Friday, July 17, 2015

Three-Cheese Creamy Chicken Quesadillas

Here's a terrific meal you should have in your arsenal for when you're pressed for time and dinner has to be on the table in a heartbeat. Using Del Real's precooked chicken makes this dish come together lightning-fast. If you have a picky eater, just leave out whatever toppings he or she doesn't care for ~ these are easy to customize.

Have unexpected guests or need a quick dish for a pot luck? Try making up a big batch of these creamy, spicy, filling quesadillas! They're guaranteed to be a friend-and-family favorite.

Serve this with a green salad or veggies and dip for a balanced meal.

Three-Cheese Creamy Chicken Quesadillas
Serves 4
• 4 ounces cream cheese (plain or jalapeno-flavored; low-fat is fine)
• 8 8-inch flour tortillas
• ½ cup shredded Pepper Jack cheese
• 1 15-ounce package Del Real precooked shredded chicken
• ¼ cup sliced green onions
• ¼ cup sliced black olives
• 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
• Sour cream, guacamole, and salsa to serve, optional

1. Spread 1 ounce cream cheese on each of four tortillas. Top with 2 tablespoons shredded Pepper Jack, 3.5 ounces chicken, 1 tablespoon green onions, 1 tablespoon black olives, and ¼ cup shredded Cheddar. Finish by topping with the remaining four tortillas.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat ~ there is no need to grease the pan. Carefully transfer one of the tortilla stacks to the skillet. Heat until the cheese begins to melt and the bottom begins to brown in spots. Using a large flat spatula, turn the quesadilla over and heat on the other side, approximately 3 to 5 minutes total. Remove to baking sheet and keep warm in a 200 degree F oven while you cook the remaining three quesadillas.

3. Cut each quesadilla into 6 wedges and serve with sour cream, guacamole, and salsa, if desired.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Review: Del Real Foods Heat-and-Serve Dishes

I'm not generally a fan of pre-cooked packaged foods. I'm picky in a way that makes most of these products fall far short of what I like to eat--and what I like to serve to my family. I prefer scratch-made, authentic food without the chemicals and additives that most processed packaged foods are burdened with. That said, there are times when I've used ready-made products on a whim (shopping hungry gets me every time) or by necessity (barely enough time to eat, let alone cook) and have been pleasantly surprised.

The first time I tried a Del Real ready-to-serve product falls into the "whim" category. It was Superbowl Sunday, and we were returning from a long day of work just in time to catch the game--and more importantly, the snacks.

I'd decided to make "dinner nachos," so exhausted, starving, and looking forward to game time, we stopped at the supermarket to grab ingredients. 

I typically make nachos with sauteed ground beef, but as I was heading to the meat aisle, I happened to see a package of Del Real Seasoned Shredded Beef on the endcap. I'm not going to lie: I was lured by the possibility of not having to turn on the stove or wash a skillet. Reading the ingredient list, I was surprised to see only 5 ingredients, all of which I could identify. On impulse, I bought precooked shredded beef for the first time in my life and we headed home toward nachos.

Half an hour later, we were happily devouring a pile of tortilla chips layered with black beans, melted Cheddar and Jack cheese, green onions, and some of the tastiest shredded beef I've ever had the pleasure of not cooking myself. 

When Del Real offered me some product for review a few months later, I jumped on the chance. The Beef Tamales were so good, we started looking for them in the grocery store the very next time we shopped. The Chipotle Chicken Tinga was smoky and delicious, with just enough spice.  

Big quesadilla fans, we tucked the pork Carnitas into folded tortillas with cheese and veggies and grilled them in an iron skillet. Again, a huge hit with the whole family. 

In spite of my best attempts to scratch-cook everything my family eats, life happens, and that's not always an option. Keeping a few packages of these pre-cooked meats on hand in the fridge has been helpful on several occasions. Having quality beef, pork, and chicken accessible and ready to heat means that we can assemble a decent meal at home in minutes. Instead of resorting to cold cereal or a fast-food run, my son can pop of bowl of meat into the microwave and have a real meal in minutes.

Visit the Del Real website for recipes, product info (including ingredients and nutrition facts), and a store locator!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Irish Soda Bread

In my broad and complicated ethnicity, there is not a single iota of Irishness. I'm a first-gen American, and our family gatherings when I was growing up looked a lot like potluck day at the UN. We hail from Germany, Argentina, Italy, Ukraine, Colombia, and many points in between. But Ireland? Not so much.

In spite of that, I love St. Patrick's Day. Actually, I love the foods of celebratory days in general, but there's something about the St. Patty's Day spread that is particularly endearing to me. All those easy-to-prepare comfort foods...and beer! What's not to love about that?

My contribution to our collective St. Patty's Day dinner get-togethers has always been Irish Soda Bread. I generally make two loaves--one with raisins, one without--and never come home with leftovers. 

While might be used to serving this traditional quick bread alongside your St. Patrick’s Day corned beef and cabbage. Leavened with baking powder and baking soda, this soda bread is really so good and easy, there’s no good reason to limit it to one meal a year! Make it a few times and it just might become a staple in your home. It’s not much different in makeup from, say, a giant scone, which makes it perfect for brunch, breakfast, snacks, soup-side, or teatime. Also, it freezes beautifully because it is so moist ~ make 2 and freeze one, if you can keep everyone away from it.

Irish Soda Bread

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup raisins, optional
  • 1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a medium-size mixing bowl, combine white flour, wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar.
  3. Cut in butter until mixture has the texture of coarse cornmeal. In a separate small bowl, use a fork to beat together 1 egg and yogurt. If using raisins, stir them into the yogurt mixture.
  4. Pour yogurt mixture into the flour mixture and combine just until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly for 8 to 10 turns, just until dough forms a cohesive ball. Place dough on the baking sheet and form into a nicely rounded loaf, approximately 6 inches in diameter. Using a sharp paring knife, cut a 4-inch cross into the top of the dough. Brush loaf with egg wash and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown on top and the interior of the cross cut appears dry. When thumped lightly on the bottom, the bread should sound hollow.
  5. Let cool at least 15 minutes to avoid crumbling when cut. Serve warm with butter.

Cranberry Brown Sugar Soda Bread variation: Replace raisins with dried, sweetened cranberries. Place dough on lightly floured surfaced, sprinkle with additional 1 to 2 tablespoons brown sugar. Knead 4 turns; sprinkle with 1 to 2 more tablespoons brown sugar. Knead final 4 turns. {Don’t worry about mixing the brown sugar into the dough ~ it’ll form a lovely melting ribbon of sugar throughout your loaf.} After brushing with egg wash, sprinkle top of loaf with turbinado sugar. Bake as indicated.

Makes 1 loaf (about 12 slices)

Click here for printable version.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

5 Things Not to Do or Say to Someone Struggling with Anorexia

Guest post by Griffin Smith

I’ll admit it. Having to deal with me is a pain in the ass. When I look back over the past year and my recovery efforts, I cannot help but be eternally grateful to those who have been patient and understanding with me.
Anorexia nervosa and eating disorders in general are a bitch to deal with because they are not only an external battle (anorexic individual vs. the act of eating), but an internal one as well (your rational mind vs. your disordered thinking and habits). This conflict is frustrating to the sufferer but presumably even more so to onlookers who can’t understand the internal dialogue that transpires every time  an anorexic individual sits down to a meal.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll assume that the individual in question has acknowledged their struggle and is actually making an effort to recover.

1) Don’t Make Comments about His or Her Appearance
Oftentimes, saying things like “You look too skinny” will just trigger a response from the eating-disordered side of the sufferer and plunge them back into old restrictive habits rather than make them challenge their fear of food and eating. Conversely, telling a recovering anorexic who is trying to gain weight that they are “Looking healthier” will trigger a negative response and convince the individual that everyone is noticing their weight gain, and, therefore, they must be getting obese! It’s better to just not make any comments that have to do with their appearance.

2) Don’t Tell Them to “Just Get Over It” or “Just Eat a Sandwich!”
Honestly, if it was that simple, we would.

3) Don’t Force Him or Her to Talk About His or Her Emotions If They Don’t Want To
To me, one of the most frustrating aspects of mental instability is struggling internally but not being able to convey my inner struggles with words. An even MORE frustrating thing is someone asking continuously “What’s wrong?” when I can’t convey those struggles. If your loved one says, “I don’t know” or “nothing,” leave it there. Just let them know that you are there for them to talk to when they have gathered their thoughts.

4) Understand That Eating-Disordered Individuals Can Be Irrational
I can’t tell you the amount of times (early on in my recovery) that I thought my treatment team or family just wanted to “fatten me up.” Those with anorexia fear weight gain more than death, and a simple, innocent inquiry such as “Do you want one of these chocolate bars?” can be easily misconstrued as “HERE, EAT THIS CALORIE-BOMB DEATH CANDY AND GET FAT, MWAHAHAHAHA.” Yeah, just try and be patient with their paranoia. It takes time, but after a while, I too realized that everyone in the world isn’t hell bent on turning me into the Michelin Man.

5) Don’t Treat Him or Her Any Differently Than Your Other Friends and Family
Even though the individual should be making an effort to normalize eating patterns and maintain a healthy body weight, don’t continuously ask them if they want seconds at mealtimes or suggest that they eat more. This will probably just trigger that same paranoia mentioned in #4. Also, don’t exclude them from events or outings that involve food as that will just make them feel isolated. Invite them out to grab lunch or to see a movie and get popcorn. Enjoying food with friends helps to normalize eating, and oftentimes eating with others makes it less challenging.

Dealing with an eating disorder is no easy task for the sufferer or people in his or her life, but by being patient and understanding with them, you can help make the process much more bearable in ways that you wouldn't even suspect.

Anorexia: A Day in the Life

Guest post by Griffin Smith

January 2014

My eyes snap open at 5:25 a.m., before the alarm even goes off. As I roll out of bed, I ignore the aching burn in my shoulders, legs, hell everywhere, which is surely a symptom of my musculature catabolizing itself. I stagger over to flip the light switch on my wall, and step on the scale for what will be the first of many times today. The number materializes across the dull, unlit, LED screen. 99.6. Up 0.4 lbs from yesterday. Unacceptable.
I stumble through the dark and peer out my window. A foot of snow covers everything in sight. My heart starts pounding as my eyes well with tears of frustration. I curse and scream, and as my words echo through the empty, freezing house, I disassociate myself from what I am about to subject myself to.  
I throw on the same pair of sweatpants that I wear to the gym every morning and grab the snow shovel resting by the door. As I open the front door, I’m met with a cruel blast of icy wind and snow. I grit my teeth, pull a winter hat over my head and stomp out the door. My goal is simple: get my car out of the driveway by 6 a.m. at all costs. I have to be at the gym by 6:15. Any deviation from this regimen is not an option, because, of course, failing to run exactly 5 kilometers on the treadmill by 7 a.m. would doubtlessly lead to obesity. 
My numbed hands rummage through my pockets and I light up a cigarette as I begin to frantically plow a messy trail through the snow and dig at the wheels of my car. Two cigarettes and a lot of obscenities later, I’m driving through a blizzard to the gym. I anxiously look at the clock. Ten minutes to go. I can make it on time. And I do. Just as I do every morning. Because failure is not an option. Everyone else in America is failing. Everyone else is fat. Not me. I smile at my reflection in the mirror. The spitting image of a man, crazed.
I pull up to the gym with minutes to spare and check in. The staff isn’t surprised to see me here in a blizzard. I’m here every day, after all. I nod good morning and proceed to the locker room, where I strip down and weigh myself again before proceeding with my workout. 
That same burning sensation returns to my legs and arms as I struggle to keep up with the treadmill. My eyes close and I try to just survive the next few miles, and then after what seems like an eternity, I’m done. I take a quick shower before weighing myself post-run again. Down to 99.4. Thank god. I slip out of the gym, tired but satisfied. Then my stomach rumbles. I laugh. I don’t need food. Normal people need food. But I’m not normal. I’m dedicated. I check the time. 7:15 a.m. I have time to stop for a quick cup of black coffee on the way home before I go on a run through my neighborhood. My second workout of the day.
I pull up to my house and struggle to pull the car back into the inadequately shoveled driveway. I manage to get the car halfway up the slope before the tires slip on what has now become a packed-down patch of ice. Fuck it
I jump out of the car and immediately begin jogging my ritualized neighborhood circuit. It’s still snowing as I begin my 3-mile trek. The flakes sting the raw, frostbitten skin on my nose. I try picking up the pace a little. I like to try and get home before my hands and face go completely numb. My legs aren’t agreeing with the increased workload. I crumple to the ground and rip another gash into my knee. This has become custom. I wait a few seconds before standing back up, slumped over, hands on my thighs, breathing heavy. My chest feels like it is being crushed by a vice. I know I’m slowly dying with each day that I continue this insane regimen. But it’s not insanity. It’s dedication, remember? Two miles left till home. I can make it.
I shuffle back through the front door, ignoring the ever-present ache in my extremities and respiratory system.  I make my way to the kitchen and pour out a serving of raisin bran with almond milk. I’m allowed two more for the day. A few weeks ago, I would have sat in front of the TV now and watched cartoons while I savored every last bite of the cereal. Things are different now, though. I don’t have energy for TV. 
I slink to my room and slump down in front of the heating vent, struggling to warm my emaciated frame while I stir around the fruit and wheat mixture in my bowl. I’ve succeeded today. I’ve done what I need to do. I reward myself by “indulging” in my breakfast and instantly, the guilt sets in. I clamber to my feet and limp over to the nearest mirror and spastically disrobe. I pinch at the paper-thin skin that’s stretched over my ribs and stomach with my cracked and bleeding hands, inspecting my body for any fat deposits that could have possibly occurred within the last 5 minutes. I proceed to go over the rest of my limbs, furiously clawing and scratching at the skin. After a few more minutes of observation, I’m convinced that I’m safe. 
I return to my room and collapse on the floor again. It’s 9 a.m. I don’t care about the rest of the day. I’ll probably lie here trying to stay warm till I fall asleep early, at 8. After all, I have to get up at 5:30 for the gym tomorrow.

Monday, February 23, 2015

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Weight Gain in Anorexia Recovery

Dealing with Weight Gain Mentally in Anorexia Recovery

Griffin Smith
Guest post by Griffin Smith

Obviously, the biggest and most ambiguous challenge in recovering from a restrictive eating disorder is gaining weight. At the beginning of the weight-restoration process, I was plagued by countless nagging thoughts: “How much weight do I have to gain? Do I have to gain it ALL back? Is ‘x’ or ‘y’ pounds enough weight? Will I ever stop gaining weight? Am I going to be obese? I’m going to be obese, right?!”

It’s because weight gain is the one thing that a disordered individual fears more than any other aspect of life (yes, even more than death or disease). If you had told me in January of last year that I would be even just 120 lbs again, I would have stuck my head in an oven. Does that seem crazy? Unreasonable? Absurd? That’s because it is. There’s nothing rational going on in a malnourished anorexic’s brain. What’s the cure for this? Gaining weight. I’ve found that with every pound I add to my frame, it gets easier mentally.

I think many recovering anorexics fixate too much on numbers such as the BMI (which is really a meaningless system that doesn’t take into account muscle mass, body type, or just the simple fact that, as humans, we all have different ideal body weights). A point of advice for those who are making recovery efforts against their eating disorder: A BMI of 19.0 should not be your end game. I’m not fucking kidding. Throw the chart out. Ditch the scale. It’s not conducive. 

The goal isn’t to get to a minimum “healthy” weight and continue your disordered behavior from there on out (doing this will almost undoubtedly result in relapse and repeating the whole process all over again. I know this from personal experience). The “end game” is to reconstruct a happy and normal life for yourself. A life that doesn’t revolve around restriction, self-hatred, and failing health.

The trick is to not base your identity or self-worth on an arbitrary number. Because, after all, that’s what is really is. Arbitrary. Meaningless. Horse shit. You get the picture. I wasted over a year of my life weighing myself every day and letting the number on the scale dictate how the rest of my day was going to be. Too high? I’m worthless and need to work harder. Too low? Hah, no such thing. This mindset will kill you. I promise.

As I said, although it starts out hard, weight restoration gets easier. Some things that personally help me escape from my inner thoughts are:
  • Not focusing on the negative connotations of gaining weight, but rather the positives (restored hormonal function, not dealing with clumps of hair falling out in the shower, not being freezing cold all the time, etc.)
  • Having conversations with an individual I’m close to (i.e., my sister, my mother, a close friend, etc.).
  • Restoring old friendships that I had lost to the isolation of anorexia.
  • Writing, drawing, making music, or just doing something creative.
  • Taking a walk out in nature.
  • Playing board/video games.
  • Setting new, healthy fitness goals and achieving them slowly but surely.
There’s no victory in starving yourself down to being the skinniest one in the room, but there IS victory in taking charge and reclaiming your life for yourself.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

National Eating Disorders Week 2015: Griffin

This is my son, Griffin. This photo was taken in the spring of 2013. He was 18 years old.

One year ago, in February 2014, Griffin checked himself into the hospital, late on a Saturday night. At 5'9", he weighed 98 pounds. His kidneys had begun to fail and his hormones and heart rate were dangerously chaotic. His diagnosis: anorexia, exercise compulsion.
Griffin 2 days before entering the hospital for the first time.
After a week in the hospital, Griffin entered outpatient treatment and saw a variety of supportive caregivers: a therapist, a primary care physician, and a nutritionist who specialized in eating disorders. 

He worked hard at recovery. He tracked his food intake and started working out with a friend for accountability. He made a lot of progress fairly quickly.

He went from this...

To this...

To this.

By November 2014, Griffin was up to 131 pounds; though very lean, he was strong.

But then, he started to slip. By late December, he was losing weight rapidly. Feeling out of control and desperate to halt his downward spiral, he returned to the hospital for a week.

In January 2015, Griffin weighed in at 116 pounds. He renewed his commitment to his health and well-being. He returned to weight lifting and began to challenge himself to improve his restrictive eating behavior.

Sometimes, it's really tough. Good meals are followed by bad feelings. It's a struggle every day. But once again, Griffin is making progress.

Today, February 2015, Griffin weighs in at 118.6. He is getting stronger every day.
Griffin is anorexic. He's also a lot of other things. He's a musician, a writer, a weight lifter, a son and brother and friend. He's compassionate and concerned. He knows how tough it is to battle this disease, and he is open and honest and generous with his experience, in the hope that it will encourage and assist others who are struggling with an eating disorder.

Please join us in acknowledging National Eating Disorders Week, February 22-28, 2015. Griffin will be guest-posting here this week, sharing his personal journey with ED. If you have a question for Griffin or a story to share, please feel free to comment below.

We look forward to spending the week with you.



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