Making bagels for lunch with cream cheese, avocado, and tomato

What started as an endeavour to make my own lunch and eat less calories for fat loss ended up being a pretty fun adventure into making bagels – a lunch food that I found I could actually stick with and not get bored of.

If you don’t know me that well yet, I’m only a cook by marriage (my last name is Cooke ?) and have little to no skills in a kitchen. I’ve written on learning to cook, but the fact of the matter is that I also couldn’t be bothered making my own lunch when working from home. When I worked full time from our office, we were spoiled every day by having chefs cook our breakfast and lunch.

Even before I moved out of my parents’, I dreamed of being able to take control and make my own lunch instead of my mum doing it for me. When our offices closed in March 2020 and we were made to work from home, it should’ve been a perfect opportunity to make my own lunch, but I just couldn’t find the motivation to do it until five months later. ?

I started with salad, since I was just buying prepackaged salad and knew I could make my own that was better tasting and a bit more cost efficient. I’d also be going through far less plastic waste.

A wooden chopping board with wedges of sliced cherry tomato, a cut open avocado, and a bagel cut in half
Make bagels with me. Kind of.

After many months I moved onto bagels. I can’t remember what encouraged me, but I’m pretty sure it was a case of walking around the supermarket and getting enticed by all the upsells that I noticed Smoking Gun Bagels being sold at Coles in the bread aisle. I’d been meaning to try Smoking Gun Bagels ever since I came across them on Instagram, and now I could just buy them in my local supermarket!

A wooden board on a wooden table, served with sliced avocado and wedges of sliced tomato
Obligatory Instagram-worthy food photo

? lol I tried to toast my bagels in the toaster

Alas, I am now a bagel snob. But before I decided to “up my bagel game”, you should know about my first attempt to toast my bagel in the toaster. I used a pretty standard butter knife to cut my bagel in half and pop it in our toaster (which holds two pieces of bread). A combination of cutting the bagel with a poor butter knife and having to stand the bagel halves vertically in a toaster meant that the result was pretty awful.

I ended up with way too many crumbs in the toaster, and my bagel halves just looked sad.

We have a sandwich press at home. It was something my mum gave to me a very long time ago, well before I moved out. She asked me if she thought I would need one and I honestly just shrugged it off and said I didn’t mind. I mean, she was paying, right? ? In three years of living with Nick, we used the sandwich press perhaps once. And now I use it every day for my bagels. ? I didn’t think about using it until I casually asked a friend if a bagel would be better toasted in the toaster, or with a sandwich press. Needless to say, it made my life a lot easier!

There were also a couple of times I didn’t toast the bagel… yeah, don’t do that. They just don’t taste as good.

? The lox bagel

No bagel endeavour would really be complete without trying the much loved lox – that is, smoked salmon and cream cheese – bagel. Unless, of course, you don’t eat salmon.

I’m lactose intolerant, and although I can eat most block cheese, I don’t have a fun time with more creamy cheese (and milk and ice-cream especially). So I set out to find some cream cheese that either had no lactose or was vegan. I was excited to see Sheese – gluten, lactose, and dairy-free vegan cream cheese – stocked in my local Coles supermarket. I highly, highly recommend Sheese. I haven’t dived deep into vegan block cheese, and my last attempt found me disliking any coconut-based cheese. I’ve heard cashew-based cheese is better, but I haven’t really spent some time looking.

A top-down view of a round tub of vegan cream cheese called Sheese, on a wooden table
Definitely my go-to cream cheese now!

Sheese is made with soy (even though it does have coconut oil in it), and ends up tasting as close to real cream cheese as you can get. I immediately wanted to try the black pepper flavour because I adore peppery flavours, but there is a plain one as well.

My first bagels were smothered with Sheese and then topped with slices of smoked Tasmanian salmon. I buy the Tassal brand, because it feels like it would be a sin as an Australian to really buy any other salmon? I don’t know, you tell me. ?

? This is the part where I (eventually) learned to cut an avocado

I’m still not super great at picking avocados, but I think I should get better with time. I asked my avocado enthusiast friend, Chris, for some tips, and I still don’t know how he manages to magically have a good avocado almost every damn day, apart from just being adequately prepared. But I definitely had a lot of bad avocados during my time, and cut a few open when they were still not ripe. ???♀? Chris suggested to put them in the sun or next to a banana to make them softer. (But really, who just randomly has a banana? Also, I avoid them like the plague because they make me constipated, haha.) I did this a few times and it helped, but more often than not, I would still cut open the avocado too soon. It was mostly those Shepherd avocados… ?

I don’t think I’m at the stage where I’m ready to just stockpile avocados. I usually buy 1–3 at a time, and depending on whether I need one today or tomorrow, I make sure that one of them is pretty much ready to eat, while the others will be “ready soon”. I think I will get used to it, eventually.

As for cutting an avocado, I just didn’t know how to go about slicing it. When I was younger, I just scooped out the avocado with a spoon. It was often a mess. I remember eating avocado by scooping it out from the skin and eating it just like that. So Chris passed on his suggestion which he actually got from our chef at work – cut the avocado into quarters, peel the skin off, and then slice them. ?

A close-up of two avocado quarters, unpeeled, on a wooden chopping board alongside some sliced cherry tomatoes
The supposedly life-changing way (in my opinion) to slice avocados into quarters

Don’t look at me funny, they don’t teach you this in school!

A close-up photo of two peeled and sliced avocado quarters, sitting on a wooden chopping board next to an open half of a bagel
Not a bad attempt

I’m still not fabulous at slicing avocados. I have a general fear of knives in the kitchen and I’m not comfortable with using one, so I have to really take my time. I found that slicing avocados that are too soft ends up being a bit of a mess, because the avocado gets smushed in your fingers as you are trying to hold it to slice it. ?

? Really Good Tomatoes?, aka. “these tomatoes really get me”

I have been accosted for the amount of tomatoes I put on my bagels. You’re welcome. I have a thing for tomatoes. I don’t know what it is, but it was about five years ago that I realised that, when tomatoes are really good – they are really fucking good. ? And sometimes I don’t stand for less-than-good tomatoes.

A white plate with an open bagel served on top, with sliced avocado and wedges of cherry tomatoes
An early bagel attempt. A lot more tomato than bagel going on here.

I work for a company that provides us with cooked breakfast and lunch (of course, they didn’t do it while we worked from home!). Sometimes breakfast involves grilled tomatoes. It became a running joke after I came downstairs with my plate of breakfast food back in 2016 and exclaimed, “Oh my god, these tomatoes are so good. These tomatoes really get me”.

I tried grape-shaped perino tomatoes on my bagels, but I found that slicing them resulted in really awkward shapes. Since then, I bought a punnet of cherry tomatoes, and cut the little round tomatoes into halves. I soon found out that cherry tomatoes can vary in size and I would have to adapt my slicing method, so I went from halves, to quarters, to… uh, what do you call it when you cut a little tomato into six pieces? Sixths?

A white plate served with an open bagel of smoked salmon, sliced avocado and wedges of cherry tomatoes
One of my less cool bagel attempts

Basically, I would cut the tomato in half, and then cut each half into thirds. Most of the time, regardless of size, that method gives me the most optimal size of tomato wedges (or slices?) and they also end up looking nicer. Sometimes the really small cherry tomatoes are fine just being cut into quarters.

???? Assembling the bagel

It is here where there are definitely a few failed attempts on account of selecting Bad Avocados or being unable to slice avocados nicely.

A wooden chopping board laid out with sliced cherry tomatoes and sliced avocado, and an open bagel with cream cheese spread
Let’s gooooo ?

With one of my first attempts, I can’t even remember exactly how I sliced the avocado, but I must have tried to use a serrated table knife and almost tried to create a “smashed avocado” look to disguise the fact that I had failed to slice the avocado well. I’ve since decided that smashing avocado is not always necessary. Hahaha.

A white plate with an open bagel on it, served with sliced avocado and wedges of cherry tomato
My first failed attempt at an avo bagel

When I first started assembling my bagels, I left the hole in the centre open and tried not to cover it. The better I got at slicing my avocado, the less I stopped caring about trying not to cover the hole, because I began to fan out the slices of avocado over the surface of the bagel. I don’t know if this is like – a bagel sin, to be covering the centre of the bagel, but fuck it. Your bagels are what you make them, I say. ?

A wooden chopping board laid out with sliced cherry tomatoes and an open bagel with sliced avocado fanned out on top.
I don’t think it’s a big deal if you cover the middle of the bagel!
A white plate with an open bagel served with smoked salmon, sliced avocado and a handful of wedges of sliced tomato
I mean, this might as well be a round bit of bread, right? ???

It also took me a few tries to realise that it was better to add the smoked salmon slices directly on top of the layer of Sheese and then put the avocado slices on top, instead of trying to put the salmon on top of slices of avocado. The avocado slices are also not as malleable as smoked salmon slices (depending on how soft your avocado is, I guess).

The way I arrange my tomato slices on my bagels depends on my mood and honestly depends on how well it’s going to sit on the avocado without it dropping off. Having the slices fall off while you’re eating the bagel is inevitable, so I’m not extremely concerned about that part – it also happens to be a lesson in balance and mastication. ?

A close-up of an open bagel assembled with smoked salmon, sliced avocado and wedges of cherry tomato arranged in a circle
Good job G ?

This was one of my experiments when I ran out of avocado and opted for baby spinach instead. I went all out on the tomato, so much so that it looks like a damn tomato wheel. Hahaha.

An open bagel served on a white plate, topped with baby spinach leaves, and wedges of cherry tomato arraigned on top neatly like a wheel
Definitely more tomato than bagel ?

So really, whatever goes. But I also like them going around in a bit of a circle to mimic the roundness of the bagel, with all the tomato slices facing the same way.

Smoked salmon usually adds some saltiness to the bagel, and the cream cheese already has pepper in it, but I think a bit extra for garnish doesn’t hurt. ?

Yeahhhh, bagels! ?

It’s been at least a few months that I’ve stuck to this routine of making bagels almost every weekday for lunch. I’m pretty chuffed, not gonna lie – I’ve found a food that I can eat almost every day that I’ve not gotten sick of yet, and that I can vary if I need to. If I don’t have access to a good avocado, then I can make myself a lox bagel or one just plain with Sheese, and tomatoes can be optional. I have also used spinach leaves and layered them thickly over the Sheese! I always look forward to and enjoy my bagels – this coming from a girl who had a history of hating bread and anything remotely like it.

I think my next endeavour will be to try a bruschetta bagel of sorts… me loving my tomatoes and all. I don’t know if that will be considered an abomination, but come on, I’m allowed.

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Girl I don’t even like avacado OR tomato and you made that shit look to die for. You may not have kitchen skills but you have mad presentation skills xD
I’m not that great of a cook either, but admittedly have been getting better. I’m trying hard to lose weight and CARBS are my biggest enemy. I realized the other day literally 3/4 of my diet is some type of heavy carb. Our HEB has some low-carb bagels I want to try because I love bagels as well, and supposedly they’re as “good as the real thing” so I guess I’ll find out with my next shopping trip!
Also, agreed pre-packaged salads just aren’t the same. There’s a decent “Santa Fe” salad with grilled chicken and roasted corn prepackage that our HEB has, but the dressing is REALLY heavy so I’ve been trying to find a home made alternative that’s just as good lol

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LOL! Honestly, I allow myself to have carbs as long as they are from sources like fruit and vegetables. I allow myself to have cookies because I love them, but I try not to eat things like pasta and bread too much. I’ve found that rice noodles don’t feel as heavy, so Vietnamese food has been a pretty filling option for me recently without feeling “heavy”.

The salad I made at home was pretty much baby spinach, chicken, tomatoes (like in this blog post LOL)… I can’t remember what else I put in, but I’d buy half a roast chicken from the supermarket (on the day it was cooked) and used my hands to break it up into strips for the salad. The dressing I use is either balsamic vinegar or garlic dressing, but I never like too much dressing on my salads. Though I know that neither vinegar nor garlic sits well with everyone. ? The good thing about vinegar based dressing is that it does tend to have less calories compared to the creamy ones, so you could try that as a start. Otherwise you could definitely try making your own – at least you could figure out the taste you prefer and you’d know exactly what is going into the dressing!

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I am going to have to revisit bagels TBH. I never thought about using a sandwich press to make them – but the ones you made look absolutely delicious.

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