Salmon and Avocado Tower

Something I really like about studying nutrition is that when asked to pick a paper topic, I get to write about something I am obsessed with. (My name is Nicole and I have an infatuation with food). This proves to be a double-edged sword. On the positive side, I get to write about something that truly interests me, and I can call eating a form of “research”. On the “not-too-positive” side, I tend to get a little carried away with the literature searching, which leads to too much reading and not enough writing. This is not a bad thing for the paper itself, but it does make me work down to the wire tweaking edits, which can lead to stress…and stress baking and stress eating.

My avocado paper is a great example of this conflict. I was so excited to write about the heart-health benefits of avocado, that I spent an absurd number of hours researching avocado studies and exploring the California Avocados website. I also made and consumed enough guacamole for 3 people…which is only mildly ridiculous (according to dietary surveys, average consumption is one half of an avocado[1]).

Anyways, after submitting my paper I obviously wanted to eat avocado to celebrate, so I whipped up this little tower of tastiness:

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This could be breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack. The eggs are a health source of protein, the avocado and salmon give you a dose of healthy fats, and the cream cheese just tastes good.

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This is essentially and Eggs Benedict adaptation-without the fattening (albeit delicious) hollandaise sauce. Truthfully, between the creamy avocado and cream cheese, and the poached egg on top, it is so rich I did not even miss the hollandaise. You should also definitely make this dish for its aesthetic appeal. Fancy brunch, anyone?

My next paper topic is explores the effects of caffeine. Watch out Starbucks, I’m coming for you.

Salmon & Avocado Tower (makes one)

Ingredients:IMG_4188

  • 1 slice of toast
  • 1 Tbsp cream cheese
  • 1/4 avocado
  • 3 Tbsp canned salmon
  • 1 egg

Directions:

  1. Poach an egg or prepare an over-easy egg on a skillet.
  2. Spread cream cheese on the slice of toast. Spread avocado on toast and top with canned salmon.
  3. Top the tower off with your prepared egg.

References:

1. Fulgoni VL, Dreher M, Davenport AJ. Avocado consumption is associated with better diet quality and nutrient intake, and lower metabolic syndrome risk in US adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2008. Nutr J. 2013 Jan 2; 12:1.

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Acai Bowl

I usually don’t have time to sit down and have a relaxing breakfast in the morning, but in the name of Spring, I decided today I would make myself an acai bowl.

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What’s an acai bowl, you ask? Think of it as a the most delicious smoothie ever covered in toppings and eaten with a spoon. The acai bowl consists of blended frozen acai berries (and fruit) covered in a variety of toppings (like granola, hemp seeds, fresh fruit). It’s tasty beyond description and the contrast of the soft-serve like fruit to the crunchy toppings in addicting. I am always disappointed when the whole bowl is gone.

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Acai is a berry that most will tell you is a “superfood”. Though technically research is still ongoing regarding the health benefits of acai, science has  shown that it does have a high level of antioxidants. It’s a berry that packs a nutritional punch!

And it turns out the brand Sambazon is selling frozen organic acai berries at the grocery store, which is great for someone like me who does not want to spend $10 on breakfast (acai bowls can be pretty pricey). Buying your own frozen acai has another benefit; besides being financially savvy, it will also allow you to add whatever you want and really get creative! I had a lot of fun opening up my cabinets and seeing what I could possibly sprinkle on top. The recipe below is simply an example of the things you can put into your acai bowl. So give yourself some extra time to make this delicious frozen treat for breakfast in the morning, it’s worth it!

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Ingredients

For the Bowl

  • 1 packet of Sambazon unsweetened pure acai berry
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1 cup frozen mixed berries
  • 4 tablespoons vanilla soymilk

For the Toppings

  • 1/2 banana, sliced
  • 1/4 cup granola

Directions

  1. Per the directions on the back of the frozen acai, run the package under water for 5 seconds. Place acai in the blender along with other fruits and milk (can use water or juice if preferred, and can also add sweetener).
  2. Blend on the highest setting. The mixture will be very thick, like frozen yogurt.
  3. Pour frozen mixture into a bowl and cover with toppings of choice.
  4. Relax and enjoy!

Pumpkin, Spice, and Everything Nice

Fall is upon us, bring on the pumpkin! That is pretty much the theme I have noticed ever since Starbucks welcomed back the highly coveted Pumpkin Spice Latte. I am personally more of a “Black-coffee-plus-2-pumps-pumpkin-spice-syrup” kinda gal, but I do see the appeal.

Anyways, I figured it was about time I jump on the pumpkin bandwagon and share a delicious recipe! I perused the usual Internet suspects like Foodgawker and Pinterest for ideas on recipes, but I actually struggled to find a recipe that didn’t (a) feed 2 dozen people or (b) involve ingredients I don’t have on hand, like cloves. I have to be realistic here: I will eat all of whatever I make and I will not use a whole container of cloves.

Therefore, last night I found myself trying to create a basic, hearty, and healthy pumpkin bread with my college-buddy-turned-new-NYC-neighbor Shannon. And let me tell you this bread is delicious!

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This pumpkin bread is everything I wanted it to be: a subtly flavored pumpkin bread that’s mildly sweet and incredibly soft, with a delicious layer of cream cheese streaking through the middle. Oh, and did I mention this recipe doesn’t involve butter or oil? I think it’s time to get your pumpkin fix.

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Pumpkin Bread with Cream Cheese Swirl (makes 4 mini loaves)

Ingredients

For pumpkin bread:

  • 1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut sugar (or regular sugar)
  • 3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon

For cream cheese swirl:

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. For bread: combine pumpkin, eggs, vanilla, sugar, water and yogurt in a bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix together flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Add these ingredients to the wet ingredients in the other bowl and fold ingredients together until just combined.
  3. For the cream cheese swirl, beat cream cheese, sugar and salt until smooth in consistency. Beat the egg into the mixture.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mist loaf pans with cooking spray. Pour batter into loaf pans until about halfway up the side of the pan. Dollop in cream cheese mixture on top of pumpkin batter. Add more pumpkin bread batter on top.
  5. Next, take a knife and stick it into the batter, swirling it around once or twice (don’t over-mix or the cream cheese swirl with disperse into the batter). Remove knife and place bread loaves in the oven. Small bread loaves will cook in 40-45 minutes. Large bread loaves will cook in 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes.
  6. Once bread has cooked remove from the oven and allow it to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Chopped Salad

Oh my. I am becoming a New Yorker.

So picture this: my fridge is essentially empty.

Empty, you say? Like, missing real, fresh food? Sadly, yes.

This predicament is both amusing and saddening. Amusing in that I still cannot believe I find myself taking up behaviors I used to think as exclusively for the native “New Yorker” (I could have never guessed a suburbia-raised girl like me could become a successful city dweller). Despite my new-found urban identity, I am bummed by my fridge because I like to believe that I always prepare and eat home-cooked meals using fresh ingredients. After all, that is how it started when I first came to New York City. Then, slowly I might add, I started buying more “snack-like” foods. Apples and peanut butter, mixed nuts, cans of beans, hummus…you get the idea. Next, I started eating out or traveling every single weekend. Couple that with the night a week I might eat out and suddenly buying a ton of produce and racing to eat it before it went bad became too much. Living alone is stressful on your diet, people!

Anyways, my meals have depended on gauging that “just right” amount of fresh food to buy every week. A couple of apples here, some spinach and baby carrots there…just enough to get me through 4.5 days of meals. And lately most of my protein has come from non-meat sources during the week. Thank goodness I have eggs, beans, and peanut butter (but not together because that would be gross). My love for these items–and their long shelf life–help me from avoiding a nutrient deficiency and keep my energy up.

Another dependable protein item: sliced lunch meat. Although it isn’t as wholesome as cooking chicken in the oven or broiling a steak, for someone with only a couple of meals to prep at home, it’s a great go-to for something filling. Slicing lunch meat further (a.k.a. chopping the lunch meat into coarse pieces) allows it to be tossed into an omelet, thrown into soup, or-as in this instance-sprinkled on salad.

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This recipe was all too simple and the ingredients are solid, nutritional standbys. I buy the ingredients for this salad on a Monday and it will get me through exactly four days worth of lunches. Is it all I have for lunch? No. Is it a better option for lunch that ordering Chinese takeout? Yes. Just pack this salad along with some snackie-snacks (yes I got all cute and called them snackie-snacks). Suddenly, weekday eating for the single-living city-dweller became easy, delicious, and healthy. And now I am craving a bagel…oh, New York.

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Salami & Spinach Salad (makes 4 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups spinach (1 bag)
  • 1 avocado
  • 2 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 package salami
  • Olive oil and Vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

Rinse spinach and remove stems. Chop tomato, salami, and avocado. Toss together with 1 tablespoon each olive oil and vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste.

Naked Chicken Parmesan

Happy Labor Day everyone!

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With Labor Day weekend comes the realization that summer is going to end. As much as I like to say that summer is my favorite season, I must admit that I absolutely adore fall. For one, I love school-supply shopping (When I was younger I looked forward to my annual trip to Staples, where I could stock up on Lisa Frank folders and Jelly Roll pens). Second, there is something so trendy and cute about fall attire. My boots, vests, and scarves start begging to be worn around early September despite the fact it’s still 80-something degrees outside. And lastly (and probably the most important), is that with fall comes the enjoyment of fall food. Apples, pumpkins, and spices abound during this upcoming season. I, for one, cannot wait to start making and enjoying some delicious and nutritious comfort food dishes-dishes that warm your tummy and your heart.

All this thinking about comfort food has certainly made me crave it, and it is with that in mind that I bring you Naked Chicken Parmesan.

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This grilled chicken is too naked. It needs some cheese to spice things up!

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Now that looks better. All the flavor without the breading!

 

Chicken parmesan is one of those delicious Italian dishes that has a great potential to be healthy. The only thing holding chicken parm back is the thick breading and frying process that makes the dish tastes so darn good. Delicious: yes. Good for your waistline: no. Luckily, I have found a way to get the great taste of chicken parmesan by undressing it a bit, hence the word “naked” in the title.

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Removing the breading from the chicken parmesan recipe actually made the flavors of the dish better in my opinion! The tomato sauce and cheese are much more prominent in the flavor profile when there isn’t any oily crumbs to battle with. Plus, think of all the nutrients you’re getting from the dish: the lean protein from the chicken, the lycopene from the tomato, and the low-cal calcium kick from the Parmesan cheese. As long as you don’t go overboard on any store-bought tomato sauce (notorious for containing hidden sugar) and Parmesan (Parmesan only 20 calories per tablespoon, but that doesn’t mean you should engulf 1 cup of Parmesan), you’re looking at a mighty healthy meal.

And now a disclaimer: I used store-bought tomato sauce due to lack of free time but I seriously recommend making a homemade pasta sauce. I highly recommend this one by Jodi at What’s Cooking Good Looking. Serve this chicken with a salad and consider your fall comfort dish good to go!

Naked Chicken Parmesan (serves 1)

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken breast, uncooked
  • 1-1.5 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 3-4 Tablespoons tomato sauce, homemade or store-bought
  • 2-3 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

Heat a skillet over medium heat. On a plate, rub your chicken breast with the olive oil (feel free to really massage it in) and sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Place your chicken on the skillet and let it cook for about 10 minutes (until it is golden brown on both sides). Remove chicken from the skillet once cooked and place it on a (NEW) plate. Do not use the plate the raw chicken was on…that one should be washed with hot water and soap before it is used again. Next, top your chicken with the tomato sauce and the Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Home Sweet (Thai-food filled) Home

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The past two days have been extremely relaxing and comforting for me. Nothing beats being home. As much as I enjoy my city life, I was ready to get a break from the craziness of it all. Going back to Cali for a few days is just what I needed. I have spent a lot of time lying around the house, catching up with old friends, and running in the fresh mountain air.

Another thing I have been doing a lot of is eating. Whenever I come home, my parents spoil me with a smorgasbord of food. My dad cooks every Persian meal I could ever imagine, and some I did not even know existed. My mom is currently into make meals using the fresh produce in her vegetable garden. We are talking lots of fresh tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and eggplant. Every meal in this household is a feast. And you thought Thanksgiving was only one day in November.

Anyways, with leftovers from dinner comes creative food options for lunch. And my brother Marco and I were craving Thai.

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I never could have anticipated my infatuation with Thai food. I was first introduced to this lovely cuisine on a family trip to Thailand. I was in the eighth grade at the time, and my initial fear of the spicy, sweet, and unique dishes gave way to an adoration of all things Thai. My love for Thai cuisine has led to regular visits at Thai restaurants and frequent cooking experiments with Thai ingredients.

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That’s where this sandwich comes in. I took the usual suspects found in Thai cuisine (sweet chili sauce, peanuts, scallions) and incorporated them into the cheesiest, gooiest, most delectable sandwich that has even come out of the family panini press. Let’s put it this way, my chatterbox of the brother said not a word as he devoured his Thai panini. Yep, this panini is that good. It comes highly recommended, from my household to yours!

Thai Chicken Panini (serves 2)

Ingredients for Panini

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1/2 mozzarella ball
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions
  • 1/4 cup shredded carrots
  • 4 Tbsp Thai Peanut Sauce (see below)
  • 4 large slices Sourdough bread
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 medium tomato (optional)

Thai Peanut Sauce

  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp fish sauce
  • 2-3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk
  • 2-3 Tbsp ground fresh chili paste
  • 2 Tbsp sweet chili sauce
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. Grill and slice the chicken breasts. Set aside. 
  2. Heat panini press to medium heat. Butter one side of each sourdough slice.
  3. For the Thai Peanut Sauce (which I will warn you is irresistibly good), combine all the ingredients for the sauce and mix well. 
  4. Place one sourdough slice butter side down on panini press. Spread 1 tablespoon of the Thai Peanut Sauce on sourdough. Next, layer the mozzarella and chicken on top. drizzle another tablespoon of Thai Peanut Sauce over the chicken. Top with shredded carrot, scallions, and tomatoes (optional ingredient). Place another layer of mozzarella and the other slice of sourdough on top. 
  5. Close panini press and warm the sandwich on medium heat until the cheese is nice and melty (the trick is to go low and slow…be patient!)
  6. Repeat with the rest of the ingredients for the other sandwich. Serve with fresh cilantro and extra peanut sauce. 

Goat Cheese Omelette

You know those mornings where you wake up starving and need food more than anything else in the world? Well, I just had one of those mornings.

Ideally, breakfast is supposed to be eaten within an hour of waking. I know there are people who just aren’t hungry at that time of the day, or don’t have the time (I tend to fit into the latter category) and breakfast is a nonexistent meal. But, it is important to try to get something into your system. A healthy, wholesome breakfast jump-starts the body’s metabolism, gives energy, and helps (note: helps, not guarantees) one avoid over-indulging later in the day.

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Breakfast is a great meal because it can be made quickly too. Take this omelet for example: from start to finish I was making breakfast for 5 minutes. And what I got was a nutritious and filling meal containing lean protein, calcium, and some healthy fats. Served with a side of fruit, I am gonna go ahead and call it a winning way to start the day. Especially when you’re so hungry you could eat your alarm clock.

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Goat Cheese Omelette (serves 1)

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp soft goat cheese
  • 1/4 onion, diced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 avocado, sliced
  • red pepper flakes (optional), to taste

 

Directions

First, warm a skillet on medium heat. Add onions and olive oil to the skillet and sauté for a few minutes until slightly browned. Whisk eggs in a small bowl and pour over onions. Let the eggs cook until slightly firmed, then flip over to cook other side. Add goat cheese and fold eggs over the cheese. Remove omelet from heat and top with avocado slices, salt, pepper, and/or red pepper flakes. Serve with sliced fruit.