozy, and 5:30am is just way too early for me these days. It really takes every ounce of willpower to leave my bed when it’s so dark and cold, but alas, such is life, and this is definitely a first world problem. But as a lifelong morning person who has avoided caffeine for most of her life, I now understand those coffee addicts that wait in line at Starbucks for 30 minutes every day.

Since I don’t feel “awake” until long after I’ve left my bed even though my eyes are open, I’ve started relying entirely on my breakfasts to fuel me through my mornings. I’ve found a need for instant carb energy and long-lasting protein energy, with just enough good fats to get my brain working. Using this Weight Watchers recipe as a starting point, I added more veggies and a sprinkle of cheese to make a satisfying and balanced breakfast sandwich that is sure to carry you through your morning.

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Mexican Egg Breakfast Sandwich
Serves: 6 (see notes)
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: <5 minutes

Ingredients
2 sprays cooking spray
6 eggs
4 egg whites (I recommend pre-separated liquid egg whites)
3 Tbsp scallions, sliced
1/4 cup bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 light English muffins, sliced in half
6 Tbsp reduced fat cheddar cheese
3 Tbsp fat free salsa

  1. Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat, and coat with cooking spray.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, egg whites, scallions, bell pepper, onion, cilantro, salt and pepper until well combined. Pour into skillet and cook, scrambling until set (see notes). Remove from heat.
  3. Divide scrambled eggs evenly on top of the English muffin bottoms. Sprinkle 1 Tbsp of cheese on top of the eggs, and repeat for all English muffins. Spread 1/2 Tbsp of salsa on the inside of each English muffin top. Close sandwich, and serve warm.

Notes:
This recipe can be really simply cut down to 1 or 2 servings for a quick breakfast-on-the-go. If you are making single servings and have a small egg skillet, you can pour the egg mixture into that, and instead of scrambling, cook the eggs without stirring for 2 minutes, flip, and cook for 2 additional minutes to form an egg patty.
For an easy grab-and-go weekday breakfast, make all 6 sandwiches, wrap each individually in wax paper, and freeze for up to 7 days. When ready to eat, microwave for 1-2 minutes, or until heated through.

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Spinach Pesto

20140317-093552.jpgHappy St. Patrick’s Day! I wore a green headband to work, just in case anyone is in the pinching mood. 🙂 Does it also count that I’ll be eating a lot of green things today? Yes? Okay, then we’re good.

When you’re a kid, green foods can go one of two ways. Either it’s super gross (I mean, cooked spinach is kind of slimy and weird looking), or it’s really cool (remember when they made green ketchup??). When I was young, my mom would get super into all themed holidays, and St. Patrick’s Day was a really fun one. She used to put green food coloring in everything. Our cereal milk was green, and our lunches would have sandwiches in green bread, and we would eat green cookies after school. My mom loved anything with a theme, and any reason to celebrate, so if she had an excuse to dye everything green for one day, she took it.

That kind of stuff is fun for kids, but as an adult, it would probably be weird to put green food coloring in my lunch bag and bring it to work. Instead, I had an early St. Patrick’s celebration this weekend with green pasta and pizza!

Guys, I’m a pesto junkie. It’s so nutty and robust in flavor. I just can’t even right now. But, homemade pesto requires a ton of fresh basil, and it isn’t all that healthy — traditional pesto recipes sneak in a lot of fat in the form of oil, cheese and pine nuts. By reducing the amount of cheese and oil; substituting the rich pine nuts with almonds and the basil with spinach; and adding in broth and lemon juice, this recipe has a ton of flavor without ruining your diet. Not to mention, this sauce takes minutes to make. It’s so delicious that it didn’t even last a full day when I made it this weekend! After tossing it with some whole wheat penne at lunch time, the boys and I made mini flatbread pizzas for dinner, and the pesto pizza was a huge hit!

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The pesto flatbread pizza is the slice on the right — it is topped with spinach, onions, mushrooms and Weight Watchers Italian blend cheese. Also pictured is a veggie flatbread pizza with red sauce, and a mango salad.

You can  also put this pesto on your favorite sandwich, or drizzle it over a fresh caprese salad.

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Spinach Pesto
Preparation Time: <5 minutes
Cooking Time: <5 minutes
Serves: 8

Ingredients
2 cups fresh baby spinach
2 Tbsp plain almonds, sliced
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
4 Tbsp basil
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup low sodium vegetable broth
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated

  1. Place spinach in a large microwave-safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave on high for 2 minutes, or until wilted.
  2. Add spinach, almonds, garlic, basil, Italian seasoning, red pepper, salt, and pepper to a blender or food processor, and chop until very fine and combined.
  3. Scrape down the sides of the vessel and pour in vegetable broth and lemon juice. Blend on low until well combined and uniform.
  4. Slowly blend olive oil into the spinach mixture until fully incorporated.
  5. Transfer pesto to a bowl, and stir in cheese. Adjust for salt and pepper, and serve.

Note: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week, and in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Tip: make a big batch and store leftovers, 1 tablespoon at a time, in ice cube trays. Pop them out and defrost as many as needed for future recipes.

Scrambled Tofu with Spinach and Tomatoes

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Fact: I could never, ever be vegan. I have immense respect for any vegan (or lactose intolerant person) because I would probably cry myself to sleep every night if I couldn’t eat cheese. It’s the best.

The above statement has nothing to do with the rest of this post, but I thought the world should know.

Anyway, I’ve had a turbulent relationship with eggs in the past. I’ll go through these phases where I think eggs are the best ever, and then suddenly, I’ll never want to even smell an egg ever again. It’s a strange problem, but alas, such is my life. I’ve been reading a lot of recipes for tofu as a scrambled egg substitute, so I thought I’d try my hand at it. And it is good! This dish has a similar texture to “wet” scrambled eggs, and can accommodate for a lot of great flavors and add-ins, without having that “eggy” taste. And a big bonus here: this recipe takes less than 10 minutes, and can be made in advance! Woohoo!

Want to make this dish even more filling? Grab a couple of whole wheat or corn tortillas and make a breakfast taco. Heat up some black beans to throw into the taco to make an even more satisfying any-time-of-day-meal.
Want more add-ins? Try plain or roasted corn, plain or roasted red peppers, caramelized mushrooms, salsa, avocado, kale, taco seasoning, or brie.
Want to make it more vegan? Use nutritional yeast or vegan cheese instead of regular cheese.
Can’t commit to tofu? Use half the amount of tofu, and add 2 eggs for scrambling.
Really skeptical about tofu? Nix the tofu all together, and use eggs as you normally would. But really, just give tofu a chance!

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Scrambled Tofu with Spinach and Tomatoes
Serves: 4
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients
1 package firm tofu, drained and rinsed with excess water pressed out
2 tsp olive oil
1 medium red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup reduced fat cheddar cheese
1 Tbsp whole grain Dijon mustard
1 tsp paprika or mild chili powder
Hot sauce, or to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup spinach, roughly chopped

  1. In a large skillet, heat oil on medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes.
  2. While crumbling with hands, add tofu to skillet. Use the edge of a wooden spoon to break up the tofu into smaller crumbles until it resembles scrambled eggs. (If using eggs, add them in now and scramble them up!)
  3. Add cheese, mustard, paprika, hot sauce, salt and pepper to the tofu, and stir continuously until cheese melts.
  4. Remove skillet from heat and toss in tomatoes and spinach. Stir until spinach wilts. Serve hot.

Note: For a make ahead meal, prepare this recipe through Step 3. Line the bottom of a lidded container with spinach, and pour hot tofu mixture over it. Place tomatoes on top, cool completely, cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.

Papas Con Chile (Mexican Mashed Potatoes)

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Nearby to my house, there’s a Mexican restaurant that serves these awesome mashed potatoes as a side to their dishes. Suffice it to say, they are positively addicting. They are creamy, and cheesy, but still a little crunchy with the addition of finely chopped veggies. Also, I’ve never seen these potatoes anywhere else, so it makes me wonder if they are truly Mexican. Oh well. They are delicious, and that’s all that matters.

I will warn you though: these definitely aren’t diet friendly. But hey, we all need to splurge some times. And if you balance these potatoes with a salad or fajita veggies on the side, you can have a pretty nutritious and delicious meal. Also, this dish can be thrown together in minutes, which makes it a great side dish for entertaining!

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Papas Con Chile (Mexican Mashed Potatoes)
Serves: 8
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients
3 lbs. red potatoes, washed, with skins on
3 oz fat free cream cheese
1/2 cup reduced fat cream
1/4 cup fat free sour cream
10 oz. Velveeta 2% milk cheese, cubed
Salt, to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup green onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp jalapeno, minced

  1. Boil potatoes with skin on until soft.
  2. In a large pot over low heat, add potatoes, cheeses, and creams and mash until cheese has melted. Stir in remaining ingredients until fully incorporated, and heat on low, stirring occasionally, until evenly heated through.

 

 

Mixed Vegetable Soup

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Guys, can we be for real for a second? Vegetables aren’t all that tasty, and it’s okay to admit it. They can be bland, or bitter, or in desperate need of cheese and salt (I’m looking at you, broccoli), and while they might be super healthy, they aren’t necessarily what I crave. That being said, I’m in a perpetual state of needing to incorporate more vegetables into my diet. I know, I know, I’m a vegetarian, but really, it’s fairly easy to exist entirely on carbs… yummy, delicious, carby carbs. mmm….

Anyway, when I came across a recipe on Weight Watchers for a broth-based vegetable soup, I was hesitant. I’ve never been a fan of most broth-based and/or mixed vegetable soups (bring on the broccoli cheddar!) but I thought this would be a nice challenge for myself. Worst case, I reaffirm my dislike for most vegetables and I move on. Also, I faintly remember my mom going on and on about this “amazing” 0 Point (now 1 Point on the Points Plus program) soup — I was skeptical then too, especially after the horrific fruit and veggies smoothie she made for me and Kunal one afternoon. Somehow, she and my dad loved those smoothies and many of her other healthy food recipes, but Kunal and I could NOT get on board. But, I figured, mom must’ve had a point, so I went along with it.

And boy, was she right. It is flavorful, hearty, and filling. On a cold day like today, it is perfectly warm, but not at all heavy. I wouldn’t go so far to say that I am reformed and suddenly I love raw kale and want to eat Swiss chard with every meal, but I will say that I have found the perfect way to incorporate tons of veggies into my diet in a really simple, concise way.

A tip before I get started with the recipe — feel free to modify the list of vegetables that I put forth to your tastes, as well as whatever is accessible and in season. I modified the original Weight Watchers recipe to my tastes and I’m really glad that I did. I would recommend using more fibrous vegetables (eg. root vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower) and leafy greens that will wilt nicely, as there is quite a bit of simmering time involved in this recipe. Vegetables that easily get mushy or break apart won’t hold up in the cooking process, but if you really want those veggies, add them in about halfway through the simmering stage to cook them through.

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Mixed Vegetable Soup
Serves: 12 (~1 cup per serving)
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients (see notes)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups uncooked baby spinach, roughly chopped
2 cups uncooked Swiss chard, roughly chopped
2 cups uncooked cauliflower, small florets
2 cups uncooked broccoli, small florets
1 medium uncooked onion, diced
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
2 Tbsp Italian seasoning
6 cups reduced sodium vegetable broth
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp black pepper, or to taste
2-3 Tbsp lemon juice, or to taste

  • Put garlic, vegetables, and broth into a large soup pot, and stir to mix. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to low and simmer, partly covered, about 10 minutes. (see notes)
  • Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Notes:
You can save a lot of time by using frozen vegetables too!
I like to stir my soup every couple minutes to make sure it is cooking evenly.

 

 

Lemon Potato-Cilantro

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When I was little, my parents used to take my brother and me to their favorite Middle Eastern restaurant, and I would cry and cry and cry. Really, the only parts of the restaurant that I liked were the ceiling lamps that looked like Smarties chocolates and the 7-layer chocolate cake. Somehow, I always worked my parents over and they allowed me to eat cake for dinner if I ate half an order of hummus. It was a pretty okay deal, in retrospect.

Since then, a lot has changed. I still find hummus to be of a weird texture, and unless it’s super creamy and rich, I can’t jump on the hummus-is-the-best-ever superfood bandwagon that seems to be popular right now. But, I have grown to like more Middle Eastern foods beyond chocolate cake.

One dish at our local Middle Eastern literally makes me salivate just at the thought: potato cilantro. It’s incredibly simple in its ingredients: just potatoes and cilantro, as the name suggest, with lemon juice, garlic, oil and salt. But the flavors are complex and varied, creating this juicy-yet-creamy combination that is just divine. This dish makes for a perfect side dish to falafel or kebabs, or if you’re like me and you make a huge portion, a meal!

Lemon Potato-Cilantro
Serves: 4
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:
4 large Russet potatoes, washed, dried and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (peeling is optional)
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 tsp salt, or more to taste
1 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped, and stems discarded
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp lemon juice

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Toss potatoes with 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1/2 tsp salt until potatoes are completely and evenly coated. Arrange cubed potatoes on a baking sheet in a single layer, and bake for 8 minutes. Flip, and bake for 6 more minutes, or until the tops are brown and crispy, and the potatoes can be pierced with a fork with no resistance.
  3. In the meantime, heat remaining oil in a saute pan on medium heat. Add garlic and saute until slightly fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add chopped cilantro to the saute pan, and saute until wilted.
  5. Reduce heat medium-low and add lemon juice and remaining salt (or more, to taste) and simmer, stirring frequently until the mixture thickens slightly.
  6. Remove potatoes from the oven, and add to saute pan. Stir lemon “sauce” and potatoes until potatoes are completely coated. Serve hot.

 

Chole (Spicy Chickpeas)

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Where oh where have I been? The past few weeks have been crazy, crazy, crazy. Between traveling for work and pleasure, and having my wonderful dad visit me last week, I’ve been more like a chicken with its head cut off than anything else. Fortunately, things are much more stable from this week forward, and other than a handful of social engagements throughout the week, I’m more or less home. Thank goodness!

My dad is an amazing person, FYI. He is kind and sweet and incredibly smart. He also has the patience of a saint, which is so great and possibly necessary, given his somewhat high maintenance children. I love when he visits me because it gives me a chance to spoil him with some home-cooked yums, and he’s a pretty honest critic.

For as long as I can remember, my dad has struggled with his weight and diet. But recently, he met with his cousin’s daughter, Shweta, (my third cousin? my second cousin, once removed?) who happens to be a highly trained dietitian and nutritionist, who specializes in vegetarian and vegan diets, and she provided him with a long list of foods and exercises that he should do to reduce his weight and to improve his overall health. Yesterday, my dad bought all of the grocery items that Shweta recommended to him, and I am so proud of him for following through with this plan. I couldn’t be more inspired by him and the steps he is taking to improve his health and life. I can’t wait to hear about his progress, and to both encourage and learn from him every step of the way.

During my dad’s visit, I wanted to help kick start his healthy lifestyle. I also wanted to make him something warm and comforting, and for him, nothing is warmer or more comforting than spicy, yummy Indian food. One of the easiest yet most delicious and nutritious meals is chole (also known as chana masall, a spicy chickpea dish with tomatoes, onions and lemon. Chole makes me nostalgic for my grandma’s house, where we would order the world’s best chole (at least, the best in my world) from a local restaurant. My dad says that the recipe from Creme Centre hasn’t changed at all in his lifetime, and the every bite of chole is just as delicious as his first. mm mmm, so yummy. I paired the chole with roti (thin whole wheat bread), basmati rice and aamras (sweet mango pulp), as well as seasoned chopped onions and extra lemon juice. If you’re lucky like me, your grandma sends you partially cooked roti from India that requires very little work to cook through. Otherwise, you can find a simple recipe for roti here. Side note: leftovers taste even more amazing, so I suggest making a huge pot and eating chole throughout the week, like I did! 🙂

Chole
Serves: 6
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 medium onions, minced, plus extra for garnish
1 fresh, hot green chili pepper, minced
1 Tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp red chili powder or ground cayenne pepper, or more or less to taste
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp amchoor (see note)
2 Tbsp chana masala seasoning (see note)
1 15-oz can tomato puree 2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon, plus extra for garnish

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion and cumin, and sauté over medium heat until golden, about 2-3 minutes.
  2. Turn heat down to medium-low and add the green chili, coriander, red chili powder, turmeric and chana masala seasoning. Cook onion mixture with spiced for a minute or two, or until onions are browned.
  3. Add the tomato puree and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, then stir in salt and lemon juice. Serve with roti and/or rice, and garnish with onions and lemon juice.

Notes:
Amchoor, or mango powder, adds sourness and fruitiness to a dish without adding juice or liquid. It is available at most Indian grocers and many specialty spice stores. Extra lemon juice can be added as a substitute.
Chana masala seasoning is available at most Indian grocers as a prepared, shelf-stable blend of spices. This is an easy way to get all of the ingredient necessary for the dish without breaking the bank. I use the Badshah brand for most of my spice blends. If you’d like to make your own blend, here’s a recipe that you can follow.