Roasted Za’atar Chicken with Cumin Maple Vegetables

I am so excited to share this week’s recipe with you all, not only because it’s incredibly easy and delicious and making me more excited for all things roasted, warm, and fall, but because this is my first entry for The Recipe ReDux challenge!

recipe redux

What is the Recipe ReDux you ask? Essentially it’s a recipe challenge created by and for registered dietitians that poses a culinary challenge each month. The term “redux” in Latin means to revisit or reinvent, and it is the mission of the RR and RDs like myself who choose to contribute to reinvent the idea of healthy eating with a taste-first approach.

September’s ReDux challenge is sheet pan meals. Who doesn’t love a weeknight dinner that requires only a few simple ingredients and one piece of cooking equipment (give or take a knife, cutting board, and a spoon or two)? While sheet pan meals can be made any time of year, I usually find that root vegetables and poultry or beef are better suited for turning on the oven during the colder fall and winter months.

After a weekend with my in-laws, where I ate my fill of flavorful dishes paying tribute to their Persian roots, I knew I wanted to make a recipe with za’atar. Za’atar is a spice blend popular in the Middle East that is a mixture of sumac, thyme, sesame seeds, marjoram, oregano, and salt. Living in New York City I was lucky enough to find it premade at my local, run of the mill supermarket, but if you live in a part of the country with a less diverse ingredient selection, you can always find the spices and seasonings and make your own!

For inspiration all things Middle Eastern, I turned to and tweaked a recipe from Yotam Ottonlengi to make the chicken, and went according to my taste buds for the veggies. The smells coming from my oven as this pan roasted away were heavenly. Had my oven been a tad larger and able to accomodate my largest sheet pan, I would have done this in one stage; however, NYC ovens are made for teeny tiny footprint apartments, requiring me to prepare the full recipe as two batches- don’t think I’m tricking you if you notice only half the ingredients on the pan in my prep pictures!

After the sheet pan was washed and the chicken and vegetables were divided up into lunch containers, I did dirty one more pot to cook up some quinoa for a more complete meal. Want to include a grain but still abide by the ease of the sheet pan? I recommend some sliced red or fingerling potatoes, which will cook in ample time with the rest of it all.

Lunch will be served with a bite of pickled red onions and a cooling dollop of plain Siggi’s yogurt because I’m all about the accoutrements and keeping lunchtime a fancy affair.

Do you have any sheet pan meals in your back pocket? If you’re looking for inspiration, check out  recipes from my fellow ReDuxers, just click on the image at the bottom of this post!

Roasted Za’atar Chicken with Cumin Maple Vegetables- serves 3

Ingredients

  • 1.5 pounds chicken- a mix of skinless legs, breasts, or thighs, whichever you prefer
  • 2 tablespoons za’atar
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 medium lemon, cut into thin slices
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 medium size carrots, scrubbed, peeled, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 5 cups cauliflower florets
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • salt to taste
  • Toppings to serve- cilantro or other fresh green herb (oregano, parsley), pickled red onions, plain yogurt
  • On the side- cooked grain (quinoa, brown rice, bulgur) or roasted potatoes

Directions

  1. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Prepare the chicken by placing it in a large mixing bowl or plastic ziplock bag in order to marinate it. Add the za’atar, crushed garlic, lemon slices, and olive oil. Let rest in the fridge for 1 hour or even overnight.
  3. In a bowl, toss the carrots and cauliflower florets with the cumin, maple syrup, and light drizzle of olive oil. A pinch of salt can’t hurt either.
  4. Place marinated chicken and dressed vegetables on the sheet pan and bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes. Test that the chicken is done cooking by using a meat thermometer (you’re a-okay when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees) or peeking at the inner flesh to ensure it’s no longer pink.
  5. Serve with an already prepared grain, or the side-by-side roasted potatoes, and with the suggested toppings or any of your own choosing!

For more sensational sheet pan recipes, be sure to check out the contributions from my fellow dietitians on the ReDux!

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Ways to Fuel Your Fit

Happy Workout Wednesday! Today I’m sharing with you a quick and dirty post about fueling your fitness through snacks. Carbs and protein are the name of the game, and trust me, the options are endless! Here’s a peak at some of my favorite daily and pre-workout snacks-

How do you fuel your fit?

Crossfit Query: I work out after work. Lunch is at noon, which is a long time ago. What fuel can I eat between noon and my workout to keep my energy levels up, but not make me feel sick during my workout? Are protein drinks good fillers for midday snacks or to drink in the car on the way to the gym?

Whether you’re looking to fuel your WOD, or for day-to-day fuel in the form of snacks between meals, the answer to the timeless snacking question is essentially the same: a balance of protein and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates help provide you with the energy needed to crush your workout, while adding protein will provide some fullness and quiet the ravenous “hangry” voice between meals. Regarding the size, a snack should be anywhere from 100-250 calories depending on the heftiness of your midday meal (a lighter lunch may require a more substantial snack, while a well-balanced plate usually calls for a lighter bite). If you stay within that range, aiming for a 2:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio, you should feel energized, yet light and swift heading into the gym.

Examples of afternoon, pre-workout or daily routine snacks could be:

  • Overnight or quick cooked oats mixed with plain Greek yogurt topped with cinnamon
  • Hummus and whole wheat pita and/or sliced veggies
  • Half a peanut butter and banana whole wheat bread sandwich
  • A hard boiled egg sliced and served atop a rice cake
  • Handful of corn tortilla chips and small serving of guacamole
  • Half a steamed sweet potato drizzled with almond butter
  • Canned fish (tuna, sardines) and whole grain crackers
  • A bar: try a KIND bar, Luna bar, Health Warrior chia bar, or PROBAR

courtesy of unsplash

But I’m on my way to the gym- I need something on the go! Portable beverages can certainly be a convenient option when your fueling takes place in your car or on the train, but the carbohydrate-protein balance still applies here, and so a protein shake may not be ideal.

First, everyone’s protein needs vary, but I am guessing that a full serving of a protein drink before hitting the gym not only comes close to half your protein needs for the day (better to space it out), but it is also A LOT of protein sitting in your gut, which could potentially cause some GI discomfort. Furthermore, most protein powders give you more protein than carbohydrates (hence the name), so it won’t give you quite the boost of energy needed for a workout like a carb-containing snack will. Protein drinks make excellent POST-workout options, with additional carbohydrate for replenishment. If a portable drink is more your thing, try preparing the following blended creations at home and enjoying them 30-60 minutes before your exercise:

  • Smoothie made with 1 Tbsp peanut butter (or powdered nut butter, like PB2), banana, and low-fat cow’s milk or unsweetened almond milk
  • Blueberry Avocado smoothie with handful of pumpkin seeds on the side or tossed in
  • Kale, mixed berry, almond butter smoothie
  • Vanilla Tofu Smoothie

Happy Snacking!

courtesy of unsplash

Chai Spice Almond Butter

New York City has not been shy about welcoming fall this weekend. The temperature dropped a cool ten degrees, pumpkin-this and pumpkin-that waves at you from every storefront, and footballers have taken over the bar scene- fall is finally here! 

Wrapped up in a cozy sweater, with a warm mug of tea, I’m waiting to take my Sunday morning trip to the farmers market to see if my fruit farmers have brought their apples to market yet. While I usually get more excited about other cool-weather produce, such as butternut squash and parnsips, I’m especially eager for this season’s crop of apples so I can eat them with my delicious Chai Spice Almond Butter.

Not having apples certainly hasn’t stopped me from going at it with a spoon, but this creamy, fragrant spread will pair amazingly with a tart or sweet apple, so I’m venturing out later to fulfill this snacktime craving.

It has been a recent point of importance of mine to have a well-stocked spice cabinet, in particular when to comes to more of the baking spices and seasonings. I’m finding so many excuses to use cardamom these days (have you tried a sprinkle in your coffee? HOLY YUM!), and ground ginger is coming in handy for on the fly oatmeals and dinner meals. So, when I came home from the store with a bag of almonds, felt tired of having them plain Jane for snacks, and realized my nut butter stash was running low, I peeked into the spice cabinet and knew exactly the flavor combo I needed to go with for a fall almond butter treat.

Making almond butter at home is a worthy investment of your time and money, and allows you to create whatever style and taste you like! My bag of raw, unsalted almonds, which yielded a little more than 2 cups of nuts, cost $8.00, which in comparison to today’s nut butters running the gamut of $10-$15 felt like a major score. Aside from the cost, all you need is a trusty food processor or Vitamix and a bit of patience before you’re rewarded with creamy goodness.

Chai Spice Almond Butter- Makes 1.5 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 hefty cups raw, unsalted almonds
  • 2 teaspoons of each- ground cinnamon, ground ginger, and ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon of each- ground clove, ground coriander

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and add nuts, in a single layer as much as possible. Roast nuts in the oven for 10-15 minutes, careful to not burn or excessively toast them. The idea of this step is to help the nuts start to release their natural oils so that a creamier butter ensues.
  2. While nuts are roasting, mix all spices together in a small bowl, then set aside. These measurements yield you ample spice blend to use in this recipe and others, so I suggest finding a small jar to store it in.
  3. Add cooled nuts to a food processor and process until creamy. Be warned that this process takes time and patience. First, the nuts will be ground into a fine dust. After another few minutes running the food processor, the powder will begin to stick together. At this stage, you may want to scrape down the sides every few minutes to keep everything blending. Continue to blend and a mass of nut “dough” will begin to form- you’re getting closer! The oils are now being fully released after about 10-15 minutes of processesing and with a few more minutes running the motor, the magically, creamy nut butter will soon form.
  4. As you approach your desired smoothness, add in 1 Tablespoon of the spice blend and process a minute or two more to ensure it’s evenly and fully distributed in the butter. Once complete, store in an airtight container and keep in the fridge for however long it lasts you.

*Homemade nut butters that don’t use added oils and sugars will go rancid more quickly at room temperature than commerically bought butters, so best to keep your hard earned almond butter in the fridge.

 

The Story of the Late Night Snacker

When I meet with patients who are looking to lose weight for reasons X, Y, or Z  one of my most valuable tools as an RD is conducting a thorough diet recall. Essentially I’ll start by asking them to tell me at what time they wake up, when and what is the first thing they eat, and so on and so forth. They’ll proceed to walk me through a typical day, uninterrupted, telling me about their meals and wrap up their story by saying, “See, I don’t eat that much” or “I feel like my meals are healthy, I just don’t get why I’m not losing weight”.

As an RD I know that asking them to walk me through their day once is never the end of their eating story. I’ll carefully revisit their day, asking for elaboration on brands, portion size, and timing, which usually reveals a bit more. Towards the end, almost as a sneak attack tactic, I ask about their drink and snack habits, which have conveniently been left out of their original telling of their story. At long last, I usually uncover their “zinger”, the answers to why weight loss has been so difficult!

photo by bethany newman

For many people, snacks between meals or after dinner aren’t considered “meals” and so are usually left out of their diet recalls. These ommissions happen either consciously or subconsciously for many reasons; however, it is often this habit of grazing, especially in the evening hours, that stalls weight loss goals. But rather than putting on the food police pants or laying down the dietitian iron-fist and banishing snacks forever, I gladly take the opportunity to provide some education on why late night snacking may be occurring and from there we can move forward and work together to change their story from one of late night snacker to balanced eater, which will help to move them in the direction of their weight loss goals.

This problem is not an uncommon one for patients in my clinic, nor for the athletes at Crossfit Soto, who have been submitting me fitness, but also food questions. Since it’s not completely workout related, I’m featuring this one athlete’s question as a non-Workout Wednesday post. They asked me:

I eat good meals all day long, then at night I’ll be watching tv and relaxing and before I know it I’ve eaten a bag of chips, or too much peanut/almond butter or my week’s worth of guac is gone…..I don’t even realize I’ve been eating it….

To this inquisitor, and for anyone who struggles with breaking the cycle of late night eating, allow me to shed some light on the situation.

First off, I feel it’s important to try to understand WHY this late night snacking is occurring. For many people, the answer is often that breakfast is overlooked as they rush out the door or my personal favorite line of, “I’ve just never been a breakfast eater” (me either folks, but have you seen my Instagram feed now? Breakfast fanatic over here, people). For others, the reason could be that their lunch was a skimpy low-carb salad or perhaps they did a post-work exercise class and forgot to fuel with an afternoon snack. As you can see, late night eats are usually the result of insufficient, unbalanced fueling throughout the day.

And the key word there really is balance, meaning a meal containing a large portion of fiber from vegetables or fruit (usually at breakfast), alongside moderate portions of whole grains and lean protein. A snack should apply the same principles and aim for well-roundedness to stave off hunger and boost your energy. If you’re on the ball with this, then your true hunger should pretty much be satisfied by the evening and a snack on the sofa isn’t even a thought.

an example of a balanced, healthy plate I use for patient education in my clinic

However, true biological hunger at night is not always the reason for that late night snack. Tapping into your emotional “hunger” can help to determine if your body is saying, “I need food” or “I need your attention”. Rebecca Scritchfield, author of the intuitive eating guidebook “Body Kindness” encourages you to use the HALT Method in such times. Hungry? Yep, go ahead and eat (more on what to choose in a bit). Angry, lonely, or tired (or any other emotion besides hunger)? Nope, don’t need to eat. Instead, work on finding other actions that pull you away from the fridge, such as doing some light stretching, sipping a mug of tea, organizing emails, or reading up on your favorite fitness or food blogs :) Using this intuitive eating strategy can help you become a more mindful eater and realize that bored eating might be a deeply ingrained habit for you.

In the end, if your tank is really running on empty and you don’t want to battle a grumbling tummy before bed, or it’s movie night with the family and a snack is routine, you can at least implement some strategies to rein in the grazing.

  • Choose a neutral snack, for example, an apple, or a small yogurt. These foods don’t scream “over-eat me!” and so it is easier to eat less of them, but still helps fill your hunger.
  • Try a voluminous snack like popcorn- 3 cups is 1 serving! Skip the butter and use seasonings such as cinnamon and turmeric, or black pepper and rosemary.
  • Portion out a single serving. Take a look at the serving size on the nutrition facts label and try to portion that out into a small bowl. This comes especially in handy for nut butters- 2 tablespoons (served with a fiber filled piece of fruit or a crisp bread) is plenty for a snack!
  • After having your single serving, it may be helpful to wash it down with a glass of water or tea, or brush your teeth the signal the end of eating for the night. No one wants to ruin a fresh minty palate!

As you can see, the story of the late night snacker is not one of poor willpower or a sweet tooth on steroids. Snacking is usually driven by irregular and unbalanced eating throughout the day, mindless emotionally-driven munching, or a combination of both.

To break this habit and gain control of your weight loss goals, or to simply feel more connected to your food choices, I recommend following the walk-through exercise outlined above, noting where your “skips” occur and figuring out ways to make your meals or snacks more complete. Becoming a more intuitive eater can allow anyone to rewrite their story as a more nutritious tale.

 

Zucchini Noodle Paella

Was it really only 2 months ago that Mr. CN and I were munching and sipping our way around Spain? Summer has flown by, but the sights, smells, and sounds of bustling Barcelona and the beaches of Mallorca have still been trapped in my senses.

Thinking back on this trip is especially poignant as I’m writing this post in late August, only a few weeks following the tragedy on Las Ramblas. My husband and I strolled down that main thoroughfare, taking in the lively vendors, and stopping off the strip to visit La Boqueria market for snacks. My heart was saddened with the news of the attacks, but I was happy that local and visiting friends who were nearby reported their safety during that time. The people of Barcelona and Spain are strong, persistent, and resilient, and today’s recipe pays tribute to that beauty.

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Workout Wednesday: Is afterburn legit?

Welcome to the second installment of Workout Wednesday!

Last week’s query focused on calorie “budgeting” for weight loss and how that fits in with increased hunger levels post-workout. While going to the gym for a workout is a huge boost for your metabolic health, you would be mistaken in thinking that the fridge is completely free reign for the afternoon or that becoming a couch potato for the rest of the day is a valid reward for your hard work. In other words, relying on the “afterburn” effect of your hour workout to magically erase any calories over-consumed later in the day would be an ill-advised strategy.

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Welcome to Workout Wednesday

I’m in training mode again! After my half marathon this past April I knew I wanted to feel that runner’s high, push my body to the (comfortable, injury-free) limit, and get  in-tune with my running body’s nutritional needs more often, so here I go again! This September I’m running the Bronx 10 Mile and with August now in full swing I thought it was about time to hop back on the training wagon.

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