Low-Carb Chilli Con Carne

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This is classic comfort food that warms you up on a cold winter day. This week is particularly cold (less than -20 with the wind chill), so this flavourful, spicy chilli is perfect. With the colourful garnish, it’s also delicious for the eyes.  This particular version of the classic chilli con carne is low in carbs, as I have eliminated the beans.

I know the jury is out on whether or not mushrooms are a desired ingredient in chilli, however, I love them.  I think they’re delicious.  And they happen to be one of those veggies that, when cooked, have a certain umami…if I’m using this word correctly.  They add richness and meatiness.

Now beans are often seen as a great healthy option.  I have decided to avoid legumes as part of my diet because, although they do have protein, there are many ways to get higher amounts of protein for less calories.  And they come with a lot of carbs – which is something I’m trying to avoid.  If you have your heart set on some kind of beans, by all means, add it in when you add the passada.

I went to the states a while ago and picked up some fun Mexican ingredients that I have difficulty finding in Canada.  If anyone knows where to get stuff like dried ancho chiles in Southern Ontario, please let me know!  Anyway, I took my inspiration from Jamie Oliver here – soaking and blending up a dried ancho chile to add flavour and perceived sweetness to the recipe. Here’s what this beautiful thing looks like:

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Nutrition Information :

This is based on dividing this recipe into 4 servings.

  • Calories:324
  • Carbs: 19g
  • Fat: 14g
  • Protein: 25g
  • Sugar: 12g

*Note: pretty much all the sugar here comes from the passada. This isn’t added sugar – it’s sugar found naturally in the tomatoes. Natural sugar is still something I try to keep to a minimum – but really you can’t make chilli without this ingredient!

Calculations are made without the addition of the optional garnish but with the ancho chile included.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small Spanish onion
  • 250 grams sliced crimini mushrooms
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 350 grams extra lean ground beef
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 jar passada
  • 1 dried ancho pepper (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • goats cheese (optional)
  • 1 red chile (optional)
  • green onion (optional)

How to:

  1. Heat a large pan on medium heat. Add the olive oil.
  2. Roughly chop the onion, mushrooms and pepper and add to pan.  Add 1 chopped clove of garlic. Cook til onion is translucent and mushrooms change colour/texture – about 6 minutes.
  3. Remove veggies from pan.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a kettle to a boil and pour enough water over the pepper to cover.
  5. Crank up the heat and add the meat and the spices and second garlic clove. You do not need more oil in this step because fat/liquid is rendered from the meat.
  6. Stir regularly and cook until meat is browned and cooked through.
  7. Blend the pepper and water in a blender and add to meat.
  8. Add passada and veggies to the pan and stir well.
  9. Bring down heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  10. Add coriander and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  11. Divide amongst 6 plates or bowls and garnish with the other optional items.

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Spicy Minced Pork Stir-fry with Flat Beans

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P1030806If you want a delicious, satisfying meal in ten minutes, then look no further!  When I made this, I expected it to be good.  But this still surprised me.  I enjoyed every bite.  This would be great for a busy week night.

Just a little note about fish sauce : it’s really moving up on my list of favourite ingredients.  Health-wise it’s not a superstar – but I use it as a replacement for salt in a lot of the Asian-style dishes I make.  It just adds a little something extra.  It smells really strong…and maybe not that great out of the bottle.  But give it a chance – it’s really tasty!

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb flat green (or Italian) beans
  • salt
  • 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 350 grams lean minced pork
  • 2 cloves garlic squeezed through a press
  • 1 inch of ginger, finely grated
  • 1 tsp sriracha sauce
  • 2 scallions sliced
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • the juice of 1 lime

How to:

Beans: Put 1 inch of water into a pan that’s big enough for the beans to lie flat in.  Bring water to a boil on high heat, then add salt.  Then add beans. Cook beans on high for 2-3 minutes and then drain.

Pork: Heat a sauté pan or a wok on high heat. Add the sesame oil to the pan along with the garlic and ginger. Sauté for a few seconds – until you can smell it. Then add the pork and sriracha. Stir until well mixed and cook on high until browned.  Turn heat down to medium and add all other ingredients. Cook for another 3 minutes.

Plate it up and if you like, garnish with pieces of red chiles, green onion and/or cilantro.  Yum!

The following information is based on 1/3 of the recipe.  When I made this, I divided it all into 3 servings.  You can certainly eat more of it though if you’re really hungry!

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Philadelphia Cucumber Bites

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A delicious bite-size snack perfect for your New Year’s Eve party or any other event.  These disappear quickly!  It’s an appetizer that won’t leave you feeling bad about yourself, which is quite important for bringing in the new year!  The contrast of crunchy and creamy and spicy and fresh will entertain the taste buds and make avoiding those deep-fried nibbles a little easier.

I’ve been working on snack foods.  I’m not the average girl – I have no sweet tooth, really. My weakness would be chips and cheese and crackers. Coming up with snacks that I’m happy to eat and leave me feeling satisfied rather than deprived is super important to me on my journey to sculpting the body that I want.

Two of the key aspects to my diet are low carbohydrate and low sugar. So when I choose my ingredients, I’m always looking at the labels for those two things. Of course eating whole foods would be better, but sometimes you need the convenience of prepared foods. In these situations, it’s particularly important to pay attention to whether or not there is sugar added, and if so, in what quantities.

I debated on using a sweet chili sauce – I thought it would be delicious with the cream cheese and cucumber. However the sugar content is quite high:

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I thought I’d check out some sriracha sauce.  It’s not perfect, but it’s much better.  Especially given that the first ingredient isn’t a sugar syrup…

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If you took the same amount of each product, you’d have 3 grams of sugar for the sriracha vs 8 for the sweet chili. And we will have 3 grams of carbs vs 10 for the sweet chili. Not bad.

The cream cheese is also not perfect – but it’s not bad. Per tablespoon, there is 1/2 a gram of carbs and negligible sugar. So not bad.

So here we go with our simple, yet delicious appetizer:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 container of whipped cream cheese with chives
  • 2 tsp sriracha sauce
  • chili flakes and green onion for garnish (and added flavour)

How to:

1. Slice up your cukes:

IMG_04922. Mix the cream cheese and the sriracha.

IMG_04913. Add cream cheese mixture to a plastic bag (for piping). Snip off a corner and pipe onto the cucumber.  I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who could make it look nicer than I can…but I still think they look good enough to eat!

IMG_04934. sprinkle chopped green onion and hot pepper flakes for garnish and for taste – it adds a bit of spice.

IMG_0498-001In the future, I might make these again and add smoked salmon for extra protein, omega-3s and to make it even more like a Philadelphia roll.  In any case, they’re good the way they are. I served them at a small dinner party and they disappeared!  I made some more for my own personal snake and they definitely satisfied my cravings for savoury and crunchy. Hope you enjoy!

P.S. If you keep track of this sort of thing, per cucumber bite:

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And if you want to go crazy and eat 1/4 of the recipe (which is exactly what I did) :

philadelphia bites nutrition

Thai Green Curry Chicken Skewers with Ginger “Quinoa”

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Sometimes, especially when I’m busy, I lack creativity and ideas.  This is when I pull out my favourite cook books.  I have many favourite authors, but my go-to recipes are always by Donna Hay, Jamie Oliver and Giada DiLaurentiis.  When I flip through the pages of these cookbooks, I salivate because the food looks so fresh, flavourful and satisfying.  Although these particular chefs have healthy ideas, their recipes aren’t particularly low-carb.  So this is where I work my magic.  So today, I’m taking liberties with Donna Hay’s recipe of the same name from her latest cook book, Fresh and Light.

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My biggest change?  I didn’t use quinoa.  I used cauliflower.  This recipe is super filling because you really can eat as much cauliflower as you want with good conscience.  You’re also getting a nice big dose of protein because each serving is a whole chicken breast.

Why you should eat this :

1. Protein.  You need protein to build those nice, lean, sexy muscles and to recover quickly from your workouts. It also is satisfying, so you won’t need a midnight snack if this is your dinner.

2. Cauliflower.  A.k.a. cruciferous vegetables.  These should be a part of every diet where fat-loss and an increase in muscle are the goals. Just ask Jillian Michaels or Bob Harper. They both encourage eating these every day. Aside from all the nutrients cruciferous veggies provide, they may also increase testosterone.  This might sound scary for the ladies, however, this is a good thing for burning fat, increaseing muscle, and generally having an elevated motivation for physical activity. So eat up!

What you need :

  • 2 tablespoons Thai green curry paste
  • 1/4 cup coconut cream
  • 4 chicken breasts sliced as evenly as possible into strips
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • a head of cauliflower
  • 1 tablespoon of finely grated ginger
  • 1/2 cup chopped coriander
  • 2 green onions
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • lime cheeks and extra coriander to serve

How to make it :

1.  Soak your skewers!  If you’re using wooden rather than metal skewers, you must soak them for a long time.  I soaked them for 30 minutes and this wasn’t even close to being enough time.  At least an hour should help to prevent the skewers from burning.

2.  Start with your washed head of cauliflower.  Put it in the food processor on the grater setting.  I don’t have one of these nifty kitchen appliances, so I went to my mom’s house and used hers. This will save you so much time.  Honestly if I tried to grate it all by hand it would probably take me at least 15 minutes.  With the processor it was about 2.  The entire head yielded about 4-5 cups of shredded cauliflower “quinoa.”

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3. Make sure your chicken breasts are evenly sliced.  Mine weren’t, which lead to a bit of a hassle when it came to grilling them.  I made 4 slices per breast, but feel free to make more.  With the topping for the chicken, the meat stays nice and moist even if you cook them well and have small pieces.  IMG_0132

4. With that out of the way, mix up the coconut cream and the curry paste.  I used these brands and they worked well and tasted amazing:

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The creamed coconut has almost the consistency of lard, so it’s a bit finicky to mix it, but it’s definitely worth it in the end because it tastes so good.

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5. Now it’s time to smear it all over those breasts.  You’ve really got to work it in so that every square millimetre of surface area is covered to maximize the flavour.

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I know it looks a bit nasty, but it smells delicious!

6.  Now time to skewer the meat.  Make sure you do it well so that the meat stays on the skewer throughout the grilling and eating process. I sort of weaved mine onto the skewers.

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7.  Onto the grill!  I preheated my grill for about 10 minutes on high and then reduced the head to medium high.  The pieces are small enough that they cook through fairly quickly so a hot grill is ok.

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Grill for 5-7 minutes and then flip and cook for another 5.

8. Meanwhile, we can get going on the “quinoa” which isn’t really quinoa.  Now I know that quinoa is a super trendy health food with a very high protein content considering that it’s a grain.  My thing about quinoa is that it’s quite calorie dense and I don’t really care about it as a source of protein because I eat meat.  Not to mention the fact that it only has about 5 grams of protein per serving, when I’m looking a whole lot more than that for my meal.  So anyway, enough about that.  In a pre-heated pan on medium heat, heat some olive oil (or grape-seed or whatever you want).  Then add in your cauliflower and sauté.  Then add in your tablespoon of ginger, green onions and sesame oil.  Once some of the cauliflower gets a bit golden, add in your cilantro and then remove it from the heat.  This doesn’t need a ton of cooking time, really the purpose of the sauté is to add flavour and to mix all of these beautiful ingredients together.

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9.  Plate it up and enjoy!  This made 4 meals for me, each serving with a mountain of cauliflower “quinoa.”

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Taco-less Salad

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So I fell off the wagon a little bit.  This weekend was my 30th birthday.  So it was a little bit excessive.  But awesome.  And worth it.  But now’s the time to get back on to continue with my progress.  Just a little update – I’ve gone down 2 sizes since I started eating this way.  So it works!

Recently, I’ve started to try to go a little lighter on the fats.  Some fats are good, but perhaps, in the long run, the quantities of saturated fats that I’ve been consuming might do more harm than good.

The following recipe is a result of this lower-fat variation on my diet.  It has nice bright flavours that make you happy to eat.

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Ingredients:

  • olive oil cooking spray
  • 1 sweet onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 450 g ground meat – I used chicken
  • 1 tsp each of cayenne pepper, dried oregano, ground cumin, ground coriander
  • 5 mini-sweet peppers – or 2 large bell peppers – I used orange and red ones
  • 1 large lime
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tsp salt – I used course sea salt
  • 1 jalapeño pepper
  • a good amount of fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 head ice burg lettuce
  • 1/2 romaine lettuce
  • 4 tbsp 0.5% pressed cottage cheese (you could probably also use light feta)

How-to:

1. Turn up the heat on a large frying pan.  Add non stick cooking spray lightly – maybe 2 seconds worth.

2.  Chop onions as small as you want.  I had the patience and skill to do this:

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It all shrinks down in the end.  But if you want it to sort of melt into the ground meat, then go smaller.  Add to the pan.

3. Cook onion for about 5 minutes over medium heat.

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4.  Mince garlic as small as you can and add to the pan.  Cook for about 2 minute and then add the meat.  Cook in the pan for another few minutes – til it starts to brown.

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5.  Add the spice blend.  Oregano, cumin, coriander, cayenne.  At this point you could add a bit of salt too.  I didn’t though – with the delicious salsa that’s coming up next, I found the seasoning was great.

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6.  Give a good stir and then add 1/4 cup of water.  Let this cook for another 10 minutes or until all water is evaporated and the meat is cooked through.  Then shut off the stove and let it stand while you assemble the rest of the salad ingredients.

7.  For the salsa, finely chop all peppers – the jalapeños more finely than the sweet bells.

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7.  Chop cilantro and add.  Squeeze all the juice from the lime over and add in your tsp of salt.  Mix it up.  Taste it.  Mmmmm.

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8. Remove the flesh of the avocado from the peel and the pit.  Slice/chop it and squeeze the juice of half a lemon over it to prevent it from turning brown.  I feel justified adding in a high-fat ingredient like an avocado because we’ve skipped on the fat elsewhere in this recipe.

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9.  Chop the lettuce.  I chopped it into 1 inch by 1 inch squares.

10.  Assemble!  You can do this all on one plate to present to a small crowd or you can plate it up in individual portions on 4 plates.  Start with the lettuces, then  pile on the beef.  Then 1/4 of the avocado mixture and the salsa.  Top it off with the cottage cheese – which adds salt and texture and it also looks nice.  Dig in!

Low-Carb Toad in the Hole

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I’m a firm believer in the idea that you eat with your eyes first.  So even the most humble of dishes should be plated with care so that they look their best.  This way you’re happy to eat it – you don’t feel like you’re eating diet food!  I know that this isn’t one of the prettiest dishes that I’ve made, but it does look like comfort food and the use of fresh herbs elevates the flavours and the look of it on the plate.  I think Jamie Oliver would agree with me when I say mushrooms and thyme are best mates.  And garlicky buttery mushrooms have always been a favourite combo of mine.  This dish serves 4.

Ingredients:

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  • 3 tbsp butter (it’s low carb, not low fat!)
  • 4 shallots
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • A variety of mushrooms – I went for 2 packs of mushrooms – 1 of cremini and one of portabello.  Why not let the grocery store do the work?  Thanks Metro!  Mushrooms should be cut into small-ish pieces.
  • fresh thyme
  • Baby kale and baby spinach mix – you can of course mix your own.  I used about 6 cups of it.
  • 4 eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Steps:

  1. Melt 2 tbsp butter in pan on medium to high heat.
  2. Slice shallots and add to pan.
  3. Finely dice garlic. Add to pan.
  4. Add in more butter – I find these veggies just soak it up.
  5. Add in mushrooms.  Stir-fry them until they start to release liquid.
  6. Add in the spinach and kale.  Pile it in the pan until you can barely stir it because it’s so full.  It seems like we’re using a lot of veggies, but it reduces significantly.

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7.  Stir in kale and spinach until it wilts.  This will take about 5 minutes.

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8.  Add in salt and pepper to taste.

9.  Turn on the broiler to high (500 degrees).

10.  You have some options here.  For me, I was just making myself breakfast, so I took out 3/4 of the mixture to save for later.  But you can apply this step for 4 servings as well.

11. Pile up the veggies and make wholes for the number of eggs you will use.  If you’re making all 4, make 4 holes.  I made one hole for my 1 little toad in the hole.

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12. Crack the egg into the hole and let it cook for about 3 minutes on medium heat.

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13.  Put the dish under the broiler for about 3 minutes.

14.  This gave me a nice runny yolk and cooked whites.  If you like your eggs differently, adjust time/temperature accordingly.

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15.  Plate it up!  Sprinkle over some more fresh thyme.

Thanks for reading!  I hope you enjoy this as much as I do:)

Cilantro lime chicken salad

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This delicious salad is inspired by Mexican flavours.  I needed something to remind me of somewhere hot while I’m being tortured by this long Canadian winter.  After going for nearly two weeks with very little carbs, these sweet potatos are a welcome treat.  Only to be eaten after 4:00PM, this salad is a great dinner option.

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You’ll have to excuse the quality of the image.  I’m brand spanking new to food photography.  I’m new to any kind of photography for that matter.  But the dish itself was delicious, satisfying and helped to lift my mood because it has some feel-good carbs.  So here we go:

Ingredients and instructions:

Makes 4 servings.

Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup Mayo (see recipe below)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

To make: mix all ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste.

Mayo:

***I don’t use store-bought mayonnaise because there’s sugar in it.  No matter which one.  I’ve looked at all the labels.  The key here, is to avoid sugar.  So here is one way to avoid sugar.

  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup oil (I used extra-virgin olive)
  • 2 tsp mustard powder
  • juice of 1 lemon

To make: blend egg, mustard and lemon in a food processor.  Keep the processor whizzing away until it’s frothy. Starting a few drops at a time, blend in oil.  Drizzle oil into the food processor very slowly!!!  Once all oil is incorporated, it should come together and look like a thick, yellow mayonnaise.  Keep the rest to make deviled eggs or to make a dip for veggies.

Chicken:

  • 2 Chicken breasts
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil

To make: preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a pan on the stove-top, melt 1 tbsp coconut oil. Season breasts with the remaining ingredients. Sear breasts in a very hot pan.  Once the outside is brown on both sides, put the pan into the oven (if oven proof) or transfer chicken to a pan and put in the oven until cooked through (10 minutes??).  Once completed, let rest for a bit and then slice.

Sweet Potato:

  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped to 2cm cubes (roughly – doesn’t have to be perfect)
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil

To make: preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss potatoes with the remaining ingredients. Put on a baking sheet and put into the oven for approximately 20 minutes.  When done, they should be starting to brown and they should be nice and soft in the middle.

Salad

  • 1 cup chopped coriander
  • 1 cup chopped kale
  • 1 cup chopped cabbage
  • 1 avocado, chopped with juice of lime squeezed over it to prevent it from turning brown

To make:  Combine all ingredients in same bowl that dressing was made in.  Coat with dressing.

Feel free to double up on all of the salad items (except avocado) if you want to have a little more bulk to the meal.

Assembly:

Plate the salad, then add in chicken and potatoes.  Squeeze a generous amount of lime juice over everything.  Yummy!