ALL POSTS BY: Valeria

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Chocolate dates mousse

Chocolate mousse

One of the hardest things about having good eating habits is that sugar is almost impossible to replace. I believe most sweeteners are as hazardous to the body as sugar, so I just keep away from them.

Looking in retrospect, I can see clearly that I was a sugar addict. I was an emotional eater and sugar was my drug of choice. So even after I stopped eating sugar, sometimes I still crave something sweet – after all, I’m a woman and PMS is real.

In one of this days I was really craving chocolate, but since I don’t buy it anymore, I had to do with what I had at home. After doing some research I found a few recipes, but as always they had too many ingredients or steps, so I simplified it and reduced to three ingredients. It takes less than 5 minutes to make and it is really delicious and vegan.

Enough talking. Here is the recipe:

Cocoa powder, pitted dates, and coconut milk

Chocolate-date Mousse

Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 5 mins
Total Time 10 mins
Course Dessert
Servings 2 cups

Ingredients
  

  • 2 cups dates about 400g
  • 1 cup coconut milk (or any liquid of your choice)
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder

Instructions
 

  • Place the dates in a bowl and soak it with warm water for a couple minutes (you don't need to do this, but it makes much easier to process them).
    Soaking dates
  • Process the dates with the coconut milk and cocoa powder until it's uniform and it reaches a mousse texture.
    Chocolate mousse in the food processor
  • I don't believe in strict recipes so if you want to modify it, add only half of the liquid and keep adding until it reaches the desired texture. You can also add more cocoa powder if you like a more bitter flavor.
  • That's it!
Keyword sugar-free, vegan
Chocolate dates mousse

You can use them as a cupcake topping, serve it with brownies and/or fruit, or just eat it on its own.

My top 5 go-to foods

Consistency is the key to weight loss and maintenance. Trust me, I learned this the hard way. Time and time again I lost weight, and once I was satisfied with the results, I would slip back into old habits and gain it all back. It wasn’t until I drastically changed the way I ate, that I was able to lose weight and keep it off.

I can’t stress this enough, but you will not lose weight by eating these once in a while. They will, however, give a boost to any well-balanced diet or help you to get back on track after splurging a little. Here are my favorites:

Oats

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This is my go-to food. Whenever I feel bloated, overweight or when I eat what I’m not used to – sugary, fatty or fried food – I recover by eating a bowl of oats and honey twice a day.

They are also my favorite breakfast, as they are rich in fiber and they keep me satiated for the whole morning. Whenever I know I won’t be able to eat for a long period, I eat a bowl of oats and honey.

Of course, eating the same thing every day can be quite boring, so I always add nuts, fruit, and my new favorite cacao nibs. Don’t forget: variety is key to a healthy diet.

Cacao Nibs

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I don’t know why it took me so long to try these, but the first time I tried them I saw the difference. My stomach was flatter and I felt great. Now I can eat ‘chocolate’ without the sugar, which is the best thing ever.

As always, I jazz it up with some nuts and honey, because in their raw state they are as bitter as it gets, but they will give you amazing results!

Dates

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Dates are nature’s gift to all recovering sugar addicts out there. They are extremely sweet, yet rich in fiber, leaving room for some indulgence. If that wasn’t enough, they are also very cheap and versatile.

I use them as a replacement for sugar in many recipes, but I also eat it on its own. Whenever I am craving something very sweet, that’s my go-to snack.

Seeds + grains mix

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Seeds and grains are very rich in nutrients and fiber, however, they can be challenging to add to the diet. That’s why I make and store small batches of a mix of seeds and grains and I add them to my food. I either add it to my baked goods batter or I sprinkle it over my food. You can’t taste it and have it consistently it’s a great way to add important nutrients, such as omega 3, 6, 9, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, to the diet.

It might not sound like much, but the body needs nutrients to work properly. If it has all necessary nutrients, the body will work better, leading it to an improved metabolism and a reduction of cravings and binge eating.

Juices

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The first rule for juices is using the entire fruit. To ensure that, I use a single serve blender and I usually add some spices and greens to it. Another golden rule: never add sugar or sweetener. Fruits are naturally sweet, so try to get used to how things taste naturally, instead of camouflaging the flavor with sugar.

My favorite recipe is very simple: one apple, one lime, a slice of ginger, kale, and cold water. I often add different fruits and vegetables to it and change the spice accordingly. Basically, just use what you have at home. Pears, pineapple, beets, mangoes are also great for sweetening the juice – although depending on the combination, you might have a weird color…

What do I do with that?

Maintaining a healthy diet is all about variety. Trying different things and combinations, slowly inserting nuts, fruits, and vegetables, and removing as much processed food as possible are the key to having a healthy diet and lifestyle

Vegetarian for a week

For a couple years I have thought about being a vegetarian, but I always said I would start “sometime in the future”. For over two years I have cut beef from my regular diet, I rarely eat pork and until recently I had never even tried lamb. The main sources of animal protein in my diet come from chicken, fish, and seafood. Since I don’t believe in diets, I usually don’t eat sugar, wheat or processed products, my pick for a dietary restriction was very clear. I chose lacto-ovo-vegetarian, as it would be easy and it would allow me to have baked goods, which I am a big fan of.

Typical menus

Since I didn’t have too much time to cook and prepare for this diet, my typical menu wasn’t as varied as I would like it to be. Nonetheless, I made sure I was having enough protein and combining food correctly to keep a balanced diet.

Breakfast/ Morning Snack

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Granola with nuts and seeds (chia, flaxseed, sesame seeds, amaranth, poppy seeds, sunflower seed, cashews, Brazil nuts, peanuts, and walnuts)

  • Oats/Granola
  • Nuts
  • Fruit
Lunch

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Lasagna with béchamel sauce and cheese filling

  • Legumes + grain OR
  • Pasta + protein
  • Salad
Afternoon/ Night Snacks

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Peanut butter with puffed brown rice crisps

  • Grain + protein OR
  • Baked good OR
  • Nuts
  • Fruit
Dinner

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  • Bread + protein
  • Baked good
  • Fruit
  • Smoothie (fruit + dairy)

 

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I kept a diary of what I had during the week to keep my meals balanced

Overall I didn’t change much of my diet. I incorporated tofu and eggs to what I usually eat. I also had a lot more of quinoa (as a grain and as a flour), as it is a complete protein, to help me meet my proper daily protein intake.

 

Below is a recipe I created with the few ingredients I had at the moment but it turned out very tasty and I will surely work on perfecting it.

Brown Rice Spaghetti with Ricotta and Tofu

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The key to this vegetarian recipe is that it combines a legume (soy) and a grain (brown rice) to supplement all necessary amino acids to our body. It also includes tofu, rich in calcium and iron and ricotta, rich in calcium. The deficiency of these two minerals is very common among vegetarians and this recipe alone offers almost half the necessary daily calcium intake.
Since I created the recipe as I was doing, the measures are only approximate and might need to be adjusted.

Ingredients
  • 100g Brown rice spaghetti
  • 1 Shallot, brunoise
  • 1 Garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp Vegetable oil
  • 100g Tofu, medium dice
  • 2 tbsp Ricotta
  • 2 tbsp, Cashews, toasted and roughly chopped
  • Tarragon, to taste
  • Pink peppercorns, to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • White pepper, to taste
Method
  1. In a pot, boil water and salt.
  2. Once the water boils, add pasta and cook according to the instructions. Since this paste is made of rice, I suggest rinsing it before cooking to remove some of the starch otherwise it can become very sticky.
  3. After it’s cooked, drain it, add the olive oil and reserve.
  4. Toast cashews. Reserve it.
  5. Heat up a pan, add the vegetable oil and sweat the shallot and the garlic.
    Add the tofu and cook it until golden brown.
  6. Add tarragon, pink peppercorns, salt, and pepper.
  7. Add the ricotta to the pasta and mix it until the olive oil/ricotta mixture achieve a sauce-like texture (you can add more olive oil or water if it is too thick). Adjust the seasoning.
  8. Add the tofu mix to the pasta.
  9. Put it on a plate and garnish it with tarragon, pink peppercorns, and cashews.

Daily Diary

Day 1 – Monday

 

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Mix equal amounts of chia, flax seeds, sesame seeds, amaranth, poppy seeds, and ground brown and golden flax seeds. I add this to my meals as a way to increase fiber and nutrients

 

My focus on day 1 was reading about protein-rich foods that would keep my diet well balanced. I was surprised to find that many of the suggestions such as quinoa, peanut butter, chia, nuts, seeds, cocoa powder, legumes, and grains are already a big part of my diet, so I would only need to do a few adjustments.

It was very interesting to find that mixing legumes with whole grains will provide all essential amino acids. I knew this was true for rice and beans, but it is also true to simple mixes, such as whole wheat bread and peanut butter.

Day 2 – Tuesday

What I felt the most on day 2 was the lack of vegetables. I didn’t have the time to buy vegetables over the weekend, and with that, I felt hungry very soon after I’ve eaten. I created a recipe and was very happy with the outcome. Although it was almost entirely improvised and created as I was making it, it had a key element that is the combination of grain and legumes, and it was also very tasty.

I created a recipe and was very happy with the outcome. Although it was almost entirely improvised and created as I was making it, it had a key element that is the combination of grain and legumes, and it was also very tasty.

Day 3 – Wednesday

I was fine at this point. The only thing I noticed is that I was eating more. I was hungry more often, but at the same time, I did not gain any weight. In fact, I think I might have lost some fat, as I could see a few muscles in my body that weren’t as apparent in the previous week, probably because I am finally eating the proper amount of protein.

Day 4 – Thursday

Today I went on the diet a little. The lab was on seafood which I love, and I had to try for presentation. What I noticed was that the days I have labs are the days I have the most unbalanced meals. I end up skipping breakfast, I have lunch very early and I can’t eat again until after 5 p.m. when the class is over. When I get home I will fill myself up with whatever I can find, or eat a very little of something and go to bed.

I had already noticed how having labs in the afternoon messed my routine, but this week, when I paid close attention, this was even more evident. I had two meals during the whole day and that is not healthy.

Day 5 – Friday

 

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Truffles made of dried fruit, hydrated chia, and nuts are a delicious and easy way to add protein and nutrients to any diet

 

I prepared chicken and I had to try it for seasoning. But even though it was really good, I didn’t feel like eating it. I was totally fine knowing that I wouldn’t be able to eat it for two more days. I honestly thought I would be craving proteins by day 5, but I was fine.

Day 6 – Saturday

Working during the weekends makes it easier to be vegetarian. I usually have something that was extra from my station, which basically is appetizers, salads, and desserts, so animal protein wasn’t going to be a problem for me. Since I had time to eat during the day I wasn’t so hungry when I got home at night, so I didn’t have any cravings or crazy meals.

Day 7 – Sunday

The last day was the easiest. For one it was Summerlicious and I barely had the time to eat at work. Luckily I had cooked for the week, so I had lots of vegetarian options for dinner. Overall it was a great experience and it pushed me to pay more attention and be more creative with my meals.

The Results

I really thought that being vegetarian would be hard, but it turned out to be very easy. The only day I felt it was day 4 during seafood during class, as I love seafood. But it wasn’t anything crazy. Would I like to eat it? Yes. But I was totally fine not eating it. I believe that after you quit eating sugar, everything else is easy.

Something I noticed was that I paid more attention to my snacks. I increased my consumption of nuts and seeds, and I was able to incorporate them into my main meals. This not only added important nutrients but also was very important for texture, which in my opinion is the hardest thing when you don’t have animal protein in a meal.

For me, it wasn’t very hard to maintain my dietary choice, even though I was in culinary school and I work at a restaurant. Of course, I had to try my dishes, as I needed to be aware of what I was presenting to the chef professor, but overall it was much easier than I thought it would be.

My diet is very balanced, so I didn’t have to make any major changes, except cut animal meat from lunch and dinner. I believe that if you maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle and diet, it isn’t very hard to maintain your dietary choices. I also believe that if you are a chef or a cook trying something that will be presented to someone isn’t considered cheating on the diet, as it is a part of your job to know what you are serving to the customer.

My main tips for someone who is thinking of following any type of diet is the same (I follow this to keep away from wheat, sugar and processed food):

  • Keep a balanced diet
  • Plan your meals
  • Have options available
  • Be creative

I also believe this was a great experience for me as a future chef, to put myself in the position of a customer with a big dietary restriction. I think it is very important to respect people’s dietary choices and see food from another point of view.

My current situation makes it hard to be strictly vegetarian, especially at work and at school. But if I had a more established routine, and were further in my career and life, I believe I would continue with this choice. I didn’t have any side effects or cravings and I know I am entirely sure that it is possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle being vegetarian.

Berry Jam

In the search for a healthier lifestyle, I was able to replace many ingredients such as flour, milk, and butter successfully. But sugar is at another level. Artificial sweeteners are even worse for our health and their taste is poor. Honey is good, but because of it’s texture and flavor it only works on specific …

Pickled grapes

Pickles can be fermented – when the natural microbes present in the fruits, vegetables or plants grown under certain conditions, thus preventing the growth of harmful microbes that can cause disease or the food to spoil, or unfermented – when the protection from microbes comes from the addition of an acid. Since fermented pickles can take a few months to be ready to be consumed, I decided to use grapes to make an unfermented pickle.

They key for unfermented pickles is the use of wine or vinegar as acid, which must be heated to prevent spoilage. Although its flavor is not as strong if compared to a fermented pickle, spices and sugar are often added as a flavor enhancer. Salt is also an important element, as it can reinforce the crispness of the fruit or vegetable and is also a very important preservative.

The original recipe can be found at this location.

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Pickled grapes

Servings 3 cups

Ingredients
  

  • 1 lb red or black grapes, preferably seedless
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (I used brown sugar)
  • tsp brown mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1 2 1/2-inch cinnamon stick cut in half
  • ¼ tsp salt

Instructions
 

  • Wash and dry the grapes, then pull their stems out. Using a paring knife, cut away the stem end of each grape, exposing a little of the grape’s flesh. Place them in one or two clean and dry canning jars.
  • In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, and the spices. Put it over medium heat until it boils.
  • Pour the liquid over the grapes. Once it is cool, place the jar in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. Serve it cold.

So, is it good?

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This is not the typical recipe I would make, as it has a lot of sugar, but I decided to give it a try because I was very curious what it would taste like. After I finished preparing the recipe, I was a little skeptical about the result. The brine – the mixture of acid and spices – left the kitchen with a wonderful spices aroma, but once I got close to smell it, I got a very pungent smell of vinegar. I also had no idea of what to expect from it, being something I had never tried before.

One thing is for sure, it sure looked very good. Just as good as the original recipe, which was a relief. After 48 hours, I opened the jar and the strong acid smell was even stronger. But once I tasted it, it exceeded my expectations. The texture of the grapes was still crisp and firm, but the inside seems to melt in the mouth. Of course, it is a bit sweeter than the raw grape, but not overly sweet. Maybe because of the acidity, maybe because of the delicious mix of spices. Somehow, the combination of all the ingredients works very well.

I ate it with cream cheese and bread, and that was a wise choice. Once you bite into the bread, you can hear the grape pop in the mouth. The acid taste is very subtle and pleasant. It helps to balance the heaviness of the bread and the texture of the cream cheese.

As stated before, the pickling flavor is not very strong, as in fermented pickles, but I believe it will intensify the longer it sits in the refrigerator. As it is now, it could be a great option as an aperitif. It is uncommon and surprising, as it appeals strongly to many of our tastes, but in the end, all that matters is that it is delicious.

Fresh fruit

Being faced with the challenge to try something new, I decided to go to one of my favorite things to eat: fruit. I thought about picking a dish or something someone else created, but I find fruits and vegetables to be very inspiring. They always give me ideas for different dishes or ways to cook …

Raspberry Soup

Soups have never been a significant part of my life. I can remember my mother and my grandmother having soup, but it just never was something I actually liked. Since last week was all about soups, I decided to do a soup that had something I love: Fruit. This recipe doesn’t have any special story. …

Highly Suspect - Lydia

Highly Suspect – Lydia

Some songs just get in your head and this is clearly one of those. And if being a great song wasn’t enough, the video is even better. Simple, cool, interesting, catchy, it grabs your attention until the very last second.
This is probably one of the best videos I have seen in a very long time.

There is also the making of, that makes the video look even more impressive.