Homemade Tacos

Homemade Tacos

I immediately lose trust in someone if they say they don’t like tacos.  Ok, I’m exaggerating, but seriously who doesn’t love a good taco?  Mexican food is actually a huge weakness of mine, and I have a love-hate relationship with Mexican restaurants because there’s so much potential for tag-along calories with your delicious Mexican meal.  How easy is it to fill up on guac and chips while you’re waiting for your tacos, then knock back your whole plate of tacos cause they’re just so damned delicious?!  Was there guac on the tacos too?  A creamy drizzle?  Sour cream?  Probably all of the above.  Then there’s the cheese, tortilla, and tag-along fats that come with cooking the meats and veggies. How about that side of rice and beans, though?  Are you salivating yet?  I know I am.

I thought that there must be a better way to enjoy tacos on the reg without having to make it my cheat meal every single week.  And alas, there was!  I made my own tortillas, slashing the carbs down significantly, and my own avocado sauce to drizzle, cutting down the fats by a whole lot.  Also, a solid benefit of making my own tacos at home was that I got to choose what to make on the side – AKA, no rice and beans sitting inches away from my fork to tempt me!

First, I’ll start with the taco recipe.  It was so so so easy.

Ingredients:

  1. 1/4 cup coconut flour
  2. 3 eggs
  3. 1 cup almond milk
  4. Coconut oil

Instructions:

  1. Whisk together the coconut flour, eggs, and almond milk until well combined.  Let the batter sit for a minute or two to thicken.  The batter should be runny, so add additional egg/almond milk in equal parts if need be to get it to a nice pourable consistency (I didn’t have to add anything extra when I made them).
  2. Heat a pan or skillet on the stove over medium heat and grease lightly with coconut oil
  3. Pour about 1/4 cup of batter into your pan or skillet and immediately swirl the batter around by tilting the pan to spread it out evenly.
  4. Cover the pan for about 2-3 minutes while the tortilla cooks.  When it’s golden and curled up a little on the edges, it’s ready to flip.  It should come up easily and should also be nicely golden on its pan side.  If it doesn’t come up easily when you try to flip it, it’s not done.
  5. Cook for another 2 minutes on the other side (or until golden brown)
  6. Keep going until you’ve used up all the batter.

This recipe made about 6 tortillas, and the leftovers stayed really well in the fridge until the next day.

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Now for the fillings.  I cooked up some chicken and beef seasoned with cumin, smoked paprika, chipotle pepper powder, and pepper and set it aside.  Then, I cut up some tomatoes, onion, and cilantro and combined it in a bowl.  I took an oz of goat cheese out of the fridge and set that aside.  I washed some lettuce and set that aside as well.  Lastly, I made the most bomb avocado lime dressing to put on my tacos (and to save as a salad dressing for the rest of the week).

Ingredients:

  1. 100g avocado
  2. Juice from 2 limes
  3. Salt
  4. A splash of apple cider vinegar
  5. 1/2 cup greek yogurt
  6. 1 cup almond milk

Instructions:

  1. Blend all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender
  2. Store in an airtight container.  The top layer will get brown after a day, but it will stay fine in your fridge for at least four days.

This recipe yielded 1 cup of dressing, and I decided that a serving would be 2 tbsp (1/8 of the entire recipe.)  The macros for a serving of the dressing are: P – 2; C – 2; F – 2.5.  40 calories! If you want a thicker dressing, use less of the liquid ingredients.

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Once all of this was prepared, I assembled my tacos and then devoured them!  They were honestly just as satisfying as the real deal.  And didn’t leave me overstuffed and bloated like a typical trip to my favorite Mexican restaurant.

Added bonus, I used the leftover tortillas the next day and made a really delicious dessert by spreading greek yogurt, honey, and cinnamon on them and rolling them up.  It was almost like a crepe, and it was an equally as delicious way to enjoy those homemade tortillas.

Stay fit and fiesta, all!

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Tips for Buying Lunch at Work

Tips for Buying Lunch at Work

Try as you might, are you still finding it difficult to prep your meals in advance for the week?  Or maybe you just really hate cooking and want to do it as little as possible.  Whatever the reason may be, I understand that preparing every meal of every day in advance isn’t a lifestyle that suits everyone.  To each their own!  If buying lunch is something that you do regularly, it’s so important to make well-informed and smart decisions to stay on track with  your goals.  I’ve been out of the buying lunch game for a while now, so I decided that for a week I would buy my lunch instead of bringing one from home, and use my experiences to come up with some tips and tricks for you on buying lunch.

As an extra little side experiment, I didn’t tell my team at work about my lunch-buying research, and wanted to see if/when they would become alarmed and concerned by my sudden change in routine.  I didn’t have to wait very long – it happened on Tuesday.

 So for my week of buying lunch, I tried to go to places that are chains, and places that are typical lunch spots. I wanted my experiences to be able to translate into general guidelines for you, but also provide specific and relevant examples.  Here’s what I wound up munching on this week for lunch:

  1. Poke (I went to a spot near my job, but all poke places are pretty similar so my tips here can be applied wherever it’s convenient for you)
  2. Sweetgreen
  3. Chipotle
  4. Stamina Grill (Ok so this one isn’t a chain, but it looked so good I had to try it)
  5. Buffet style deli (again, I went to a spot near my job, but my tips here can be applied to any buffet style deli)

Before I get into the details of each individual day, here’s a few things that I learned as general notes:

First, this might seem silly to even mention because it’s pretty obvious, but it’s so much easier to plan out your day when your lunch spot posts its nutrition facts online.  It’s important to assess the accuracy of the facts posted once you actually get your meal and can see what’s in it, but it’s so much easier to estimate when you have a starting point.  Also, don’t automatically assume that a place doesn’t have macro information online.  I am pleasantly surprised at the amount of restaurants lately that post nutrition information.  Best practice would be to Google ‘[Eatery name] nutrition information’ for any place you’re interested in eating at.  You might be surprised at which of your favorite restaurants actually post information!

Second, when you are estimating the calories/macros in a meal, break it down by each individual ingredient or component of the dish, rather than just trying to place a guesstimated number on the dish as a whole. When estimating, you’re already by default not really getting an accurate number, so by taking a general high level assessment of a dish as a whole and slapping a number on it, you’re almost positively going to be pretty far off.  Also, taking each ingredient/component individually ensures that you don’t accidentally leave something out in your consideration.

Third, keep the blinders ON at the checkout line.  I know there’s a ton of good stuff on those impulse shelves just begging to be purchased while you wait patiently on line to get rung up.  I fell victim to these impulsive purchases this week too…sometimes they’re so hard to resist!  If it’s not something you would normally eat, or if it’s not something you would have brought from home to go with your lunch, then don’t impulsively grab it while you’re waiting on line.

Fourth, when you’re at an eatery that offers ‘signature’ dishes as well as ‘build-your-own,’ it’s almost always better to make your own.  The signature dishes always have more ingredients than you’d have thought to order on your own and probably use dressings and sauces that you wouldn’t have otherwise selected.  Although they’re delicious, they have a ton of extra calories as opposed to if you were to build your own.  Best practice would be to skip directly to the build your own portion of the menu so you aren’t tempted by the signature dishes.

Fifth, on a similar note, best practice is that bowls are always better than wraps or burritos.  The wrap/tortilla adds a lot of avoidable carbs and fills you up with fairly empty calories.  I personally much rather get a bowl and fill it with protein and veggies instead.

Sixth, another best practice – plan your dinners in advance so you know exactly what macros you need to hit on lunch in order to meet your goals for the day.  Since lunches are going to be spontaneous on a day-to-day basis, dinners will need to be well planned.

Seventh, even if you’re buying lunch, you can always bring certain components from home to make it the most ideal meal.  For example, if you make your own salad dressings or dipping sauces, bring them with you and add your own flair to your store-bought lunch!  Also, if you’re having trouble hitting your protein, which was often a struggle for me this week, you can always bring some extra protein from home to supplement.

Eighth, check the restaurant’s menu prior to your arrival, and preferably right after you eat breakfast, so that you can settle on what you’ll order at a time that you’re not starving.  They say you’re not supposed to go the grocery store hungry, otherwise you’ll blow your life savings in one shop getting one of everything because you’re so excited to eat.  This follows that same idea.  Once you get to the eatery and smell all the delicious flavors in there, it’s going to be really difficult to settle on one of the more healthy options.  So check the menu early, and stick with your original decision once you get there.  It helped me to log into my macro tracking app in advance the lunch that I chose, because then it felt like a more final decision that would require more math and planning if I wanted to change it. And who has time for that, right?

Lastly, choose a solid rotation of 5-6 eateries that you like, and try to generally stick to those same places.  The more you eat at the same place, the better you will get at estimating the macros in your meal.  You’ll be able to track patterns about a certain place based on how your body reacts to its food over time.  To take an extreme example, if you eat at the same lunch spot every single day and are tracking your macros at a deficit but you aren’t losing body fat, it’s safe to assume that you’re underestimating for lunch.

Ok, with those general observations out of the way, let’s get to each day’s meals!

Monday – Pokegreen

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I absolutely love sushi in general.  It’s really refreshing, especially now that it’s starting to get warmer out, and I like the fact that all ingredients are raw and visible.  The way sushi will get you, though, is with the rice and the sauces.  When I order my poke bowls, I always skip the rice and have them put my mix-ins over a bed of lettuce instead.  Also, instead of getting one of the mayo-based dressings, I will get Ponzu sauce, or plain soy sauce.

On this day, I ordered a bowl with lettuce as the base instead of rice, salmon and tuna as my proteins, and the following mix-ins: cucumber, edamame, corn, seaweed, and roe.  I chose Ponzu sauce as the dressing (but I even recommend soy sauce, which is equally as delicious and essentially free of calories).  I generally try to order as many low-cal veggies that a place like this has to offer, such as cucumber, celery, tomato, etc. And I will choose a maximum of two higher carb mix-ins like corn and edamame.   Once I got back to work, I googled each of the ingredients in my bowl to get an estimate on the nutrition facts of each.  I also estimated that they gave me a full serving of each fish (about 3 oz), and that an ice cream scoop (which is what they used for the mix-ins) is 1/4 cup.  After taking each ingredient into consideration, my meal came out to P – 71, C – 52, and F – 29.  It was a whopping 750 calories, which is almost double what I usually eat at lunch, so needless to say I was pretty full after.  Retrospectively, I thought about how I could have changed my order to have a more favorable spread of macros.  I decided that I could have done double tuna instead of half tuna half salmon, which would have saved a lot of fats.  I also could have done without the corn, which has a lot of carbs.  Lastly, I could have done soy sauce instead of the Ponzu.  Had I made those three simple alterations to my order, I’d have saved about 200 calories.

Tuesday – Sweetgreen

Sweet green

After yesterday’s accidental huge lunch, I decided to play it ‘safe’ and get a salad on Tuesday.  Believe it or not, I actually had never tried Sweetgreen before.  In general, the salad was tasty and the ingredients were fresh, but my experience here wasn’t the most ideal.  Maybe I had gone at an off-hour, but a bunch of popular ingredients weren’t restocked so I had to wait quite a bit of time for my salad to get made.  Also, maybe I’m spoiled but I really wish they had chopped the salad.  Either way, I enjoyed it and will go back again before jumping to any conclusions, since it was my first time trying it out.

I know I just mentioned that I wish Sweetgreen had chopped my salad.  When you read that, I’ll bet you said out loud, excitedly, ‘but Madeline, there’s a place specifically KNOWN for chopping their salads – you HAVE to try it!’  Let me take just an extra minute of your time here to talk about Chop’t.  I used to be an avid Chop’t goer, a few years back.  When I started counting my macros, though, I educated myself on the nutrition facts and ingredients in their salads, I had a really hard time getting any of their signature bowls to fit my diet plan.  I still wanted to go there, though, so I decided to just build my own salad, and it came out to literally $17.  That was my last time going to Chop’t.

I actually forget the exact ingredients I ordered in my salad since I didn’t write them down immediately afterwards.  I do remember that after looking up the nutritional information of corn yesterday, I decided to do without it in my salad.  For protein, I got chicken and an egg, and as dressing I just got a squeeze of fresh lime.  I estimated this lunch at P – 30, C – 20, and F – 12.

Wednesday – Chipotle

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This might come as a surprise to you, as it did for me when my fitness guru told me, but Chipotle is a macro counter’s heavenly dream.  The food is delicious, obviously, and you can walk out of there with literally any spread of macros that your heart desires.  It’s a great option for grabbing a quick bite out, and you don’t even need to plan much ahead of time for it since it’s so customizable.  If you aren’t aware of all of the customizable options at Chipotle, you’re absolutely doing it wrong.  If you remember one thing only from reading this post, I hope it’s the following customizability hacks at Chipotle that can totally save your macros:

  1. I’ll start small.  Omit any ingredient you don’t want.  Low carb day?  Skip the rice and beans altogether.
  2. Customizable scoop sizes!  I know it’s difficult to tell exactly how much is in each spoonful of goodness that goes into your plate, but you can request baby scoops, half scoops, large scoops, and double scoops of any ingredient you want.  The price of your lunch might vary, but at least you’ll be getting a meal you’re comfortable with.
  3. Unlimited veggies!  I don’t know why, but I always forget about the fajita veggies until my bowl has already passed along to the next assemblyman behind the counter, and then I have to ask them to go all the way back to the beginning of the process just to get me my veggies.  I’m the worst.  But seriously, don’t skip those veggies.  They’re really tasty, filling, and add some greens to your day.

I ordered my typical Chipotle order – burrito bowl, no rice, 1/2 scoop beans, double chicken, double fajita veggies, tomato salsa, corn salsa, and lettuce.  P – 75, C – 45, F – 17.  633 calories total, but they’re 633 calories I’m totally fine with.

Thursday – Stamina Grill

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So if you’re not in this specific area, you unfortunately can’t go to the Stamina Grill.  This place was very cool.  Everything is made to order using fresh ingredients.  For wraps, the tortillas are whole wheat and low carb, and the french fries are baked instead of fried.  They also do juices and smoothies, but I didn’t get one of those so I can’t speak about them from experience.  On this day, I got the Stamina Wrap (chicken, spinach, and egg whites), and I added low-fat mozzarella cheese.  I used the internet to estimate the macros for the low carb whole wheat wrap and the lowfat mozzarella, and I eyeballed the chicken and egg whites once I got the wrap in order to try to get the portions right.  I settled on P – 45, C – 19, and F – 14 for the whole wrap.

Friday – Essen Deli

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I both love and hate buffet style deli lunches, mostly because they’re so hit-or-miss.  Generally speaking, they’re pretty good because you get to pick and choose exactly what you want to fill your plate with.  The downside is that you never really know what’s in each dish and how it’s prepared.  I was a little bit disappointed when I walked into this particular Essen location and perused the hot and cold buffet because there wasn’t any option that wasn’t already pre-seasoned and pre-dressed.  Usually at these buffet spreads, there’s at least something that’s steamed, and at least one salad option that you get to dress yourself.  Not here, though.  I definitely had the most difficulty on this day because it was just really difficult to estimate my macros.  A little trick that I do when trying to decide which options to choose when at these types of eateries is to take the serving spoon and move aside all the food in a plate until I can see the bottom.  If there’s a pool of oil down there, chances are the food is also covered in it.

I wound up choosing a salad as a base to my dish that was dressed with a sweet dressing and tossed with strawberries, almond slivers, and dried cranberries.  It was definitely a high carb/sugar salad, but I chose it because it was the only salad option that didn’t have a creamy salad dressing.  croutons, or a visible pool of oil in it.  I topped my salad with a generous portion of grilled chicken, and roasted cauliflower.  All of the veggies had oil on them, so I accounted for about 2 servings of olive oil for the veggies alone.  Overall this meal was really tasty, but probably the highest calorie salad I’ve had in years.

Let’s recap.

Buying lunch out definitely has its pros and cons.  The pros include that the food is certainly tasty, and you can have a nice variety every day.  Also, if you pack your lunch the night before like I do (instead of preparing every single container for the week at once) it does save a lot of time and energy spent cutting things up and planning/packaging a meal every night.  Oh, and so much time saved not washing dishes.  Lastly, there’s the social aspect of it.  I joked around earlier that my team was concerned with my sudden behavior change, but kidding aside it was really nice spending that extra 20-30 minutes with them while we walked to lunch and waited on line together.

The cons, though.  Buying lunch every day is way more expensive than prepping it yourself.  It also prevents you from being accurate in tracking your macros.  Lastly, buying food out is very high in sodium.  I rarely cook with any salt, so I was very aware of the amount of sodium in the lunches that I bought.

Overall, I enjoyed this experience.  And while I’ll never be the type of person at work to buy lunch every day, I will definitely remember that there are viable options out there if I do want to buy lunch occasionally but don’t want to totally blow my macros.

I hope this post was helpful!  What are your favorite lunch spots?  Do you run into the same difficulties I ran into this week?  I’d love to hear your experiences!

Stay fit and fueled, all!

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Three of my Favorite Skillet Recipes

Three of my Favorite Skillet Recipes

There’s nothing that seems more official to me in the kitchen than cooking on the stove in your cast iron skillet, and then throwing it in the oven to roast.  I don’t know why, but the whole process reminds me of being on a fast-paced cooking show.

Cast iron skillets are an extremely versatile tool to use in the kitchen, and I just purchased my first one last weekend.  They’re a little bit high maintenance, because you do have to keep up with oiling it regularly and seasoning it occasionally, and you can’t exactly just leave it in the drain board to dry (nor can you put it in the dishwasher), but I still think it’s worth having one.  The whole thing is a great conductor of heat, so it cooks your food fast and evenly, and offers the opportunity for a picture perfect sear.

Here are my top three favorite meals I made this week using my brand new skillet (no other pots/pans necessary!). Also note that I cooked each of these recipes in a 10 inch skillet, and each recipe made two servings.

I. Stuffed Chicken

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Ingredients

  1. Two chicken breasts
  2. Prosciutto (2 slices)
  3. Raw whole spinach leaves
  4. Goat Cheese (2 oz)
  5. Salt/Pepper/Spices of Choice
  6. Coconut oil

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Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Take your chicken breasts and cut a slice into them without cutting completely in half (this makes the pocket you will use for the fillings)
  3. Take the goat cheese and spread it along the inside of the pocket (1 oz per chicken breast)
  4. Take the prosciutto (1 slice per chicken breast) and fold it so it fits inside the pocket of the chicken breast, on top of the goat cheese
  5. Take some spinach and stuff the remainder of the chicken breast, using just enough spinach so that you can still close up the chicken
  6. Close up the chicken and use toothpicks to secure the pocket shut.
  7. Heat up your skillet with about 1 tsp coconut oil in it
  8. Place your chicken in the skillet and brown the outside of the chicken (about 5 minutes both sides)
  9. Place the skillet into the oven and cook for another 15-20 minutes (depending on the thickness of the meat).  Cut into the thickest section and make sure the meat is white before removing from the oven.
  10. Once the chicken is cooked, take the skillet out of the oven but allow the meat to rest for about 10 minutes before cutting it.  (Otherwise you’ll lose all the goat cheese on your first slice!)
  11. Slice up the chicken, remove the toothpicks, and serve with whatever sides you like! (A side salad and/or veggies and/or sweet potato would go great with this dish).

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II. Baja Chicken 

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Ingredients

  1. Two Mangoes
  2. Two Oranges (One used for juice, one used for meat)
  3. Juice from one lemon
  4. Juice from 2 limes
  5. Half of a sweet onion
  6. One cup of black beans
  7. Handful of Cilantro
  8. Chicken (1 or two breasts, about 350g total)
  9. Fresh spinach (for salad)
  10. Coconut Oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Heat up your skillet with about 1 tsp of coconut oil in it.
  3. Dice the onion and place it into the skillet and cook until they begin to become transparent.
  4. Place the chicken into the skillet (feel free to season the chicken as you like it prior to placing it in the skillet) and allow to brown on the outsides (about 5 minutes each side)
  5. Juice the lemon and orange and put all of the juice into the skillet, put the beans into the skillet, and place the skillet into the oven.  Allow to cook for about 10 minutes.
  6. While the chicken is cooking, remove the skin of the mango and dice into small cubes, and peel the remaining orange and cut up into chunks. Juice the two limes and pour the juice over the fruit.
  7. Roughly chop the cilantro and put into the bowl with the fruit and mix it all together.
  8. After the chicken has been cooking for about 10 minutes, take half of the fruit mixture and put it in the skillet surrounding the chicken. Let the chicken cook for another 10 minutes, or until no longer pink.
  9. While the chicken finishes cooking, wash some fresh spinach and place it in a bowl as the base of your salad.  Pour the remaining fruit mixture over the spinach, dressing the leaves with the juice of the fruit and the limes.
  10. When the chicken is cooked, take the skillet out of the oven, slice up the chicken breast and place it over your dressed salad.  Use a spoon to take the cooked fruit, onions, and beans from inside the skillet and place that in your salad as well.

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III. Shashuka

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This is something I’ve been wanting to make for a while now, but had just never gotten around to it.  Now that I’ve done it once, though, I’m totally hooked!  Since the whole thing is basically veggies, it’s fine to eat the whole skillet, right?? Also, the instructions below are pretty vague regarding amounts of spices and timing, but that’s because this is a really easy recipe that you can cook as much or as little as you want, depending on your preferences.  Stick with me to the end on this one, guys – this dish isn’t the most photogenic but I promise you it’s delicious!

Ingredients (I cooked this recipe in a 10 inch skillet, and serves two)

  1. One can of peeled tomatoes
  2. Two red peppers
  3. Half of a sweet onion
  4. One tsp ghee
  5. Four eggs
  6. Paprika
  7. Cumin
  8. Chipotle Chili Pepper seasoning
  9. Chili Pepper seasoning

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Heat up your skillet with ghee in it on medium heat.
  3. Dice the onion and place into the skillet.  Cook until golden in color, fragrant, and starting to become translucent.
  4. Dice the peppers and add to the skillet.  Cook until softened (or whatever texture you enjoy!)
  5. Open the can of tomatoes and pour them into the skillet.  I used whole tomatoes, so I also used my wooden spoon to break them up a bit.  You can also use diced tomatoes if you like.
  6. Add spices to taste.  I find that the paprika and chili pepper seasonings are very strong, so a little goes a long way.  Add a little bit at a time, and taste the sauce as you go to make sure it’s seasoned to your liking!
  7. Cook the sauce for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You can add tomato paste if you want a thicker sauce.
  8. Create little wells in your sauce where you want your eggs to go.  Crack the eggs into the wells, and immediately place the entire skillet into the oven.  BE CAREFUL BECAUSE EVEN THE HANDLE OF THE SKILLET IS VERY HOT!
  9. Bake in the oven until the eggs are as firm or runny as you like them.  I baked mine for about 10-15 minutes.  The whites were no longer clear, but still a bit runny.  They firmed up once I broke the yolk and spread the whites around the rest of the sauce, though.

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Using my skillet this week was seriously fun, and a great learning experience because I had never used one before!  I hope you guys try out these recipes, and if you do please tag me in your photos 🙂

Stay fit and fab, all!