Meal Idea: Microwave Breakfast Quiche

One Upping the Ubiquitous Breakfast Burrito

Microwave Breakfast Quiche

Go one better than a breakfast burrito with this fast, breakfast quiche that is easily transportable.  Double the recipe and cook in separate dish for a time-free breakfast the next day.

Breakfast burritos are everywhere.  While they are a lot healthier than donuts to be sure, it’s always wise to step back from a craze and evaluate the common wisdom, especially for foods that “everybody” assumes to be healthy.  Taking an objective view of the standard breakfast burrito, what I see is:

  • a tortilla that is white, rather than whole grain, and
  • makes up the largest part of a take-out burrito,
  • leaving very little space for good protein, like eggs and beans
  • but incorporating a significant amount of high-fat cheese
  • yet lacking completely in vegetables
  • or including them in negligible amounts;
  • in other words, a breakfast option that is a step in the right direction, but leaves plenty of room for improvement.

Microwave quiches are a quick option that takes no longer than stopping to buy a ready-made burrito.  If you have time, be sure to use some of the beautiful spinach coming into season now.  Otherwise, packaged or frozen work as well.  Because red peppers are nowhere near in season, I use strips that I froze last autumn, also a timesaver, as is ready made pesto.  For a GF option, use Food for Life’s brown rice tortillas (they work surprisingly well.)

Step 1:  Saute Vegetables  In 1-2 tsp. butter or olive oil, saute 1/2 to 3/4 cup red peppers diced to 1/2.”  Once they are lightly browned, add a couple good sized handfuls of fresh chopped spinach and cook just until it begins to wilt, stirring frequently. (Timesaver:  use about 1 cup frozen chopped spinach and cook until completely thawed.)  For flavor stir in 1-2 Tbsp. of your favorite pesto or 2 tsp. dried leaf basil, 1 tsp. Italian Herbs and a pinch of chili flakes.

Step 2:  Prepare “Crust”  Lightly butter a small casserole dish.  Tear a whole grain tortilla into 5-6 pieces and lay enough pieces over bottom of dish to cover.  Top with cooked vegetables and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Step 3:  Add Cheese If desired, sprinkle vegetables with a high-impact (i.e., a-little-goes-a-long-way) cheese like Parmesan or a goat chevre.

Step 4:  Make Egg Mixture  In a small mixing bowl, beat together 2 eggs and 3/4 cup milk or soy milk.  Pour gently over the vegetables.

Step 5:  Microwave  Cover and cook in 2-minute intervals at 50% power, stirring gently between intervals to bring uncooked interior parts to outside of dish.  Cook until entire quiche is done to taste.

Step 6:  Top with Tomatoes  Also optional, top with high quality chopped canned tomatoes for color and flavor, especially if not using cheese.  Microwave 30 more seconds to warm tomatoes.

Enjoy a 100% healthful breakfast.

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Spinach Sauteed with Bacon and Pears

Spinach in Salad Spinner

Unless it is pre-washed, be sure to clean spinach thoroughly. A salad spinner is perfect for the job because you can spin dry completely, so spinach doesn't become soggy or water down other ingredients.

We’ve been told that bacon is unhealthy,but is it really as bad as they say?  Check out how that question got answered in the previous post, Bad Boy Bacon VS. The Cheese Danish.  Then enjoy the incomparable flavor of (a little) bacon in this dish that’s perfect for spring and autumn, when spinach is in season and winter pears have become, or are still, available.

Spinach Sauteed with Bacon and Pears

Bacon does all the work of flavoring this dish so you can have a delicious dish that’s easy, too

  1. In a large, heavy bottomed saute pan, cook 2-3 pieces of lean bacon over medium heat.
  2. While it cooks, dice a medium pear roughly into 1/2″ to 3/4″  cubes.
  3. Once bacon is cooked, remove to a paper towel to cool.  Pour off all but about 1 Tbsp. of the fat from cooking bacon, then add pears to pan and saute about 3-4 minutes.
  4. While pears cook, cut stems from a large bunch of spinach, then cut the leaves roughly into 2” squares.  Add spinach to pan and cook just until wilted, stirring gently to combine.  Crumble bacon over the top of cooked spinach and serve immediately with a grind or two of fresh pepper, if desired.

A Boredom-Busting Meal for Mid-Winter

Easy, Fun, a Little Fancy + Vegetarian and Gluten Free

So you’re bored–with restaurant food (see previous post) as well as your weekly rotation of 5 standard meals.  If you can saute and deglaze, two simple Cooking Basics we learn about in Whole Kitchen classes, you can break out of that rut in a heartbeat.  Begin by thinking outside the meat-starch-vegetable triangle, as in this meal that lifted me out of my cold-weather blues:

  • Spinach Salad with Sauteed Pears
  • Whole Grain Toasts with Parsley Chevre
  • Spicy Mushroom and Walnut Saute
Spinach in Salad Spinner

As a cold-weather crop, spinach is reasonably-priced and sweet-tasting now. A salad spinner is perfect for washing out all the dirt that collect in spinach.

Spinach Salad with Sauteed Pears and Mushrooms

As the star of the meal, this dish requires the most time.  So start by preparing all its pieces, but hold off on the last step until everything else is ready to go.  Also, take the cheese from the refrigerator now so it can warm to room temperature.

Step 1–Prep Spinach

  • 1 bunch spinach

Cut into 1-2″ squares, wash and spin very dry.

Step 2–Prep Celeriac

  • 1 med. celeriac, shredded on box grater
  • 1-2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste

Combine celeriac and lemon juice in a small bowl and toss to coat, then toss with spinach.

Step 3–Saute Onion and Pear

  • 1 med. to lrg. red onion, sliced 1/4″ thick, then cut into 2″ lengths
  • 1 large Bosc pear, diced to 1/2″
Cleriac with Utiity Knife

While a tough-looking character, celeriac is also a long-storage vegetable that can be eaten raw for nice, wintertime crunch. Remove the skin by cutting away with a paring or utility knife.

  • For meat eaters:  1/4 lb turkey bacon, diced into 1/2″ pieces
    • 2-3 lrg. galic cloves, minced

Saute onion in 1 Tbsp. olive oil for 3-5 minutes, add pear and saute another 5-7 more minutes until everything is browned.  (If using bacon, add and saute 2-3 more minutes to cook through.)  Push everything to sides of pan, add a little oil to center of pan and saute garlic just 1-2 minutes.  Turn off heat and stir everything together.

Step 4–Deglaze Pan

  • 1/4 cup vegetable, mushroom or chicken broth
  • 1-2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1-2 Tbsp. good-quality olive oil or toasted walnut oil, as desired

Deglaze pan with broth, then add vinegar and oil and stir to mix thoroughly.  Reserve until serving time.

Step 5–Dress and Toss Salad

At serving time, if vegetables have cooled, re-warm just 1-2 minutes, then toss with spinach mixture along with:

  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice, to taste

Spicy  Mushroom and Walnut Saute

Bosc Pears

Bosc pears, a winter storage fruit, are best when there is no longer a green hue to their skin and they "give" slightly when pressed gently from the sides. Buy several and store in a paper bag so you always have some of these sweet gems for winter cooking.

Chili flakes are added only to brighten up the mild taste of mushrooms for winter.   So consider sticking to the recommended amounts, even if you’re a chili lover.

  • 1 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced about 1/8 to 1/4″ thick
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil

Saute mushrooms in a large saute pan for 10 to 15 minutes, until browned but not shriveled.

  • 1/8 to 1/4 tsp. chili flakes, to taste
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup walnut pieces

Push mushrooms to sides of pan, pour about 1 tsp. olive oil into center of pan and warm slightly.  Add chili flakes and cook about 30 seconds.  Immediately stir in walnuts and continue cooking about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until nuts begin to brown and smell toasty.  Stir mushrooms and walnuts together, turn heat to lowest setting and keep warm until ready to serve.

Whole Grain Toasts with Parsley Chevre

This idea came via a comment on last month’s parsley article, where Jill Swenson shared another great use for parsley:  her favorite creamed cheese and parsley sandwich.  Since I can’t eat cow milk products, I substituted sheep milk chevre (from Sunny Breeze, a family farm in Craig, Colorado, sold at Vitamin Cottage).  Goat milk chevre would also work.  Because of their bold flavor,  very little is needed.

  • 2-3 oz. sheep or goat chevre or creamed cheese (warmed to room temperature)
  • 1-2 tsp. stoneground mustard
  • 1-2 Tbsp. plain soy milk
  • 2-4 Tbsp. chopped fresh, flat-leafed parsley
Mushrooms and Chili Flakes

Chili flakes are added only to brighten up the mild taste of mushrooms for winter. So consider sticking to the recommended amounts, even if you're a chili lover.

  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine cheese and mustard in a small mixing bowl and mash and blend with a large fork to combine, adding soy milk as needed to make a spreadable mixture.  (It helps if the cheese can be left at room temperature for an hour or so.)   Stir in parsley and add salt and pepper or more mustard and/or parsley, to taste.

  • 4-6 slices whole grain bread, toasted and cut in quarters

Serve bowl of spread on a tray, surrounded by toasts and small bowls of additional parsley and mustard to use as desired.

Read more about Superfood Parsley and check out the easy recipe for Parsley Pesto.

Learn how to quickly and easily make meals like this.  Learn basic cooking techniques like saute and deglaze, and also how to use new and different ingredients like chevre and bosc pears.  There’s all this and more in Whole Kitchen cooking classes.  New classes are starting soon.

Gluten-Free Bread

Since white bread products have little nutritional value, be sure to use a 100% (or at least partially) whole grain bread. We used gluten-free Vegan Oat Bread from Colorado Springs- based Outside the Breadbox, found at Vitamin Cottage. Note how they are cut in triangles for a little flair.

Washing Spinach vs. Packaged Spinach

Claudia is a “Good Mom.”  She buys spinach for her family because it’s so tender, tasty and full of nutrients.  But getting her family to help wash it is like climbing Mt. Everest.  Week after week, spinach goes to waste in their household.

Ray doesn’t like washing spinach any more than Claudia’s crew.  But neither will he shell out the extra dollars for the pre-washed variety.

So even though Ray and Claudia’s family all like spinach and would love to eat more, they end up with none. Not a happy ending in spring, when spinach is the star of the seasonal show.  What to do?

Getting Past the Money Thing The money thing is understandable.  You’re standing in the vegetable aisle.  Bunch spinach is $1.99.  Next to it are packages of pre-washed spinach for $2.99.  In the context of the grocery store, a dollar is a lot.  So right then and there, it seems foolhardy to pay for the packaged spinach.

That would be fine if we went ahead and bought the $1.99 bunch.   But all too often we don’t, which is why it’s worth examining the money thing a little more closely.

From the safe perch of this blog, well outside the grocery store context, the perspective is a little clearer:   It’s a dollar we’re talking about.  The difference between eating spinach and reaping its many benefits and not eating it at all is a single dollar. Maybe you eat spinach two or three times a month.   That’s $3 for the entire month.  Need I say anything about the cost of a single latte?

The 5-Minute Thing Assuming you can face down the money thing, there’s another big problem with the pre-washed spinach:  its packaging.  What happens to that plastic shoe box after fulfilling its single job of delivering your pre-washed spinach?  Of course we can “just throw it away.”  But as Julia Butterfly Hill so simply and poignantly puts it:  “There really is no such place as “away.”  This is what keeps Claudia from reaching for the packaged spinach at the store—and what leaves her with a washing problem and rotting spinach.

It’s no surprise that no one in her family wants to wash spinach.  It’s inconvenient and takes time and in our frenzied culture, that is sufficient cause for panic if not disdain.  But just like the money thing, it helps to stop and think:  just how much time is at stake?

I forced myself to quantify my time fears recently while staring at a leftover plastic spinach box.  Just how much does it take to wash a bunch of spinach?  Out of curiosity, we timed it for the Washing Spinach video for this month’s Vegetable-a-Month Club.    [[LINK]]

Spinach washing takes 5 minutes.   So we’re talking about 5 minutes.

There’s some real data instead of just more vague time fears.  So when I am torn between packaged and bunch spinach I ask myself, can I afford 5 minutes out of 16 waking hours for clean air?  Are pure water and fewer toxins in our dirt worth 5 minutes?

The Best of Both Worlds Happily, there is a solution that takes some of the environmental sting out of buying pre-washed spinach.  Some stores have bulk bins of pre-washed spinach.  The price isn’t much better than the boxed stuff, but at least you can take it home in a recycled plastic produce bag.  While I would still wash it (who knows how many hands have touched it), washing spinach in this form doesn’t take any longer than any other vegetable.

Farmer’s market spinach is often sold in bulk bins, too, and when sold in this form it is very often pre-washed.  It must definitely be given a final wash at home but again, this doesn’t take long.

Take the Aggravation out of Spinach Washing There’s one final way to tackle the spinach conundrum:  Take the annoyance out of spinach washing!  Then it isn’t a barrier to buying the less expensive, more environmentally friendly forms of spinach.    First, if you’re in a hurry, instead of tearing the spinach, use a long serrated knife to cut it to the right size.  Next, don’t get overly worried if a few stems find their way into your spinach.   Finally, get a large washing vehicle, like a salad spinner or a pasta pot with an insert.  Then you don’t need to scrub the sink before washing.

Find more tips on the Washing Spinach video from the Vegetable a Month Club—and enjoy spinach with abandon when it comes into season in spring and fall.

Want Your Vegetable World in Color or B & W?

Do you remember the movie Pleasantville?  The beginning, set in the 50s, was filmed in black and white and everything was, well, pleasant.  Mom and Dad and the the two perfect teens, living good, pleasant lives.  Then the teens got blasted into the future (in a way that only happens in movieland), and life suddenly gets colorful–both literally and figuratively.

I can’t remember the rest of the movie, but that transition from a pleasant enough black and white world to an exciting and engaging world of color has become a metaphor for my food life.  I was blasted into a Technicolor food world when my kids were diagnosed with wheat and dairy allergies 20 years ago.

We were forced to venture out–way far out–of our pleasant enough world that revolved around white bread, bagels, tortillas and noodles combined in various forms with cheese, cheese and more cheese.  We had to eat completely crazy, health nut things like quinoa, polenta, chard, hazelnuts, tofu, papaya juice, Asian pears and eggplant.  Sure, surviving the blast into a full color food world wasn’t easy, but no way would I take up an offer for a free return trip.

Why live in a narrow world centered on a handful of foods when there’s an entire universe of amazing foods just waiting to add dimension, excitement and interest to our lives?

Even more amazing is that after 20 years, there are still no dull moments.  Just today, researching spinach varieties for the Vegetable-a-Month Club, I discover that there are DOZENS of varities.  Who wudda guessed?

One of the saddest consequences of modern industrialized food production is its dreary monotony.  To reduce costs enough so spinach can be sold for $.99 a bunch, industrial growers must standardize, mechanize and automate–just like a car factory or toy manufacturer.  One kind of seed, planted over many acres, which grows to a certain size and is spaced a certain distance apart so it can be tended and harvest economically with big machines that need to be amortized as quickly as possible to provide the highest return to the corporation behind the machine.

So what we see in stores is one kind of plant that is called “spinach” and, not ever being told otherwise, we think that is the alpha and omega of spinach.  So what a delightful surprise today to see that “spinach” actually encompasses a whole raft of varieties and species.  There are the two basic types:  smooth-leafed and curly-leafed (or savoy), but in between there are varities with big leaves, baby leaves, darker leaves, bright leaves, half-smooth leaves and everything in between.

A Spinach Bouquet from the organic farm where my son works

A Spinach Bouquet from the organic farm where my son works

Most interesting of all are the “heirloom” varieties with exotic names like Gigante d’Inverno, Merlo Nero and Monstrueux De Viroflay.  These varieties that have been around for a long time, some for over a hundred years, long before the days of consolidation and standardization.  I picture it something like Aunt Louise or Grandpa Bob or an entire town having their special stashes of seeds that grew strong and delicious for their particular climate, soil and weather.

All these varieties, both modern and heirloom, are just one of the many things that add color to our food world, not only literally but figuratively, too, with all their unique tastes, textures and flavors.  It may be a long time before you see anything but the standard varieties in a regular supermarket, but head to your local farmers’ market and you may well be treated to some unique varieties.

One variety that showed up at our market a couple years ago was the Bordeaux, a red stemmed spinach that can only be described as “velvety.”  It only lasts a couple weeks, though.  Now is the time to get spinach at the farmers markets in most parts of the country.  So head there quick and start blasting out of your black and white food world!

Bordeaux Spinach:  Check out the deep red stems

Bordeaux Spinach: Check out the deep red stems

By the way, check out our new Vegetable-a-Month Club.  There’s everything you need to know to make vegetables a delightfully delicious part of everyday meals:  recipes, meal ideas, buying know how, storage strategies, green kitchen tips, videos and audios.  Spinach is the vegetable of the month for May.

It’s a Green, Green World: Recipes for a Week’s Worth of Summer Greens

For seasonal eaters in cold climates, the green in the fields is looking pretty good after months of dreary brown and gray. But remember that saying about “too much of a good thing?” That’s what came to mind the last couple weeks at the Farmers Market and when picking up my CSA boxes. Lots and lots of green: spinach, lettuce, bok choy, mizuna, frisee and komatsuna. All gorgeous, all delectable, but all green and all leafy.

In the words of the positive thinkers, this is not a problem but a challenge. So this week will be devoted to some ways I’ve been having a little fun with the plentiful greens of the season:

  • adding some color
  • adding fast flavor
  • adding some texture
  • featuring it in a main dish,
  • cooking it a different way
  • adding substance with proteins or grains

See how the techniques work and you can make up other uses for all your greens.

Sunday’s One Dish Meal: Spinach and Sweet Potato Soft Shell Tacos

Makes 10-12 tostadas

Spinach has renewed appeal when paired with bright orange sweet potatoes and black beans. Make this colorful dish fast enough for weeknights by thinking ahead: Microwave or bake some sweet potatoes one night, but cook extra so you’re set for this dish a couple nights later.

  • 1 large red onion (or yellow), diced to about ½ “
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil

In a large sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add onion and sauté about 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.

  • 2 tsp. minced garlic (fresh or bottled)
  • 1 tsp. chili powder (more or less to taste)
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. dried leaf oregano

Stir into onions, in the order given, and cook just 3-4 minutes, stirring a couple times.

  • 2 med. cooked sweet potatoes (about 1 to 1½ lbs.), peeled and cut into roughly 1” cubes (about 3-4 cups)
  • 1 bunch spinach, stemmed and cut roughly into 2” squares (or 6 to 8-oz. bag pre-washed spinach)
  • 1 15-oz. can black beans, undrained (or black soybeans, for a change)

Stir gently into onion mixture, in order given, and simmer on low heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring a few times and adding a little water or broth if necessary to prevent sticking. While filling simmers, assemble desired toppings and place in small bowls:

Optional Toppings:

  • Chopped cilantro
  • Diced avocado
  • Salsa
  • Shredded cheddar cheese (or goat chevre would be very nice)
  • Sour cream

When filling is done, wrap

  • 10-12 corn tortillas (preferably freshly made)

in a lightly dampened cloth napkin, cheese cloth or tea towel. Microwave 30-60 seconds until soft but not mushy. Serve immediately, placing a tortilla on each plate, topped by about ¾ cup filling. Roll or eat open-faced. Pass optional toppings at the table.

On the side: Plate of jicima sticks and baby carrots, sprinkled with fresh lime and chopped cilantro

Read on for Monday’s Red, White and Greens Stir Fry: Super Simple, Very Versatile

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