What’s for Dinner?

It’s Monday, so for most of us this means it is time to start a fresh new week and forget all of the debauchery that took place this past weekend as we celebrated the end of a hard work week. From my observations at the gym this morning, it seems that everyone is trying hard to burn off those extra sinful calories from the triple chocolate mocha cake, or the bottomless sangria pitchers from Saturday night ( I might be guilty of that one myself). But nonetheless, it is important to always keep a balance in your life. This is why I have decided to share some if the little things that I do throughout my week that allow me to have my pies and pasta dishes in the weekend.

First of all, I eat a balanced diet, which is probably nothing new as the media is constantly bombarding us on ways to eat healthy, new fad diets, and a lot of other non sense. However, it is very difficult to eat healthy when healthy food is usually considered bland and uninspiring. We want juicy, salty, sweet! When I speak to my coworkers in the food industry about healthy diet options for the menu, they literally scoff and say that food is not food if it is not lathered up in bacon or duck fat. This is not true across the industry though because many innovative chefs have made careers out of creating exciting, out of the box cuisine that is catered to those who actually want to make it to 60 without developing a chronic disease like diabetes or high blood pressure. The modern American, according to a research conducted by the USDA, increased his/her away from home caloric consumption from 18% to 32% between the 1970’s to mid 90’s. This clearly shows the growing trend that eating out has become. As chefs, we must be aware of ways to create more healthful foods to help feed a healthier nation that is constantly on the go.

Healthy Flavor

* Use fresh herbs whenever possible to add intense flavor and aroma ( which will contribute to a more satisfying flavor)
* Add a hint of chili powder such a cayenne to add complexity to foods such as rice and beans without adding much sodium
* Choose baking over frying
* for sandwiches: kick the mayo habit. Instead, mix 2/3 parts plain greek non fat yogurt and 1/3 dijon mustard to create a zesty, low fat, spread that is loaded with protein. You can add minced garlic and herbs to spice it up a bit.

The foods that I eat throughout the week are simple and accessible. Because I do work in a restaurant, they must also be quick; but the chef in me demands them to be inspiring and creative.

Today I made a healthy salmon patty with dill and flax-seed and served it over French lentils with raisins. You may use fresh wild caught salmon, but for the sake of simplicity, I used canned wild caught salmon. Oceana.org has a very informative page where it outlines the benefits of canned salmon over canned tuna, including mercury level concerns. Again, balance and moderation are always key to sustainable and healthy eating.

To make the patties, gather up two 6 oz cans of wild salmon, zest from a lemon, juice of half a lemon, minced red onion, 1/4 c non fat plain greek yogurt, 2 tbs dijon mustard, 1 egg, 2 tbs flax seed meal (when making patties you need flour or bread crumbs to help them bind, I chose flax seeds), lots and lots of dill, minced parsley, and salt to taste. Mix well and form into round patties. Spray baking sheet with non stick spray and place under broiler for 3 minutes on each side. Please don’t burn them like I always do : ( They are best eaten over lentils, or brown rice, or quinoa, or just about anything you have in hand.

One of my goals this past new year was to become a healthier and stronger woman. My friend Dayhanna over at D Fit Nut has been a source of constant inspiration and as a personal trainer that she is, has shared her knowledge with me. She has lots of tips on fitness and a well-balanced life in her blog. She also loves salmon, so I’ll be sharing this recipe with her!

So, dinner was quite delicious, but here is a bit of food for thought: Surround yourself with people who support your efforts to be healthier. Get creative with food. And everything with balance.

Happy eating!

The Challenge – Coconut Crusted Tilapia with Pineapple/Curry sauce

I encounter many challenges in my daily life, from working, fitting in time to exercise, going to school & getting awesome grades, to simply posting more often. I’ve got to balance it all and sometimes there just aren’t enough hours during the day to fit all of those things into the routine. Today however, I had a small challenge presented to me by my hubby. Here’s the story: About two weeks ago we went out to eat at a local restaurant here in Orlando, Fl. I love to cook most of the time but there are days when I don’t even want to grab my knives. This was one of those days, and so we had high expectations. I will not mention the name of the restaurant out of respect, but I will say that the food was horrible and I will certainly not go back because it was the second time in a row that the food simply “sucked”.  One of the items we ordered was a coconut crusted tilapia fillet with pineapple-curry sauce.  It sounds incredibly creative and exotic right? Well when the food arrived, the fillet was soggy and drenched in what appeared to taste like pineapple preserves or jam. They managed to make wild rice taste like cardboard, and their steamed broccoli was mushy.  We did not leave happy, as is the case most of the time one goes out to eat.

In the days that followed, I kept telling my husband how I would have cooked the tilapia. I told him if something is “crusted”, then it must not be soggy or drowned in sauce because it defeats the purpose of encrusting it. The point is that I would not shut up about their technique the right way to cook that dish. I must have crossed the line because one day he simply said, ” I challenge you to cook it the right way. The way it should have been served to us”.

And so I took on the challenge and decided to replicate only the coconut-crusted tilapia and sauce part of the dish plus a little extra that I decided to add as garnish.

I am going to admit that I am extremely fearful of the fish section in the grocery store. This is something I have to get over because I want to learn how to cook everything and ofcourse, how to pick and choose ingredients. I rarely use animal protein in my kitchen, so this challenge really helped me get out of my comfort zone and go out there looking for the freshest and most sustainable ingredients.

The final product:  Coconut-crusted tilapia served over a pineapple-curry sauce. Topped with caramelized fennel and peas with extra-virgin olive oil.

Unlike the entree we ordered in the local restaurant weeks ago, I wanted mine to have a crunchy texture for the crust. likewise, I made sure that the sauce did not go over the fish because then it would turn it into a big soggy fillet, so I placed it in the bottom. In regards to the sauce, to me a sauce that has curry in it should certainly have the punch of the curry. I added enough curry to give it that punch and I watched the sugar, careful to keep it a sauce, and not a glaze, which in my opinion has more sugar.

The ingredients

3 3oz tilapia fillet

1 fennel bulb cut julienne

1/4 c flour

1 egg ( mix the egg with a tsp of water and beat with a fork)

1 c shredded coconut (unsweetened)

4 tbs olive oil

1/3 c peas

salt pepper

1 c vinegar

1/8 c sugar

1 c water

1 c diced pineapple

2 tsp corn starch

1 tbs curry powder (spicy)

1. The first thing to do is to heat the oil and add the julliene cut fennel and stir occationally. make sure the fire is on low so that it can slowly caramelize

2. While that is caramelizing, season fillets with salt and pepper, then dredge them in flour. Pat away any excess flour, then dip in egg wash. Remove from the egg wash and dip in coconut mix. Make sure it is completely coated with coconut, then set aside. This is called the standard breading procedure.

3. Heat up another pan and add 2 tbs of  oil. Make sure the oil is hot by dipping a toothpick into the oil, if tiny bubbles form around the toothpick that means it is hot enough to cook the fish. Place the coconut covered fish and cook on each side for 2 minutes. The coconut crust will become a golden color. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel so it can absorb the grease.

4. Quickly clean out the frying pan and add the vinegar plus the sugar and wisk until sugar dissolves . let that simmer until it is reduced by half. In a blender puree the pineapple cubes and run the puree through a sieve. Collect the juice and set aside. In a separate bowl mix the cornstarch with the curry powder and the cup of water. Finally, once the vinegar and sugar mix has reduced, add the water+curry+starch mixture and the pineapple juice into it and wisk. Bring it to a quick boil then simmer. You will notice that the sauce thickened and you may add more water if you wish to have a thinner sauce. If you want something more thick, like a glaze, then reduce the water added to only half a cup.

5. FInally add the peas to the caramelized fennel and season with salt and pepper. Add them to the top of the tilapia as garnish.