The Quick Dinner Series, Episode 1: Brown Rice Stir Fry with Spicy Chicken Sausage, Shaved Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, and Chopped Beets

When I get home from ten exhausting hours of sitting behind a desk, sometimes the last thing I want to do is come home and prepare a nutritious and flavorful meal. I think many can agree with me that in fact, it’s quite the opposite. We get home from our jobs and other commitments, and we don’t necessarily have the time or energy to cook – we want something that requires minimal effort but can still make us feel good. With that said, I introduce to you The Quick Dinner Series.

The Quick Dinner Series will feature various meals that are easy to prepare, take minimal time to cook, and are a breeze to clean up. The recipes I share will not compromise nutritional value or flavor for the sake of simplicity. What you’ll find are recipes that have become healthy and delicious staples in my kitchen.

The first feature for the Series is something I threw together when my refrigerator was looking pretty bare. With no interest in heading to the store, and the only delivery service in my relatively rural area of New Jersey being pizza or Chinese food, I thought I was going to have to get very inventive (and I was a bit worried about that.) Turns out, I got pretty lucky – this recipe isn’t too “out of the box,” and it’s now one I shop specifically for.

Brown Rice Stir Fry with Spicy Chicken Sausage, Shaved Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, and Chopped Beets

Serves 2 (with left overs)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice
  • Chicken sausage of your choice (I like to use a full package of Al Fresco® Roasted Pepper and Asiago flavor. It gives your dish a nice kick)
  • 3 cups shaved Brussels sprouts
  • 2 heads broccoli, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped beets
  • 2-3 tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. Cook your rice in a medium saucepan until desired results. Let sit.
  2. Heat up the olive oil in a large pan. Add Brussels sprouts and broccoli and let cook until slightly tender, but not fully cooked.
  3. Add in chopped beets and chicken sausage. *If your sausage is pre-cooked, this is the time to add it in. If it’s not pre-cooked, I advise adding it to the pan first, and cooking for 10 minutes or so before adding the Brussels.
  4. Mix everything together and add more olive oil, salt, or pepper if necessary. Cook for an additional 10-15 minutes, until vegetables are tender and sausage is cooked through.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in brown rice, mixing everything together and letting the flavors meld.
  6. Remove from the pan and enjoy!

Health Benefits

When I was younger, my mom used to take drastic measures to get me to eat vegetables like Brussels sprouts. They’re one of those vegetables that as a child, you just have to dislike. As a result, I pretty much avoided them until my 20’s, and now I eat them regularly. Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of nutrition. They are rich in vitamin K, which helps blood clot (which is necessary when you puncture your skin), and it helps bones grow and stay healthy. In addition, a serving of Brussels sprouts has more vitamin C than a glass of orange juice. As you probably know, vitamin C promotes a healthy immune system. It also helps with brain health (no wonder my mom made me eat it).

As a child, it was probably even more difficult to get me to eat beets, but now I eat them almost daily. Beets have a high concentration of folate, a complex B-vitamin. Beets are detoxifying, and thanks to folate, they also promote brain and nervous system health. They’re also good for your heart. Studies have also shown that an increase in folate decreases the risk of different types of cancers in the body.

This meal has quickly become a favorite in my household and one I would highly recommend. I live with a picky eater of a boyfriend, yet it’s something he specifically requests at least once a week. And I am happy to oblige – it only involves two pans to cook and clean. I recommend topping this with my favorite spicy sauce, Sriracha, as well as some fresh avocado.

Hope you enjoyed the first installment of The Quick Dinner Series! Did you get to try this recipe? Let me know how you liked it in the comments!

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Overnight Oats with Chia

All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast. – John Gunther

If you want to have a good day, you should make sure to start it with a good breakfast. If you want to have an even better day, you should make sure to start it with a good breakfast that you don’t have to make. Overnight oats are the perfect healthy breakfast – they’re easy to prepare, extremely customizable, and made the night before, so you can grab them quickly on your way out the door.

jar-overnight-oats

Overnight oats are also great vehicles for chia seeds. Most recipes include a topping of chia seeds and fruit, or include the seeds blended into the base as well. Either way, the combination of oats, almond milk, chia seeds, and fruit equals a great amount of energy throughout the day and enough fiber to keep you full until lunch – so your stomach won’t be growling at your desk all morning (isn’t that the worst?).

There were so many overnight oat recipes to choose from, but I chose to keep it simple as I am pretty new to this idea and have only made this once before. This is not to say that it’s difficult, as you pretty much just combine everything into the jar and stick it in the refrigerator. No cooking required, either – the oats “cook” themselves overnight in the mixture. This particular recipe is from Just A Taste. No photos of my own this week, as it wasn’t exactly the prettiest creation… so click the images to find their source.

What you’ll need:enhanced-buzz-3838-1365803688-29
  •  oats, duh (1 cup)
  • 1 cup milk (I used almond milk)
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 2 teaspoons honey or agave nectar
  • fresh fruit to top
How to make:
  1. Combine everything into a bowl and stir well.
  2. Pour your mixture into a mason jar, or bowl, however you will be eating it.
  3. Refrigerate and wait patiently overnight.
  4. Wake up, top with fruit, and enjoy!

If you have a busy schedule, you know it can be tough sometimes to get a healthy meal in when you’re always rushing out the door. These oats give you the nutrition you need to get through the day and require minimal prep work. I highly recommend this recipe and don’t be afraid to customize – there are so many directions this can go in, and they’re all so different and delicious.

Chia Seeds: They’re “Supernatural”

This week’s special ingredient is the chia seed. You may or may not have heard of these tiny quinoa lookalikes, as they’re still growing in popularity (though at a fast pace) in the US. As I’ll explain, chia seeds are little nutritional powerhouses which will add great health benefits to your yogurts, your drinks, or your baking.

chia-seeds-in-a-bowl

History of chia seeds

Chia seeds go way back. They were grown as early as 3500 B.C. by the Aztec Empire, and were a major cash crop in Mexico. They were said to have been used by the Mayan and Aztec cultures for their “supernatural powers.” Today, they’re grown in Mexico, South America, and Australia, imported to the U.S., and find their way to healthy kitchens across the country.

the-word-chia-spelled-with-chia-seedsYou may have seen chia seed items on menus of healthy restaurants, either in smoothie blends, yogurt parfaits, or baked goods. Though they look like quinoa, chia seeds aren’t meant to be cooked like quinoa. Instead, they’re usually a topping or an extra ingredient included for nutritional purposes only, as they don’t have a remarkable (or even noticeable) taste. The flavor is somewhat nutty but rather mild, perhaps mild enough to be an ingredient that’s sneaked into a meal that needs a nutritional boost.

Benefits of chia

Though I wouldn’t necessarily say that chia is up there with quinoa in terms of health benefits, I think it’s worth writing about as such a small amount of the superfood provides so much  nutritional value. These little seeds are 40% fiber by weight, and 14% protein by weight.

One 1oz (about 2tbsp) serving will provide you with the following:

  • 11g Fiber
  • 4g Protein
  • 9g Fat (5g of which are omega-3s)
  • 18% RDA of Calcium
  • 30% RDA of Manganese
  • 30% RDA of Magnesium
  • 27% RDA of Phosphorus

It also has decent amounts of Zinc, Potassium, and B Vitamins.

With these high numbers of vitamins and nutrients comes a variety of health benefits. Here are a few:

  1. Chia seedsBeing that chia seeds are 40% fiber by weight and 14% protein by weight, they can help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Fiber and protein help make you feel full, and keep your digestive organs working properly. It’s sounds silly or hard to believe that these little seeds can actually make you feel full, but the numbers don’t lie!
  2. Chia seeds are great for bone health. They say milk helps build strong bones, because of its high percentage of calcium. Chia seeds contain 18% of the recommended daily amount of calcium. Try putting chia seeds in your yogurt and you’ll have a calcium-packed meal. Magnesium, phosphorus, and of course protein are great for bone health too; and are all abundant in chia seeds.
  3. Chia seeds are loaded with antioxidants which can help protect your body from damaging and/or life threatening diseases, such as some cancers. They can also help fight aging.
How to eat chia seeds

Cant-choose-between-chia-pudding-Greek-yogurt-breakfastAs I’ve mentioned, chia seeds are a very versatile addition to your diet, because they don’t have much taste. You can add them to your oats in the morning, to your yogurt, to your smoothies or juices, or to your baked goods. Additionally, you can combine your seeds with water to make “chia gel”, which can be used to thicken sauces, or even act as a binding agent for veggie patties.

For my next recipe, I’ll make a morning meal with chia seeds that is sure to leave you with sufficient energy throughout the day. Stay tuned for my next creation!

Mango Avocado Salsa

Just like there is nothing better than a nice hot cup of soup on a cold day, there is nothing quite as good as a light, citrusy snack on a hot summer day. This weeks’ recipe contains my last two posts, avocado and mango. You only need a handful of ingredients and a few minutes to make it, and it’s delicious. This recipe is courtesy of Whole Foods, and I must admit I have made it quite a few times before… I did say I wanted to try all new recipes on here but I couldn’t resist (and what else contains mango and avocado)?

Image Courtesy of Whole Foods
Image Courtesy of Whole Foods
What you’ll need
  • 1 large mango, diced
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1 (15-oz) can of no-salt added black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/3 cup red onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (I think this is optional)
Now what?
Or 15 hours ago.
Or 15 hours ago.

Umm.. throw everything together into a bowl and mix it. That’s pretty much it. Oh, and WASH YOUR HANDS immediately after handling the jalapeño. Wash them well, too. I must have washed mine four or five times after handling it, and showered this morning before work (the next day mind you), and rubbed my eyes at work today and it STILL hurt. So take my advice.(and if you do happen to burn your eyes due to the jalapeno, here.)

Uses and recipe recommendations

This salsa is versatile in that it can be a part of a meal, or part of a snack, or side dish. I have had this a few different ways – with tortilla chips, on grilled chicken, or in fish tacos. I have to say it’s really great on meat, as it adds a citrusy, juicy flavor to it.

I would definitely recommend mangosalsa2letting the mixture sit a bit before you eat it. That way the flavors have some time to meld together a bit and it tastes even better. The cilantro is a bit overwhelming (and I love cilantro) if you eat it right away.

If you’re pressed for time (or if you’re not), and you’re looking for a healthy and FAST appetizer to make that’s packed with flavor, definitely give this one a try! I can’t stress how easy it was to make and how inexpensive the few ingredients are. Enjoy!

Let’s Talk About Mangoes

Perhaps one of the things I miss most about living in the City is the always-smiling ladies who sold fresh, ripe mangoes on the corner of the street near my apartment. I passed daily on my way to school and stopped quite a few times for breakfast. They were already sliced perfectly (a treat in itself, as mangoes aren’t the easiest fruit to dice up) and in little plastic containers, and were so ripe every single time. To this day I haven’t had a better mango.

avocados-636x423
Exactly.

Anyway.. the reason I’m talking about mangoes today instead of sharing an avocado recipe is because I am patiently waiting for my avocados to ripen enough to use them (the only downfall of the avocado: the window of perfection is so small).

So instead, we’ll talk about mangoes, and my next post will feature a recipe with both avocado and mango, in perfect harmony. As long as my mangoes are ripe, too (fingers crossed).

About the mango

Mangoes are a type of stone fruit, which means they have a pit (a “stone”) on the inside, surrounded by the flesh (the good part), which is protected by the outer skin. Other examples of stone fruits include nectarines, plums, cherries, and peaches. Mangoes obviously come from a mango tree, and they are native to Southern Asia, particularly, Burma and eastern India.

Mango-Yogurt-Parfait-2Today they’re one of the most well-known tropical fruits and they make for a nice salsa ingredient, yogurt topping, or margarita flavor.

Benefits of mango

Personally, I like mangoes because they make me feel healthy, and they make me feel like I’m on a tropical vacation (as do pineapples and coconuts). But of course, there are numerous actual benefits to eating mangoes.

  • Vitamin C: Mango is a great source of Vitamin C,  with 76% of your recommended daily dose in just one cup. As I’ve mentioned earlier, Vitamin C has special immunity properties that keep you from getting sick, or help you heal faster when you are sick. It also helps form proteins that are vital to creating ligaments, skin, tendons, and blood vessels. So it’s not only beneficial, but pretty necessary if you ask me. It helps heal wounds by forming scar tissue and helps maintain cartilage, teeth, and bones. So if you’re sick of drinking orange juice every day for your Vitamin C dosage, consider switching to mango juice.mango_16x9
  • Antioxidants. In addition to containing Vitamin C, which acts as an antioxidant in itself, mango also contains numerous disease-fighting antioxidants that can help protect your body.
  • Full of fiber. As I’ve discussed in the past, fiber is an important part of one’s diet as it keeps the digestive system healthy and makes you feel full. For those who are trying to lose or manage their weight, fiber is key. Mango is a good source of fiber.

Now there are more health benefits that adding mango to your diet will result in, but I think it’s time we go in a different direction. After all, our next recipe will have avocado and mango, so I’ve already talked about quite a few benefits that this recipe will consist of.

If you don’t want to eat it..

Mango actually offers some other great benefits that result not from eating it, but applying it to your skin. The same vitamins and minerals that do your body good on the inside will do your body good on the outside. This is due to to nutrients such as Vitamin A, Potassium, B-Vitamins, and Vitamin C. These nutrients work together to fight off dead skin and it healthy and fresh. It’s no coconut oil, but it’s worth the try to see how your skin feels afterwards.

Mango face masks
Face mask or baby food?
Face mask or baby food?

Mashed mango combined with honey and yogurt creates a moisturizing face mask that will leave your skin looking and feeling hydrated. Combine 1 tbsp of mango pulp with 1 tsp of honey and 1 tsp of yogurt and apply to your face, letting it sit for 10-15 minutes. Then let me know how it is, as admittedly I haven’t tried it (though I am intrigued).

If you’re not so sure about diving into this whole mango-on-your-face thing and want to ease into the process (or if you just don’t feel like mixing it), you can simply cut up the mango into thin slices and place them on your face. Let sit for a few minutes and then wash your face off. Supposedly, this alone should help unclog pores and reduce acne or dry skin. I am equally as intrigued about this… but I will save my mangoes for my recipe this weekend.

All in all..

Mango is one of those foods you just can’t feel guilty about eating, no matter how many you might eat in one sitting (which probably isn’t much, considering the fiber content). It can give that tropical feel to any meal, and will sweeten up the most boring of meals. And if you’re not the biggest fan of this slimy but sweet fruit, you can just put it on your face.

The Avocado

After almost 10 years of healthy eating, I have acquired a taste for many different healthy foods. You name it, I’ve probably tried it. But I do feel it’s very important that I make at least one post for perhaps my favorite healthy food of all: the avocado.

Who doesn’t like avocado? You know a food is important when it’s compared to Oprah. There’s avocado toast, guacamole, ceviche, or just plain old avocado with salt and pepper (and for me at least, a little Sriracha). Most people know that avocado is packed with healthy fats which is reason enough to make sure you incorporate it into your diet. But what some of us might not know is that it has a number of other great health benefits. Bring on the guac.

So what is avocado?avo1

Avocado is a pear shaped fruit that is native to Central America and Mexico. It’s also known as the “alligator pear” due to its scaly skin. However, the inside is so delicious that I suspect even Donald Trump would allow this Mexican immigrant to pass the border (too soon?).

Benefits of avocado

Avocado contains around 20 different vitamins and minerals; Vitamin K, Folate, and Vitamin C being the most abundant.

  • Vitamin K is essential for healthy bones and blood flow. It also aids in blood clotting which is important when it comes to injuries, and also greatly strengthens heart health. Avocados have 26% of the RDA of Vitamin K in a single 3.5oz serving.
  • Folate is another vitamin that promotes heart health. It is also an essential prenatal vitamin; as it supports normal fetal development. It also benefits your psychological and emotional health. Avocados have 20% of the RDA of Folate in a single 3.5oz serving.avo2
  • Vitamin C, as we all know, is a vital ingredient for a healthy immune system. And we know a healthier immune system equals a longer, fuller life. It also protects against cardiovascular diseases, eye disease and prenatal health diseases as well. Avocados have 17% of the RDA of Vitamin C in a single 3.5oz serving.

Aside from these primarily abundant vitamins, there are a number of other beneficial properties the avocado contains.

  • When we think potassium, most of us think bananas. Avocado actually has more potassium than bananas. Potassium supports healthy blood pressure levels, which can help prevent stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure.
  • Healthy fats: this is probably the benefit most are aware of. Though 77% of calories in avocado are from fat, which shouldn’t alarm you – most of the fat is oleic acid. Oleic acid reduces inflammation and supports a healthy digestive system. If you’re following a plant-based diet, for example, avocado is a healthy way to ensure you incorporate necessary fats into your diet.
  • Fiber: while we’re on the topic of a healthy digestive system, it’s worth it to note the large amounts of fiber in avocado. An unhealthy digestive system is more trouble than you would imagine – so incorporate fiber into your diet whenever you can.
  • Low cholesterol: avocados don’t contain any cholesterol or sodium, which are things we need to limit in our diets. It’s full of flavor without the added salt.
  • It makes healthier food healthier. Avocado increases the absorption of important vitamins and minerals found in other foods (i.e. veggies). So not only will you be getting nutrients from the avocado itself, but you will be getting prime benefits of the foods that you’re consuming avocado with.

avo3As we’ve seen, avocado is a superfood that should be on-hand in your kitchen at all times. These are just a few of the health benefits it offers. The only guilt we should be feeling about eating avocado is the ridiculous up-charge Chipotle requires to add guacamole to your burrito (Dear Chipotle: take all of my money).

Zesty Quinoa Salad

For this post, I first wanted to do a vegetable stir-fry over quinoa, but I realized I should do something where quinoa isn’t the base that carries the vegetables, but where it’s the main star of the recipe. This Zesty Quinoa Salad from allrecipes truly showcases how versatile quinoa can be as an ingredient.

Now, I will admit that to find this recipe, I simply Googled “quinoa salad recipe” and clicked the first result. I would have kept looking around a bit, but this looked so delicious and light. And, being that it’s something I haven’t yet made, I was intrigued. I want this to be as much of a discovering experience for me as it is for you, so it was the perfect choice.

Before we begin:

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Ready in: 30 minutes (ish)

What you’ll need

(makes 6 servings)

  • 1 cup dry quinoa (I used rainbow quinoa)
  • 2 cups water or broth (I used vegetable broth, for some more flavor)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (again, I used tuscan herb olive oil from Warwick Valley Olive Oil Co.)
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cuminQuinoa Salad Ingredients
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1-1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 5 green onions, chopped fine
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • salt and black pepper to taste
Now, here’s what you’ll do..
  1. Start by cooking the quinoa with your water or broth. Like I mentioned in my last post, it’s best to rinse your quinoa off before starting to cook it, to get the bitter coating off of it.
  2. Once the quinoa is all done, let it cool a bit (I was a bit anxious, so I put mine in the freezer)
  3. Combine the olive oil, cumin, and lime juice in a bowl and whisk together to make your dressing. Add your 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I added a bit more for some more heat).
  4. Combine the black beans, tomatoes, and green onions in a bowl, and add the chilled quinoa.
  5. Mix together, and slowly add the dressing, mixing in as you pour. Top with cilantro and salt and pepper to taste, and voila! You’re all done.
So, how is it?

I think this came out great. And surprisingly filling, in a good way! I think it’s a nice, light meal full of flavor and zest. The cumin in the dressing definitely stands out, as does the IMG_1875cilantro. This is something I will definitely be bringing to work with me for the next few days for lunch. It would make a great side dish as well, or an appetizer dish to bring to a barbecue. It was so easy to make; and the ingredients are easy to find and inexpensive. And, it looks appetizing, which I have to admit I can’t exactly say for my last recipe.

Some recommended tweaks

While pouring the dressing, I learned it wasn’t necessary to use the entire serving of it. I probably only used about half of the dressing, and my salad was covered more than enough. I think it may have turned a bit too oily if I used all of it. I would also recommend cutting the salt a bit – I found it just a bit too salty, but not too overpowering.

Additionally, as I mentioned, use broth instead of water. It makes a huge difference in the way your quinoa turns out. I also think this would be delicious with some chopped avocado on top – but then again, what isn’t good with avocado on top? Another thing I might add next time is corn or celery, to give the dish some crunch.

I highly recommend trying this easy and tasty recipe! Especially in these hot summer months. Let me know what you think! 🙂