Food

Quinoa Crusted Chicken Fingers

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I recently mentioned on my Instagram that I am on a mission to healthify (I know it’s not a real word, but let’s get on with it) some of my favorite foods. Chicken fingers are definitely something that I not only love for their taste, but also love for their versatility and convenience. As in, they can be eaten on their own, stuffed in a lunch wrap, or chopped for a hearty salad. In whichever form I choose to eat them, they remain fuss free—for instance no leaking out of the lunchbox into my pampered work bags.

And so, like every new mission, this mission of healthifying chicken fingers started with research (read: typing “healthy chicken fingers” into Google). I was baffled to learn that breading chicken fingers with quinoa was a thing in the healthy eating world.

The novelty of using quinoa instead of breadcrumbs was enough to inspire me to create a recipe of my own instead of using someone else’s recipe. I like my chicken fingers to have a subtle spice kick (you’d know what I mean if you’ve eaten fried chicken at Pakistan’s KFCs), so this recipe has that + it is oil-free. Basically what I am giving you with this recipe is an opportunity to glorify the most boring of proteins, chicken breast, without adding unnecessary fats (oil) or carbs (breadcrumbs). I call that a miracle and it is being passed on to you.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • Organic Chicken breast (1)
  • Chickpea flour (1 tbsp)
  • Chili powder (1/2 tsp)
  • Cumin powder (1/4 tsp)
  • Chili flakes (1/4 tsp)
  • Egg (1/2)
  • Cooked quinoa (1/4 cup)

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 375F/200C.
  • Slice the chicken breast into thin strips.
  • Mix the flour and spices.
  • Coat chicken strips in the flour.
  • Beat an egg (you will use only half of it).
  • Coat strips into the egg.
  • Press cooked quinoa into strips coated with flour and egg.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, place the chicken strips on the tray, and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.
  • Enjoy on its own or in salads and wraps! 🙂 And to view the full nutritional profile of this recipe, see the end of the post.

Tips:

  • Chicken breasts can vary in weight. Organic chicken breasts tend to be smaller. The one I used was around 100 grams.
  • You may use any flour. I had chickpea flour on hand that’s why I used that one.
  • If you do not have individual spices as listed in the ingredients, you could also just use a spice mix like cajun/jamaican.
  • If you line the baking sheet with foil instead of parchment paper, I would grease the foil to avoid having quinoa stick to the foil.
  • To ensure chicken fingers crisp on both sides, flip them over halfway through the baking time.

 

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This is the first time that I have calculated the full nutrition profile of my recipe. I am adding it to this post. Please let me know if that is something that you find helpful. And have a wonderful weekend!!

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Wellness

Weight Loss: Food Edit

I never considered how my food is made until I gained an awful load of kilos in my first year living in the US. The year was 2008. I was sixteen and living with an American host family in mid-west. I knew little about how to cook with the American pantry staples, and missed my mother’s home cooked food. Result? McDonald’s sandwiches, buttery packet popcorn, and frozen pizza as my everyday meals.

When my friends and family criticized my new “appearance,” I was quick to realize this lifestyle couldn’t continue. That realization was my first step towards healthy eating and nutrition. I taught myself how to cook on a student budget and with the ingredients I could find in the local grocery store. Shortly after, I went back to my normal weight.

Fast forward ten years, I am working fulltime in a fast-paced industry, traveling for work (and otherwise), taking a Dutch language course, blogging as a hobby, and trying to grow my social circle as an expat in Amsterdam. Budget is no longer an obstacle, neither is the availability of international food items. But finding the time to grocery shop and cook has become my real struggle.

The last two months of 2017 were pretty hectic work-wise. I was providing cover for a sick colleague and traveling for work more than usual. Being disorganized about my meals and eating out led me to gain 5.5 kilos. I went from weighing 58 kilos to 63.4 kilos. With my 5’6” height, 63.4 kilos is still within the normal BMI, but I do not feel good. There is a lot of bloating, some love handles that were not there before, a general feeling of being tired—honestly, it feels like living in a body that is not mine.

So, after I returned from my holiday to Karachi last week, I started finding ways to be more organized about grocery shopping and cooking. I also decided to track the foods I eat, so that I can assess whether or not I am meeting my daily nutrient requirements. I was recently diagnosed with iron, calcium, and vitamin B12 deficiencies, so the motivation to track my food was not only for losing the excess weight but also for assessing my intake of all critical nutrients. Another motivation factor was to evaluate how super is the nutrition of the “super foods” that are blatantly advertised on social media.

I tested a few apps that would provide me an overview of nutrient goals for my weight & height, as well as allow me to track these goals. I had briefly used MyFitnessPal before, so I tested that and Cronometer more closely. Both are excellent apps but in comparison to Cronometer, MyFitnessPal has an extensive food database (huge benefit for someone who cooks fusion food) and a user-friendly layout in both the mobile app and website. You can input your current weight & height. The app also requires that you add a “Weight Goal.” Taking these three factors into consideration, MyFitnessPal gives you a daily calorie requirement (mine was 1200). You can then maintain a daily food diary, which counts your calories, as well as carbs, protein, fats and other nutrients. The app allows you to enter unlimited recipes and also tracks your steps. Your daily exercise can also be logged into the app.

One thing to keep in mind while using an app like MyFitnessPal is to use the calorie requirement as a guide not divine revelation. Starving yourself is the worst thing you can do to your health, so listen to your body’s needs and make sure you respect them. More than the calories I have consumed, I like to look at whether I met my protein, calcium, and iron goals. One early benefit of tracking nutrients is that I realized I was not meeting my daily calcium requirement, and that’s because I was barely eating any dairy—most common source of calcium. Based on that observation, I have switched from unsweetened almond milk to cow milk (until I find another non-dairy calcium source).

When I shared on my insta story that I will be starting a mini weight loss journey, many of you requested that I share my meal plans. In all honesty, sharing what I am eating every day in this much detail makes me nervous, but at the end of the day if my eating plan helps you improve your nutrition, I am happy ignoring the few negative comments I might receive. 🙂 So, I am adding screenshots of my food diary for every day of last week besides Monday. This should allow you to see the whole foods I have incorporated in my diet for each meal. The foods I am avoiding are full fat dairy, refined sugar and flours, excessive oil, and processed junk items. As for the recipes, the Shrimp & Broccoli one is on my insta profile. The remaining ones will be posted soon on this blog! If you have any questions about the foods mentioned in the screenshots, comment below or send me an email.

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In addition to tracking my eating, I am also recording gym time (more on this in another post). With my one week of exercise and a healthy meal plan, I have already come from 63.2 kilos to 61.4 kilos. The initial drop is usually high, which is great for boosting motivation. I also feel less bloated and tired. Keep in mind that everybody is different, so how this meal & exercise plan impacts me is not necessarily how it will impact you. 🙂 Since this is my first meal plan, it has a ton of room for improvement. So feel free to customize it as per your needs, but please make sure you’re eating at least 1000-1200 calories everyday—that’s the number recommended by the National Health Institutes for women (1200-1500 for men).

I am truly delighted to see the results of tracking my meals and exercise last week, and I cannot wait to do the same this week with new foods and recipes! If you have any ideas for healthy foods and fun exercises, do let me know. And if you would like to get a daily sneak peak of this weight loss project, check out my Instagram page.

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Food

One Bowl Healthy Carrot Cake Muffins

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More often than not, I succumb to a banana for breakfast because mornings are so rushed. And that is why having something that’s more decadent than a banana—banana bread or muffins or sorts—are a saviour to my chaotic mornings.

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Not too long ago, I tried the Pick Up Limes One Bowl Oatmeal & Blueberry muffins, and that was truly a hit in my work life. Every weekday morning I could just pop one of these in my handbag and either have it as breakfast on the go during my commute to work, or have it at my desk after reaching office.

My recent breakfast muse, however, were these delicious and decadent 1 Bowl Healthy Carrot Cake Muffins by Nikole from Healthnut Nutrition. Nikole is one of all my time favorite bloggers out there, so I was beyond excited to try her recipe without messing it up.

IMG_0606Honestly, I do not think I messed up. The muffins were dense, but soft. Also, perfectly sweet. I only made one major tweak to her original recipe. Instead of using almond flour, I used oat flour, and that was simply because I did not have almond flour in my pantry.

So without further blabbering, I will list the recipe below.

Ingredients:

Dry

  • Spelt flour (2 cups)
  • Oat flour (1/2 cup)
  • Baking soda (1 teaspoon)
  • Cinnamon (1 teaspoon)
  • Nutmeg (1/4 teaspoon)
  • Salt (1/2 teaspoon)
  • Shredded carrots (1 cup)

Wet

  • Eggs (2)
  • Coconut oil (1/4 cup)
  • Vanilla extract (1 teaspoon)
  • Apple cider vinegar (1 teaspoon)
  • Unsweetened soy milk (1 cup)
  • Unsweetened applesauce (1/2 cup)
  • Coconut sugar (3/4 cup)

Method:

  • Mix the soy milk with apple cider vinegar. Let sit for 10 mins. Meanwhile preheat oven to 375F/200F.
  • Now in a large bowl whisk together the remaining wet ingredients.
  • When everything is well-combined, add all dry ingredients except the shredded carrots.
  • Once the batter is smooth, mix in the shredded carrots.
  • Transfer batter to a muffin tin. It will fit in approximately 12 moulds. Top with crushed walnuts & place in the preheated oven for 18 mins.
  • Voila! Enjoy with a cup of tea, hot cocoa, or your fav coffee. 🙂

Tip:

  • You can top with sugar, too, like recommended in the original recipe. I liked them more without extra sugar.
  • Soy milk can be swapped with any other plant based milk. Don’t try dairy milks or the apple cider vinegar will curd them.
  • Coconut oil can be substituted with avocado oil.

 

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Food

One-Bowl Oatmeal & Blueberry Muffins

Even though I wake up early to give myself enough time to kickstart the day, I seem to always be in a rush. And as much as I love breakfast, I cannot bring myself to cook anything on weekday mornings.

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On most Sunday evenings, I make a loaf of banana bread to eat for breakfast. My banana bread recipe is healthy-ish, but not completely clean. Therefore, I would rather not have it everyday. As a consequence, I had been on the hunt for an alternative which would be clean, light, and make a portable breakfast.

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I stumbled upon the Pick Up Limes One-Bowl Oatmeal & Blueberry Muffins recipe, and was immediately drawn to it because Sadia’s recipe is dairy and gluten-free. I knew I had to give it a try. So, last Sunday, first thing in the morning, I baked these clean and delicious muffins.

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Because the recipe does not use wheat, the texture of the muffins is not dense. They are slightly crisp on the outside and soft inside. The blueberries give the muffins a nice tartness which is balanced by the sweetener used in the recipe. These muffins have my 100% vote for a healthy, portable breakfast or snack. 🙂

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I used an airtight container to store the muffins, and they remained fresh for five days. You can find the recipe here or follow the the instructions below (courtesy: Pick Up Limes). I hope you will like them as much as I did!

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp (14 g) ground flax seeds
  • 6 Tbsp (90 mL) water
  • 1/3 cup (8 mL) soy milk 
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup (63 mL) coconut oil, melted 
  • 1/3 cup (85 g) unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/3 cup (75 g) sugar, or sub agave or maple syrup
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) pure vanilla extract 
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups (160 g) old-fashioned rolled oats blended into a flour*
  • 1.5 cups (150 g) blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • 2 Tbsp (7 g) white whole wheat flour (if using frozen blueberries) 

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 375 F (190 C) and lightly grease a muffin tin.
  • Whisk together the flax seeds and water and allow it to sit for 5 minutes until the flax gels, stirring once after a couple minutes.
  • To the flax gel, add the soy milk and vinegar, whisk, and allow to sit for another 5 minutes. Meanwhile, blend the oats into a flour.
  • Add the oil, applesauce, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon and whisk.
  • One at a time add the baking soda, baking powder and salt  stirring after each addition. Then gently mix in the oat flour until just combined.
  • Gently stir in blueberries until just combined. If frozen, do not and thaw. Toss first in flour until coated and then stir into the muffin batter until just combined. Divide evenly into the muffin tin.
  • Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

Tip:

  • If you don’t have a food processor, you can buy oat flour. If you opt for this, use 1+3/4 cups (160g). ​

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Food

Thai Prawn Fried Rice With Tofu

I often try to recreate food I eat at restaurants; this recipe I am about to share dates back to a lunch I had almost two years ago in Thailand. I went to Phuket for my honeymoon in January 2016 and during that trip, the delicious Thai cuisine was irresistible to the point I was ready to have Green curry for breakfast.

One afternoon, after visiting the famous Chaithararam Temple, we decided to walk to a roadside joint, incredibly similar to a Pakistani dhaba. That is where I first had the authentic Thai edition fried rice , and was smitten by the layers of flavour that every grain of rice carried. Since after that experience, I have made countless online searches for the perfect “Thai fried rice” recipe, but nothing really worked until recently.

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Most online recipes for Thai fried rice for some reason ask you to add soy sauce, and that is one ingredient which is not as common in the Thai kitchen as it is in the Chinese. Once I stopped adding soy sauce to my Thai fried rice experiments, the taste started becoming increasingly like the fried rice I had at the joint in Phuket.

I think the recipe I am sharing tastes at least 90% same. 🙂 I have added tofu to it – that is because I am anemic and I try to eat iron rich foods like Tofu in as many of my meals as convenient. You may omit Tofu.

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Without further ado, let’s get right into it.

Ingredients:

  • Oil (1/4 cup)
  • Minced garlic (3 tablespoons)
  • Onion (1)
  • Green bell pepper (1)
  • Tofu (100 grams)*
  • Prawns – frozen or fresh (250 grams)
  • Fish sauce (2 1/2 tablespoons)
  • Oyster Sauce (3 1/2 tablespoons)
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Sugar (1/2 teaspoon)
  • Crushed thai chilli or the regular one (1 teaspoon)
  • Green chillies (5)
  • Eggs (2)
  • Rice (4-5 cups)
  • Sriracha (3 tablespoons)

Method:

  • Heat some oil and sauté mince garlic.
  • Meanwhile chop the onion and green bell pepper. After the garlic is fragrant, add veggies and cook.
  • When the vegetables are 1/4th cooked, add prawns. Cook on high heat so the water from the prawns evaporates without making the bell pepper soggy.
  • Once the shrimp is cooked through, add both sauces, chopped green chili, crushed chili pepper, sugar, and salt to taste.
  • Push aside the whole mixture, and scramble two eggs on the side.
  • Add cooked rice and Sriracha. Mix until well-combined. 🙂

Tips:

  • If using tofu, slice and marinate it in one teaspoon each oyster and fish sauce. Before heating up oil, pan cook the marinated tofu. You don’t need oil for browning the tofu in a non-stick pan. Remove from the pan after cooked, and add it just before adding the sauces.
  • Garnish with crushed peanuts, basil leaves, and/or cucumber if you have that on hand. I did not. 😛
  • To keep the meal healthy, you could easily swap the rice with quinoa or bulgur.
  • Boneless chicken also will work great in this recipe.

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Wellness

Cabbage Soup Diet Review

Let’s begin by me explicitly stating that I am not a fan of diets. My philosophy on food is simple – eat whole, fresh, and home cooked food as often as possible alongside a good exercise plan. Who sticks to their philosophies a 100%? Weirdos.

For me, life always gets in the way of my eating and exercise plan. 😦 Last month, my husband and I were traveling to Seville and we ate to our heart’s content – how can you refuse treats while on vacation? I also had a couple of work trips to London, which disturbed my whole Sunday meal-prep to a large degree, resulting in my ordering in and such.

Consequence? I felt bloated, nauseous, and generally not well. A colleague recommended that I try the “Cabbage Soup Diet,” which eliminates bloating, and promises a weight loss of 10lbs/4.5kgs in 7 days.

How does the cabbage soup diet work? Long story short, The Cabbage Soup Diet restricts salt, carb, and fat intake – allowing you to consume selective food groups each day of the week alongside the infamous cabbage soup.

Before I share my experience and results of following this seven-day diet, below is an overview of the recommended diet plan:

Day 1: Fruits only (no bananas) + cabbage soup

Day 2: Baked potato with light butter for breakfast + vegetables all day (no potatoes) + cabbage soup

Day 3: Vegetables and fruit all day (no bananas or potatoes) + cabbage soup

Day 4: Up to eight bananas + as much skimmed milk + cabbage soup

Day 5: Up to 20 ounces (550 grams) of beef + up to six tomatoes + cabbage soup

Day 6: As much beef and vegetables (no potatoes) + cabbage soup

Day 7: Vegetables + brown rice + cabbage soup

What I ate

I put my own spin on the cabbage soup recipe. Instead of using cabbage, I used a mix of vegetables (carrots, kale, mushrooms, celery, scallions, bell pepper, zucchini, and tomatoes). I also replaced plain water with chicken/vegetable broth to add more flavor.

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The first day was very easy. I had an apple for breakfast, soup for lunch, and a big fruit salad (melon, berries, pear) for dinner. The second day started off well (c’mon, we are talking baked potato), but lunch and dinner were mostly roasted veggies over a bed of greens with the soup. Third day, again, was good because I could eat fruit.

After that, the diet went downhill for me. The day I was supposed to mostly eat bananas was horrible. I felt stuffed and cranky, which disturbed my overall focus. Day 5 was also not great – I couldn’t fathom what to have for breakfast besides a bowl of soup, which by now I detested more than any soup in the world. I also am not a big meat eater, so I felt trapped having to eat meat for both lunch and dinner – that too without grains. Needless to say, I skipped lunch and had a fillet of salmon instead of beef for dinner. Day 6 and 7 were pretty much the same except I cheated and had a pear for breakfast on the 7th day because…I just couldn’t with the soup.

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Weight loss

This is probably the most anticipated part for most readers. Despite the tweaks I made to the diet, I lost 5.5lbs/2.5kgs in seven days. I believe most of this weight was water weight – since salt retains water in the body and this diet has zero salt (I did cheat and had some salt), so you don’t retain water. This also means that when you start consuming salt again, your body retains water, and you are heavier instantly.

A week after I resumed normal eating, I gained 1kg/2.2lbs back.

In conclusion

I cannot dictate whether or not anyone should try this diet because everyone reacts differently to different eating plans. In my experience, the diet made me aware of how often I gravitate towards overdoing salt, sugar, and oil in my meals, which is an awareness I wholeheartedly welcome. At the same time, the diet deprived me too much of critical nutrients, making me grumpy and exhausted. I also completely overturned my progress on cardio and strength training that I had made prior to going on this diet, as I couldn’t exercise for the duration of the diet – going back is always hard, going back with half as less energy is nearly impossible.

In a nutshell, there is no denying that this diet works – you just have to ask yourself if it is worth the compromise.

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Food

Baked Salmon With Peach and Corn Salad

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For the most part I try eating healthy, which means I cut down on my sugar and refined oil consumption fairly easily. What I can never bring myself to do, however, is eat more salad. Coming from a kitchen where the base of no meal is complete without sautéing onion and garlic, it is no surprise that salads are rather boring to me.

But I can also not deny the importance of health benefits that salads offer, so I have been trying to actively and mindfully eat more greens. My struggle is that most salads available even at “health food stores” are often drowned in dressing filled with unhealthy fats and whatnot. So, I just ate a bunch of greens, but also ten times more fat and sugar? Umm, does not sound right…

Hence, I try incorporating my greens in smoothies, wraps, as a side for a brekkie of scrambled eggs or dinner of baked fish. Basically, the idea is to consume greens with foods that make greens irresistable without destroying their nutrient content.

In this post, I am sharing a combination of baked salmon with a corn and peach salad, which is to die for. The whole meal is a blast of flavors packed with tons of nutrition. Also, my god, it looks beautiful on the plate! The colors are just so appetizing together that you would not be able to resist no matter the salad.

So without further ado, follow the recipe below for a tasty and easy weeknight dinner, especially perfect in the summertime.

Ingredients for the salmon:

  • Salmon filet (1)
  • Paprika powder (1/4 teaspoon)
  • Garlic powder (1/4 teaspoon)
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Lemon juice (to taste)
  • Olive oil (1 teaspoon)

Ingredients for the salad:

  • Your favorite green mix (1 cup)
  • Corn (1/4 cup)
  • Peach (1 – chopped)
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Paprika powder (to taste)
  • Lemon juice (to taste)

Method for salmon:

  • Preheat the oven to 425F/220C.
  • Meanwhile, marinate the salmon in paprika powder, salt, lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic powder. You could also do this hours or night before preheating the oven for optimum flavor.
  • Once oven is heated, bake salmon for 8 minutes.

Method for salad:

  • While the salmon bakes, toss the corn in paprika powder and salt.
  • Add the green mix and chopped corn.
  • Squeeze some lemon juice on top.

Put it all together on a plate and voila! Time to devour the best dinner salad you will have this summer.

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