Healthy Chicken Avocado Caprese

I came up with this dish by throwing together random ingredients in my kitchen after watching Chopped.

The health benefits in this dish really come from the use of extra virgin olive oil and avocado to provide good fats, and chicken as a lean meat choice for protein. Tomatoes and basil give it that caprese flavor, and provide some rich antioxidants as well.

Using the avocado also means that, unlike a traditional caprese, you can have all of the smoothness and creaminess without adding dairy/cheese.

Easy, Quick and Yummy!

 

Ingredients (for 1 large serving or 2 small servings)

  • 1 boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • About 30 Grape tomatoes
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Organic Brown Mustard
  • Lemon juice
  • Extra Vg. Olive Oil
  • Basil (fresh leaves ok, but I like using the dried flakes)
  • Salt, pepper
  • 1 Medium and 1 Large Frying Pan
  • About 10 minutes

Directions

  1. Divide 1 tbsp of olive oil between two pans and spread to coat surfaces
  2. Add about 1tbsp lemon juice, 1 and 1/2 tbsp balsamic to large pan
  3. Sprinkle a generous amount of basil (2 tbsp flakes, or 2 handfuls chopped leaves)
  4. Add grape tomatoes to large pan
  5. Set large pan on Medium-Low temperature to start cooking
  6. Add 1tbsp of the mustard to medium pan and turn on heat to high
  7. Cube, salt and pepper the chicken
  8. Add chicken to medium pan and brown on medium-high heat
  9. Tip: After 1 side browns, flip pieces and reduce heat
  10. While that cooks, add the avocado to the large pan and increase heat to med-high. Stir everything together. If you smell a sharp tinge suddenly, the balsamic is burning. Reduce heat to medium.
  11. Once chicken is cooked, add to the large pan and stir contents together. Let sit for a minute on low heat so the flavors can come together.

 

caprese

 

 

Calorie Confusion: Either I Can’t Eat Enough, Or I’m Eating More Than I Think

You’ve adopted a monk-like devotion to your diet. You exercise for an hour a day. Every morning, you stand naked on the scale and pray that today will be the day… but the numbers don’t change. One day, it’s decimal points down and you’re dancing on a cloud in your skinny jeans. The next day, it’s decimal points back up and you plummet into a soul-crushing pit of defeat. WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME??

For the first week of my diet, I lost about 8 pounds – and though that felt awesome, I knew it was mostly water. During the second week, I lost another 4 more. Then in the third, it stopped. Research said try a cheat day to kick your metabolism back into gear, so I went out for a steak on my birthday and lo and behold, the plateau broke – giving me another 2 pounds lost. Then, it sputtered to a halt and died once again.

This time, there was no resurrection. A cheat day did nothing. Changing up my exercise routine did nothing. Even altering the balance of carbs and proteins did nothing. I wasn’t losing weight, and to add injury to insult, I was putting undue stress on my body. For the first time in my life, I developed heart palpitations – a common side effect of physical stress, low calorie or electrolyte imbalances. I ran to the doctor and she told me not to worry. All my numbers looked good, my diet sounded incredible. I wasn’t dying. But I wasn’t losing weight either.

Am I Eating the Right Calories?

I started to really examine whether or not I was doing as good as I thought I was doing with the diet. My initial response to the low-cal stress-mode was to eat more calories. Unfortunately, there’s very few calories in vegetables… so that meant adding back in more starches and fruits.

I was also trying to emulate the Eat Fat Lose Fat/Ketogenic Diet/Paleo methods by banking on my good fats and proteins. I started cooking and eating salmon, despite a life long aversion to fish. I added extra virgin olive oil to everything. I bought iodized salt to support my thyroid and sprinkled it everywhere with wild abandon.

Then one morning, after one of those hellish 0.2 pound re-gains, I sat down with my calorie tracking app and really tried to figure out what was going on. Was I getting enough calories? Too many? The wrong kinds?

Am I Eating Enough Calories?

At first I was frustrated. After entering my planned meals and exercise for the day, I was still 750 calories below my 1200 goal. To compensate, I knocked an avocado off the menu and cancelled a workout class I’d been looking forward to all week. That got me to about 1100 calories, which is less than what they gave people in WW2 prison camps. I stared at the chart, wondering what I could possibly do differently.

The foods that compromised my meals were all extremely low cal. Salmon fillet. A can of spinach. A generous handful of turkey. A pile of bell peppers. All hovering around 100 calories each. I could eat those foods all day and it wouldn’t make a difference. The only way to get calories in was to eat carbs or more fats. But how??

Google landed me in a forum on calorie sources from fat, where posters mentioned avocados and almonds (of course)… but also olive oil. A lightbulb turned on. Oh crap, I hadn’t been counting in the olive oil I use in cooking. I wonder how many calories it has?

Apparently, a lot!

In fact, 1 tablespoon would give me 120 cals and 14g of fat – and I was probably using 2 if not more a day to cook my eggs, chicken and salmon. Here I was thinking it was just a condiment!

Am I Actually Counting All My Calories?

After adding olive oil into my daily food diary, I was surprised to find that now I was 300 calories over my goal! I considered adding back in the exercise, but I’d also read that sometimes, too much exercise can lead to inflammation and high cortisol levels. Catch 22 once more! So I started trying to see where else I could knock off calories.

I tend to snack on almonds throughout the day as my go-to buddy for curbing hunger pangs or boosting energy. For this menu, I’d packed a couple handfuls of almonds to take with me to a late-night rehearsal. This, surprisingly was the highest calorie meal of my day, clocking in at 273.

The calorie counter said 15 was about 100 calories – which seemed a lot more reasonable for a snack. So I poured the almonds back out of the baggie and counted out exactly 15. I was shocked. Fifteen almonds pales in comparison to what I thought fifteen almonds was.

almonds
What 15 almonds looks like… or 100 cal worth.

That means I’d probably been eating 300 calories of them by the handful every day. Of course, on days when I need a boost before a work out, that might be a good thing. Snacking on them at a 9pm music rehearsal? Not so much.

Hidden Calories and Diet Creep

I’ve read about diet creep – this idea that eventually you start to eat slightly more or worse as you continue your diet, even as you imagine you’re still on track. There’s also the notion of hidden calories – commonly found when people misuse toppings or additives, drink alcohol or sports drinks, or binge out on ‘healthy snacks’ made with whole grains or starchy vegetables. I wasn’t eating any of those, but I was still getting my counts wrong – and didn’t even realize it.

The solution was not to banish these foods from my diet, but to measure them for their true worth. Only then could I see the accurate picture: although I eating healthy, there was just the right amount of unhealthy to keep my body doing what it does best – maintaining its weight. If I wanted to lose weight, I’d have to go even further – and since I was already eating so low cal and working out, I’d have to go after the most elusive of my calories in order to find a deficit.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 10.38.08 AM
The final menu…

 

 

 

Our Relationship With Food: It’s Complicated

Food is a ridiculous sounding word if you say it enough times in a row. Try it. Food. Food. Fooooood. (Note the close resemblance to Moooo … but I’m not gonna go there).

Let me tell you about my relationship with Food.

Not to pin the blame on my parents, but as a family, we enjoyed eating out a lot. I grew to love Food as a sensation. Taste, smell, visual presentation. It also became an Event. Imagine all the fuss that goes into dining out. You dress up, you drive, you wait to be seated, you wait to be waited on, you wait to be served one course – and then the next. It’s quite a process, but it’s a welcome break from the stresses of the day that happens to include a delightful mouth orgy.

As I got older, I started to lean very heavily on Food as Therapy. In fact, after a particularly emotional transition in my life, I literally gained 40 pounds in one year. Mealtime was a light at the end of a tunnel – a Jimmy Johns sub on a stick dangling before me as I toiled away – or, often the easiest answer I could find to those depressing “What am I doing with my life??” questions. Answer: Ordering Pizza?

With this came a plethora of problems. Dieting was excessively punishing. The hole left in my soul by French Fries and Chicken Tenders was filled with self-loathing and frustration. What’s worse, most of the time – scaling back on what I ate didn’t really seem to impact my weight. How could I convince myself to forgo the simple and immediate pleasures in life for the highly uncertain promise of results somewhere long down the road?

The Turning Point

One evening, I chowed down on some Jimmy Johns prior to Choir Rehearsal. As was typical, I was immediately hit with what my family calls ‘The Jimmy Shits’. For months, I’d been dealing with increasingly more abrupt stomach issues after eating, so this was nothing new. Unfortunately, in this moment, I had 90 minutes of a rehearsal to sit through before I could make a break for the toilet. As the burn and ache built in my gut, I began to put pieces together for the first time in my life.

First off, as a kid, I’d been through the wringer of GI issues. I’d gone through every medical test in the book – living with a ph probe down my nose, eating radioactive Dinty Moore chili prior to X-Rays, and trying a long series of ineffective medications. In fact, my toddler sister once got into my chocolate-flavored laxatives and produced more feces within her footy pajamas than could have come from a grown man ten times her size.

They diagnosed me with Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome and prescribed a pill that controlled the monthly cycles of horrible pain and vomiting. Still, I had a very sensitive stomach and despite the fact that I felt sick after every meal, I kept eating the same way. After all, what’s the notion of horrible stomach cramps when you’re looking at a cheese pizza or a dish of ice cream? Maybe that’s a price I was willing to pay.

On that night, as I bore the brunt of my price, my bowel finally shouted ENOUGH – loud enough for me to hear. It seemed pretty obvious that as much as I loved my various glutens, milks, cheese and fats, my particular bowel was probably unable to process them. I’d never thought of myself as an allergic person, but it kind of made sense given my history. Not to mention, two years ago I’d developed a mild form of asthma that came and went, hooting like an itinerant bassoon player in lungs. Didn’t that kind of fit into the same category of oversensitivity to the things I love? (i.e. Potatoes, Cheese, Air).

I also did some research and found out that all the dieting attempts I made in the past would have been useless if I was still consuming the food my body reacted badly too. So, finally – something new to try!

Transformation

Suddenly, this was no longer a mission of “dieting” but “healing.” Now, it wasn’t about finding a meal that I could tolerate mentally, but one that my body could tolerate physically. Game on!

Since the moment I made that decision (exactly 16 days ago), my body has let go of 9 pounds of fat and water bloat. I’ve stopped falling victim to that 2pm stupor that had me falling asleep at my desk. Better yet, I haven’t had a single stomach ache.

I’ve begun to see each meal as a Science. Now, instead of looking forward to a meal as an opportunity to self-medicate my psyche, I’m solely looking at the nutrients. There are days when I’ll stand in my kitchen just grabbing things out of the fridge and eating them like a scientist mixing chemicals in a reaction. Add a big hunk of deli roasted chicken breast. Some red bell peppers. A handful of kale. What am I missing? Fruit carbs? Grab an apple. Done.

I eat more often and only when I’m hungry. I only drink water and I’m sure to always have a glass on hand throughout the day.  When I have more time to cook, I’ll try to prepare something more interesting, but for the most part, I can be satiated simply by balancing the books when it comes to vitamins, nutrients, fats, carbs and proteins.

No more wondering “What do I feel like tonight? Italian? Mexican? Burgers?” I don’t “feel” food that way anymore. The spell has been broken, and it doesn’t even cross my mind. Now I have other things to look forward to in the day. Like working out at Barre Code, going to my dance rehearsals twice a week, or kicking back and enjoying a well-earned Netflix binge while munching down on My New Crack – frozen bananas.

Restore to Factory Default

Bottom line – my body was not meant to be bloated and fat. Yours wasn’t either. So what do you do when something isn’t working the way it’s supposed to? Well, if it’s anything like your Internet router, you hit reset. Once it boots up again, the problem is usually solved. Whatever it ‘thought’ it was supposed to be doing has now been overridden by the original rules and settings.

Now your story may be different than mine, which is why I encourage everyone to try a variety of nutrient balances until they find what works. When your body starts to behave the way it was designed, you’ll know you’re onto something. You’ll drop excess weight, gain energy, and flip the internal switch that puts you into ‘hunt and fight’ mode (vs. ‘rest and digest mode’). Moreover, your brain will reward this satisfactory behavior by flooding your psyche with the chemicals related to pleasure and fulfillment.

Hey Jimmy, can your sandwich do that?

 

 

 

Weeknight Kitchen Hack: Super Moist Chicken Breast

We all have those weeknights where we get home super late and still have to scramble to get dinner together. Luckily, as a Newbie Chef, I’m pretty familiar with how to throw together the most basic of meals with the least amount of effort.

On nights when I’ve come home from a long workout and need a hearty, nutrient-packed meal, I go for baked chicken breast. Now, I basically used to be President of the Chicken Fingers Fan Club. I thought chicken that wasn’t breaded and deep fried was just for Grandma!

Suffice it to say, I’ve discovered that oven chicken is not only ridiculously easy to make, but actually tastes amazing. You can pair it with a veggie side dish that slow-simmers or steams while the chicken bakes and you catch u on other things – laundry, dishes, shower, whatever!

Kitchen Hack: Perfect Juicy Oven Poached Chicken with Parchment Paper

Gone are the days of dry, chewy chicken. This chicken is so tender and moist, you won’t even need a knife to cut it.

First tip – Buy organic, cage-free chicken if available. I’ve seen one too many documentaries about Chicken Jail. Picture windowless rooms packed wall-to-wall with obese corn-fed chickens that have lost their ability to even walk. NOT COOL. Chickens that roam free and eat grass and bugs are happy, healthy chickens – which makes a happy, healthy you. Also – it tastes SO MUCH BETTER.

Second tip – Chicken breast doesn’t have a lot of natural fat in it, so it tends to dry out when baking. The solution is to create a sort of ‘false skin’ for the chicken, which helps to keep all the juices inside rather than spilling out and evaporating in your oven. This is called dry poaching, and can be done with Parchment Paper.

chick2

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF
  2. Pour about 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil into a baking or casserole dish
  3. Wash your boneless skinless chicken breast in room temp water. Pat with paper towel to dry.
  4. Place chicken in dish and rub it around in the oil to spread the oil evenly. Flip it once to coat both sides of the chicken.
  5. Add your seasonings to the chicken. You can pretty much go any direction here. I usually add a hearty squirt of lemon juice. For a kick, try cayenne pepper, seasoning salt, curry or chili powder. Or, go the herbal route with basil, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
  6. You can also add veggies, onions, apricots, peaches and just about anything to the dish itself.
  7. Once the chicken is seasoned, take a square of parchment paper that’s small enough to fit within the dish. Press the parchment paper into the oily residue at the bottom of the dish to soak it up and coat the paper.
  8. Lay the paper atop the chicken and tuck the edges into the dish.
  9. Bake for 20 minutes and then test with a meat thermometer. Perfect temp is around 170 – 175.
  10. If it needs additional cook, return to the oven without the parchment paper.

In the picture below, I’ve paired my chicken with some super simple steamed brussels sprouts steamed in a microwavable bag. (Added bonus: I was able to use the leftover sprouts as a salad base the next day).

chic

 

 

 

 

Vegan Flourless Creamy Mushroom Soup

I had a hankering for one of my pre-diet favorites: cream of mushroom soup. I decided to go straight vegan vs. raw because I’m wary of the environmental and microbial contaminations when it comes to fungi. It also turns out that the cooking process helps break down the fungi cell walls, thus releasing more nutrients into your food.

After some browsing, I decided to try Leanne Vogol’s variation, which uses starchy cauliflower as a thickening agent in place of flour. As I went along, I made some tweaks here and there. (My recipe is below).

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Carbs & Exercise: BFFS For Life??

Why does going to the gym make you feel so exhausted? That’s a good question, because the truth is: it shouldn’t.

Working out generally gives people a jolt of energy and mental clarity that lasts long into the day. Yeah, you might feel some muscle aches and stiffness, but you shouldn’t feel beat down and listless for hours after you get home.

I’ve never really had that problem – until I started a new diet. Now, instead of coming home from workouts high as a kite, I was ready to fall into bed.

After some research, I realized my mistake. I’d recently started banning carbs. Like restricting all carbs – not just bread and rice and the obvious picks. Barring some other medical condition, this was likely my problem.

As it turns out, this came with some very good news. At certain times of day and with a little help from our friend The Gym, turns out that Me and Carbs can get along just fine.

Continue reading “Carbs & Exercise: BFFS For Life??”

Dat Green Juice Tho…

Welcome to Planet Not-That-Obvious. Green Juice – i.e. a blended mix of fruits and veggies – TASTES AMAZING.

I mean, it may look like the sludge you might find in an old sink drain. It may have the mouth-feel of minced burlap. But dang girl, it tastes so good it should be criminal.

Oh yeah, it’s also a super quick way to get a ton of healthy bits into your body. #goals

Fruit is sweet. It has natural complex sugars, so yeah – if you’re trying to lose weight – you don’t want to gorge on it. However, a spoonful of it definitely helps the medicine go down.

Pro-Tip: Berries are the best fruit for snacking, but in a smoothie they’re a pain because of the seeds. I go for a Mixed Bag of peaches, strawberries, mangos and bananas. Be warned, mangoes are amazing but have the least bang for the buck – plus I’ve been told they swell up in your stomach.

Frozen fruit gets an A-plus for efficiency. One, you don’t have to wash or cut it up. Two, you can substitute it for ice cubes in your blended smoothie.

Kale, wheatgrass and arugula are some of my favorite greens because they have a pepper-kick to them. That way you feel less like a bunny nibbling on lawn bits and more like a honey badger, who doesn’t give a s**t.

Continue reading “Dat Green Juice Tho…”