Zebra Print Frittatas

I am all about the breakfast lately.  I’ve written about this before, but when I get a good, healthy start to the day, it’s motivation for me to stay healthy all day.  Basically, I don’t want to have a great breakfast and then screw things up.  I normally eat yogurt with granola and nuts, oatmeal with a bunch of toppings, or those dandy little granola bars I made not too long ago.  But stepping away from the crunchy side of life for a minute, I’ve got another super quick and easy breakfast dish for you today: muffin frittatas.

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This doesn’t look easy, I know.  On early mornings, I can’t even mange to make oatmeal.  The trick to this breakfast, as with all great meals, is planning ahead.  And in this case, making ahead.  But even though there is work involved, they are pretty easy to put together.  I used eight eggs this time and got ten muffins.  I added in red pepper, red onion, scallions, mushrooms, and of course, cheese.

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This is already looking pretty good.

The first time I made these, I just diced, chopped, and stirred everything into the eggs.  They were good, but I started thinking about how much better they would be if I sautéed a few things first.  Now I’m convinced this is the only way to do it.  And what’s not to love about sautéed mushrooms and peppers?

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If you don’t make a mess, you’re not doing it right.

After I had my veggies prepped, I whisked up the eggs in a big bowl, added a tablespoon of baking powder (it makes all the difference – trust me), 1/4 cup of milk, a little salt and pepper, and the vegetables.  After lining the muffin tin with cupcake wrappers, I filled each one and topped with some shredded cheddar, making a fine mess of my tin in the process.  These went into the oven at 350 for about 25 minutes.

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Obviously, zebra print wrappers are a must.

And here they are – cute, delicious, nutritious, and ready to eat in the morning in no time.  All the qualifications of a brilliant breakfast!  They were really puffed up when they came out of the oven, but they deflated as they cooled; the final taste and texture is exactly what you want in eggs.  Try them out!

 

Muffin Frittatas

Ingredients

8 large eggs

4-5 scallions, diced (hint: use kitchen scissors)

1/2-1 red pepper, chopped

1/4-1/2 red onion, diced

1 8-ounce package sliced white mushrooms

1/4 cup milk

1/4-1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon baking powder

Salt and pepper

Cupcake wrappers

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees; line muffin tin with wrappers

2.  Sauté pepper and mushrooms over medium-high heat for about 8 minutes

3. While the pepper and mushrooms cook, whisk eight eggs with milk

4. Stir in mushrooms, peppers, scallions, red onion, baking powder, and salt and pepper to taste

5. Spoon egg mixture into lined muffin tin; top with cheese

6. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes

7. Let cool completely before removing

Word to the wise: if you use a cupcake wrapper with any kind of metallic lining, be sure to take that off before microwaving in the morning!

I hope you enjoy these!  I’m looking forward to experimenting with all different kinds of veggies, but this combo is working pretty well for me right now.  Happy cooking!

The Ingredient Chain

If I had a nickel for every time I said or heard “Grocery budgets are all about planning ahead,” I wouldn’t have to plan anything.  Unfortunately, life is not so simple.  Since I’ve started trying to eat at home most of the time, I’ve developed a real love-hate relationship with planning meals.  I might have a vague idea of what I want, go shop without a list, and then realize I’m missing ingredients, or I might have the fridge and pantry fully stocked only to have my work hijacked by dinners out or busy days turning into exhausted nights when I’m grading papers instead of cooking dinner.  This can be irritating for many reasons, but the main problem for me is that I hate to waste money and food.  I can’t stand having to throw away something that was perfectly good because I forgot to cook it, but what bothers me just as much if not more is having to throw away the leftover food that I didn’t need for a recipe.  It seems like such a waste to have to buy more than I need of something and not have a plan for the rest.  And since grocers tend to frown on you slicing off what you need in the produce department and leaving the rest behind, we need a better idea.

I don’t have all the answers (or so I’m told), but I have recently come up with a kind of a solution to this problem.  This was really just a last-minute epiphany before I went shopping, but with more planning than I put in, it could really become a long-term groove.

It’s getting a little warmer outside (yay!), so I was in the mood for a burger.  Not just any burger, though – a black bean burger.  I have a pretty amazing recipe that includes sweet potatoes, leeks, and lots of spices, and I actually have started to prefer that to a “real” burger.  The problem is that this recipe calls for two tablespoons of finely chopped leaks.  I present to you what you can buy at the grocery store:
IMG_6708Yeah, so not exactly two tablespoons.  I’ve wasted leeks before, but this time I started thinking: what else can I do with them?  Is there a way I can use those leftovers to make another meal?  Well, yeah.  Potato and leek soup.  Just my luck, a five-pound bag of potatoes was on sales for $1.99 this week.  Into the cart they went.

IMG_6712-2But then came the next problem.  I don’t need five pounds of potatoes for soup for two people!  I also have found through trial and error and wasted food that I don’t need five pounds of mashed potatoes for two people.  Problem solved.  I decided to use the leftover potatoes that I didn’t need for the soup made from the leftover leeks to make a smaller batch of mashed potatoes and have it with chicken.

IMG_6716You see where I’m going with this.  You might be thinking “But wait, three chicken breasts for two people doesn’t add up either.”  Well, it doesn’t, but I’ll still cook the third and one of us will eat it for lunch. I usually cook chicken paillard, which is quick and easy, and for that you cut off the tenders.  I’ve used the leftover breast and tenders to make a version of chicken marsala served with rice or GF pasta, or I’ve cooked it and tossed it into a salad.  My point is, I’m not worried about the leftover chicken – it will find a place.

So what’s my point here?  If you can look ahead a few days – realistically look ahead, that is – you can actually plan meals with overlapping ingredients and save money and food.  I first had the idea of cooking the burgers, and when I started considering my leftover ingredients, I let those guide me to my next dinner.  It sounds like a Food Network challenge, doesn’t it?  (You heard it here first.)  In reality, I’m in a stretch of having great meals with just enough left over for lunch the next day and using everything I can.  Let the cycle continue!

What Gluten Free Looks Like

I made the decision to try a gluten free diet about six months ago with great results, but lately I’ve been hearing a lot of criticism of the GF diet.  Let me be clear: I do not have Celiac disease, and I have not been diagnosed with a gluten allergy.  I won’t go through this entire story again, but I learned that gluten (and perhaps more notably the chemicals used to treat wheat) can lead to inflammation, an underlying cause of several issues I’ve dealt with, including horrible sinus problems.  So I decided to try the gluten free diet to see if any of my symptoms let up, and they all did within a few weeks.  I honestly didn’t know I could feel so good, breathe so deeply.  Talk about a new lease on life!

So what’s my problem?  My problem is what I hear on TV, what I read in the newspapers, and what I hear from other people when I mention gluten.  “A gluten free diet is not for everyone.”  “A gluten free diet can be dangerous.”  “Doctors warn against gluten free products.”  When I first started hearing these claims, I listened.  After all, I don’t know everything, and I might have missed something in my research.   But here’s what I found: all of these claims assume that GF people are substituting every morsel of gluten with a GF substitute.  They fail to consider what else a GF diet can look like: tons of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, dairy, and naturally GF grains like rice and quinoa.  Depending on where you come down on meat and dairy, this list doesn’t look harmful.  When I first went gluten free, I didn’t run to the store to replace every wheaty product in my kitchen.  I began thinking about other foods I could eat instead.  So my problem is that many critics of the gluten free diet are completely ignoring the various other options – the bounty – that people can eat instead.

As I have continued along this gluten free path, taking many detours cheating along the way, I have purchased some gluten free products.  I’ve cooked gluten free pasta, and once in a while I will buy gluten free pizza dough.  There is a loaf of gluten free bread in my fridge right now.  Do I like being able to eat the same foods without suffering side effects?  You betcha.  But these are no longer staples for me.  Chicken is a staple, albeit more like a once-or-twice-a-week staple.  Tomatoes, bananas, apples, avocados, walnuts, almonds, beans, brown rice.  These are the things I’m buying every week (and much more – you should see my last grocery bill).  Since I went gluten free, I have eaten more fruits and vegetables each day than I have at any other point in my life.  One of the best things going gluten free has done for me is to seriously limit the processed foods I can eat.  Not only do they contain wheat, but they also tend to contain all kinds of yummy preservatives and other chemicals that make gluten look like child’s play.  Eating better and avoiding gluten has alleviated my inflammation, and it has also forced me to cook at home, helping me discover new recipes and ingredients along the way.

It’s frustrating to say the least to see people making such generalizations and assumptions about what a gluten free diet looks like and ignoring other possibilities.  I’m not advocating for anyone to go gluten free or vegetarian or vegan or anything else.  But I do want people to think about the foods they eat and to realize there’s more than one way to dodge the wheat and many, many other real foods to eat instead.  And tis the season – with farmers markets opening soon, it’s about to be easier than ever to eat real, good food.  Find your markets.  Befriend your farmers.  Thanks for listening.

Lesson the Third: Make Dinner

Well, here it is, as predicted: the post on dinner!  Last night, I really didn’t feel like making dinner, but I’m glad I forced myself because 1) I have a fridge full of food thanks to my Friday night Wegmans adventure; and 2) I made cheesy potatoes.

Over the weekend (really since Thursday), I ate SO well.  I didn’t necessarily have anything exciting – there was mango guacamole, which, to be fair, is pretty exciting, black beans and rice, salads – but I ate a ton of fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and it felt great.  I surprised myself by going four entire days without eating meat.  I didn’t set out to do this; it was really just sheer laziness, but it felt good and got me eating other great stuff.

So last night, while we still had a pretty healthy meal, I decided to indulge a little.  I went BACK TO WEGMANS yesterday afternoon for two non-food things and left with potatoes, cilantro, avocados, mangoes, and artichokes. Oy.  I’d purchased some salmon Friday night that I planned to cook either Sunday or Monday for dinner, and when I saw the artichokes I thought they’d be a perfect side.  I wanted a little starch to go along with that, so I got 20 (I counted them when I started cooking, not in the store – I’m not completely nuts) small, red potatoes.  I was originally planning to cook them as I usually do, which is to cut them in half, boil them, and toss with butter and thyme, but I thought I’d try something different.  It’s been a while since I got creative.

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I decided to do a cheesy potato bake, so I knew I’d have to slice the potatoes thin – almost chip-thin.  I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but I have a really hard time getting potatoes to cook.  Baked sweet potatoes?  Forget it.  So I made sure these slices were skinny.  I sprayed the bottom of a round baking dish with olive oil and then just barely shingled the potatoes around.  I learned that term for layering food slices this year – pretty neat!

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Once the first layer was down, I salted, peppered, thymed, and parmesaned.

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I kept going for four layers – I had exactly enough potatoes – crazy! I topped the whole thing off with cheese and put it into a preheated 400-degree oven for 45 minutes, checking every 15.  Once a knife slide out easily, I knew it was done.

IMG_6544And done it was.  This was so good and such a great side dish for the fish.  Since fish is light, I like to balance it with something a little bit heavier.

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Meanwhile, I steamed the artichokes with some lemon (not the ones below – the steamed lemons turned to mush and were just for flavor and aromatics) and cooked the fish.  The whole thing took right around an hour, but it was so tasty and filling that it was worth every slice, every chop, and every dirty dish.

IMG_6620As you saw, the potatoes definitely took some prep work, and the artichokes did as well.  They’re not that hard to steam, though – you just have to snip the thorny ends off and open them up a bit.  The fish is ridiculously easy to cook – put on baking sheet, season, and put in oven.  Yes, there are fancier things you can do with salmon, but since I was going to town on the potatoes, I kept the rest simple.  Sometimes those are the best meals.  I’m so glad I didn’t skip out on cooking dinner last night.  It was filling, nutritious and fun to cook (and let’s be honest – fun to photograph).

Till next time! 🙂

 

Cheesy Potato Bake

Ingredients

20-30 red potatoes, thinly sliced

1/2-3/4 cup shredded parmesan

1-2 tablespoons dried thyme

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees; spray bottom of round baking dish with olive oil or cooking spray

2. Arrange a layer of potato slices on the bottom of the dish in a spiral, slightly shingled

3. Top potatoes with salt, pepper, and thyme, then sprinkle with a layer of cheese

4. Repeat layers until you reach the top of the dish or the potatoes are gone; finish with seasonings and cheese

5. Cover and bake for 45 minutes

Enjoy!

Gluten-Free Valentine

Hey there, internet.  It’s been a minute (or, you know, six months) since I wrote a blog post.  But a lull is better than giving up, right?  So here we are.  Things have really been business as usual: trying to eat healthy, slipping a bit, getting back to it, and rinse and repeat.  Happily, I do have some food-related news to report – enough to kick me back into blogging.

A few months ago, I started researching symptoms of gluten allergies.  I always thought a gluten allergy meant digestive issues, but after talking to a few friends who have cut out the infamous protein to relive other symptoms, I wanted to know more.  In short, I found that even a gluten sensitivity can manifest in rhinitis, sinus issues, asthma, psoriasis, feeling tired (also known as “brain fog”), and much more.  I’ve had trouble with all of those things, but never in a million years would I have guessed they could be in any way connected to what I was eating.

Really, given everything I’ve read about food in the past few years and all the horrors I’ve discovered along the way, I shouldn’t have been so surprised.  After I cut out gluten for a few weeks, I stopped using my steroid nasal spray and inhaler, and my psoriasis calmed down considerably.  I was astounded, thrilled, and also a little bit angry.  Why had no one ever mentioned this to me?  All these different forms of inflammation and a medicine to treat each one separately.  That’s not how I want to roll.

I have eaten gluten since I discovered all of this, in part to test out how it made me feel, and while I don’t get seriously ill from a meal or two, I do get tired.  Dog-tired.  Unable-to-focus-or-function-tired.  Such is the “brain fog” they talk about.  Experiencing this made me wonder how I was ever able to accomplish anything with all the gluten I’ve ingested throughout my life.

Bottom line: I feel amazing when I cut out gluten.  Sadly, some people have told me they’re skeptical that this is a real thing, that I really could have an adverse reaction to something as ubiquitous as wheat, but I know how I feel.  I have energy, I sleep deeply, I breathe deeply, and my mind is sharper and more focused than I knew it could be.  To me, that’s all the evidence I need.  I’ve read a few different theories on why it affects people: a good, old-fashioned allergy to wheat, an inability to deal with the genetic modifications in wheat, and most interestingly, a reaction to the Roundup used on the crops.  Either way, my body is definitely telling me loud and clear to stay away.  Yes, I’ve missed certain things – bread, lemon pound cake, croutons – but that’s a post for another day.

And now, to last weekend.  Valentine’s Day!  It was a snowy, cold Saturday here on the East coast,  and I wanted something warm and rich of dinner.  One of my favorite comfort foods is baked macaroni and cheese – a dish containing pasta, bread crumbs, and flour.  I have the incredible advantage of a little place called Wegmans, and I thought I’d try to de-gluten it.

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I already had gluten-free flour (Bob’s Red Mill is just as incredible resource as Wegmans), and I’d tried the Ancient Harvest quinoa pasta before.  It’s hard to describe, but to me, this pasta doesn’t taste as sweet as regular pasta.  That may seem like an odd way to describe pasta, but if you were to side-by-side taste test, I think you’d see what I mean.  I’d read about gluten-free bread crumbs recently and found the Ian’s brand in the gluten-free section of Wegmans (yes, there is an entire section of the store devoted to me).

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Once I had all of my gluten-free replacement ingredients, I was able to follow the recipe exactly.  The only difference I noticed in cooking was that the roux thickened really quickly.  Everything else worked out just as it would otherwise.

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Like I said before, the quinoa pasta does have a different taste (other gluten-free pastas I’ve tried taste more like corn), but I’m calling this meal a success.  I enjoyed it, Steve enjoyed it, and on Valentine’s Day, that’s really all that matters, right?

 

Twofer Tuesday: Turkey Version

 

Until last night, I had never cooked turkey before, not even for Thanksgiving.  I didn’t even make a Tofurkey that year I was a vegetarian.  So instead of starting off with an entire bird, I figured I’d go a little smaller.  I bought some turkey breast fillets at Wegmans for around ten bucks and gave it a whirl!

It turns out cooking these fillets was much more like cooking fish than chicken.  They only needed to go into a 375-degree oven for 15 minutes, or until they were white all the way through.  (I think I cooked them just a minute or two too long, but hey, you live and learn!)  I sprayed my cookie sheet with olive oil first, then lightly salted and peppered the fillets.  Then the kitchen muses descended and inspired me to top them off with some leftover Rosemary sprigs I had.

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Not too bad for my first try.  I served it with green beans and toasted Ezekiel bread, which I have recently discovered and will likely write about soon.  I didn’t eat the herb sprigs, but they were too pretty not to photograph.  I was surprised at how much flavor they gave the turkey!   All in all, a good meal!

I was going to have leftovers for lunch today, but I wanted something a little bit different, so I came up with this:

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I cut up the leftover turkey fillet and made a scrumptious salad!  There’s baby spinach, bean sprouts, the turkey of course, pecans, and craisins – because you can’t have turkey without cranberries, right?  I topped it off with a little balsamic vinegar and promptly devoured it.

I’m a huge fan of leftovers, but at the same time I get tired of eating the same thing over and over.  It would have been perfectly healthy to have the same meal for lunch, but mixing it up was a lot more fun!  New summer challenge: jazz up all the leftovers!

Till next time, happy cooking!

Fancy Pants

While planning our grocery store trip last week, I asked Steve if he felt like splurging on something.  We are like-minded to a fault, so that night we came home with a container of scallops.  They go for twenty-one dollars a pound at Wegman’s (I know!), but as I only purchased eight, it was a mere seventeen bucks.  Still, not something I want to add to our weekly grocery bill (although my taste buds disagree).

A little while later, Steve asked if I’d ever cooked scallops before.  “Never!  But how hard can it be?”  The answer: not hard at all!  I followed a recipe from my favorite Clean Eating cookbook (Tosca Reno’s Eat Clean Diet: Recharged) and ended up with a restaurant-quality dinner from my own kitchen.  While I enjoy creating recipes of my own (although I haven’t done too much of that lately), I think it’s really useful to start by following other recipes first.  I suppose it’s a bit like the relationship between reading good writing and producing good writing – you get to see what works and build from there.

The fancy part of this meal, scallops aside, is the vegetables.  It calls for thinly-sliced red pepper and scallion, but also for zucchini and carrot that you slice with a vegetable peeler.  Then they’re all seasoned and sautéed.

IMG_4860I must admit I was a bit nervous about cooking the scallops; I wanted a good meal and didn’t want to waste nearly twenty bucks.  Every recipe I’ve seen says to cook them in a non-stick skillet.  I don’t entirely trust my skillets, so I opted for the Dutch oven – you can’t go wrong!

IMG_4872They only required a little olive oil in the dish, and they cooked for about 4-5 minutes on each side until they browned. This was extraordinarily easy and smelled divine!

In addition to the vegetables and scallops, this recipe called for quinoa, which is easy enough to cook.  In the end, I piled it up on the plate and stared in awe.

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I still can’t entirely believe that this meal came from my kitchen, but there it is on one of my plates!  With the quinoa and veggies, four scallops was almost more than enough for me.  The flavors were out of this world, and this is definitely something I’m going to revisit and adapt over the summer.

Anyone else have a fancy-ish dish they absolutely love? Your own twist on one?