Spring Cleaning Your Diet

There are certain times of year when it seems like everyone is trying to “get back on the wagon.” January is the most obvious. We’re genuinely tired of holiday indulgences and habituated to setting health-related resolutions come the new year. Spring is a close second. Maybe it’s the changing of wardrobes, the thought of upcoming summer vacation, or inspiration from nature’s rebirth all around us. Who knows? But why not take advantage of this extra push.

In my work with nutrition clients, anxiety around failed New Year’s resolutions is a big stumbling block to reviving healthy habits. After making sure that their original goals are the right ones for now to begin with, there is an exercise I turn to time and again to help clients work through any indecision that might have caused them to lose track. We assess the benefits of change, benefits of staying the same, drawbacks of change, and drawbacks of staying the same. We then illustrate our findings in a table.

Let me give you an example. A weight loss client’s new year’s resolution was to decrease portion sizes at dinner by leaving a quarter of the food on his dinner plate untouched. A perfect SMART goal. It felt easy at first but as his motivation flagged throughout the last month or so, the scale has stubbornly stayed put. While he wants to continue losing weight, he also hates the idea of always having to keep nutrition top of mind. He doesn’t feel like he’s made any unsustainable changes to lose weight yet, but he’s concerned that any additional changes he’ll have to make in the future will feel more difficult. He’s actually comfortable at his current weight, but thinks it’s impossible to maintain unless he’s focused on losing. This is a major cause of anxiety. When he’s successfully executing his goals, he feels a sense of control that pervades the rest of his life. That’s almost a greater benefit to him than any change in appearance (although he likes that too). He also has a family history of diabetes and understands that continued weight loss would be beneficial for disease prevention.  Most of all, he doesn’t want his weight to go back up. He remembers how hard it was to lose and doesn’t want to start all over again.

Here is how we charted these points in a benefits-drawbacks table:

When he saw the above, he felt it was clear the benefits of change coupled with the drawbacks of staying the same far outweighed the benefits of staying the same and drawbacks of change. The anxiety he felt around regaining weight was the clearest motivating factor.

There is no reason that you need the support of a registered dietitian/nutritionist to explore your own indifference. As you plan your goals for spring cleaning your diet, take a few minutes to fill out your own chart. Keep it somewhere handy to refer back to when the going gets tough. And if you think it might help, share your chart in the comments section here. You have your own answers but a community can provide the support you need to follow them.

Spring Produce Has Arrived in NYC!

It’s finally happening! SPRING! The last few weeks we’ve begun incorporating first of the season produce into our menus: asparagus, sugar snaps, English peas, an overwhelming variety of lettuces and more. Until this week, the farmer’s markets boasted nothing more than storage veggies like apples, potatoes and beets.

Normally we aim for the meals we create to be as colorful as possible but this time of year I don’t mind when we highlight green, green and more green. And although roasting is usually my favorite cooking method, the delicate flavors of spring produce benefit most from just quick blanch or sauté if anything at all. Let me share a few of the things we made this week. Hopefully some of these ideas will inspire you to hit your farmer’s market and then the kitchen:

  • BYO Super Green Spring Bowls
    • We made a big bowl of farro or quinoa then put the following toppings out for our little and big clients to build themselves: greens, blanched English peas and snow peas, pan roasted asparagus, avocado, cucumber,  radish, fresh basil/mint/scallions, crumbled goat cheese, toasted almonds, herby yogurt vinaigrette, and a protein (roasted pork tenderloin or chicken, or poached eggs depending on the client)

  • Sugar Snap Pea, Radish and Boston Lettuce Salad
    • Blanch the sugar snaps, quarter the radish, add in a few crisp inner leaves of Boston lettuce and then finish with whatever finishing touches you’d like. Sliced avocado, fresh mint, shaved parmesan or crumbled goat cheese, thinly sliced shallot and toasted almonds are some of my favorites. And a lemon vinaigrette with a touch of Dijon marries it all together.
  • Blanched, Broiled or Grilled Asparagus with Egg and Fried Garlic
    • Cook your asparagus however you’d like, then top it was a few grated or minced hard-boiled eggs or a poached egg plus thinly sliced garlic fried in olive oil until crisp. A little lemon juice and generous shower of Maldon Salt and you’re done! Another classic combo is blanched asparagus with a zingy gremolata (fresh herbs, minced garlic, toasted nuts and citrus zest all chopped up together).

  • Mixed Spring Peas with Burrata and Basil
    • Blanched sugar snaps, shelled English peas and snow peas, topped with burrata, drizzled with the best olive oil and showered with torn basil. Simplicity at its best.
  • Spring Panzanella
    • Blanched spring veggies, torn basil and mint, homemade torn croutons all tossed with a lemony, garlicky vinaigrette.

If you have a favorite dish highlighting spring’s bounty, please share it below. We’re always on the hunt for new inspiration.

With love, xo Laura

BYO Hawaiian Bowls

Vegetarian? Vegan? Gluten Free? Nut allergy? Onion phobia? These days being a private chef can be challenging. Each week we work hard to dish out new and inspired menus while keeping careful track of everyone’s allergies, intolerances and preferences. It’s not easy and our build-your-own-bowls have quickly become our saving grace and inadvertently our biggest sensations. We prep all the components into separate serve-ware, giving our clients full reign. It’s up to them to decide what they’re in the mood for and don’t think we’re not curious. We really envy that fly on the wall. I mean, it must be kind of crazy coming home to a counter full of mise-en-place and not know what the chef envisioned for the end result. BYO night resembles a quintessential taco night (always my favorite dinner growing up) with all the fixings laid out for you to pick and choose.

Obviously, we know what we would do and it takes all the strength in the world to keep from sprinkling the herbs in with the salad or smearing the garlicky yogurt on the bottom of the platter. We also know it’s true that this is your meal at the end of the day and maybe you had cheese for lunch or you’re just not feeling that tahini drizzle on your sweet potatoes. By far the best news we get is when one of our client’s kids changes their mind about salmon or roasted carrots and I have to think that the BYO is responsible for these little victories.

We also have to think that maybe our clients want some direction. I know from my own life that my BYO dinners usually turn into a show and tell. My boyfriend will say, “I want to see how you do it”. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve explained a menu to a friend or family member forgetting that BYO isn’t a commonplace acronym. Prompting my third recipe-video, I wanted to show how I would construct my own bowl for our clients who are used to this lingo and also respond to the BYO quarries I get from everyone else. We gathered at Laura’s for our usual Friday staff lunch and spent the afternoon prepping ingredients like we would for our clients. Then, with cameras rolling, I constructed my bowl.

A behind-the-scenes look at the BYO Hawaiian Bowl shoot

This bowl, in particular, was taken from one of our weekly menus and happened to be an experiment. As chefs, we’re constantly on the hunt for unique ingredients to broaden our directory of ingredients and culinary repertoire and plantains were one such, exotic thing that sparked our curiosity. It was the first week we had our first glimpse of spring and we were all craving something light and tropical (or maybe a vacation :)). This bowl was the brainchild of our chief menu strategist, Rian, and, lets be honest, no one doubted it’s viability. In the end in was fun to built our own bowls and admire each other’s different plated creations, not to mention walk in our clients shoes for an afternoon.

By far the best part about BYOs is the versatility. If the store doesn’t have mangos, pineapple would make a great substitute. The opportunities for experimentation and adaptability are endless. This is the first BYO video, but it’s certainly not the last. Stay tuned for more BYO demos!

With love, Charlotte.

BYO Hawaiian Bowls (as they appear in the video):

Sticky sushi rice, baby spinach, crispy pan-fried salmon (alt: pan fried tofu or pork carnitas), pan seared plantains, roasted carrots, sliced mango, shaved radish, cucumber moons, blanched edamame, sliced avocado, scallions + cilantro, mandolined jalapeños, tangy cilantro-coconut dressing, toasted sesame seeds (black and white) + pepitas and lime zest

Some other recent BYO favorites that might peak your interest:

BYO Super Green Spring Bowls

Fried or poached eggs, boston + butter lettuce, farro, quartered radish, blanched peas, blanched asparagus, blanched sugar snaps, avocado, cucumber moons, toasted hazelnuts, whipped feta, scallions + basil + mint and lemon + thyme vinaigrette

BYO Steak Cobb Salad Bowls

Seared and sliced steak of choice, brown rice, crumbled bacon, romaine+watercress+endive, cherry tomatoes, avocado, pickled red onion, radish, crumbled blue cheese, hard boiled eggs, crispy chickpeas, roasted sunchokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes – http://whatweeat.nyc/jerusalem-artichokes/), cucumber moons, parsley + chives and red wine-dijon vinaigrette

BYO Glazed Korean Meatball Bowls

Korean glazed meatballs (alt. tofu), butter lettuce, brown rice, roasted shiitake mushrooms, sauteed baby bok choy, blanched broccolini, avocado, cucumber, toasted black and white sesame seeds, scallions + cilantro, ginger dressing)

BYO Honey-Dijon Roasted Pork Tenderloin Bowls

Fluffy quinoa, thinly sliced apples, roasted sweet potato cubes, arugula + baby spinach, dried cranberries, cucumber, avocado, goat cheese, mint, toasted slivered almonds, apple cider vinaigrette

Feel free to ask about any of these recipes or preparations in the comments section!

Yogurt: A Love Affair

Siggi's Yogurt Orange and Ginger Roast Pork Tenderloin and Scallions

We love yogurt at What We Eat. Plain yogurt is a super delicious and versatile ingredient; it gets as friendly with our granola as it does our roasted veggies. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also crazy good for you, too — chock full of probiotics which are good for your tummy, high in protein and low in sugar so extra filling.

So you can imagine that when we caught wind of Siggi’s recipe contest, we jumped at the chance to participate. Siggi’s is a local company that makes skyrr, a thick Icelandic yogurt that’s not too sweet. They, like us, champion the use of simple, whole food ingredients and not a lot of sugar. Their contest challenges registered dieticians to create recipes with Siggi’s yogurt that align with the ethos of their brand. The top twenty entrants will secure a spot in the forthcoming Siggi’s cookbook.

For recipe inspiration, we turned to our imaginations (or in my case, a healthy dose of the Sqirl LA Instagram feed). After some texting, some coffee and one epic trip from Williamsburg to Red Hook and back again (it’s a long story), we headed for the kitchen.

Siggi's Yogurt Roasted Acorn Squash with Frisee and Micro Greens, Pickled Fennel and Toasted Seeds

The rest of the day was a blur of cooking, testing, tweaking and tasting. Of course, there were some oh man’s and I should have’s. But you know what? There were more belly laughs than anything else. We had fun.

The truth is, cooking like this comes naturally to us. It’s the food we want to eat. And I think that shows in this recipe collection, which is small but mighty.

There’s orange and ginger roast pork tenderloin, super savory and full of flavor. Roasted acorn squash with tahini-honey yogurt, an ode to the end of winter produce. And last but not at all least, spiced pear panna cotta with cardamom, not too sweet but creamy and lovely to eat.

Siggi's Yogurt Spiced Pear Panna Cotta with Cardamon and Pear Puree

When we went home that evening, we felt full and nourished and happy. And, as always, we want to share that with you. So look out for our Siggi’s recipes, which we’ve been sharing weekly on Instagram. And try incorporating any yogurt into your meals in new and creative ways. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Green Goddess Dressing

Blend a few scoops of yogurt with ripe avocado, lemon or lime juice to taste, a little olive oil, plus fresh basil, mint, cilantro, scallions or chives for a super quick, healthy and delicious avo-yogurt dressing.

Tahini Yogurt

Mix 1/3 tahini with 2/3 plain greek yogurt. Season to taste with minced garlic, salt and pepper. Spread over the bottom of a serving bowl and top with raw or cooked veggies. Roasted sweet potatoes, freshly sliced avo, cilantro and sliced scallions is an oft-repeated variation on this around here.

Honey Yogurt

Add honey, toasted walnuts and cinnamon to taste and serve with any sliced fresh fruit or pound cake.

Yogurt Marinade

Whisk together yogurt, olive oil, lemon, garlic, ginger, salt and black pepper. We love to use this with chicken or pork. Depending, you may also want to incorporate spices like paprika, cayenne and cumin, or an herb like chopped cilantro. Transfer meat to a ziplock bag and coat with marinade. If possible, let marinate several hours, preferably overnight.

What We Believe About Eating Well

“Healthy” food is having its day. It seems like there’s a new Sweetgreen, By Chloe or juice bar along those lines opening up each time you turn your head in New York City.  Bon Appetit has launched a new brand and site, Healthyish, to “cover wellness through the lens of food.” Eighteen of Amazon’s 20 top selling cookbooks have a health focus. The hashtag #cleaneating has over 29.5 million posts and counting on Instagram. People are connecting the dots between how they eat and how they feel.

On the one hand, this is awesome. Think about it, we literally are what we eat. Every strand of hair, follicle of skin and organ in our bodies is made up of the building blocks provided by what we eat. I don’t know whether that fact will ever stop fascinating me. The more people realize and celebrate this, the better.

On the other hand, some of what I see makes me uneasy. The more interest there is in healthy eating, the more commoditized it becomes. Many of those making a business around it, whether as an Instagram celebrity or as a food company, are not as informed as they purport. They claim that their way of eating, or their product offers the optimum diet. Conviction is easier to sell.

“It is the least substantiated, most uninformed opinions about how to eat that will come at you with the greatest conviction. That’s your first clue that something is awry, because true expertise always allows for doubt.”

– Dr. David Katz, Founding Director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center

The truth is, there is not one way to eat well. Envision eating on a spectrum. On one end are total junk food diets. Think Doritos for breakfast, burger/fries for lunch and pizza for dinner. On the other end are more whole foods-based diets. Think tons of produce, lean proteins, whole grains and legumes, etc. There are endless ways to eat poorly and endless ways to eat well. If you are operating at the healthy end of the spectrum, there should be no anxiety around doing things “right” or “wrong”.

As a company, we strive to help our clients eat better no matter their choice of diet. We have clients who are vegan and animal-protein obsessed, gluten-free and grain-loving, dairy-averse and cheese-loving…you get the point. None are innately healthier than the other. It comes down to personal choice.

As a team, we enjoy all foods. Most of the time you’ll catch us crushing veggies but we never turn our noses up to a plate of the best fries or a good dessert. The former isn’t #cleaneating because it implies the latter is somehow dirty. It’s not! Its balanced. This isn’t “healthyish”. It’s healthy.

As this movement continues to boom, take heart in knowing that you’re probably already doing most things right. The devil is not in the details. And remember that while food is certainly a vehicle for health, it’s also about pleasure, culture and community. Enjoy it for all it has to offer!

With love always, xo Laura