Welcome to my world!

I've developed a passion for cooking since childhood, but in the past six years, that passion has grown into a geeky obsession. I love cooking, baking, and most importantly, sharing the love of food with family and friends. I invite you along on my journey of food discovery and passion.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Healthy homemade lunches

Do you ever get that giddy feeling when you know one of your favorite magazines is in the mailbox? Ok, maybe it's just me (and IceDaddy the one time he was mentioned in a USAHockey magazine, but I digress). I get that way about my "Real Simple." At one point in my younger life, I was heading down the path of Martha Stewart clone (so much so that I was asked one Halloween if my "costume" was Martha Stewart - ick! Never wore that shirt & skirt with an apron over again!). Then, I discovered "Real Simple." What I love is that it celebrates the home arts and provides a lifestyle publication focused on simplicity in everything. IceDaddy thinks it's just full of ads for everything they try and sell you to make things simpler. Anywhoo...

One of the features in that magazine that I'm really grooving on is "Brown Bag Lunch of the Month." It features simple recipes that make enough food for two portions to take at lunchtime. As a person that does attempt to eat healthy meals, I've pretty much exhausted the realm of Lean Cuisines, and frankly am not thrilled with both the level of sodium or garlic that they use to make them tasty. IceDaddy and I are trying to formulate good habits to drop some weight, and that inspired me to seek meals that don't make me feel "punished" to eat at my desk. It's part of an effort to not just look better, but, for me, to also become more conscious of the food chain. (I'm reading Mark Bittman's "On Food and Cooking.")

The first lunch was an Asian-style noodle dish with spaghetti, tofu, cashews, shredded carrots, and shredded cucumber. It had a light dressing of some canola oil, toasted sesame oil, and lime juice. I tried it the "original" way the first time, and frankly it lacked something in taste. Liking the idea, I decided to modify it to add some additional flavor and came up with:
Hoisin-glazed tofu with noodles. Pretty simple - just bought the most firm tofu I could find, drained it further on paper towels, cut into cubes, sauteed in a hot pan with a little olive oil, turned down the heat, added about 1 Tbsp. hoisin, and let cook another minute or so. I cooked some spaghetti (I like the whole wheat blend (Barilla Plus is my fave), about 5 oz, and drained. Meanwhile, I toasted up about 1/4 c. of cashew pieces that I chopped and shredded a carrot and cut matchsticks of an English cucumber. I added all of the ingredients together and made up a dressing of 1 Tbsp. canola oil, 2 tsp. of toasted sesame oil (really gives that authentic flavor), 1 1/2 Tbsp. lime juice, 1 Tbsp. hoisin (or more to taste), and salt and pepper to taste. Poured it over, tossed, and divided into two bowls. Delish as a cold noodle dish.

Second meal was a southwestern chicken salad. Recipe has Romaine lettuce, 1/2 cup of black beans (rinsed and drained), a red bell pepper cut up, and about 1 cup of shredded chicken. You make a dressing with sour cream, lime juice, and chili powder. Since I had some canned chipotles in adobo handy, I spiced it up with some adobo sauce. This is one of those recipes that I can see modifying by using ranch dressing, adding in other veggies, etc. With ranch dressing, corn and chopped tomatoes, it becomes a southwest chopped salad, for example.

RS recommends a deli rotisserie chicken that you shred, but it's so easy to bake or sear some chicken breasts in a pan that I see no reason to spend $5 on rotisserie chicken, unless you like the flavor. One of my favorite cuisines is Tex-Mex and a main ingredient, cumin. I love to create a spice-rubbed chicken breast that explodes with flavor and can go with just about any recipe, whether it's a side of rice and corn, chopped up for a salad, or included in a casserole. Here's my recipe for mouth-watering spiced chicken breasts. I confess, I don't really worry about measuring the spices since I just sprinkle them on, but here's the general proportions for 1 to 1 1/2 lbs of chicken.

Tex-Mex Spiced Chicken Breasts
4 skinless boneless chicken breasts (about 1 - 1 1/2 lbs total)
1 Tbsp. oil (canola or olive)
Approx 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
Approx 2 tsp. kosher salt
Approx 2 tsp. garlic powder
Approx 2 tsp. cumin

Mix the spices and sprinkle on both sides of the chicken breasts. Heat a pan over medium-high heat and add oil. When oil is hot, add chicken to pan. Cook until edges of chicken turn from pink to white , about 5 minutes. Turn chicken over and cook on the other side until chicken is done, about 3 - 5 minutes, depending on size of the meat, until juices run clear. Remove from pan and let rest 5 minutes. Serve whole or slice/chop for your favorite recipes.

This recipe leaves a fair amount of black beans from the can, so I turn that into my quick and easy Black Bean Soup. This one is just ridiculously simple and very tasty!

Heather's Quick Black Bean Soup
1 can (about 14 - 15 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained (or whatever is left after making the salad above)
1 cup store-bought tomato salsa (mild to medium)or homemade
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, bring the tomato salsa up to a simmer for 5 minutes. Add the stock, beans, and spices and raise the heat to medium. Cook for 5 minutes more. Puree the soup for a smooth, thick consistency using a hand blender or regular blender (CAUTION: IF YOU PUT A HOT SOUP IN A BLENDER, IT COULD SPLATTER, SO COVER LID WITH A TOWEL IF YOU DO!!!). For a chunkier texture, mash up the beans with a fork or potato masher. Serve topped with sour cream and tortilla chips.

What I love about the recipe above is that it's really high in fiber, you can make it completely homemade with your own salsa, or take a shortcut with the salsa to add some additional flavor.

Replacing two high-sodium microwavable meals with these in a week can really make a difference. With the fresh ingredients available in the summer, there's no reason not to!

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