I am excited to share my fast, fresh and accessible recipes – all with an elegant twist.
I am the first to admit that I’m not a formally trained chef. Fed up with feeling sluggish from eating the wrong foods and not making time to exercise, I made the decision to pursue a healthier lifestyle, and ultimately discovered my passion for cooking along the way. I was ecstatic to learn that healthy eating never has to be boring.
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, I grew up in Miami, where the melting pot of cultures influences my recipes. As a dynamic media professional, I worked in many mediums, from television to print magazines to the web, before landing my dream job as a travel publicist. However, not even the longest workday can keep me away from the kitchen; on the contrary, it is my best release, and if I can invite friends and family over to share my home cooked meals with, even better.
A city girl at heart, I live in the heart of Downtown Miami, where I take full of advantage of everything the Magic City has to offer – from the star-studded beaches to the dynamic cuisine, sports games, the exciting nightlife, and any adventure-inducing activity that comes up.
Take a glance at my blog thefitcook.net for healthy recipes!
A Sunday to Savor
Ever since I got really into cooking, I’ve always made it a point to figure out the fastest way possible to make a dish. In fact, in looking through my recipe index, I think it’s safe to say most of my recipes can be made in as little as 15 minutes and most in no longer than one hour. If we’re talking about weeknight cooking, especially for those who have very little time to get a decent, healthy dinner on the table, I call that a win. Sometimes, though, isn’t it nice to just take it slow?
I was chatting with a friend last week — one who admittedly lives on egg salad and deli meat — who told me that if there was anything in this world he would learn to cook, it would be his Italian mother’s red sauce. My response, “You can do it; how hard can that be?” Turns out it’s not as difficult as much as it is a process… an eight-hour process.
While I didn’t get his mother’s recipe, my paleo-diet-rejecting self was craving pasta on Sunday — delicious, al dente, thick, pappardelle-like pasta — and nothing would go better with it than what I’m going to call Sunday Sauce. I grabbed the best ingredients I could find at the store — organic 90% lean ground beef, a can of San Marzano tomatoes (the kind Giada di Laurentiis and Mario Batali say they like to cook with), fresh oregano, shaved parmesan cheese and this delicious egg yolk pasta that cost $4 for the pound, which I’m sure you know is a lot for pasta. I got home and got to work. If you can call it work.
I decided that, in addition to cooking with a little extra love, what would be different this time is me not turning off the stove at the 30 or 45-minute mark. Nope. Instead, I would let this sauce simmer for at least three hours, and those three hours ultimately turned into five.
If you watch cooking shows, you always hear the host advising you to let the flavors hang out a bit — to let them marry, if you will. The longer ingredients sit together, the more their flavors develop in each other, if that makes any sense. Why do you think leftovers almost always taste better than the day something is made? It’s all about letting those ingredients falling in love. And fall in love with this sauce I did.
I’m sure you know you can modify the recipe to make it “fit” you. You can swap the beef for ground turkey and use crushed tomatoes instead of sauce. But in all honestly, I wouldn’t recommend changing a single thing. And if five hours sounds like more time than you have, I suggest you plan ahead. Had I not been starving, I would’ve been tempted to let this sauce go for the eight hours that inspired the recipe to begin with.
Pasta with Sunday Sauce
Ready in: at least 3 hours
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/4 pounds organic ground beef, 90% lean
- 1 small white onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 3 stems fresh oregano, divided
- 1 28-oz can San Marzano tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons balsamic glaze
- 1/2 pound your favorite pasta
- freshly shaved parmesan cheese to taste
1. Heat the olive oil in a large IMUSA caldero over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef, using a wooden spoon to break up the meat. Cook for about 10 minutes or until cooked through. The caldero is PERFECT for this kind of low and slow cooking!
2. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, two-thirds of the oregano (stems and all) and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the onions are translucent, about five minutes.
3. Add the tomato sauce, 1/2 cup of water, balsamic glaze and a dash more salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat down to low. Cover and let simmer for at least three hours.
4. Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain and toss with the sauce. Serve, then garnish with fresh oregano and cheese.
I also made a spinach salad because it’s almost always impossible for me to feel as peace if I don’t eat something green with every meal. This salad, which I prepped way ahead, had spinach, reduced-fat feta cheese and golden raisins. At the bottom of the bowl, I whisked together a tablespoon of balsamic glaze, a tablespoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper. I layered the spinach, cheese and raisins over it, and tossed everything together right before serving to prevent the spinach from wilting.
I spent the day “housekeeping,” i.e. cleaning out my closet to make room for the little shopping spree I allowed myself on Saturday. It was the perfect thing to do while the sauce cooked itself. Having gotten done with an extra 30 minutes before my dinner guest arrived, I whipped up a fresh crab salad inspired by Ina Garten, one of the Food Network hosts who taught me the most about cooking. Here is my recipe after I modified it according to my cooking style and what I had at home. In other words, after I “Fit Cooked” it. 😉 Her original is Pic’s Fresh Crab Salad with Lime Zest.
My Fresh Crab Salad with Lime Zest
Total Time: 5 minutes
Yield: 2 servings
- 1/2 pound fresh lump crabmeat
- 1 lime, zested
- 2 tablespoons plain, non-fat Greek yogurt
- 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
- fine sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
In a bowl, combined the crabmeat, lime zest, yogurt, Dijon mustard, Old Bay seasoning, a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with lettuce leaves, sliced cucumbers, fresh red pepper wedges or with whole grain crackers.
Now that’s what I call a delicious Sunday… buen provecho, amigos!
Dia de los Muertos in Guatemala
A salad, served chilled, and may be made up from over 50 ingredients that include vegetables, deli meats, shrimp and other shellfish, olives, cheese and so much more. Can you guess the mystery dish?
It’s Fiambre, a traditional dish in Guatemala that is prepared and eaten yearly to celebrate the Day of the Dead and the All Saints Day, and it’s delicious!
This year, instead of waiting until the very last minute to figure out a Halloween costume, I was packing for yet another work trip to Casa Palopo in Guatemala, where they hold Dia de los Muertos festivities. It’s one of their biggest celebrations of the year and an experience unlike any other.
In case you’re not familiar with Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), each November 1st, families all over Central America head to the cemeteries where their families are buried to place flowers and candles on their plots. They share meals together and leave some for the buried — beer, soda, food — it’s a celebration during which they honor the lives of those who are gone. It’s beautiful, really.
In the town of Sumpango in Guatemala, thousands gather for a kite festival. Different groups spend months building giant kites out of bamboo and tissue paper. They use scissors and glue to cut and piece the tissue paper together, and each kite usually has a message. The largest kite at this year’s festival was made by a team of 16 young men who wanted to raise awareness on preserving the environment. Like every other festival, the food is not to be missed. Mayan women are hard at work grilling “elote” in all colors, which they dress with lime versus butter, an idea I will be trying the next time I grill my own corn.
After spending the day in Sumpango, we headed to Lake Atitlan, where a boat tour to the towns that line the shore gave us an even deeper look into the country’s rich culture. It may have been my third time in Guatemala this year, but I find myself falling more and more in love with it each visit.
It’s Sunday evening, and I’m pooped, having gotten off a plane just a couple of hours ago. Still, I’m in a state of happy and can’t stop looking at the hundreds of photos I came home with. So this week, rather than sharing an original recipe, I thought I’d place the spotlight in one of Latin America’s beautiful countries by sharing bits and pieces of my trip, food not withstanding.
And if you want to bring a little bit of Guatemala into your kitchen, a desayuno tipico made with refried beans, eggs,maduros, avocado, queso blanco and warm corn tortillas is the perfect start!
Making It Skinny
I tend to become obsessed with certain foods, making them two or three times in just as many weeks until I move on to the next. These days, it’s a paleo-approved eggplant lasagna. How’s that paleo thing going, you ask? In the words of my sister, I’m eating “as paleo as possible.” You’ll notice there’s a little cheese in my recipe below, but you can’t have lasagna without a little cheese. (One would argue you can’t have lasagna without the pasta, but we have to make sacrifices, don’t we?)
This dish is the perfect example of what I call “making it skinny,” i.e. waistline friendly. I’ve swapped out traditional ingredients for healthier ones, resulting in a dish I can feel great about without skimping on taste. In this case, the eggplant takes the place of the pasta, saving me hundreds of calories. Meanwhile, the eggplant is almost buttery, and somehow even reminds me of my mom’s béchamel. In place of ground beef, I used ground turkey breast, which is virtually fat free and uber high in protein. The spices add flavor with none of the fat, and processing tomatoes versus gives the sauce a certain freshness.
In cooking and eating healthier, I’ve gotten used to these substitutions and find myself enjoying the healthy versions of recipes more than the not-so-healthy kind. Here are a few that I swear by (paleo-diet aside),
- Brown rice > white rice
- Whole grain or whole wheat bread > white bread
- Sweet potatoes > white potatoes
- Ground turkey breast > ground beef
- Spaghetti squash > spaghetti
- Greek yogurt > sour cream
That’s just to name a few. And speaking of spaghetti squash, here’s my recipe for Super Skinny Spaghetti Bolognese.
Want to try going “skinny?” Check out more skinny recipes down below. Next time you’re ready to get cookin’, ask yourself what possibilities there are for making a dish good and good for you. Whether it’s one small or swap or a handful of them, these tiny moves add up and go a long way.
Skinny Eggplant Lasagna
Serves: 4 – 6
Ready in: 45 minutes to 1 hour
- 1 large eggplant
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound ground turkey breast
- 1 white onion, chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 teaspoon ground oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 pounds plum tomatoes
- cooking spray
- 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Wash the eggplant, then cut into 1/2-inch thick slices. Lay the eggplant down on large plates or a cutting board in an even layer and sprinkle lightly with salt. Set aside.
3. Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick caldero over medium-high heat. Add the ground turkey and use a wooden spoon to break up the meat. Allow it to cook for five to 10 minutes or until fully cooked and browned. Add the onion, bay leaf, oregano, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper. Cook until the onions are translucent.
4. Wash the tomatoes and chop them into fours. Place the tomatoes in your blender or food processor to make “sauce.” Add the blended tomatoes to the caldero, season with more salt and pepper and let cook for 15 minutes or so.
5. Meanwhile, pat the eggplant dry with a paper towel; the salt is used to draw out extra moisture. Place the eggplant on a plate and microwave on high for three to five minutes, or until the eggplant is fork tender.
6. Heat a non-stick grill pan (or caldero or frying pan) over medium-high heat. Spray with cooking spray and cook the eggplant for 30 seconds to one minute on each side, or until lightly browned.
7. After you’ve grilled the eggplant, arrange the first layer of the lasagna in a baking dish (8 x 8). I recommend using the thickest slices as they will be the foundation of the lasagna. Add a layer of meat sauce and continue to layer until you are out of sauce and eggplant. If you have extra sauce, just freeze it for a lazy night. Sprinkle the top with cheese, then bake about 20 minutes.
8. Turn your oven to broil and allow the top of the cheese to brown, keeping an eye on it so that it doesn’t burn. Remove from the oven, allow to sit a few minutes, then serve.
More Skinny Recipes-
Carpe Diem… Crab Cakes?
I thought I had my Sunday all planned out. Today I’d try my hand at mofongo, having received my friend (and Cooking Channel star) Ben Sargent’s debut cookbook, The Catch. And while I have every intention to make that mofongo, it didn’t happen today. I was supposed to have lunch with a friend but before that, I would hit the gym, the grocery store and the pool — a typical Saturday/Sunday morning in the life of me. Sunday afternoons I reserve for cooking and subsequently blogging about it.
At 8 a.m. the sound of a text message woke me up. It was my friend suggesting we have breakfast instead. Wait a second, I thought, you want to change the plans and throw off my entire day? It was too much to process before my cafe con leche. Alas, I caved, and got myself ready by 9:30 a.m. I figured there’d still be time to make some mofongo magic. Until the next text came in. “Grab your bathing suit, let’s hit the beach after.” Wait, what?! The routine that is my weekend mornings flashed before my eyes.
Fast forward an hour and I was in vibrant Lincoln Road enjoying a plate of delicious Eggs Benedict at Balan’s. The sun was shining and the people watching was on point. Maybe this was an awesome idea after all. Next, we hit the beach. With all the traveling I do, sometimes I take for granted the beautiful city that I live in. Miami is a place like no other; it’s paradise, but with sabor.
A couple hours later, when our noses started to turn a little too pink, we made our way back across the causeway. While I had every intention to stop by the store to pick up plantains, shrimp, garlic and the other essentials I needed for the recipe, I looked at my friend and said, “I have a better idea. Let’s get some wine and take out.” So we did. We picked up a bottle of delicious Spanish wine and some ceviche from my local farmer’s market. (If you live in Miami, a small company called Surf & Turf Catering sets up a tent in Brickell Flatiron Park where they serve the most amazing ceviche I’ve had here. They’re there Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Go!) There’s nothing like a plate of fresh ceviche after a day at the beach. This reminds me, I need to come up with a new ceviche recipe. Something spicy.
Moral of the story — I was really happy that I allowed myself to throw the plans out the window and just seize the day. Here’s a little salsa for you to drive my point home: Marc Anthony – Vivir Mi Vida
That said, you didn’t think I’d leave you without a new recipe, did you? Of course I did end up making it to the grocery store because a fridge with no greens makes me very sad. And in carpe diem fashion, I bought myself some fancy lump crab meat, and decided tonight would be the night I’d treat myself to some homemade crab cakes. They were everything I ever dreamed of and more.
Carpe Diem Crab Cakes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1/4 cup onion, diced
- 1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
- 1/4 cup frozen corn kernels
- 8 oz. lump crab meat
- 1/2 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 egg white
- 1/4 cup cornmeal (I used PAN)
- 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
- lime and cilantro for garnish
1. In your medium IMUSA caldero, heat 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and pepper and cook until soft and light brown. Add the corn and cook another couple of minutes.
2. In a large bowl. combined the cooked onion, pepper and corn, crab meat, mustard, egg white, cornmeal, Old Bay seasoning and a pinch of salt and pepper.
3. In another caldero (a large one) heat the remaining olive oil over medium-high heat. Shape the crab into patties, making them as compact as you can. It should yield about two large crab cakes or four small ones. Carefully place them in the caldero and cook for about five minutes on each side. Serve with cilantro and lime wedges.
The Ugly Truth … the Delicious Fix
Last week I went to the doctor for a routine checkup, and while I am (very gratefully) good and healthy, I did have to face an ugly truth — the scale. It had been over a year since I stepped on one, for one of two reasons. First, I liked the idea of measuring my “weight” by how good I felt about myself versus the number on the scale, a way of thinking the old me would’ve never agreed to. Secondly, I knew that between all of the traveling (how could I resist anything on my plate in a culinary mecca such as Peru?), other work-related functions, and happy hours (tapas included!) I was bound to have put on an extra pound or two. Or ten.
Pause for reaction.
That’s right. The Fit Cook has gradually, over the course of two years, put on 10 pounds. (It’s been 8 years total since my “transformation”). I thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to admit this. What kind of a role model would I be if my followers found out that the girl who discovered a healthy approach to life (by cooking and exercise) had a bit of a blunder? Well, that’s just what it is — a blunder. Pre, during, or post weight loss, it’s bound to happen. You’re bound to go up and down a few pounds. And while I mostly struggled within a five pound range (we all do, right?), 10 was a bit of a wake up call.
So what am I going to do? Get back on track, or better said, stay on track more often. I eat very healthy for the most part, preparing all of my meals and working out at least three or four times a week – running, yoga, pilates, and, the latest one I’ve crossed off my bucket list, boxing. It even makes me wonder, “How did this happen, anyway?” Life. Like I said, it has (fortunately) taken me to a lot of cool places and social gatherings in the last year. Y todo valio la pena!
What’s even better is I decided not to beat myself up for it. Eso no vale la pena! Instead, I think it’ll be a better investment of my time and energy to focus on getting myself back to my happy weight, whatever that might be.
I am a strong believer in a little “kick start” and this time, I’m trying to do the “paleo” thing. If anything, I figure it’s another way of eating clean. But it means no bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, sugar or alcohol — I’m not fooling anyone here; happy hour will be my “cheat meal” — and plenty of meats, veggies, fruit, healthy oils and nuts. I can do this. And lucky for me, I love to cook, which is a huge advantage to people who want to take control of their health. (I’ll let Wikipedia fill you in on the details of the Paleo diet.)
So this Sunday, I got to doing what I do best on Sundays (and you’ll be learning more about this in a future blog post) — I set myself up for a healthy week ahead, cavewoman style!
I made myself a creamy, delicious Carrot Tomato Soup, Veggie Frittata for One and a new one, Stuffed Bell Peppers. In a nutshell, I sautéed a pound of lean ground beef with one onion, garlic and broccoli florets in olive oil, seasoning it with salt, pepper, and a dash of oregano. I stuffed bell pepper halves and baked it for 30 mins at 425 degrees. Use ground chicken or turkey and any chopped veggies you love to make it your own.
As for me, I’ll be sure to keep you updated on my progress with this. For now, has anyone else given paleo a try? Would love to hear about your experience on my Facebook page.
The links above take you to my recipes, while the pictures below show you the action from this week.
Buen provecho! And remember, now matter how big or small the set back, you’re totally capable of getting back on the ball!
Pumpkin! It’s Not Just for Pies and Lattes
While we in Miami don’t have much of a Fall season to look forward to — no cooler temps or colorful foliage here! — the thought of the seasons changing still makes me happy inside. Last Sunday as I was doing my weekly grocery shopping, I noticed a few extra pieces of pre-cut pumpkin in the produce section and immediately began craving a bowl of heart-warming, velvety pumpkin soup, just like my mom used to make before I took over the kitchen — also known as, Cremita de Auyama.
It turns out there are more ways to enjoy pumpkin besides the famous Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks or pies to the face at Thanksgiving. Hey, I can admit to indulging in both. But there’s nothing like appreciating a pumpkin for what it is in all of its fiber and vitamin-packed glory. Here’s how!
Creamy Pumpkin Soup
Ready in: 20 minutes
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, rough chopped
- 1 pound pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons plain, non-fat Greek yogurt
1. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick IMUSA caldero over medium-high heat. Add the pumpkin, onion, a pinch of salt and pepper, and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until browned/caramelized.
Fit Cook Tip: This is what I call pan-roasting — browning the pumpkin adds extra flavor without waiting over an hour for it to roast in the oven. The non-stick caldero allows you to use less oil so that the pumpkin browns but doesn’t stick.
2. Add two cups of hot water to the caldero and a pinch more of salt and pepper, then bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer, cover with lid and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the pumpkin is fork tender.
Fit Cook Tip: The smaller you cut the pumpkin, the faster it will cook.
3. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked pumpkin to your blender. Pour the cooking water into a measuring cup, then pour one cup of the water into the blender. Blend for 30 seconds, or until smooth, adding the yogurt and more of the cooking water if necessary until the soup is smooth and creamy. Taste for seasoning, then serve.
Fit Cook Tip: Using Greek yogurt instead of cream makes the soup velvety and adds a bit of protein without the fat. I substitute sour cream with Greek yogurt ALL the time. And remember, you can always add more water but you can never take it out, so add water to the blender little by little until the soup is smooth and creamy.
Fall Tip: For extra flavor, I like to add 1/2 teaspoon of curry powder plus a pinch of cinnamon — tastes like Fall!
Don’t go anywhere! It gets better. You can use this recipe as a “template” for countless varieties of creamy veggie soups by just switching the pumpkin for your favorite vegetable and/or whatever is in season. I make veggie soups at least twice a week, and usually enjoy a cup before lunch and/or dinner. Think broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, asparagus and even corn. I also like adding fun ingredients here and there to play with flavors — after all, keeping it interesting is key to sticking to a healthier lifestyle.
Other soup combinations to love:
Broccoli and Cheese Soup (not Cheese + Broccoli)
Meanwhile, outside of my comfort zone
This weekend I boldly went where I had never gone before — I opened my IMUSA pressure cooker, and I actually used it.
The box has been stowed away in my laundry closet for over a year, and if we’re being “real” here, I’ll admit to you that it’s a cooking instrument I was deathly terrified of using. I’m not really sure why, it’s not like ever known someone to have their frijoles explode all of them, and growing up, I watched as my neighbor’s mom used it at least once a week to make chicharo. My mom made our caraotas (or black beans in Venezuelan Spanish) in a large caldero after letting them soak overnight.
Although it was an overall success (I’m writing this with my mouth full, these tacos are the bomb), deciding to go for it was scarier than the time I jumped in the water with hundreds of whale sharks earlier this summer. I stared at the box for a good five minutes before opening it, reading the instructions over and over again as to not make a single mistake while I washed and assembled my pressure cooker.
I’ll tell you where else I went that I had never gone before. I followed a recipe rather than making up my own. PAUSE FOR REACTION! This was not the time to take any chances. Of the four enclosed in the box, I chose to follow a fellow champ’s recipe and made George Duran’s Ropa Nueva. George, if you’re reading this, que cosa tan buena!
And so it was with the caution of a novice cook that I followed the recipe, stopping to review the pressure cooker’s instruction manual at least four or five times throughout, pausing to cover myself in a bath towel, oven mitts, and sunglasses when it came time to open the lid. Safety first, people. Safety first.
My take on it all? Made with skinless shredded chicken, olive oil, veggies and spices, the recipe is most definitely “Fit Cook” approved, and the pressure cooker lets all of the flavors come together beautifully in just a few minutes. George’s serving suggestion was over rice, and while I chose to make tacos with my Ropa Nueva, I’ll be serving it over brown rice mañana.
Shredded Chicken “Ropa Nueva”
by George Duran
You will need:
- 1 rotisserie chicken
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 Garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 Yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped
- 1 jalapeño, seeds removed, chopped***
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 2 packets sazón with saffron
- 1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 1 bay leaf
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 cup water
- 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1. Remove skin from rotisserie chicken, pull apart meat and set aside.
2. Heat oil in your IMUSA PRESSURE COOKER on medium-high heat and sauté onions, garlic, and peppers until soft, 3-4 minutes. Add chicken and the rest of the ingredients except for the cilantro.
3. Mix and shut lid on the pressure cooker and bring to high heat. When the orange pressure regulator pops up, lower heat to medium and allow to cook under pressure for 6 minutes.
4. Turn off the heat and using a wooden spatula gently press on the pressure control valve (on the center of the lid) to allow all of the pressure to escape until the orange pressure regulator goes back down. Open lid and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve with rice and chopped cilantro.
***the jalapeño was my addition; I love me some spicy food!
Travel. Eat. Cook.
Somewhere along the way I must’ve done something really right because I ended up landing a job that I fell in love with. I realize how lucky I am, as not many people are able to say the same.
I work in a public relations agency alongside a group of smart, creative and really fun women. Our clientele? Luxury hotels in beautiful destinations that include the Caribbean, Mexico, Latin America and even Africa. In a nutshell, it’s part of my job description to visit these places. A couple of Thursdays ago, I found myself at the incredible site of Machu Picchu–will someone pinch me already?
It goes without saying that lately my biggest source of inspiration for new recipes is travel. Regardless of where I am, I try something delicious and even while I’m savoring it I’m already thinking of how I’ll make it at home, the “Fit Cook” way. During my last trip to Peru, however, it wasn’t business as usual–things got even better!
After spending a morning exploring Cusco (during which I played with llamas and alpacas), I found myself behind the scenes at the JW Marriott Cusco kitchen. Not only was I behind the scenes, I was wearing an apron… and a chef’s hat (but only for a few minutes because it didn’t do much for me, style-wise). That’s right — Executive Chef Teddy Bournocle and his team of crazy talented chefs (I don’t remember the last time I ate that much) let me take over the kitchen where I was free to make a dish that stood the chance of ending up on the hotel restaurant’s menu.
I had spent days indulging in the deliciousness that is Peruvian gastronomy — ceviche, lomo saltado, anticucho — I even tried CUY! I’ll let you Google that. With a lot on the line and it being my first time cooking in an industrial kitchen, I opted for something more familiar to me — quinoa.
Instead of my traditional Couscous con Pollo, this time I’d make Quinoa con Pollo, using local ingredients like the biggest and juiciest of choclo kernels (corn) to add a Peruvian twist. Although I had a few blunders, such as seasoning my chicken with salted-sugar (who knew restaurant kitchens carried different types of salt?) and letting out a girly cry at the sight of a tall flame, I’d say the end result was a success, and Chef even promised to put my dish on the menu. I’ll believe it when I see it, I told him. No doubt this is only one of many recipes I’ll develop after a still surreal trip to Peru.
For now, I’ll leave you with a recipe for my “fit” Quinoa con Pollo that you can enjoy at home, along with a few pictures of what’s been one of my favorite days on the job so far.
Quinoa con Pollo
Ready in: 20 minutes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving
- 1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, fat trimmed
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
- 1/4 cup green bell pepper, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup choclo kernels (extra large, white corn kernels)
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
- ½ cup chopped cilantro
1. Heat the olive oil a large, non-stick IMUSA CALDERO over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken thighs dry with a paper towel and season on both sides with coriander, paprika, salt and pepper. Place the chicken in your IMUSA CALDERO in an even layer, and cook on each side for 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a plate. Allow to cool, then cut into strips.
2. Meanwhile, add the bell pepper, garlic, and choclo to your IMUSA CALDERO, and sautee for a couple of minutes, until the pepper begins to brown. Add the cooked quinoa and season with a dash more of salt and pepper. Cook another 2 to 3 minutes before adding the cilantro, reserving a tablespoon or two to garnish the dish.
3. Divide the quinoa among two plates and top each with chicken. Garnish with remaining cilantro, a drizzle of olive oil and sliced red chiles if you like it spicy.
Cooking at Home… When You’re On the Go!
My job keeps me traveling… a lot! Needless to say, it makes it tricky to stick to clean foods when you’re bouncing between amazing countries with excellent cuisine where it’s impossible to say no to the specialties. This week, I’m heading to Peru, and you better believe that I will be indulging in the chaufa, causa, plenty of ceviche and a pisco sour or two!
When I’m home, though, all bets are back on! But what happens when I come home to an empty fridge, or even worse, one that’s stocked with my fresh fruits and veggies gone bad? Heartbreak! That’s why I make sure to keep certain foods in stock that I can count on to keep me full and nourished before I’m able to make a trip to the grocery store. Among those foods are eggs and canned beans—both an excellent source of protein, the latter adding a healthy dose of fiber.
This morning, while unpacking one bag and packing another, I opted for breakfast tacos—a delicious combination of homemade “refried” beans, scrambled eggs, warmed corn tortillas and a sprinkling of salty, feta cheese.
Ready in: 15 minutes
- 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped
- 1 15-oz can red or black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- 1 teaspoon cilantro paste
- 1 egg
- 2 corn tortillas
- 2 tablespoons feta cheese
- Heat one teaspoon of olive oil in a non-stick IMUSA caldero over medium heat. Add the onion, beans, hot sauce, cilantro paste and a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add ¼ cup of hot water and bring to a simmer. Using a bean masher, mash the beans until they are as creamy or chunky as you prefer. Let the beans cook until most of the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and set aside. For creamier beans, add more warm water as needed.
- Heat the remaining olive oil in an IMUSA egg pan over medium heat. Add the egg plus a pinch of salt, then use a wooden spoon to scramble the eggs until they are just cooked. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Heat your corn tortillas in a separate egg pan, or in the microwave. To serve, layer the beans and eggs over the tortillas and sprinkle with feta cheese.
What’s To Love?
The beans are anything but “fried” – the onion, cilantro and hot sauce give them plenty of flavor while the water helps you get a smooth, creamy consistency.
You’ll have plenty of beans leftover to enjoy with tortilla chips as a snack, in quesadillas, or tacos for dinner. That said, you can double, triple or quadruple up on the eggs, tortillas and cheese and make breakfast for the entire family.
Make this your own! Add fresh pico de gallo or a slice of ripe avocado to each taco. It’s all about making it fit!
The Icing on the Fit Cook Cake
Yes, I eat cake!
I used to worry that by branding myself as “The Fit Cook,” I had put myself in a bubble of sorts, one where people expected diet food that was bland and boring. While I did start my blog as a place to share the healthy recipes I came up with during my journey to wellness, over the last three years it’s turned into so much more.
The Fit Cook is a lifestyle–it’s about food that “fits” real life. What kind of food do you want to live your life eating? Delicious, fun, flavorful food, you say? Me, too! From modern cuisine to recreating dishes that taste like the ones abuela used to make.
And I don’t know about you but as much as I love cooking, especially after a long day at the office or upon returning from a work trip, I can appreciate a recipe that comes together fast and with few ingredients that I can actually find at my local grocery store—and that’s if I don’t already have everything I need on hand. I love to cook—I don’t love constant trips to the store!
With the promise a speedy, satisfying, mouthwatering meal, knowing that it’s healthy and that you’ll feel good about eating it is what I call the icing on “The Fit Cook” cake, or pastel. With a recipe for “food that fits” in place—all that’s left to do is apply the method to real life. I have a plethora of “Fit Cook” tips up my sleeve, most or all of which you will learn more about in the coming weeks, whether through new recipes or stories related to real life experiences.
I work full-time as a travel publicist, no doubt an exciting job that keeps me on my toes and traveling the world. The best souvenirs are recipes I recreate at home, like this Lime Soup I fell in love with in Cancun, Mexico. In the next ten weeks, I’ll be making trips to New York City, Peru, Los Angeles and Guatemala.
When I’m not traveling, I’m doing my best to “be good;” that is, eating clean. That’s not to say my favorite foods are off limits—from prepping ahead to substituting ingredients, I almost always figure out ways to make them fit, never shying away from the kitchen just because I am cooking for one. Enter my Couscous con Pollo — See what I mean?
While we’re on the subject of “being good,” I do my best to fit a workout into my day—it goes a long way, especially on those days when I spend a lot of time at my desk. From Insanity, to yoga to reformer pilates or an early morning run, I’m starting to get in touch with my adventurous side, outside of the kitchen.
My big, fat Venezuelan family and group of awesome friends love to eat—lucky for them, I love to entertain, never mind that I live in a tiny studio apartment. During last year’s birthday party, I fit more than 30 friends in 500 square feet for appetizers and truffled mac and cheese, and I can’t wait to do it again in just a couple of weeks. Now to come up with a fun, new menu.
Finally, I live in Miami—the Magic City—home to a thriving culinary scene, and this home cook enjoys a night of wining and as much as the next girl. While I’m very likely to never pass on wine or dessert, my “Fit Cook” hat doesn’t always stay home as I decide where it’s worth to splurge.
Ready in: 45 minutes
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 skinless bone-in chicken breast (8 oz)
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon chipotle sauce*
4 corn tortillas
fresh cilantro to garnish
1. Place the onion, garlic, chicken and five cups of water in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Cook 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
2. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, and use two forks to pull apart the meat. Place the shredded chicken and bone back to the pot. Add the tomato sauce, chipotle sauce, salt and pepper, and cook at a simmer another 10 minutes. Remove the bone from the pot and discard.
3. Use a sharp knife to cut the tortillas into thin strips, around the width of fettuccine, then stir them into the soup. Squeeze in the juice of two limes.
4. Cut the remaining lime into thin slices. Divide the soup among two bowls. Garnish with lime slices and cilantro.*You can substitute your favorite hot sauce for the chipotle sauce, or use a diced jalapeño.
Here is a cool twist on the Latin classic, Arroz con Pollo. This dish tastes just as rich and delicious as the original, but it comes together a bit faster. It’s also a bit healthier.
Ready in: 40 minutes
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for serving
1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, fat trimmed
1 yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup whole grain couscous
1 packet seasoning with azafran
½ cup frozen peas
½ cup chopped cilantro
1. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in your IMUSA CALDERO over medium high heat. Pat the chicken thighs dry with a paper towel and season on both sides with salt and pepper. Place the chicken in your IMUSA CALDERO in an even layer, trying to keep them separate. Cook on each side for 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
2. Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic, to your IMUSA CALDERO. Add the packet of seasoning and some more salt and pepper. Cook for 5-8 minutes, or until the onion and pepper are soft. Add the couscous and 2 cups of water to your caldero, then nestle the chicken in the couscous. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until couscous is tender and the chicken is cooked through.
3. Stir in the peas, cilantro, and serve, adding a light drizzle of olive oil to finish.