Piña Colada Yogurt Parfait

IMG_8598.jpgDesserts! Er…I mean yogurt for breakfast! Let’s be honest, I have been craving cakes, desserts, and ice cream like mad lately because of my new healthy habits. Since they are not a regular part of my diet, I cannot justify having ice cream for breakfast. But luckily, I CAN have this piña colada yogurt for breakfast and it is every bit as satisfying, rich, and creamy as ice cream is. The trick is using full fat yogurt. Oh-my-goodness! I feel like I have been lied to all my life by Yoplait and their low-fat or non-fat corn-syrup-laden grossness. I have now completely boycotted flavored yogurts and now I will never turn back. Flavored yogurts are often filled with way too much sugar and lots of unnatural ingredients that I cannot pronounce. And the amazing thing is-you can make your own fruit flavored yogurt for a fraction of the sugar and calories, and it will taste even MORE delicious than that pre-packaged crap we are tricked into purchasing. Here’s something that I learned through my cooking experiments with sweets- there is a point at which we reach a sweet spot of tasting sweetness in our food. After that point, even if you add more sugar, it does not necessarily increase your satisfaction or even pleasure with the sweetness. Instead, it becomes overly sweet and cloying. Unfortunately, many of us have had our taste buds trained by the food industry to crave overly sweet foods. But don’t take my word for it. Give it a try yourself and sweeten your own foods to your liking and see if you can taste the difference.

Another bone I want to pick with the dairy industry is: why do you keep making everything low-fat or fat-free? We know you just fill all that emptiness with sugar instead. I have discovered full fat plain yogurt and I am NEVER going back. My goodness, the rich delicious flavor and mouth-feel are incomparable to any fat-free yogurt I’ve ever had to eat. The great news is that this delicious base becomes the canvas on which you can paint using the full palette of natural seasonings and fruits available, from vanilla extract to brown sugar, honey, and fruit. The world is your oyster. So, it is through this re-awakening of my love of yogurt that has inspired this piña colada yogurt parfait. It can be your breakfast, but seriously it makes a mean dessert if you are trying to avoid ice cream. Hope you give it a try and enjoy this easy yet delicious recipe!

Cooking notes/tips:

If you are making this yogurt parfait ahead of time, make sure to omit the pineapple until you serve. I’ve noticed that the pineapple emits bitterness throughout the yogurt when it is soaked in it for too long.

Always choose fresh-squeezed lemon and lime juice when you can, especially if you do not plan to heat up/cook your dish. You can really tell the difference in terms of freshness of flavor. Bottled juices are probably fine for marinades since there are many other flavors and you will be cooking the flavor out, but nothing can replace the zesty bite of freshly squeezed citrus!

Ingredients
1 cup full fat yogurt
½ cup chopped pineapple (frozen or fresh)
1 tbsp honey or brown sugar
1 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut
pinch of lime zest
juice of ¼ lime

Directions
Mix ingredients together and serve cold! It’s that easy!

Adjust honey and brown sugar to taste. Or omit for a healthier yogurt dish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken Breasts in Creamy Marsala Wine Sauce and Cremini Mushrooms

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As I continue on my fat loss journey, I’ve been challenged to find filling and fulfilling delicious foods that are not packed with fat and carbs. I’ve grown up with a certain expectation at every meal: a big hunk of meat, a big pile of starch (rice, potato, or pasta), and a small bunch of veggies. Needless to say, changing to a low-grain diet can be challenging because you often feel dissatisfied and that something is lacking. Moreover, fit meals often showcase boiled and bland chicken and fish. I’m sorry- I was born a food lover and I refuse to limit myself to these unappetizing options. If I subsisted on these options, I would be either miserable or cheating on my diet all the time. So, in the spirit of sustainable lifestyle changes to my eating, I have accepted that I cannot have a grain with every meal and have the body that I want. Thanks a lot, powers that be! But just because I cannot pile my plate full of delicious Jasmine rice and fluffy mashed potatoes during every meal does not mean that I cannot enjoy the foods that WILL nourish my body and keep it lean. And I fully intend to continue enjoying my meals. So I’ve had to be a bit creative in how I prepare my food to keep it interesting and appetizing. Otherwise, I’ll be on my way to an In-n-Out drive through faster than you can say “screw it!”

Chicken breast is a staple of any American household, and it is the usual suspect when it comes to protein sources for people trying to stay fit. Unfortunately, due to its low fat content, it is easily overcooked, leaving it rubbery and unpalatable. The solutions? Don’t overcook it and add a sauce! Usually cream sauces are full of saturated fat. I opted to use Laughing Cow cheese as a base for this sauce, a trick I learned from The Hungry Girl. That woman is a genius. I also used a bit of water mixed with flour as a thickening agent so that my sauce turned out velvety and rich.

Cooking Tips

-Low on time? Slice your chicken breast thinly to ensure even and fast cooking.

-substitute laughing cow cheese as the base of heavy cream-based sauces; add flour + water mixture to thicken

-when making any meat dish with a sauce, make sure to barely undercook the meat when you are searing. The meat can finish cooking in the sauce. If you cook thoroughly during searing and then cook in the sauce, you will have an overcooked rubbery piece of meat.

-when in doubt, do not overcrowd the pan when searing anything. You will end up with a steamy mess instead of the golden brown crust you are trying to achieve. Also, do NOT flip/turn the meat until you are sure the golden brown crust has formed. This will also leave you with steamed instead of seared food (Same thing applies when you are going to eat out at an AYCE Korean BBQ place. Just sayin….)

 

Recipe
Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

 

Ingredients
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced into medallions
2 packages cremini (baby Portobello) mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tbsp black pepper
1 cup Marsala wine
2 wedges of original Laughing Cow cheese
1 cup grated Parmigianno Reggiano
1 tbsp flour
2 tbsp water
1 bunch chopped parsley

Season chicken breast slices with garlic salt and pepper. Let sit for about 10 minutes while you prep (chop) other ingredients.

Heat a skillet on high heat and add olive oil. Sear chicken breast pieces and place onto a plate when they are done searing.

Using the same pan, add butter, garlic, and shallot along with sliced cremini mushrooms. Sauté until mushrooms have become golden brown. Add Marsala wine to de-glaze pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes.

Add in seared chicken to the pan along with mushroom mixture. Add Laughing Cow wedges, and Parmigianno Reggiano. Turn heat to medium and allow sauce to reduce.

Mix flour with cold water thoroughly until all lumps have dissolved. Add flour water mixture to the chicken and continue cooking until the sauce has thickened. Taste for seasoning and add salt, pepper, red pepper flake, and Parmigianno Reggiano to taste.

Lastly, top with generous amounts of chopped parsley and serve. Enjoy!

Addictive sautéed mushrooms

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As fall begins to kiss the air with its crispness in southern California, I find myself craving earthy rich flavors, soups, stews, and overall more sumptuous hearty food. Tonight for dinner we are having some marinated beef ribs to change things up from our typical steak dinner on Fridays. Fridays have become date night, a small tradition we’ve started to dangle a carrot in front of us throughout the workweek. The daily grind often feels so repetitive and unending that we need to see that light at the end of the tunnel. On date nights, we sometimes choose to eat out, but there is an unparalleled satisfaction that comes from preparing food with your own hands and watching other people consume and enjoy it. Michael Pollen spoke about this on his documentary entitled “Cooked.” He described the primal instinct to hunt, gather, and interact with food on a very intimate level. Anyway, as the prepared meals for the week have been almost completely devoured, I was prompted to cook a nice home-made meal for our first date night of the fall season.

When I think steak, the usual suspects include creamed corn, creamed spinach, and some kind of mashed or baked potato dish. As I’ve described previously, we are still in the midst of making lifestyle changes to our diet, so that essentially negates most of the usual side dishes that come with a proper steak dinner. Thinking outside the box using fresh healthy vegetable-based ingredients, I was struck by the earthiness of beef and thought that mushrooms would be a lovely pairing. When treated properly, mushrooms are the meat of the ground. They bind onto our umami receptors and create a delightful sensation that can only be described as “yum.” Paired with some butter, aromatics, and a splash of white wine and you have a delicious side-dish that bursts with flavor and deserves a spot on your dinner table in its own right!

Cooking Tips
Browning of mushrooms requires a good amount of oil, changing the heat and patience. If you have a lot of mushrooms that will crowd the pan, all you need to do is add some more oil, let the mushrooms cook down and release their juices, and then turn up the fire to let those liquids evaporate and leave behind their concentrated umami goodness.

Controlling heat and flames is such an important part of cooking. Mastering control of temperature and heat will help you to sauté to perfection every time. I was taught to cook Chinese food first and foremost. For stir-fries, you want your pan to be literally smoking hot before you place your oil and food to be cooked. For all other sautéing, I do not allow my pan to smoke. I place my hand above the surface of the pan to check for temperature. If I can sense the heat and it makes it uncomfortable for my hand to remain there for more than a second, I know that the pan is ready. Another check is that your cooking oil should become shimmery and start to disperse (becoming looser) if your pan is hot enough. This is when you can place your meats, veggies, and other foods for browning or sautéing. For veggies or meats that require longer cooking time due to thickness or the type of protein that needs to be cooked down, it is imperative to lower your flame to either medium or medium-low to prevent burning. At times, it may be necessary to add a liquid (e.g., water, broth, wine) to de-glaze your pan and prevent food from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. This is also a great opportunity to imbue your food with delicious flavors.

Servings: 3-4
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
3 large king trumpet mushrooms
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, sliced
½ tsp salt, or to taste
1 tbsp black pepper
splash dry white wine
2 sprigs of scallion
optional: splash of truffle oil or pinch of truffle salt

 

Thinly slice mushrooms, shallots, and scallion.

Heat a skillet on high heat and add 1 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp olive oil. Once butter is melted and well incorporated with olive oil, add mushrooms. Sauté for 5 minutes on high heat and place a lid on the skillet. Cooked covered for 5 minutes.

Uncover lid and continue cooking until mushroom juices evaporate. When almost all liquid is gone, lower fire to medium and allow mushrooms to sauté until browned, stirring occasionally.

When most mushroom pieces have become golden brown, add shallots and scallion stems. Turn fire lower to medium-low. Sauté until shallots are translucent, stirring occasionally.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Then pour a splash of white wine into mushrooms. Turn fire to high to allow wine to evaporate, then back to medium once liquid has evaporated. Again, sauté to allow mushrooms to brown and caramelize. Add in scallion tips (the green tender parts) and the other tbsp of butter and sauté for another minute.

Taste for flavor and add additional pinches of salt, pepper, or even red pepper flake for additional flavor. If you are feeling fancy, go ahead and add some truffle salt. Sere and enjoy! If you are feeling even fancier, drizzle some truffle oil upon serving. Never heat up your truffle oil because that will destroy its delicate flavor.

 

 

Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Almond Bark

21146978_10107176601405063_414396729_oChocolate-a girl’s best friend next to diamonds. But the best part is…chocolate is so much more affordable when you’re on a budget. I love giving home-made chocolate treats to friends and family as a gift during Christmas or special occasions. It has a personal touch because it is home-made, and who doesn’t love chocolate? No friends of mine, that’s for sure! I made this chocolate almond bark for my apartment manager, who has taken such great care of me and my fiancée during our time at our apartment complex.

Nothing satisfies like a delicious chocolate-y treat that has the rich deep flavor of real dark chocolate. I used to be a fan of milk chocolate, until I realized that it does not contain much of the real cacao, which is what makes chocolate ….chocolate. If you’ve ever wondered why you could down a whole bar of milk chocolate and still crave more chocolate, that it why. There is very little actual cacao in milk chocolate….which is why I always go for the real thing-dark chocolate that has at least 60% cacao in it. Usually I check the ingredients labels to make sure that milk powder and milk products are not in my chocolate. That is a sign that filler is being used to substitute for the real thing. No, thank you! I’ll take the real stuff as it actually satisfies rather than leaving me craving and wanting more and more.

Speaking of cravings, being on this stricter dietary regimen as part of my month of boot camp fitness has been really challenging. I want to eat pizza and cheeseburgers almost every day and top it all off with some yummy ice cream and chocolate cake. Since I can’t exactly do that, I decided to treat myself with a rich dark chocolate treat. Adding almonds just gives it extra protein and a crunch. Feel free to substitute with any other nuts that you enjoy/prefer: peanuts, cashews, pistachios, and walnuts. Flavored nuts would make this really interesting and yummy, but for waist watchers, it would be best to add in unflavored nuts due to the extra calories from added sugars.

This recipe is actually vegan-friendly and gluten-free as real dark chocolate contains no milk, dairy, wheat, or gluten. I am not a vegan or vegetarian, but I try to make my dietary intake comprised of mostly plants when possible. So even though it was not my intention to make this recipe vegan, it serendipitously is. =) Hope all my plant-based friends can enjoy this!

Cooking notes/tips:

Trader Joe’s has some of the best reasonable priced quality chocolate that I’ve used and cooked with. I always get their Pound Plus bar, with 60% cacao and break it up into its little squares. If you have access to better quality chocolate, feel free to use it! Avoid Nestle, Hershey, and most super market brand chocolate chips as they have a lot of added oils and sugars that you do not need in your body!

A double boiler is a great way to heat up/melt your chocolate as it ensures even heating and is less likely to lead to burnt chocolate. You can choose this method or microwave-whichever you prefer.

Recipe
Servings: 8-10
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Resting Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients
8 oz dark chocolate (preferable 60% cacao or higher)
1 cup almonds
generous pinch of coarse sea salt

Directions:

Roughly chop up almonds.

Place chocolate into a microwave safe bowl and melt chocolate 1 minute at a time. Take out, stir, and continue to microwave for additional 30-second increments as needed.

Once chocolate is completely melted and smooth, pour in chopped almonds and mix well.

Pour chocolate mixture onto a parchment-paper/saran wrap lined sheet and spread until it makes a ½ inch thick layer.

Sprinkle coarse sea salt evenly on top of the chocolate.

Refrigerate and allow to set (~15 minutes). Enjoy with your loved ones!