Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Breakfast Quesadillas

I like think I know a fair amount about cooking. I'm no pro chef, but I'm friends with several of those, and on my good days I like to believe that the difference between them and me is less about outright knowledge and more the level of craft that they bring to the kitchen.
But every now and then, I get smacked in the face by some technique that is so simple, yet utterly brilliant, that I'm reminded how much there is left for me to learn.  I remember watching my neighbor make her German Potato salad with the intention of documenting her amorphous "recipe", only to be more struck by her ability to speed-peel five pounds of boiled potatoes in seconds flat.  Watching that simple action changed everything for me, and I pass it along whenever I can.
Well here I am again.  Someone just smacked me with a dead-simple solution to an old problem: Making breakfast (Egg) Quesadillas without dirtying two pans and without having the eggs fall out all over...
The solution from the dirty gourmet is to start the eggs like an omelette.  Let them start to setup, then apply a tortilla and flip.  Add the rest of the ingredients and the second tortilla, and voila', an egg quesadilla where the egg is a perfectly distributed fluffy pancake layer.

I was so excited by the revelation , I made these for dinner that very night.  They were perfect, and excellent.  And typically, I didn't take any pictures.

That however leads me on my normal path of "leftovers for breakfast".  Of course breakfast is a necessarily smaller meal, since I find I only need a few hundred calories to jump-start my morning, so I've experimented with reducing the portions and calories further.

Today's Breakfast: Open-faced egg quesadilla on a corn tortilla,  with chicken breast, sauteed vidalia onion, and green chiles.  Pico de gallo and avocado on the side.  

The cheese provides a large chunk of the calories, but it isn't really a quesadilla without it.  Since this method still yields good results with a single corn tortilla underneath, it's manageable.  Even so, this is a bit of a splurge at 380 calories.  Serving the same ingredients as an omelette with 1/2 as much cheese and sans tortilla would have brought this in at 275 calories.

For camping/overlanding purposes, I think I'll stick to the full "two tortilla" recipe from the Dirty Gourmet - it will be simpler to manage and easier to eat and clean-up, and the extra calories are never missed during a day on-trail.  For dieting at home, open-faced is fantastic!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Overlander's "Pita Pockets"

This recipe is another favorite of our daughter.  I make it often at home, but I originally learned it from another family while camping in Tahoe many years ago.  We call them "Pita Pockets" because our daughter loves the way that sounds, but these are pretty free-form, ethno-culinarily speaking, so you can experiment to fit your tastes.

The winning part of this meal from the kid perspective is that they get to assemble it themselves, and control what goes into their own pocket.

Like many good overlanding recipes, this one permits a lot of prep work to be done at home, making in-camp cooking a relatively easy job - makes my life easy and lets me enjoy a beer and the scenery instead of slaving away for too long.  (Although, if you have a lazy afternoon, fresh-cut veggies will retain a bit more 'snap'.)  It's also vegetarian-compatible, which is a big plus for the wife.  This recipe is basically one-pan or no-pan, but does require refrigeration (or a cooler) and a grill is better than a burner for this one.  As listed, should feed a family of 3-4.


  • 1lb of Lamb, Beef, or Chicken, optionally marinated (see Method)
  • Substitute (or add) grilled or roasted mushroom slices or falafel for vegetarian compatibility
  • 2C Lettuce - Romaine, Red-Leaf, or Spring mix (optional)
  • 1-2C Tomato - dice one large tomato or halve/quarter a big handful of small grape or cherry tomatoes, depending on taste
  • 1-2 Persian or Pickling Cucumbers (preferred), or 1/3 English Cucumber, 1/4" dice
  • 1/4 to 1/2 Onion, white or sweet, finely diced 
  • 1/2C Feta Cheese
  • 1/2C Kalamata Olives, seeded & halved or sliced
  • Tzatziki Sauce - Packaged fresh, or DIY for the ambitious
  • 4 Whole Pitas or 4-8 Flatbread rounds
  • Basque Marinade (optional)
  • Garlic Salt (optional)
  • Hummus (optional)
  • Lots of ziplock bags
  • Grill or heavy pan
  • Heat source (grill or campfire is best, burner will work also)
  • Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil
  • Grilling tongs


  1. Prior to departing for your trip, wash and dice all of the vegetables except tomatoes and lettuce.  Pack them individually in heavy-duty ziplock bags or Tupperware type containers.  If using bags, double-bag the onions.  Trust me on this.  
  2. If using grape or cherry tomatoes, you can safely quarter or halve them as well.  If using a juicy beefsteak or roma tomato, you may be better off leaving it whole and dicing on-site, as it may just turn itself into salsa if you pre-dice.
  3. Wash and tear your (optional) lettuce or spring-mix into smallish bits and bag with a paper towel to absorb extra moisture.
  4. Depending on your meat preference, you may want to start a marinade at this point.  Nothing other than a little garlic salt just prior to grilling is really needed, but if you want to punch up the flavor, I highly recommend Basque Marinade/Meat Tenderizer.  It seems to be readily available in the marinade/bbq-sauce section of every mega-mart grocery store I've ever been in.  For beef or especially lamb, just put the meat in a zip top bag and splash in enough of the marinade to roughly cover.  Double-bag the meat for safety against leaks, and toss in the cooler or fridge.  For chicken, the Basque marinade still tastes great, but the marinade is slightly acidic (vinegar), so it will result in rubbery chicken if you marinade for more than a couple of hours.  Another note on chicken: I normally prefer bone-in thighs whenever I'm cooking chicken, but for general ease of preparation/eating/cleanup in-camp, boneless breasts are probably a better choice if you choose chicken.  Optionally, you could even pre-cook chicken (any cut) then slice to a large-dice before leaving, then simply re-warm in a pan then toss with 2Tsp of the Basque marinade, but this wouldn't be my preference unless you really want a dead-easy meal prep and you're eating this meal on Day 1.
  5. Once in camp, prepare your fire, grill, or burner.
  6. If you prefer to eat pitas as actual pockets, slice them in half now.  There are a few methods to handle the bread:  The easiest is to stack them and wrap in heavy duty foil to make a "packet".  When you start grilling the meat, place this packet near the heat source, like the corner or the grill or the side of the fire, but not over direct heat.  Turn the packet occasionally (use tongs!).  The bread should be sufficiently warm and slightly steamed at service time.  Alternatively, you can warm the bread in a pan for ~1 minute per side, then transfer to a foil packet to keep warm.  This works better for flatbread than pita.  Finally, you can simply "toast" the flatbread over an open burner.  This does NOT work for pita at all...
  7. Grill your meat to preferred temperature.  On the small folding "grill" (really a brazier) we use when overlanding, only a minute or two per side is needed for most cuts of beef or lamb with the very hot fire I get from lump charcoal.  You can also pan-roast your meat if you only have a burner.
  8. Rest the meat for a few minutes after cooking, then slice to a large dice
  9. And finally: Pita-Pockets, Assemble!  Help the kids open up your warmed pita halves, or use a whole flatbread like a gyro wrapper, and assemble your sandwich with preferred mix of veggies, meat, Tzatziki or Hummus dip, and cheese.  Have a plate and a spoon handy for the kids to eat the filling as it falls;  my daughter, at least, has yet to master holding things horizontally and eating from the end, rather than the middle.  Usually at least half her sandwich is eaten like a salad or "bowl" after the bread is consumed, but that's half the fun.  I usually pair this meal with pita chips as it lets the family start in on the hummus  and Tzatziki dips while I do the cooking.  This keeps the hungry-kid complaints to a minimum.
Update 2014-06-10: Dietary Notes:
Wanted to add a couple of notes for any Overlanders who are counting calories, like me:  Using half-pitas in pocket form is about 40 calories per sandwich, versus ~150 calories if you use a whole flatbread.  That's a worthwhile change and the size of the pita will also force a bit or portion control in terms of filling.  Leaving out the meat or cheese is an obvious possibility, but choosing a lean bit of tri-tip steak and a good Low-Fat Feta Cheese (I like Trader Joes') doesn't add too many calories if you keep the portions reasonable.  Definitely skip the pre-dinner Pita-Chip and hummus course, though, unless you did a lot of hiking that day.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

... breakfast tacos (again).

I have previously documented my affinity for using leftover taco fixings as breakfast fodder.  In the time since I started the food blog, I've had to get more and more serious about watching what I eat as I've rededicated myself to my weight loss goals.

The one-two punch of a slightly abnormally efficient metabolism and intentionally eating at a calorie deficit to lose weight means that there are scant few calories in the daily budget with which to experiment and have fun with food.  That doesn't mean, however, that I have to eat bland healthy stuff all the time.  Or ever, really.

Here's an example of employing all my tricks and still getting to have fun with leftovers.  Admittedly, flank-steak tacos are anything but revolutionary, but it's the details that makes this meal possible:
This particular preparation of tacos rings in right around 400kcal.  Lately, that's an extravagant number of calories to "blow" on breakfast, but I'd just finished fleeing imaginary undead during a 5k run while playing Zombies, Run!, my favorite exercise-based alternate reality game.  For a normal day, I'd cut the amount of meat by about a third, and it would be at least closer to my normal 200-300kcal breakfast.

The tally:
Costco Flank Steak - 3oz - 198cal
2 Corn Tortillas - 110cal
Calavo Guacamole, 2T - 40cal
Olive Oil, 1t - 40cal
Onions - one 1/4" slice - 16cal
Hot Sauce - 0cal
Lime Juice - 0cal
Available Herbs, Cilantro, etc. - 0-1cal
Just over 400 calories.

I build flavor by caramelizing a big slice of Vidalia onion with a minimal amount of oil and a medium-low heat.  This takes a bit of time, more than I usually prefer to spend on Breakfast during the week, but it's low-attention, so I can let this sit while I tend to other details like feeding my daughter and prepping the day's lunch.  The meat was previously grilled, so I just toss it in at the end to warm, and then add a last bit of seasoning.  Tortillas are warmed in a dry pan, then assemble with a minimal amount of guacamole, the barest squeeze of lime juice, and a good hot sauce.
Is there any magic there? Not really.  It's the typical recommendations, but you have to actually follow through.  In this case, using minimal oil and a good pan for the onions is important.  Besides the meat, the biggest calorie hit comes from the tortillas, so make sure you buy good corn tortillas - first because they're healthier (lower calorie, and lower % of calories from fat vs flour tortillas), but secondarily because with good tortillas you need fewer.  No doubling up for structural integrity needed if they're properly warmed, and they contribute a good corny flavor and texture.  I had a large quantity of leftover Costco guacamole, and while homemade is better in terms of taste and texture, it is not any better calorie-wise.  At least avocados are the "good fat".  Finally, make sure you pick a Hot Sauce that doesn't have much (or any) oil added.  Some brands include oil for mouth feel, etc., but it changes the sauce from a calorie-free condiment into something you need to account for.  Not worth it, in my opinion.  

Almost as important as what's included is what's excluded.  Thinking stylistically, this is more of a street taco.  Even the three ingredients here (not counting condiments) is pushing it.  If I'd had cilantro on hand, that would definitely have gone in, but otherwise nothing else is needed here.  Even a small amount of shredded cheese would have added 25% to the calorie bill, but more importantly - it isn't even warranted for these flavors, since you already get the richness and creamy mouth feel from the caramelized onions and avocado.