Recipe: Fajitas with Pre-Cooked Chicken

Every once in a while, I purchase one of those wonderful roasted chickens they feature in the deli section of my supermarket. It is, of course, a challenge to use up the entire bird when you’re preparing meals for just one person. But I just can’t resist the smell of those chickens! (By the way, I prefer the herb-roasted variety.)

Here’s one way to use the meat from a roasted chicken:

FAJITAS WITH PRE-COOKED CHICKEN (3-4 servings)

  • Three tablespoons pure olive oil
  • One sweet yellow onion, chopped
  • Two red bell peppers, cut into 1/2″x2″ slices
  • Three cups herb-roasted chicken, shredded
  • One packet (1.0 oz.) Lawry’s Chicken Fajitas mix
  1. In a large skillet, heat olive oil. Add onions and bell peppers, and saute for three minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften.
  2. Stir in the Lawry’s Chicken Fajitas mix and cook for one more minute.
  3. Stir in the chicken and cook for two more minutes.

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I find that making this dish ahead of time, wrapping it tightly and placing in the frig overnight helps to incorporate the flavors into the chicken better. This dish re-heats well in the microwave, Crockpot Lunch Warmer, or Hot Logic convection oven (see the “Gadgets” section for more on these brown bag devices). It’s delicious with a side of re-fried beans and/or warmed up corn tortillas.

Hot Logic Demo: Frozen Ravioli Cooked in Its Own Container

Hot Logic Mini Convection Oven

I am increasingly impressed at the things my new portable Hot Logic thermal bag can do. (The Hot Logic mini is a portable convection oven/lunch bag in which you can cook hot meals for lunch.)

In my last blog, I described a successful demo where I cooked a lamb dish in the bag within two hours.

This time, I decided to test the manufacturer’s claim that one can cook frozen dinners in the Hot Logic….without opening the cardboard container.

Below, you see an unopened one-serving package of frozen ravioli that I placed in my Hot Logic mini.

Frozen dinner sitting in my Hot Logic mini oven

Two hours later, I opened up the Hot Logic device, and then the package. (Two hour cooking time per Hot Logic manual instructions.) The cardboard was not burned or otherwise damaged. The interior container and plastic film cover were not damaged, either. The food came out piping hot and ready to eat. Lovely!

As mentioned before: If you are interested in finding out more about this product, you can go to https://myhotlogic.com or type in “hot logic” at amazon.com.

Demonstration: Hot Logic Thermal Bag

I’m a bit of a sucker for gadgets of any kind. With this in mind, I decided to try out the above device after hearing raves from a close friend of mine. The Hot Logic mini is a single-serving conduction oven, apparently made of some sort of nylon on the outside, and aluminum lining on the inside. The operative element is a hot plate placed inside the container. It is small and convenient for transportation, and the Hot Logic makers advertise it as a great alternative for people who lunch at work. By the way, you can also purchase a vehicular converter from the manufacturer if you want to heat food in your car.

The mini oven is sold on amazon.com, along with a Pyrex container, for approximately $55.00. This does not included shipping costs. Dimensions are 10″x7.5″. The Pyrex container is rectangular and holds 6 cups. Specs indicate the nylon case can hold a container up to 8.75″x6.75″x2.5″. You can purchase the entire set for a comparable price at
https://myhotlogic.com.

The American-based makers of this product state that one can heat frozen food and leftover refrigerated food with the device. They also claim that you can use the Hot Logic mini to cook certain foods from scratch. Well, that remains to be seen. However, I did try it with a frozen Saffron Road lamb dish that I purchased at Sprouts.

Although the specs say that the above food item can be directly placed in the oven, cardboard box and all, I decided to play it safe and use the Pyrex container.

Frozen lamb and rice prior to cooking

I placed the food in the Pyrex dish, sealed it with the plastic top, put the Pyrex in the mini oven, zipped everything closed, and plugged ‘er in. Two hours later, here are the results:

Lamb and rice after cooking

The lamb was hot, moist, tender and delicious. The side dish was just okay, but I suspect that the quality of the rice was more at fault than the Hot Logic device. At any rate, the food was more than adequately heated, and it tasted great. Also, I noted that the outside of the nylon oven was not hot, not even near the point of contact with the hot plate.  This would support the manufacturers’ claim that the oven can be safely plugged into a car. Finally, there were no food odors until I opened the device at completion of cooking. This tells me that the mini oven can be used at the work site without bothering one’s neighbors.

You will be hearing more about the Hot Logic Mini as I experiment and try more dishes.

Book Review: “Beating the Lunch Box Blues”

I found Beating the Lunch Box Blues by J.M. Hirsch several years ago while looking for interesting ways to change up my brown bag lunches. I must say that this collection of recipes is quite a gem.

At the time of publication, Mr. Hirsch was the food editor for the Associated Press. He was also dealing with a picky nine-year old son who refused to accept PB&J’s every day for lunch. While acknowledging the limitations that most parents/full-time workers have in preparing lunches for themselves and their children, Hirsch came up with some innovative ways to make meals interesting and easy to prepare.

Pluses: Beating meets my primary requisite for a good cookbook: Lots.Of.Photos. Even better, Hirsch bubbles in useful comments and directions amid his artfully staged pics:

Another plus: Hirsch includes examples of dinner time meals that can be packed for lunch the next day. He is careful to describe # of servings for each recipe. Below, you can see Hirsch’s recipe for Roasted Chicken Thighs with Garlicky White Beans. Easy to make, and interesting ways to use the leftovers. I cooked this dish myself; it’s not bad.

Finally, I love Hirsch’s innovation in deconstructing classic sandwiches and remaking them into salads. Below is just one example of many:

Minus. Hirsch recommends using a heated Thermos for meats, pastas, and other relatively dry dishes listed elsewhere in his book. In my experience, even the most effective Thermos works best with liquidy foods like soup, stew, and brothy noodles. Otherwise, the food just doesn’t stay warm over a long period of time. I would suggest using a Crockpot Lunch Warmer to heat meats, pastas, pizzas, sandwiches, rice dishes, etc. in this book. Please see “Gadgets” under my Category section for information re: the Crockpot Warmer.

If you are interested in purchasing Beating the Lunch Box Blues, it is sold hardcopy on amazon.com.

Cozy Food

Toastabag cheese toast and tomato soup

It’s winter in California. The rain’s coming down, day after day. As I look out the window at grey skies and sheets of water, I’m thinking “hygge.”

What’s that? Well, it’s something I learned about while visiting Scandinavia last summer. “Hygge” refers to an ambience of comfort and coziness. There’s a culture around hygge during the winter months in Scandinavia, where friends and relatives spend time with each other equipped with hot cocoa, comfort foods, and candlelight. Given that much of Northern Europe is locked up in ice and snow during winter, the idea of hygge is certainly an attractive one…a great, big winter hug.

Here are some convenient ways to hug yourself with hygge at work:

Hot chocolate.  Instead of coffee, consider packing hot cocoa for work. There are several instant mixes at your local grocery store that you might try. If you still need that caffeine kick, you can add some instant coffee to the mix.

For those of you who have access to Trader Joe’s, I’ve become fond of TJ’s Sipping Chocolate. I usually have that with my Blue Diamond Almond Milk 30, to save on calories.

Hot cereal. There’s nothing that spells H-Y-G-G-E like hot cereal. Even if you don’t have time to make it at home, you can still put something together for the microwave at work. Here’s a recipe I used with TJ’s Instant Oatmeal:

  • One packet 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!

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 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.

Soup. There’s nothing like a hot Thermos full of soup on a cold day. Here are some easy choices.

  • Lentil soup. Long ago, I hit upon a really easy way to spice up pre-made lentil soup. First, I saute chopped onions and other assorted vegetables. I add some curry powder and saute a minute more. Then I add chopped tomatoes and saute another minute. I add a couple of cans of Progresso Lentil Soup, mix it all together, and simmer for about 20 minutes. This is a very easy recipe to make,and it packs well in a metal thermos. You can find the specifics under the “Recipes” category listed on this blog.
  • Asian-style ramen. I’m fond of Top Ramen, but I recently found something better. While shopping at Sprouts Market, I discovered Lotus Foods Millet & Brown Rice Ramen. You can also get it online at amazon.com. This product contains 9 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber per serving. Unfortunately, it’s rather high in sodium, but a low sodium option was listed on amazon.com. I cooked the ramen for 6 minutes to get the noodles to the desired tenderness. To add nutrition to the mix, I would recommend adding some chopped baby bok choy at the beginning of cooking. It should be tender at the end of the cooking time. Add some sliced hard-boiled egg as garnish and you have even more protein. Works well with a metal Thermos.
  • Pacific Foods soup. This company offers a variety of soups packaged in cartons, and you can find them in many main stream stores. One of my favorites is Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup. Heat up and pour into a thermos, or store in a Crockpot Lunch Warmer (see “Gadgets” under my categories). And what goes better with tomato soup than…..
  • Cheese toast. All you need is a toaster. Really. We have a Bed, Bath, and Beyond nearby, and there I discovered Toasta bags. (You can get these online at amazon.com. Look under “toastabags.”) Put a couple of slices of cheese between bread. Add some pop by slipping in three or four slices of dill pickle. Spread the outside of the bread lightly with butter or margarine. Pack in your lunch bag, along with one toasta bag. When you get to work, put the sandwich in the toastabag, and put the entire package in the toaster. You may need to experiment a little to get the right consistency. But I can tell you that the result will be perfectly melted cheese and toasty bread. The instructions for toastabag indicates that you can used the bag again and again after washing. I have yet to test that theory, but I can tell you that my sandwich came out pretty good.

Let’s here it for hygge!

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.

 

Brown Bag Breakfast

Kashi Go Lean cereal with bananas and milk

Many of us have made a New Year’s resolution to eat better and lose weight. In order to achieve this goal, I would encourage you to make this preliminary resolution:

Eat breakfast.

Eat breakfast everyday, even if you have to do it at work.

My own experience has taught me that skipping breakfast results in fatigue throughout the morning. At about 10 o’clock, my appetite starts to kick in. If I haven’t eaten up to that point, I will make a beeline for the vending machine and load up on cookies, sweet rolls, or some other carb-rich treat. Not conducive to a balanced diet.

So in this post, I’m going to provide suggestions for breakfast foods that provide a combination of carbs and protein to sustain you until lunch. By the way, I’m categorizing breakfast as a brown bag issue, because many people simply don’t have an appetite when they first wake up on a week day and prefer to eat at work.

Have your meal ready to eat as soon as you enter the work area. Why? Because most employers are not crazy about workers who show up at their desk, drop their belongings, and then immediately go to the breakroom or cafeteria to fix their meal. This sort of thing will not help your career. Your management wants to see you at your desk at the beginning of shift, ready to work.

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Morning beverage. If you are lucky, you have some sort of coffee/tea station at the office when you arrive at work. I have not always find that to be true, and I.need.my.caffeine. So I got into the habit of preparing my morning brew before going to work. I bought a 5 cup Mr. Coffee with a delay setting. I place the filter, grounds, and water in the device the night before. I choose the time that I want my coffee brewed, and then hit the delay button. Next morning, the coffee is made. All that’s left to do is to put my nice, hot morning drink into a Thermos and place it in my rolling backpack. No muss. No fuss. No long lines at Starbucks.

If tea is your preference, you can make it in the microwave before you go to work. Put the teabag and water into a tall, wide mug or ceramic teapot. (Make sure you remove any metal staples in the bags prior to nuking.) Hit the “Beverage” button. Then take your shower, put on your makeup, or something else for about ten minutes. By then, you’ll have a hot, hearty brew. Pour your tea into a Thermos and pack it.

Eggs. Next time that you go to the market, check out the egg section, which is usually next to the dairy section. You will find eggs that have already been hard-boiled and peeled. You’ll pay more than you would buying raw eggs and cooking them yourself. Still, it’s a nice convenience.

Pack a couple of hard-boiled eggs for some extra protein in the morning. You also might want to pack a high-quality bread which has been spread with butter or cheese for some carbohydrate, fat, and additional protein. If you like bagels but are watching your weight, I recommend Thomas’ Bagel Thins, which have less than half the calories of most standard-sized bagels.

Nut butter sandwich. Speaking of bagels, a multi-grain bread or bagel spread with nut butter is a good choice. Almond butter, peanut butter, sunflower butter, etc. provide healthy fats and protein. Look for brands with no added sugar. Maranatha is a good choice, as well as Laura Scudders Old Fashioned Peanut Butter.

Cold cereal. An extremely easy item to prepare. I like Go Lean Kashi, because it contains 12 grams of protein and 13 grams of fiber per serving. Pack the cereal separately from the milk and fruit. If your fruit of choice is banana, you will need to slice it immediately before you place it on your cereal. So don’t forget to pack a paring knife with your food.

Check out the photo at the top of this post. You will note that I used the lunchpail and container set that I recommended in my October 18th post concerning brown bag equipment. If you are interested in learning more about these items, please check out the October 18th post.

Yogurt. A great source of carbs, protein, and calcium. Look for plain, unsweetened brands to avoid a sugar overdose. My favorites are Mountain High Plain Yogurt and Strauss Family Creamery Plain Yogurt. They taste wonderful when combined with diced strawberries, blackberries, or mangoes. If you can’t find fresh fruit, look in the freezer section for frozen. If needed, add an envelope of stevia to your yogurt to cut the tartness.

Nutrition bars. I suggest this as a last resort. Even the best of us forgets to pack food for the day. For that reason, I ALWAYS carry a protein bar or two in my purse for emergencies. My favorite brand is Atkins; their bars provide lots of protein, fiber, and vitamins.

NEXT WEEK: More about breakfast