Instant Oatmeal Plus

Let me start off by saying that I’m not a big fan of instant oatmeal.

The made-by-scratch stuff—oat bran, steel-cut oats, rolled oats–are what I love to eat in the morning. The quickie stuff, well…. in the past I’ve found that most instant brands taste like cardboard.

However, a good friend of mine persuaded me to try Trader Joe’s Unsweetened Instant Oatmeal. It is advertised as gluten-free with quinoa, amaranth, flax seeds, and chia seeds added. The nutrition facts are impressive: 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein. (Advisory to low-carb people–it also contains 26 grams of carbohydrate.)

I experimented a little with some additional ingredients, and came up with a pretty tasty dish.

INSTANT OATMEAL PLUS

  • One package Trader Joe’s Unsweetened Instant Oatmeal
  • One tablespoon raisins
  • 1/4 cup Trader Joe’s Crunch Dried Honeycrisp Apples
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • One packet stevia
  • Two teaspoons butter or margarine
  • One cup milk
  • One tablespoon chopped walnuts (optional)

Mix all ingredients, except walnuts, in a loosely covered microwave safe bowl. Cook in microwave on High for 90 seconds. Add the walnuts. Enjoy!

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If you want to make this at work, combine the first six ingredients together the night before work, place in a sealed container, and keep it in the frig. Pack the walnuts and milk separately. By the time you get to that workplace microwave, you’re ready to go.

You can also very easily nuke this dish at home in the morning and put in a Thermos for work. Add a little extra hot water to keep the oatmeal moist.

 

High Protein Vege Chow Mein

Did you know that you can use Italian pasta for Chinese dishes?  It’s a great substitute for chow mein noodles.

The secret ingredient for this easy-to-make dish is Barilla Protein Plus Thin Spaghetti.  This pasta is made with a combination of grain and legumes, and provides  17 grams of protein per 3.5 ounces dry serving  (Approximately 1/4 of a 14 oz. box).  The product also contains lots of healthy fiber, and no saturated fat.  You can find Barilla Protein Plus pasta in the packaged foods or Italian foods area. 

This chow mein dish is easy to pack for lunch and can be either microwaved or warmed up in a Crock Pot Lunch Warmer (see previous blog regarding the Lunch Warmer).

Ingredients:

  • One large saucepan water
  • 3.5 ounces Barilla Protein Plus Thin Spaghetti (appx. 1/4 of a 14 oz. package)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 of a 16 oz. bag of fresh shredded cabbage (preferably with some carrot and red cabbage for color and flavor)
  • 3 stalks of green onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Soy sauce to taste
  1. Heat water to boiling.
  2. Break pasta in half, add to water, and wait for water to reheat to boiling.
  3. Boil for 10 minutes.
  4. Drain pasta using a colander.  Rinse with cold water to keep pasta from clumping together.
  5. Using a medium-sized sauce pan, heat the two oils until smoking.
  6. Add the vegetables and lower heat.  Saute for 3 minutes, adjusting heat as needed to avoid overcooking or burning. 
  7. Add 1/4 cup of water and soy sauce to taste.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  (leave uncovered so liquid reduces.)
  8. Turn the heat off, and add the drained pasta.  Mix well.  Eat immediately; or let cool and store in frig for later use.

This will provide one large serving, or two small servings.

Leftover Turkey: Pumpkin-Turkey Stew

I meant to write about sandwich bread this week.  However, we’re all in need of using up that leftover turkey meat, so here’s a variation on a recipe I posted several weeks ago.  It’s a savory, satisfying stew that stays hot in a metal thermos for work.

SOUTHWEST PUMPKIN AND TURKEY STEW (3-4 servings)

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup carrot, chopped
  • 1 cup (3 stalks) chopped celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup medium red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cups cooked turkey, cubed
  • 1   15 ounce can of solid packed pumpkin
  • 1   15 ounce can chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, warmed to room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Juice of one lemon

1. In a large saucepan, heat the vegetable oil.

2. Add the next four ingredients and saute for five minutes.

3. Add everything else, except for the lemon juice, and mix well.

4. Heat until the mixture is bubbling.  Lower to simmer, cover, and cook for 20 minutes.

5. Mix in lemon juice to finish.  This dish is very good with cornbread.

Walking the Periphery: A Trip Through the Grocery Store–Part 1

This post includes a great recipe for vegan lentil soup.

Let’s take a walk through the grocery store.  We’ll not be going up and down aisles, as many people do when shopping.  Instead, we’ll walk around the periphery of the market.

Why?  Because store sections displaying fresh foods, such as produce, meat, and dairy, are almost always situated in the periphery of any grocery store.  In learning how to prepare lunches that are nutritious as well as delicious, it’s important to be acquainted with the freshest foods your market has to offer.

I live near an Albertson’s, and today I chose it for our peripheral trip.  So I passed through the front entrance, took a sharp left towards the produce section, and….Wow, look at the colors!  And that’s just the berry section!

PRODUCE 5

Produce is often intimidating to people who are not sure how to cook or prepare fruits and vegetables.  Also, produce goes bad relatively quickly without proper storage, and this discourages consumers who feel they don’t have money to waste on such tricky stuff. But fresh produce tastes so good.  And fruit and vegetables inevitably lose some nutrients when they are canned or frozen.

Fortunately, these days fresh produce is often packaged in 2-4 serving allotments.  For example, the berries that you see above are in two to three serving-sized containers.  By the way, berries that you don’t use can be placed in Tupperware containers and frozen for future use.  So don’t restrict yourself to the more durable fruit, like apples and oranges.

PRODUCE 3.jpg

Many markets now have salad counters with product in individual containers.  Although it costs a little more, single-serving salad is convenient for those of us who don’t have time to chop up lettuce.

PRODUCE 4

One of my favorite vegetables is cauliflower.  I love it raw with dip, or steamed with cheese sauce.  It used to be that cauliflower was only sold by the head.  Now you can purchase bags of cut-up florets for consumption.  So convenient!

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Here is a recipe which incorporates cauliflower and other vegetables into premade canned lentil soup.  It is easy to make and delicious.  It also freezes well.  (And for my vegan friends….it’s vegan!)

EASY CURRIED LENTIL SOUP (3 to 4 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped sweet yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped cauliflower
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • One medium vine-ripened tomato, chopped
  • Two cans Progresso lentil soup (look in soup section)

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil until smoking.  Turn down the burner to low.
  2. Add the onion, bell pepper, and cauliflower.  Saute and stir for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the curry power.  Saute and stir for another minute.
  4. Add the tomato.  Saute and stir for yet another minute.
  5. Add the lentil soup and mix all ingredients well.  Heat until the mixture is almost at a boil.
  6. Turn down the burner and cover saucepan.  Simmer for 20 minutes.

This dish is great with naan or pita bread.

*****

Next blog:  Walking the Periphery: A Trip Through the Grocery Store–Part 2

Walking the Periphery: A Trip Through the Grocery Store–Part 2

meat section MEAT COUNTER.jpg

Those who are following this blog may remember that last week, we took a look at the produce section at my local supermarket.  Today, we’re visiting the meat counter.

It’s certainly more convenient to obtain precooked luncheon or canned meats from other sections of the grocery store instead of cooking meat yourself.  However, for health reasons some of us should not consume the added salt, MSG, and other ingredients that are used in the production of prepared meats.

It is advantageous to use product from the meat counter.  You can opt to season your meat any way that you wish.  And if you are concerned about fat and cholesterol, you can choose among several low fat options.  For example:

Red meats.  Stew meat is an economical cut of beef that can be prepared on the weekend, then re-heated for lunches during the work week.  Below, we see a photograph of extra lean stew meat.

meat section BEEF STEW MEAT

Years ago, I learned how to cook beef stew in a wonderful way.   I used to work at a local auto repair shop as a data entry clerk.  The family who owned the business was Persian, and they always served their workers a delicious home-made stew at lunchtime.  The owner’s wife gave me the following recipe:

Persian Crock Pot Stew

  • 1/2 cup green onions, minced
  • 1/2 cup parsley, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, minced
  • 1 cup fresh spinach, minced
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3-4 lbs. beef stew meat, cut into 2″ cubes
  • 1 cup beef broth (you can use dried bouillon dissolved in 1 cup water)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dried celery flakes
  •  1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 can of kidney beans, drained (make sure you use kidney beans without sugar or additional sweetener)
  • Juice of one lemon

1.Thoroughly rinse the first four ingredients.  The easiest way to mince is with a food processor.  Otherwise, pull out a knife or cleaver and start chopping.

2.Saute the minced greens in 2 tablespoons of oil for 10 minutes in a saucepan.  Then place in the crockpot.  Wash out the saucepan.

3.Brown the meat in 1 tablespoon oil in the saucepan and then add to the crockpot.

4.Add the next five ingredients to the crockpot.  Cover, turn to Low, and cook for 8-9 hours, or until the meat is tender.

5.Drain the kidney beans and add to the crockpot.

6.Add the lemon juice to the crockpot.  Stir.

7.Cover the pot and allow to cook on Low for another 1/2 hour.  Season to taste.

8.This stew is delicious over rice or as is with pita bread.  It re-heats well and stays warm for hours in a Thermos because of its soupiness.   You can also microwave to warm or use the miniature CrockPot lunch warmer referred to in a previous article.

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Poultry.  I see the butcher is offering skinless chicken breast.  Perfect!  Without its skin, chicken has much less fat and cholesterol.  I can put some breasts into a foil-lined baking dish, add a little salt and pepper, turn the oven on to bake at 350 degrees, and cook for 40 minutes.  (It’s done when there’s no sign of pinkishness in the breast when sliced in half).

meat section CHICKEN BREAST.jpg

I will let the meat cool, wrap tightly in Saran wrap, and store in the frig.  It’s a great, low-fat addition to salads, sandwiches, or pre-made soup.   Suggestion:  Cook your fowl on the weekend to eliminate prep time during the work week.

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Seafood.  Many people shy away from seafood simply because they’re not sure how to cook it.  However, I’ve discovered that you can cook some fish, such as salmon and trout, in the microwave.  It’s easy and makes for a much more efficient cleanup.

Looks like we have some sockeye salmon today.  It’s pricier than Atlantic salmon, but in my opinion has much better flavor.  So I will ask the butcher to slice off a piece for me.

meat section SALMON.jpg

Steamed Microwave Salmon Fillet

  • Place your fillet in a microwave-safe dish.  I prefer using a pasta bowl.
  • Marinade with your favorite sauce for 1/2 hour.  (I’ve used teriyaki marinade, chicken marinade, and plain salad vinaigrette).  Today, I’ll be using a balsamic vinaigrette.
  • Cover the fish with another smaller plate to make a tight seal.
  • Cook in microwave for 4 minutes.
  • Remove from microwave and carefully lift the top plate off.  (Suggestion:  push the top plate away from you to allow steam to escape from opposite side.  You don’t want to burn yourself!)
  • Eat hot with your favorite side dish.  Or let cool, wrap tightly, refrigerate and use later as an addition to your favorite salad.  Salmon is delicious hot or cold.  Here are some lunchtime suggestions:
    • Teriyaki marinaded salmon is good re-heated with rice.  Green salad makes a good side dish
    • Cold balsamic marinaded salmon is good on top of a Greek-style green salad.
    • Cold salmon is also good topped with plain yogurt mixed with chopped fresh dill.  Sliced cucumber with vinaigrette is a good side dish.  (We’ll talk more about yogurt in my next blog.)
STEAMED SALMON COOKED

NEXT BLOG:  Walking the Periphery: A Trip Through the Grocery Store–Part 3

Walking the Periphery: A Trip Through the Grocery Store–Part 3

DAIRY SECTION

Those who follow this blog already know that we’ve been taking a walk around the periphery of the grocery store.  This is where you will find the freshest and least processed foods.

Over the last couple of weeks, we toured the produce and meat sections of my local Albertson’s store.  Today, we’re taking a look at the dairy section for some brown bag ideas.

Just to clarify:  “Dairy” will include the milk, butter, egg, and cheese section of my store.  Keep in mind that we’ll be reviewing items that are pre-packaged with nutritional labeling.  I would strongly suggest that whenever you consider a food item for purchase, review available nutritional labeling.  This is especially important for those of us who have special needs concerning fat content, sugar content, and salt content.  You might be surprised at what you find!

Eggs.  Let’s take a look at the egg section, typically located near the dairy items.  I would like to point out that most of these sections now offer hard boiled, peeled eggs for use in sandwiches, salads, and other dishes.

EGGS

We have some tradeoffs here.  As you can see, six pre-peeled, pre-cooked hard boiled eggs cost some money.  Or, you can pay a little less and spend some time boiling and peeling eggs yourself.  We’ll discuss recipes with eggs in later blogs.

Cheese.  Cheese is a great high protein, high calcium food which can be used for snacks or main meals.  Nowadays, cheese is packaged in single-serving, pre-wrapped portions.  Very convenient for the brownbagger looking for a easy way to transport food.

Let’s take a look at some nutritional labeling.  I’ve found that mozzarella cheese tends to have a lower fat content, especially lite mozzarella:

MOZZARELLA CHEESE.jpg

Please note that one serving (one stick) contains 2.5 grams of fat, with 1.5 grams being saturated.  (For people like me who need to watch cholesterol, saturated fat can be a problem.)

Compare the fat content of the mozzarella pictured above with a bag of individually wrapped full-fat Cheddar cheese:

CHEDDAR CHEESE.jpg

Wow….One stick of Cheddar has almost three times the fat content of the mozzarella, and twice as much cholesterol.  Also, it has one gram less of protein than the mozzarella.  One plus is that the sodium content is slightly lower than the mozzarella.

Milk.  I’ve brown-bagged cold cereal and milk more than once to work.  I like cow’s milk very much, but it affects my digestive system in a bad way.  And then there’s that cholesterol issue.  Fortunately, there are lots of plant-based milk products that are typically sold in grocery stores.  For example:

  • Soy milk.  Soy milk contains a relatively high amount of protein and calcium.  Because it’s plant-based, it does not contain cholesterol.  In addition, most soy milk is enriched with Vitamin D (just like cow’s milk).
  • Almond milk.  Almond milk does not contain as much protein as soy milk.  However, it does contain calcium as well as Vitamin E and is also usually enriched with Vitamin D.
  • Oat milk.  For those who are allergic to soy and nuts, oat milk might be an alternative.  Like other plant-based milk, it is enriched with calcium and Vitamin D.

Please note that if you have food allergies, you should always ask your doctor about alternatives to cow and nut milk before purchase.

Yogurt.  There are two types of yogurt on the market:  European-style, which is rather liquidy, and Greek yogurt, which has a consistency like sour cream.  Yogurt is a convenient alternative to milk, it’s easy to pack and carry to work, and it makes a delicious breakfast food.  But watch out!  Many flavored yogurts contain lots of added sugar.  Let’s take a look at the nutritional label for one flavored yogurt I found at Albertsons:

BAD YOGURT.jpg

This is a pretty tasty brand; I’ve had it before.  The protein and calcium content are both good.  But look at the sugar content:  21 grams per serving (5.5 oz.).  The product also contains 6 grams of saturated fat and 25 mg. of cholesterol per serving.

In contrast, let’s take a look at a plain yogurt product:

GOOD YOGURT.jpg

The brand we’re now looking at is Strauss Creamery Non-Fat Yogurt (European style), the tastiest non-fat yogurt I’ve ever had.  Their full-fat yogurt is just….dreamy.  It’s the one non-fat yogurt that is made solely from milk product, without the non-dairy thickeners typically used in other non-fat yogurts.  Strauss is usually sold at Sprouts and Whole Foods, but at least one other Albertson’s in Yorba Linda carries it.  By the way, you can request specific brands through your local supermarket manager.

Take a look at the specs:  One 8 oz serving contains no fat, only 10 mg. cholesterol, half the sugar of the brand we previously looked at, more calcium, more protein….From a nutritional standpoint, this product is superior.

But what about that sour taste?  Well, you can add some Stevia or other sweetener to your yogurt, as well as strawberries, blueberries, or blackberries.  I’m especially fond of chopped mango and yogurt; they go really well together.

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I’d like to leave you with one last recipe that includes foods from the produce department, meat counter, and dairy section.  This hearty stew freezes well and carries well in a thermos for brown bag eating:

SOUTHWEST PUMPKIN AND CHICKEN STEW (3-4 servings)

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup carrot, chopped
  • 1 pound cubed uncooked skinless and boneless chicken breast, cut into 1″ cubes.
  • 1 cup (3 stalks) chopped celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup medium red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1   15 ounce can of solid packed pumpkin
  • 1   15 ounce can chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, warmed to room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Juice of one lemon

1. In a large saucepan, heat the vegetable oil.

2. Add the next five ingredients and saute for five minutes.

3. Add everything else, except for the lemon juice, and mix well.

4. Heat until the mixture is bubbling.  Lower to simmer, cover, and cook for 20 minutes.

5. Mix in lemon juice to finish.  This dish is very good with cornbread.

PUMPKIN CHICKEN STEW

NEXT WEEK:  Walking the Periphery: A Trip Through the Grocery Store–Part 4