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After more than four months of eating breakfasts packed with lean protein and vegetables, this lifelong cereal eater can tell the difference. I’m not talking about the 16 pounds I’ve lost. I feel better. I have more energy. Most important, I’m not starving at noon, so I’m satisfied (most of the time) with a salad instead of a Whataburger, fries and Coke.

While I have found seven basic ways to cook eggs on a regular basis, I can’t face complicated prep and cleanup every morning, so I have come up with two easy standbys, Breakfast Stew and Savory Breakfast Custard. Both have evolved since the summer, and no doubt I will tinker with the recipes again.

Breakfast Stew (low-cal Huevos Rancheros)

2 14.5 oz.-cans of diced tomatoes
1 15 oz.-can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup cooked lean sausage crumbles or chopped ham
2/3 cup salsa and/or pico de gallo
salt and pepper to taste
4 eggs

The goal is to have a ratio of 4:2:1 vegetables, carb and meat. Ahead of time, combine all but eggs in a 3-quart saucepan, cover and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

This will cook down to about 4 cups of stew plus liquid. Using a slotted spoon, transfer stew to four individual casseroles or storage containers. I really like these individual casseroles with lids made by Corning. Refrigerate.

breakfast stew

When you’re ready for breakfast, place the casserole (or a soup bowl) of stew in the microwave, cover with a paper towel and heat for one minute. Break one egg on top the stew, re-cover with paper towel and microwave until egg reaches desired doneness. Check after 1 minute. I like a fully-cooked egg white with a soft yolk, which takes about 1:30 minutes in my microwave.

Notes: You can adjust the spiciness of the dish by the salsa you use. I use whatever I have on hand—usually Pace’s mild picante, but you can buy ranchero salsa made with Serrano peppers if you want the authentic flavor. If you want the dish really hot, use Ro-Tel tomatoes.

skillet-cooked breakfast stew

The original recipe called for a quart of fresh tomatoes—delicious if you have them on hand but not necessary at all. It also called for re-heating the stew in a skillet, breaking the egg on top and covering to cook for 3-5 minutes. I find the microwave a little faster, with less cleanup, especially since I eat out of the individual casserole.

I make three breakfast servings and then use the remaining stew and liquid as a base for soup, adding chicken stock, carrots and whatever other vegetables I have on hand.