Gluten-Free Sugar-Free Sweet Potato Brownies

18 Oct

What?!

That title is a mouthful!

Tonight I experimented a little more with my new sugar-free ingredients. A good friend and fellow competitor of mine posted a picture of paleo brownies she made with sweet potatoes. Having just celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving with my friends (I’m not a native Canadian–just an honorary one who happens to work with a lot of Canucks), I had half a bag of sweet potatoes left after making sweet potato casserole. (Sweet potato casserole was not a diet- or competition-friendly dish: it was loaded with brown sugar and marshmallows. CHEAT MEAL, BABY!!!) The chocolate craving hit me pretty hard today (stressful day at work, that time of the month, had an intense workout this morning), so I decided to test the recipe out. The brownies are not overly sweet. They are subtly sweet but have a good consistency. I found a recipe online but adapted it (as always) to the ingredients I had on hand.

Here’s what I used:

– 2 medium sweet potatoes, boiled

– 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (can substitute with unsweetened/dark baker’s chocolate)

– 1 tbsp almond flour

– 1 tsp baking soda

– 1/3 cup agave

– 1 tbsp vanilla extract

– about 1 tbsp grapeseed oil

– 2 eggs

To bake,

1) Mash the sweet potatoes, either with a fork, mixer, or by pureeing them in a food processor. I used the bullet that I make my protein shakes in. As long as the potatoes are still warm after boiling, they should mash up nicely. I took the thicker parts of the skin off to make pureeing easier.

2) I transferred the sweet potato puree to a mixing bowl, then added the dry ingredients first (cocoa powder, almond flour, baking soda).

3) Next, I added the wet ingredients (eggs, agave, vanilla, and grapeseed oil). I stirred everything together until it had a somewhat smooth consistency. There were a few lumps and uneven spots in the batter. I hand-mixed the ingredients, alternating between a fork (to mash big lumps) and a rubber spatula. Don’t worry if there are still small lumps remaining; they’ll bake out.

4) Add any other ingredients that you want. You can see from the picture that I didn’t stick to an entirely sugar-free brownie: I added dark chocolate chips to the top. The coconut is unsweetened, however. To keep it sugar-free, you could substitute carob chips for chocolate chips–or just leave them out.

Transfer the brownie batter to an oiled baking dish (I used a small square 6×6 glass dish–this recipe only makes about 12 brownies). Pop it in the oven at about 350 Fahrenheit (I did almost 200 Celsius, which is a bit hotter). Bake for about 30 minutes or until the middle is cooked. I knew mine were done when the cocoa smell filled the house!

My brownies finished about an hour ago. I sampled them before remembering to document what I had baked, as you can see in the picture. They’re not bad for my first experience baking with sweet potatoes. The brownies could stand to be a bit sweeter, but they are very moist! I’m happy to have found an alternative to using gluten-free flour mixes.

Let me know if you try them out and what you think!

Flourless Spinach Quiche

3 Oct

While preparing food for my competition, I came across a few really great resources that helped me do things with chicken and egg whites other than just simply boil them. Now that I’m no longer dieting and it’s after the competition, I have been experimenting with cooking new dishes and baking different cookies and cakes. One website that has been a wonderful, helpful resource both on and off the competition diet has been Chelle’s Fitness Recipes, found here: http://billandchelle.com/fitness/recipes.html. For those of you on a figure competition diet, I recommend clicking on the “View Figure Competition Friendly Recipes Here” link just under the page’s header.

I adapted Chelle’s “Crustless Spinach Quiche” slightly, using what I had in my refrigerator. Here is what I used:

1 tbsp olive oil

5 garlic cloves, minced

3-4 cooked chicken tenderloins, flavored with basil (1-2 chicken breasts could be used instead)

1/2 package of fresh lettuce (about 6 small spinach plants)

12 egg whites

1/2 cup shredded Formaggio al Tartulo (a mild-flavored Italian sheep cheese; could probably substitute Parmesan for a stronger taste or cheddar for a milder taste)

Pepper

Basil

Preparation:

Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 180 Celsius. Mince all of the garlic cloves, chop onion (if you want to add it), and cut chicken tenderloins or breasts into chunks or strips.

*Chelle’s original recipe only calls for two cloves of garlic ; I love garlic and its healthful properties, so I always use more. The original recipe also has one small onion, which I was out of. I had chicken tenderloins left over from a previous meal. I sprinkled basil on them, then cut them into chunks. You could use any kind of chicken; the original recipe has chicken sausage. I had tofu in the fridge and considered using that as an alternative to chicken.

1) Put olive oil in a skillet and saute garlic and onion for a few minutes. Add in the chicken to warm it up; saute all three together until onion and garlic are browned. Rinse spinach leaves and cut up if necessary while food is sauteing.

2) Using a fork, whisk 12 egg whites in a large bowl. I whisked them as the recipe said for a couple of minutes, or until the whites started to bubble a bit.

3) Add all ingredients: sauteed chicken, garlic, onion, spinach, and cheese. Mix together with the egg whites until all ingredients are moistened. Depending on how much spinach you use, you may want to add another egg white. Add seasonings to the mixture. I only used pepper and basil.

4) Coat a glass or metal dish with non-stick cooking spray or oil. Pour the mixture into the dish and pop it into the oven.

5) Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the center is cooked.

I served this dish with some steaming fresh green beans. It was a delicious, healthy, satisfying meal! Gluten-free and yummy. I was quite happy with the taste, as it was my first time making quiche. I usually avoid quiche because of the crust. Now I will try my own versions. The best part of a meal like this is you can eat the leftovers for breakfast the next day!

Healthy Gluten-Free Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

27 Sep

During my figure competition diet, all I could think about was how I couldn’t wait to go back to gluten-free baking. I really don’t eat that poorly in the “off season”–being gluten-free keeps me in check. I do, however, looooove gluten-free brownies and cookies. I always keep my favorite Pamela’s Baking and Pancake Mix on hand for baking emergencies. Because of the competition diet, I’d consumed zero processed or refined sugar for 12 weeks. During the last two weeks before competition, I even cut out fruit because of its high sugar and carbohydrate content to lean up. Coming off of an extremely restrictive diet, I wanted to use as close to natural sugar as possible to not shock my body.

Oatmeal was one of the three main sources of carbohydrates in my diet. One might think I wouldn’t want to eat oatmeal after the diet, but all I could think of was how delicious oatmeal raisin cookies would be after the competition! So, here it is, the week after the competition, and I found a great recipe from a fellow English teacher in Korea that cooks wonderful vegan and gluten-free foods. The site is great–it’s called “Wayfaring Teacher”. I encourage you to check it out for some great recipes, or just a bit of insight of what it is like for those with food restrictions living in Korea. I adapted that recipe to what I had in my cupboard. Here’s what I used:

1 3/4 cup quick-cooking old-fashioned oats (I used the Quaker ones because I’m not super sensitive to oats; if you are, I would Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free quick-cooking or rolled oats)

1 cup Pamela’s Baking & Pancake mix (*original recipe calls for 1/2 cup oatmeal ground into flour plus 1/2 cup almond flour, which I didn’t have)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup raisins

1 banana

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp honey (*optional – or substitute your choice of sweetener)

1/4 cup nonfat milk

2 tsp cinnamon

1. Mix oatmeal, Pamela’s, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon in a bowl.

2. Mash the banana, then add vanilla.

3. Combine wet ingredients to dry mixture.

4. Start mixing, then add in honey. Use more or less, depending on personal preference.

5. Pour in raisins.

6. Add milk to get a lighter, thinner consistency.

As the original post says, add more milk if the mixture is too dry; if it is too wet, adjust with oats.

Bake at 350 degrees (about 175 Celsius in my lil’ Korean toaster oven) for 12-15 minutes. When mixing the cookie batter, I used my hands. Depending on how many oats you use, the batter can be a bit crumbly. I wanted “mini-bites”, so I rolled the cookies into small balls and flattened them down a bit. Cookies were ready when the edges started to brown.

I ate them without taking a picture. No worries; I’ll make them again and post. This was my first time using honey in place of sugar. These cookies didn’t need any additional sweetener, but I had to satiate my craving, and honey did the trick! I personally love extra raisins and cinnamon in mine, but this recipe can be easily tweaked.

Happy Baking!

 

The Journey Continues: My First Competition

23 Sep

I am sitting here on my comfy couch, a day after my very first figure and bikini competition, with a bloated tummy yet content heart. After 12 weeks of grueling training, restrictive dieting, rigorous scheduling, and an insane amount of self-discipline, I accomplished my personal goal of transforming my body and competing in something I never thought I would have the mental wherewithal to do. The emotions hit me sporadically throughout my training, usually when I least expected it: first thing in the morning over a bowl of oatmeal or in the gym in the middle of a superset. At first I thought that I would be emotional upon hearing my name called on stage. But yesterday, after so much waiting and anticipation, I was just relieved to finally be up there! My emotions held off until today, when everything hit me while riding in a taxi from an enthralling post-competition Costco trip.

I DID IT!!! I didn’t place in the top five of either category as I had hoped, but I:

  • Researched and found an upcoming competition in a foreign country, contacting various people and communicating in Korean to get all of the details
  • Set a goal to be ready for the competition from 12 weeks out
  • Met with a personal trainer/bodybuilder to understand the basics of what I had to commit to in terms of dieting and exercise
  • Developed an exercise plan and chose my workouts for each week
  • Tailored a diet specific to my needs, including meal-planning and calculating and tracking all macro-nutrients
  • Reduced my body fat percentage from 17% to 10% in 10 weeks in a healthy way
  • Challenged myself mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally like I never have before

I wish that I would have been keeping a journal throughout this process; however, I simply just didn’t have the time to write. Between working out two hours per day, working eight hours per day, cooking and prepping food at least an hour per day, going grocery shopping three to four times per week, actually eating as much (and when) as I was supposed to, I could barely get to bed with enough time to get that much-needed muscle-building recovery sleep in. It was rough: there were days I thought I was going to rip peoples’ heads off due to the calorie deficit. There were a lot of things that I experienced that I don’t know if other women–or any athletes–have experienced. I am grateful to the wonderful competitors that did make the time to blog about everything. They literally saved me!

I live in South Korea, where a gym membership is outrageous, most gyms do not have the “incline” function enabled on treadmills, a personal trainer costs a minimum of $45/hour (on top of the monthly gym fee), many “trainers” have limited knowledge about how to healthily and properly build muscle, and the overall fitness philosophy is a bit behind that of the Western countries. So I decided to do this on my own. I am thrilled with the results, although last night and today I am reaping the effects of trying to eat somewhat “normal” food. It’s waaaay too early to be incorporating carbs, but those carnitas have been calling my name for 12 weeks! I made gluten-free oatmeal raisin cookies tonight–yes, it might sound weird after having oatmeal as one of my main three sources of carbs for the last three months–and they were amazing! I’ll share the recipe I found online.

Competition day was not the smoothest day; there was a lot of confusion between everything being in Korean and nothing at the show being neither well-organized nor well-orchestrated. But it was what I expected: an early morning starting at 5:40 a.m., a long day of sitting around and waiting, a lot of nerves coursing through my body and questions running through my head, then rushing around to do my three suit/look changes back-to-back. Although I didn’t place, I had a wonderful group of friends that turned up to support me. I got a huge smile on my face every time I heard them yelling “foreigner!” or my competitor number in Korean. My husband was just amazing: right in step with me, helping me pump before going on stage, applying Bikini Bite and spray tan periodically as needed, giving me a kiss before going backstage, and yelling my number in Korean while reminding me to show my “MUSCLES!” in English. Right now, I’m just trying to bask in the satisfaction that I DID IT and nurse my poor, sensitive tummy back to its happy, clean-diet state. Maybe after one more peanut-butter M&M…

Fitness Journey, Part I

27 Jun

I really kicked up my workout routine within the last year and a half. I have a very busy schedule living here in South Korea, so at first it was challenging to find the best exercises—and the proper time to do them. As I’ve mentioned before, I am the kind of person that has to be active every day. My body craves intense exercise on a daily basis. Usually for my one “off” day per week, I do something fun but active, like go for a hike, ride my bike, or only go for a run. I used to be a gym person (back in the U.S.), but in Korea I’ve had to adapt my style. Gyms in Korea are outrageously expensive (the one in my building is USD $90 per month) for basic equipment and limited machines (none of the treadmills incline, there is no stair master, etc…). My husband and I are always aware of our spending, and we could not justify almost $200 per month for us to go to the gym.

I played soccer throughout middle and high school. I did track for a single season but had never really considered running seriously. When I first got to Korea, I ran outside off and on and joined a $30 per month gym (it basically only offered dumbbells and barbells, no A/C in 100% humidity). Then my work schedule got busier, and I just didn’t have as much time. That’s when I discovered Insanity. For those of you that haven’t heard of the Beachbody programs, they’re—in a word—phenomenal. Because I like to challenge myself and love high-intensity workouts, I thrived with Insanity. I couldn’t do it every day like the program is designed to do. However, if you do it every other day, eat well, and remain moderately active the days you don’t do Insanity, you’ll probably see a difference. Insanity is great for shredding fat and getting lean. I personally really like Shaun T; I have friends that don’t care for him as much, but I thought he was motivating. I think some people sell themselves short by only doing these kinds of programs for the allotted time of 90 days. After completing a workout program, it’s not necessary to scrap it altogether. Keep it in your routine—use it a couple of times a week. If you make the investment by purchasing a Beachbody program, you might as well get all the use out of it as you can.

One thing that I think is crucial to any exercise program—and Insanity is no exception—is maintaining good form all throughout the workout. One of my friends did Insanity with me for a bit, and she didn’t see the same results. Obviously no two bodies are the same, but it was more than that. My friend did not keep her core tight and did not push herself as hard as she could have. A limitation of Insanity is that it is very high-impact. People with joint problems should use caution and modify the moves to what they are able to do. In addition to maintaining good form, you must remember to breathe during every move and to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

I had started Insanity in November 2010 and did the exercises every other day. I stretched the program out, sometimes repeating exercises or sometimes switching up the order of videos. In February 2011, I went on vacation to New Zealand. Because NZ is in the Southern Hemisphere, February is a summer month. Due to my dedication to Insanity and training from Shaun T, I was proud to put on my bikini and soak up the Kiwi rays. I find that many people (myself included) feel like it’s okay to slack a bit after getting in shape to go on vacation. Don’t let the fitness stop there! I think people need to remember to moderate their lifestyles. It’s important to work out hard, reward yourself a bit (with a fun activity, a new bathing suit, a piece of that decadent cake you’ve been eyeing since you started the program), then get back into it! It’s so much easier to just keep that momentum going than to yo-yo exercise. Your body, your mind, and your attitude will all continue to improve.

boogie-boarding in New Zealand, 2010. Insanity = abs

After jogging a few days and doing some of the Insanity videos only twice per week, I was getting bored with the program. I was happy to hear that Shaun T and the Beachbody team made a new and much more challenging set of exercises: the Asylum. The Asylum is just awesome. For those who want to become (or already are) true athletes, the Asylum is true sports interval training. As Shaun T says, “it’ll kick your butt.” The Asylum builds on and incorporates the regular Insanity exercises. As someone that likes sports, I found it to be physically demanding but a lot of fun. The Asylum has a different calendar that incorporates P90X. I just started P90 this week, as I’ve decided it’s time to build muscle after getting lean. If you don’t have the money or desire to purchase one of the programs, just check out one of the promotional videos to get new moves to incorporate in your routine. Doing anything is better than nothing at all! We have to keep challenging those muscles and stimulate our minds so we don’t get bored…or plateau.  In part 2, I’ll discuss my other all-time favorite workout program. The best part is it’s free!

Gluten-Free Favorites

13 Jun

I’ve spent a lot of time and money trying to find the best-tasting gluten-free products. Just like Oprah has her list of favorites, these are my gluten-free must-haves. (I think there may be even better products out there, as the gluten-free market has exploded since I left the U.S., but these are products I can order internationally through iherb.com.)

Best Baking Mixes

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Pamela’s is the best all-purpose gluten-free baking mix. The pancakes are wonderful, as are many of the recipes on the back label. I have tried almost all of the recipes on the back. In particular, I love the zucchini bread, coffee cake, and banana bread recipes–they are to die for! My husband (who is not gluten-free) says the zucchini bread is his favorite out of all of my experimental recipes. For the chocolate chip cookies, I usually substitute about half cup of 100% rice flour for the Pamela’s mix. Sometimes my cookies end up too flat if I do not add rice flour.

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I use the Pamela’s baking mix to make pancakes, but I prefer the Kinnikinnick brand pancake mix. The texture is smoother than the Pamela’s mix. Pamela’s is a bit grainy for pancakes, and Kinnikinnick is as close as it gets to the real thing.

I was so surprised and happily relieved to see Betty Crocker gluten-free mixes on the supermarket shelves. I have tried several brownie mixes, as fudge brownies are my ultimate indulgence. The one with the best consistency and most natural taste is the Betty Crocker mix! The Pamela’s brownie mix is not bad, but I prefer Betty’s.

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Pamela’s chocolate cake mix: perfection. The frosting mixes are also wonderful. 

 

Gluten-Free Pasta

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I have tried almost every gluten-free pasta that New Seasons and Whole Foods have to offer. I just love the Tinkyada brand. The pasta cooks perfectly, the consistency is great, and the taste is superb. I usually add a bit of oil to the pasta while boiling so that the noodles do not stick together. Whether made with brown or white rice, the pastas taste great. I’ve used their lasagna noodles, penne, spirals, and spinach spaghetti. 

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For a little comfort food, Annie’s gluten-free mac-and-cheese is my guilty pleasure. Creamy and delicious! Just like Kraft without the horrible side effects.

Often touted as a “superfood”, quinoa is the single best alternative to pasta. There are endless quinoa variations: you can make it as a pasta, salad, vegetable dish, etc. I recently added some fruit I had to eat to cooked quinoa, and the creation turned out very tasty.

Welcome! Bienvenidos! 오서오십시요!

12 Feb

Welcome to my blog! 

I am excited to share ideas, thoughts, curiosities, and observations with you. Soon, I will write my first “real” post–not just an introduction. The three languages in the title represent the three languages I know and am presently learning (English (native tongue), Spanish, and Korean). My profile picture is the “Om” symbol, as I am trying to find balance and am seeking my true destiny. Join me in my journey to a better understanding. I do not expect to be enlightened necessarily, but just to gain a stronger sense of myself through writing. I hope to become a more open-minded, compassionate individual as this process develops.

Here is one of my favorite pictures taken on a memorable vacation last year. I know it does not follow any “photography” rules and is probably a horrible picture to photo critics; however, I love the way the clouds are wisping through the air, inviting us to follow them. Here’s to finding out where they lead..