Thursday, September 15, 2011

Zing Away The Monotony! A Guide to Spicing Up The Essentials

Not what my lunch looks like.
When someone first finds out about my weight loss, one of the questions I'll hear inevitably in that first conversation is: "Isn't it really boring eating the same foods all the time?"  The martyr in me begs to reply immediately with a resounding "Yes!"  When I take the time to think about it, though, yes, I have to be more disciplined than probably 95% of the population, but I don't think I have it all that bad.  Having recently started a full-time job as an instrumental consultant with a music company, co-workers have observed my a-typical habits of bringing my pre-made meals in with me every day, consisting of some plain brown rice, broccoli and a chicken breast.

On first glance, okay, yeah, I get rice and veggies don't smell as appetizing as the Spicy Chicken and Cheese Hot Pockets that went into the microwave before my lunch, and the aroma certainly doesn't linger tantalizingly for hours like the pizza the percussion guys ordered for lunch.  Yes, it does look pretty plain sitting there in the clear plastic Tupperware I use, no sauce or visible accoutrements to arouse any food-lust.

To me, this is the essence of today's food dilemma...the popular convention is to dismiss healthy, or whole food as boring.  The fewer ingredients, the more ordinary the dish, right?  Not always the case.  Problem is, our food culture has conditioned us to react favorably to certain food features, and unfortunately, many of those features aren't desirable ones.  I, like I imagine the vast majority of the population, get excited about foods that look cheesy, saucy, or have a ton of ingredients, but when considering the amount of extra calories that are being stacked on top of the dishes' foundation, I lose my appetite a bit.  

Here's my solution--spices don't give you a major hit in the caloric department, and as long as you use them in reasonable moderation and monitor the ingredients in the hot sauces (sodium, sugar are the usual culprits to keep in check), really give you that extra flavor you look for without the caloric load of typical "binders" such as sauce and cheese, etc.   I hold an arsenal of spices and hot sauces at my disposal during every single meal I prepare and eat.  Let me introduce you to my favorite weapons:

Spice:  McCormick's Smokehouse Maple Grill Seasoning

Love this!  Have to thank my friend Jordan for inadvertently introducing me to this one, I tried it on breakfast eggs while house-sitting his dog this summer, and loved it.  I use it primarily as I did the first time, on eggs with my breakfast, and it gives you a little of that "smoky" flavor, like you're eating eggs on a plate with bacon and pancakes with maple syrup, three foods which aren't ever a part of my morning diet but have a tantalizing flavor nonetheless!  Great on chicken or ground turkey as well.

Spice:  Weber's Smokey Mesquite Seasoning

I have to credit another friend, graduate school roommate Ben, with the discovery of this one...I've used this on chicken, steak, ground turkey, vegetables, in soups, on eggs, and as fertilizer for my window plants.  Okay, not quite, but the point is, this Smokey Mesquite has a flavor which lends itself to just about anything, and it has become one of my favorites!

Hot Sauce:  Sriracha

Wish I could say I discovered this as a diamond in the rough, but this one's no secret...gaining more and more popularity in the US market, the Sriracha brand is a chili-based pasty hot sauce which has with no doubt the most "heat" of any hot sauce I use.  Recommendation here: try it on a bowlful of brown rice and grilled vegetables, with a little lean grilled meat.  Don't bother adding salt, the Sriracha kick is all you'll need!

Hot Sauce:  Trader Joe's Sweet Chili Sauce

A new favorite, I add this one to my daily pre-packed lunch of brown rice, chicken breast and broccoli, with great results!  Adding a tablespoon (I try not to add more, only 25 cals. per tbsp. but a few grams of sugar) really complements the three unspiced elements of my lunch very nicely!


Enjoy!  A few other hot sauces I've tried and enjoy:  Tabasco Chipotle and Original Pepper Sauces, and Cholula Sauce, as made famous by San Francisco Giants' pitcher Brian Wilson on Showtime's "The Franchise" this summer.

Link of the Day:  A good friend just started a blog on healthy (and mostly vegan) eating and excercise, it's worth a read!