Greek Food; a great source for healthy recipes

Yesterday I was part of a media event where I led a group of lifestyle journalists through New York City, where we visited five different restaurants, tasted a variety of cuisines and paired them with wines from Burgundy. Yes, I know – I have a tough job in many ways when it comes to watching my weight, but this is my #1 passion and there is no way I would do anything else.  Our last stop was a Greek restaurant, and the hostess and chef, Maria Loi, is a wonderful woman and also the Ambassador for Greek food in the U.S.  She made me miss my summers in Greece when I was a teenager – my sister lived on the island of Skiathos for many years, in fact she even got married and had kids there.  I have always loved Greek cuisine, because of its simplicity and clean, fresh flavors .  I love the little mezedes, the Greek word for “tapas”,  small dishes made with vegetables and produce from the garden right outside your door,  so tasty to snack on while sipping on a glass of Assyrtiko or Agiorgitiko.

Lemon juice, oregano, and extra virgin olive oil are used frequently, and grilling (a very healthy method to cook your food) is often the way they choose to cook their proteins.  Octopus,  fish, chicken and lean beef is marinated in all the aforementioned spices and condiments, and just served grilled that gives it that nice, charred flavor. Accompanied with a Greek salad with lots of fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, olives and a few sprinkles of feta- what could be better?


Perhaps sitting on a verandah of a beautiful white house overlooking the gorgeous blue sea would top it, instead of sitting here in the misty rain in New York? Well, we can always recreate the meal at least,  so here’s a shot at a healthy, flavorful two course Greek meal that you can test out this weekend!  These are all adapted from the fabulous book “Olive and Caper” by Susanna Hoffman

DOLMADAKIA (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

Makes about 3o pieces

30 -40  bottled grape leaves, stems cut off

2 tbsp dried currants

2 tbsp golden raisins

1/4 white wine (or retsina if you can find – the Greek wine)

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup short-grain rice,  such as Arborio

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced or pressed

1/4 cup pine nuts

2 tbsp finely chopped lemon zest

3/4 tsp salt

2 tbsp chopped fresh dill, stems reserved

2 tbsp chopped fresh mint, stems reserved

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Lemon slices for garnish


Combine the currants and raisins with the wine and let stand for one hour.
Remove grape leaves from jar gently to avoid tearing, and squeeze out the excess liquid. Set aside

Heat the oil in a medium sized skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion,  and garlic and saute for a minute. Add pine nuts, zest, salt and rice and make sure the oil coats the rice. Reduce heat to medium and saute until onion in transparent, about 5 minutes.  Add the currants and raisins with their liquid, and saute until the liquid has almost evaporated, about 3 min (the rice will not be cooked through).  Remove from heat and stir in the dill and mint leaves.

Line the bottom and sides of a medium-size pot or saute pan with torn or extra grape leaves and some of the reserved dill and mint stems.

On a counter, lay out as many grape leaves, veined side up, as you have room for. Place about 1/2 tbsp of the rice mixture near the stem end of each leaf. Roll the bottom of the leaf up over the stuffing. Then fold in the sides of the leaf to partially enclose the filling. Continue rolling to completely enclose the filling, forming a stubby cylinder.



As you fill and roll the leaves, tightly pack the dolmadakia, leaf tip down, in the pan, forming concentric circles until the bottom is completely covered. When one layer is complete, make a second layer.

Continue stuffing, rolling and tightly packing the leaves until all the stuffing is used. Try to keep the top layer as even and flat as possible. Cover top layer with remaining dill and mint stems and any extra grape leaves.

Fill the pan with enough water to barely cover the leaves. Pour the lemon juice over all. Weight down the dolmadakia with a heavy plate or a slightly smaller pan partially filled with water. Set the pan on stove and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until rice is tender, about 1 hour.  Allow to cool before removing and carelly pour off the liquid, pressing down on the leaves slightly to extract excess liquid. Chill until completely cool.  Serve with a yogurt mint sauce and garnish with lemon slices.



SOUVLAKIA  (Skewers of meat)

Makes 4 1/2 inch skewers

12 oz lean beef, lamb, pork or chicken

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

2 tsp chopped fresh oregano leaves (or 1/2 tsp dried, but I prefer fresh)

1 bay leaf, crumbled

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

3 whole grain pita breads

olive oil for moistening bread

6 lemon wedges

Cut the meat into 3/4 inch cubes, trim off any fat.  String enough meat on each of the six small skewers to stretch 4 1/4 inches, leaving an inch or two of space at the pointed end of the skewer. If using wooden skewers, make sure you soak them in water for about 1 hour prior to using.

Mix together 1/4 cup oil, the lemon juice, oregano, bay leaf, salt and pepper in a  nonreactive dish that is large enough to hold the skewers. Place the skewers in the marinade and turn to coat. Cover and place in fridge for 1 hour or up to overnight, turning occasionally.

Remove meat from fridge about 1/2-1 hour prior to cooking. When ready to cook, heat a grill to medium high or heat a griddle. Cut each slice of pita into 6 triangles. Place skewers on grill, cook for 2-3 minutes, turn and cook for another 2-3 minutes, taking care not to overcook the meat. While meat is cooking, moisten the pita lightly with oil and place on grill. Toast until brown all around, about 30 seconds per side.

To serve, spear 2-3 pieces of pita on the tip of each skewer. Squeeze the juice from 1 lemon wedge over each skewer.  Place souvlakia on plates and garnish with lemon wedges.  Serve with a nice Greek salad or salad of your choice.

Note: If you like, you can also add some pieces of vegetables on the skewers as well, such as zucchini, peppers and/or eggplant.




Shopping Smart Series: Making the right choices part 3

So far we’ve covered protein and vegetables in our shopping smart series – two of the most important food groups.  What’s left? I can’t count how many times I’ve  encountered fitness people and competitors who are deathly afraid of carbohydrates. They treat this food group as if it’s the devil, and the reason why everyone is fat. When the real reason people are overweight is excess FOOD. Not carbs, fat or protein, just  TOO many calories.

Carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy diet and while we should steer away from white flour, sugar and “fast carbs” (with the exception of right after your workout), whole grains will contribute to a sensible diet. Here are some shopping tips for you:

1) Stick with whole wheat, multi-grain, rye, millet, oat, and cracked wheat when choosing bread, pita, English muffins, crackers, etc.  Pay attention to the sugar content, as this should not exceed 6 g.

2) Although “wheat” bread sounds just as healthy as “whole wheat” bread- the former is merely a blend of white and whole wheat flour. A product that is labeled “whole wheat” must be made from 100% whole wheat flour.


3) Check the label and choose breads with the highest amount of fiber (at least 3 grams if not higher). If you’re looking to save calories, choose reduced calorie bread.

4) Some cereals pack more sugar and salt than you realize. Check the ‘total carbs” versus the “sugars” on the nutrition label to make sure sugar is not the main ingredient.

5) Check the serving size. Some of the denser, heavier cereals only allot a miniscule amount for one serving. Take this into consideration if you’re planning on eating a normal-size bowl.  Double the servings= double the calories!!

6) Don’t forget the hot cereals, my favorite and most healthy of all. Instant or old fashioned oatmeal, grits, cream of rice and cream of wheat fall into this category.  You can sweeten these yourself with stevia or erythritol or fruit.


7) Most cereals are low in fat except granola- so please be mindful of this! Choose cereals with no more than 2g fat/serving.

Pasta is another staple food that most people enjoy.   Complex in carbohydrates, easy to make, tasty and inexpensive, it’s not difficult to see why it’s so popular.  Little goes a long way when it comes to calories though, so be careful here. Always use whole-grain varieties (also good fiber source) unless you eat it right after your training session.


Rice is another excellent source of complex carbohydrates and is usually a staple for many competitors, whether they enjoy the white, brown or wild rice version.


Try some of the less common grains such as barley, buckwheat, bulgur, kasha, millet, polenta, wheat berries, whole-grain couscous and cracked wheat. This is a great way to get some complex carbs and exiting additions to your dinner!

So the moral of this post is: Don’t be afraid of carbohydrates, but know when to use them, how much and what types! Carbs give you energy, fills out your muscles and contributes to a well balanced diet. Enjoy and appreciate this food group as with any other foods:  in  moderation!


Shopping Smart Series: Making the right choices part 2

Last night I was hungry but while I am normally tempted to go for something sweet (make a protein shake w/cocoa powder for instance) I decided to spice up my vegetables and just eat them like a snack. Sure, you must count the calories of vegetables as well, but the beautiful thing about this food group is that you can eat A LOT of them and still consume very few calories! So if you are ever in the mood for a snack, don’t discount vegetables – they don’t have to be just bland and steamed, you can roast them in the oven, which brings out a wonderful sweetness, season liberally with salt and pepper (and yes, I’m not one of those who watch my sodium – in my opinion there are far worse things out there), grill them, puree them, saute them and season them with fresh herbs, and other spices from your pantry.  There are SO many creative ways to cook this food group – if you are willing to do some research and do some experimenting, you will discover a new world! Look at these cool zucchini shoes (ok don’t try this at home! hahaha):


Most fresh vegetables can be judged by their freshness and quality by their appearance. You don’t want any bruising or brownish color /spots and they should feel firm, and not limp.   The best place to buy them is at your local farmer market! Not only will you get the freshest produce, but you’ll also support your hard working farmers helping to keep them in business, as well as limit the carbon footprint from vegetables that have been shipped either across the country or the world… I like to buy my vegetables every 2-3 days, but if you don’t have the time, you can also chop them up and freeze them OR buy pre-packaged frozen veggies too as a last resort. They don’t lose their nutrients this way, but as a chef, I just prefer to work with the freshest ingredients possible 🙂

Here are some other guidelines to shopping for vegetables:

1) Try to buy vegetables that are in season, this is because this is when they are the tastiest and also cheapest!

2) Read the labels if you are buying frozen vegetables to make sure there isn’t a lot of added fat and salt or added ‘sauce’

3) You can also buy the pre-washed, pre-cut bags of salad, carrots and celery, broccoli, etc. to save time. This will typically be more expensive however, as someone has already done the job for you of cutting and washing the veggies! (always wash your veggies when taking them out of a bag regardless, however!)

4) Befriend the produce person in your store, and ask about unfamiliar vegetables, you may learn something you didn’t know and want to try something new to spice up your meals!

Here are some of my favorite vegetables:

1) Artichokes – they provide potassium and folic acid. Look for plump and heavy artichokes, the “scales” outside should be thick, green and fresh looking. Avoid any brown discoloration or moldy growth on the scales. You can steam them and dip them in a low calorie dipping, or puree them for a nice flavorful addition to your meal or add them in pretty much every other savory dish, even can them so you can use in your salads throughout the year.


2) Asparagus – they provide vitamins A, C, D, potassium, iron and folic acid. Look for closed, dense tips with smooth, deep, green spears. Avoid tips that seem to be limp or discolored.  Asparagus is the ultimate “diet” food as they are a natural diuretic and very high in water content.  I used to eat them by the bucket load a year ago, and is a vegetable I (luckily) never tire of – my favorite way to eat them is just to char grill them and season them with salt and a squirt of lemon juice. YUM!! Best in the spring.


3) Broccoli – provides calcium potassium, iron, fiber, vitamins A an C, folic acid and niacin. Look for stalks that are not TOO tough, but firm and dark green in color.  You can also boil the broccoli to make a mash – a great substitute for the otherwise more calorie dense mashed potatoes. I also chop them finely and add into little egg muffins, or saute them with mushrooms in my stir fry.


4) Brussels Sprouts – provides vitamins A and C, potassium, folic acid and fiber.  They should be bright green with tight-fitting outer leaves. Avoid the wilted ones with blemishes.  I slice them finely and add some onion, leeks and scallions and saute them for a flavorful veggie side.  In a restaurant I worked at they used to serve them raw, mixed with a TON of pecorino cheese, SO good but of course watch the cheese here. They also used to deep fry them  – of course I wouldn’t recommend this but honestly – probably better than potato chips if you are ever so inclined! 🙂  Did you know they grow on stalks? This is how you’ll see them at the farmer market:


5) Cauliflower – provides vitamin C, folic acid, potassium and fiber. Look for compact, firm curds. Avoid blemished/brown spotted ones. Again, you can make a delicious cauliflower mash with a bit of parmesan and nutmeg, and you won’t miss those potatoes..At the farmer market you can get them in different colors too and I like to buy them here, just because I believe we eat with our eyes, and gorgeous colorful food taste best!


6) Lettuce – they come in different varieties, butter-head, Romaine, leaf lettuce, arugula, chicory, escarole, etc. They provide lots of good vitamin C and folic acid.  Look for bright color and crisp lettuce, or succulent, tender leaves.  In addition to having them in the token salad, try grilling  romaine lettuce it brings out so much flavor and really adds something special.


7) Mushrooms – provide potassium, niacin and riboflavin. again, here we have a multitude of varieties, you want to avoid mushrooms with wide-open caps and dark, discolored gills. I usually smell the gills, and they should smell earthy and not “fishy” and also not look mushy (sign of old mushrooms). Some of my favorite mushrooms include maitake, morels and oyster mushrooms. I add them in my pasta sauce, in omelets, I make a mushroom spread to put on grilled bread, or simply just lightly grill or saute them as a nice addition to my meal.  I also like to use dried mushrooms, plump them up in hot water, and I use the broth (strain first), in soups and sauces, they add such a rich flavor, it’s my “secret weapon”! 🙂



8) Peppers – provide vitamins A and C, potassium and fiber. You can pick green, yellow, red, purple, orange colors – they shold be firm and not be punctured on the outside.  You can roast these in the oven and they bring out an incredible sweetness, delicious in rice and beans or in your salad, make a roast pepper dip instead of fatty mayonnaise/sour cream based dips, or you can also puree them to make a soup – delicious!


9) Spinach – provides vitamin A, C, calcium, folic acid, potassium and fiber. Look for healthy, fresh, firm leaves with a deep green color.  Personally, I prefer raw spinach (in salads) as opposed to sauteed for some reason – one of my weird kinks. Some people insist more nutrition is had from cooking it – so I do use this sometimes, for instance, I sneak it into my soups and frittatas and other egg dishes, and this way it’s tastier.


10) Squash  – provides vitamins A and C, potassium and fiber and also include several varieties. There are squash like the zucchini and patty pan squash, but also the winter squash like butternut, delicata and acorn squash. The latter are more calorie dense due to their higher carb content, while the summer squash have next to no calories due to their high water content. Add them into your breakfast bread for a low fat zucchini bread for instance (watch the butter/fat). Obviously buy according to the season for best results!


11) Lastly, my absolute favorite: Tomatoes – provides vitamins A and C, and potassium. Here you want well-ripened, smooth tomatoes with a rich, red color (or in the summer, look for those “Ugly” heirloom tomatoes in a variety of colors at the farmer’s market – the tastiest, beefiest tomatoes you have ever tasted, and SO incredibly versatile!). Use them to make tomato sauce or a spicy salsa, grill them, stuff them, add them in salads, on sandwiches or dry them for sun-dried tomatoes to use as a flavorful condiment in many dishes.


I could go on and on – carrots, peas and sweet potatoes are more starchy and I treat them almost like a carb source when I’m prepping for a show, but otherwise I eat them quite liberally.

I hope you have been inspired to go out and get some fresh vegetables this week – search out a new recipe to try out and add them to your favorite protein, for a healthy, well balanced meal! Happy cooking!


An elegant, low calorie dessert for the weekend

The weekend is here, yet again – and for many of us that means time spent with family, hopefully doing something that involves activity either outside or inside, and gathering around the table for a nice dinner at night.  If you are by yourself, it might be the time when you allow yourself a treat, or select Saturday or Sunday to be when you will have your cheat meal of the week.   You may invite people over and want to entertain. Regardless – I thought of a nice, light dessert that won’t blow your diet completely and still impress and use a little bit of wine that you may already have purchased for yourself for Saturday night 🙂

Try it out  – but make sure you do something active today or whenever you are going to enjoy this dessert. Today I don’t have time to go to the gym because I have to travel into the city to teach a wine class, so I pulled out my Insanity CDs and did 45 minutes of cardio conditioning at home – perfect substitution and sometimes your own body weight can be just as challenging as those weights! Enjoy your weekend!


adapted from Eating Well Magazine

Serves 4

4 ripe pears, preferably Bosc, with stems, washed and dried

2 cups Riesling or other fruity white wine

1/4 cup honey

4 cinnamon sticks

4 bay leaves

4 strips orange zest

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Cut a thin slice off the bottom of each pear, so they will stand upright. Arrange the pears in a 9- to 10-inch pie pan or similar baking dish. Whisk wine and honey in a medium bowl until well blended; pour over the pears. Add cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and orange zest to the wine mixture around the pears.

Roast the pears, basting every 15 minutes, until they are wrinkled and tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the type of pear used.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pears to shallow dessert bowls. Pour the wine mixture into a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Boil until slightly thickened, about 6 minutes. Drizzle over the pears and garnish with the cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and orange zest. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled – with low fat ricotta cheese or fromage blanc (similar to creme fraiche but very low in calories.  You may want to spice up the ricotta/fromage blanc cheese with some stevia or lemon zest, cinnamon, etc.

Per serving: 241 calories; 0 g fat ,43 g carbohydrates; 1 g protein




Salmon Red Curry

How has your week been going so far? Gotten those work outs in? Stuck to your diet plan? Even if you haven’t, don’t beat yourself up about it but pick up and start NOW! You can do it by making my delicious salmon curry I’ve given you the recipe for below. Salmon is one of those super foods that gives you those good omega-3 fatty acids, but be mindful to select WILD salmon – and not farm raised salmon – otherwise all those delicious nutrients most likely won’t be there. Omega 3 fatty acids are beneficial not just to provide you the right kind of fat in your diet, but can also prevent blood clots, heart attacks and lowers cholesterol and the total amount of fat in the blood.   While salmon is fattier than most other fish, it’s the kind of fat you want and therefore should be included in your diet (provided you like fish -otherwise make sure you get those fish oil capsules in daily!).  Omega 3s can also relieve arthritis pain, which is good for me since I’ve developed some arthritis in my knees after multiple surgeries.

Today I did arms at the gym – I’ve started giving arms their special day because I want to bring up my biceps and triceps more. I’m supersetting biceps with a tricep exercise and go back and forth with no rest, and I get an insane pump from this. I typically do 4-5 sets of each and go to failure (reps) and today I did about 8 exercises.  I’m already getting stronger and I can see those babies under all the excess fat, which is now starting to slowly come off. All in due time  – but eating my salmon and getting those omega 3 fatty acids in will help me burn fat, as they are known to help in that area as well.

Try this for dinner and spice up your fish – as always, I appreciate feedback and any questions or comments you have about recipes, diet, training or just need a dose of motivation and inspiration!


(about 4 portions)

1 lb salmon filet, diced into 1 1/2 -2 inch cubes

1 red onion, sliced

3 tbsp red curry paste

1 cup light/reduced fat coconut milk

1 tsp soy sauce

1 red chili, finely chopped

4 scallions, sliced thinly

5-6 lime wedges

1/2 bag frozen peas

2-3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro


Add a bit of sunflower oil (or other vegetable oil) in a large saute pan over medium heat, add the salmon and saute for about a minute on each side and remove from pan, and set aside. Add red onion and scallions and saute until soft. Add the curry paste, coconut milk, and soy sauce and let it simmer for a couple of minutes until nice and fragrant.  Add the chili and the lime and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the salmon back into the pan, cook for about 1 minute, then add the peas and cook another minute and you’re all done.  Garnish with cilantro and serve. Make sure the salmon doesn’t over cook – fish cooks fast and you want it to be nice and juicy!


Happy (light) Valentine’s Day!

This day is mostly a Hallmark holiday, a day where we all feel “forced” to do something special; if you are in a relationship you “must” give gifts or do something wonderfully romantic, and if you’re single; well it’s just a day that reminds you of that fact. Regardless, I think this day is a great reminder to remember to practice kindness, show love and appreciation for everyone around you. Not just a romantic partner, but your friends, your family, your co-workers… it’s a positive day!

Today is a day I would definitely drink a glass of bubbly – if nothing else, just because.  Most people also prefer a lighter meal on this day, because let’s face it; nobody wants to feel bloated or ‘fat’ when out on a date or perhaps looking for one! 🙂 So in the spirit of love, I’ve included a couple of recipe ideas for you below on what to cook up for dinner and dessert tonight, either for your better half or yourself! Enjoy the day and hope you spend it doing something nice for YOU, whether it’s going to the gym, getting a massage or just reading a good book!


Adapted from “Mediterranean Light” by Martha Rose Shulman”

Makes 4-6 servings

1 1/2 pounds shrimp in their shells

3 cups water

2 strips lemon zest

2 garlic cloves, crushed

6 peppercrns

handful celery leaves

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

4 additional garlic cloves, minced or put through a press

1 1/2 tsp ground cumin

pinch cayenne pepper

2-3 tbsp chpped cilantro or fresh parsley

lemon wedges for garnish

cooked rice for serving

Peel the shrimp and place the shells in a saucepan with the water, lemon zest, parsley sprigs, 2 garlic cloves, peppercorns and celery leaves. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 45 minutes. Strain and measure out 1 cup of the liquid.

Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed frying pan and add the onion and 4 garlic cloves. Saute over medium-low heat until the onion is tender and beginning to color and add the cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper to taste, and shrimp. Stir together for a minute or so, and pour in the cup of liquid from the shells. Bring to a rapid boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook 4-5  minutes.

Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with the cilantro or parsley, and serve with rice underneath or on the side, and lemon wedges for garnish.

Calories per Serving: 134, 4 g fat, 19g protein, 4g carbohydrates



Adapted from Fitness Magazine

3/4 cup low fat (1%) milk

1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk, at room temperature

For Fresh Berry Medley:

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 of a vanilla bean

1 1/2 cups mixed berries, such as raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries, large berries quartered

Sugar-free substitution: Substitute 5 packets of Truvia for the sugar in the panna cotta. Substitute 3 packets of Truvia for the sugar in the berries.

  1. To make the panna cotta: Pour the milk into a small saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the top. Whisk to combine, then set aside for 3 minutes to soften the gelatin. Whisk in the sugar or stevia.
  2. Place the saucepan over medium heat and whisk frequently until the milk begins to steam and the gelatin dissolves completely. Do not allow the mixture to fully boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool for 15 minutes. Whisk in the buttermilk.
  3. Pour the mixture into four 4-ounce ramekins. Cover with plastic film and refrigerate about 3 hours, until it is set.
  1. To prepare the berries: Just before serving, put the sugar into a bowl large enough to hold the berries. Use a paring knife to slit the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the sugar. Rub the seeds into the sugar with your fingertips. Add the berries and gently mix with a spoon or your hands for about 1 minute, until the berries are well coated and begin to release their juices.
  2. Distribute the berries and their juices evenly over the tops of the panna cottas and serve.

Nutrition facts per serving: 140 calories, 1.5g fat


Super Yummy Roasted Vegetables

Vegetables are heaven sent when you are trying to eat healthy, lose some weight or fill a hungry tummy. Nutrient rich, satisfying and low in calories, they are your “partners” to help you succeed.  I’ve never understood people who choose to drink vegetable juices instead of actually EATING them – the latter much more satisfying, you get that crunch and difference in texture and the benefits of the fiber.  Naturally, you wouldn’t eat 2 lbs of vegetables right before you step on stage or do a photo shoot, because all that fiber will bloat you – but who cares about that on a regular day? It goes away eventually, and your stomach will gradually get used to eating more of these beneficial foods.

My favorite way of preparing vegetables is to roast them.  This is also a perfect method this time of year, during the cold winter months. Roasted root vegetables with a nice piece of chicken or game, some roasted potatoes and I’m good to go.  In the summer, I roast a whole plethora of vegetables  such as zucchini, tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant and onions or to top on my salad for a rataouille (soup), or even throw it on top of a low carb pizza for my cheat meal.


I also roast vegetables to make my own vegetable or chicken stock, as the roasting process produces so much more flavor in the vegetable then boiling or steaming it.  The sweet flavors of the veggies come out, even some earthy notes, throw in some fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary and oregano and a couple of smashed garlic cloves, and you’ve got yourself a gourmet meal right there!


Below is a recipe for delicious side dish you can eat with your protein instead of rice or potatoes.  Try it out – super flavorful and very wintery 🙂


1- 1 1/2 lb delicata squash or other smooth skinned winter squash

1 tbsp pure maple syrup

3 tbsp pomegranate seeds

2 tbsp white or red wine or water

3 tbsp chopped pepitas or sunflower seeds, toasted

1 tbsp chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a roasting pan or half sheet pan with Pam Spray. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Cut the flesh into 1/2 inch dice.  Alternatively, you can roast the halves whole. Spray the squash with a bit of Pam Spray and combine with the maple syrup in a bowl.  Arrange in a single layer in the pan. Roast for about 30 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, combine cranberries and wine and heat for 30 seconds in microwave or in a small saucepan over low heat until soft.

When squash is tender, transfer it to a serving bowl. Add the softened pomegranate seeds,  pepitas and ginger. Toss to mix.  Serve hot.



Image source:


A great workout to do at home plus a reward!

We had a major snow storm overnight in New York, and I got stuck at home today. Besides the obvious great workout of shoveling your driveway – I was inspired to come up with a workout you can do at home – without any special equipment, just using your own body weight. It’s amazing what you can do with some imagination, and I guarantee this will make you sweat! No gym membership required! If you don’t know what an exercise is, google works! 🙂 Work at your own level  if it’s too hard, do what you can and if it’s too easy, add more reps/sets… it’s about pushing yourself, you’ll be glad you did!!


Warm up:

2 min Jump rope (if you don’t have one just mimic the movement by swinging wrists and jumping)

Circuit 1 – do all of these exercise without stopping:

20 Burpees

30 Crunches

Mountain Climbers 1 min

Tricep dips x 20 (using two chairs)

Pop Squats 1 min

60 seconds rest before you do it all over again. Repeat 4 x times

Circuit 2

Jump Rope 1 min

Lateral skater jumps 1 min

Plank 1 min

Jumping alternating lunges (20 each leg)

Push ups x 20

60 seconds rest, repeat circuit 4 x times

Circuit 3

Jumping Jacks 1 min

Squats  x 25 (either with body weight or with weights if you have at home)

Reverse crunch /sit ups x 25

Close grip push ups (triceps) x 15

Glute bridge x 25

60 second rest after one run through, then repeat circuit 4 x times

Finish strong with 100 Jumping Jacks or if you have space in your house, 100 walking lunges!

And now you’ve deserved a treat – a gooey chocolate fondant like cupcake which gives you about 235 calories, 35g of protein, 18g of carbs and 3.5g of fat. Perfect for after your workout!

One serving:

2 egg whites

1 tbsp Fat Free Greek yogurt (Fage is my favorite brand)

2 tbsp unsweetened apple sauce

1 tbsp powdered skim milk

1 rounded scoop Chocolate Protein Powder (I love Gaspari’s MyoFusion)

1 tbsp cocoa powder

1 pkt stevia

Blend everything in a food processor or blender,  pour into a muffin tin and bake at 230F for about 10 minutes. The center should be moist and gooey like this :



Light and flavorful comfort food for Super Bowl Sunday

Superbowl Sunday is coming up and a lot of us will be at parties where the junk food will be flowing. While I’m certainly not one of those fitness freaks who insist you bring your celery and hummus dip to the party, I think you can come up with alternatives to greasy, processed food so I wanted to share a recipe for a healthy Beef & Bean Chile Verde. Delicious and lighter than the original version, it will satisfy and still let you enjoy the wonderful flavors of this dish! Try it out – the recipe serves four and is only about 309 calories per serving with 8g fat, 29g carbohydrates and 27g protein!


1 lb 93% lean ground beef

1 large red bell pepper, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

6 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tbsp chili powder

2 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 16 oz jar green salsa/salsa verde (I like the Herdez brand)

1/4 cup water

1 15-oz can pinto or kidney beans, rinsed

Cook beef, bell pepper and onion in a large saucepan over medium heat, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon until the meat is browned, about 6-8 min. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin and cayenne; cook until fragrant about 20 seconds. Stir in salsa and water, bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover an cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, 10-15 min. Stir in beans and cook until heated through, about 1 min.

You can sprinkle some fat free/reduced fat feta cheese or even better, the Mexican cotija cheeese on top, which is relatively low in fat (about 30 cal per 1 tbsp w/1g fat) but provides a lot of flavor. Garnish with a couple of slices of avocado and a dollop of fat free sour cream.

Who’s deprived now??!  🙂





Variety in diet = recipe for success!

“Any diet that’s based on denying yourself the foods you really, really like is going to be temporary.” – Brian Wansink

Truer words were never spoken. The more I study up about nutrition and test out various “diets” myself, the more I see that the only way you are going to be comfortably fit your entire life, is to welcome ALL foods into your life. Instead of completely cutting them out,  consume them in moderation or in limited quantities, or find healthier alternatives that will be good substitutes. I am of course not recommending and advertising that you go out and get one of those bloomed onions at Outback (see how little I know about fast food, I don’t even know the proper word) or deep fried snicker bars and eat them on a regular basis. I’m talking more about the stupid rules that exist that says “don’t eat carbs after 4” and “carrots are too high in sugar, I’m not allowed to eat them”, “no white potatoes, only sweet potatoes” and so forth.  The only truth that exists if you are trying to lose weight is you need to be in a caloric deficit. Sure, you could eat all of your 1,800 calories in one meal if you wanted to, but is that going to optimize everybody’s goals? Of course not.  It all depends on what your mission is. I’m not necessarily speaking literally to people who are trying to gain muscle, prepare for a show or develop a healthier lifestyle. But technically, yes – as long as you eat less than your maintenance level calories, you will lose weight, it’s just plain physics (or was it biology? LOL).


It all boils down to finding a lifestyle you can live with.  I’ve seen too many competitors completely fall apart after their show, because they’ve been deprived for so long. Hey, I’m even guilty of it myself, when I ate tilapia and asparagus 6 x a day for about 2-3 weeks before my show, no cheat days, and worked myself to the bone at the gym. Result? I became sluggish afterwards, not energetic going into the gym and basically wanted to eat everything under the sun. I think everyone has to go through their own experiences and personally find out what works for them. Every person is different, every body reacts differently, but  at the end of the day: what is the point of life? Isn’t it to feel healthy, energized and happy? To feel better about ourselves after a work out, to feel satisfied after a meal? I myself couldn’t find much joy in eating cold fish out of tupperware and just “get the meal over with”. Of course, at the end of my prep, I was so hungry that a dry, unseasoned chicken breast for breakfast sounded delicious. How sad. While prepping for a show certainly doesn’t mean you can live in a lap of pizza and ice cream, I also don’t think it’s necessary to eliminate salt, eat bland food and the same thing every DAMN DAY. I refuse! This time, I’m prepping more sanely, and thus I will need more time to get ready, but that is ok!


Eating this way (my way), requires planning ahead, getting familiar with smaller portions and what they look like, and being able to be creative and also willing and open to trying new things.  I also work out really hard – I don’t waste time in the gym, I don’t sit around, chat with people or check my emails, I WORK. I’m usually in the gym about 1 – 1 1/2 hours (includes some cardio) and I try to use my time wisely. It’s about intensity, not quantity. I believe this helps me burn off more calories and allows me to eat a bit more lenient.  The mind wants what it “can’t” have. I clearly recall when I ate what I wanted last year, and nothing sounded exciting to me. I didn’t crave chocolate, pizza, ice cream (all my favorites), nothing! That’s when I knew I had to tighten up my diet. I have accepted that I am not going to look “ripped” 365 days a year. If fitness was the only thing I cared about in this world, and did not have an intense passion for everything food and wine, I could probably have a six pack year round. But.. my life is different- and dare I say: more versatile, less monotonous than that. I’ve always taken pride in that I take interest in multiple things, life is too short not to explore!!

My biggest thing is cutting out wine, since I work as a wine educator and consultant. There’s no denying I gain weight when I drink regularly (everyone will), but it’s also unrealistic to tell myself that I will never drink again. I enjoy wine, I love the business of wine, traveling to vineyards, attending seminars and tastings, and hanging out with my wine geek friends. I’m not going to change it, but I’m going to be selective about the number of times I socialize, choose to drink wine and what wines I drink.  More expensive wines are better, but also means I will drink less often LOL :).  This month I haven’t had any alcohol at all, which was a conscious decision because I honestly needed to detox after the holidays. My weight has gone down and I feel much better. Again – sad, but true!  So going forward, I’ll allow myself a drink or two once a week (on cheat day) until I’m about a month out for my show.  It will be interesting to see how my body will react and change to this new regimen, but it’s the only way I can combine my love for fitness and food.  One girl who does it very successfully is Kristine Weber – she is a National Body Fitness Champion in Norway and has a gorgeous figure, but is very versatile in the kitchen and eats dessert every night! Unfortunately her blog is in Norwegian, but hopefully she will consider adding an English version soon.  Below is a page of her upcoming cookbook:


Point of this entire article is: Live your life, enjoy it and you CAN have both! There is no need to torture yourself, unless you of course really enjoy that! But I do believe there will be metabolic damage as a result, putting your body through rigorous, restrictive diets over a long period of time. I want to keep my body healthy, lean and cooperative for a very long time! Hence I’m trying this new way. I promise to keep you updated on how I’m doing. So far so good – I’m leaning out and I’m feeling strong!
With that – I leave you with a great recipe for a chicken and rice soup. It’s FLU SEASON, it’s freezing outside (Well at least where I am) and this gives you all the nutrients you need: protein, good carbs, minimal fat and lots of flavor!


Serves 6 (1 1/2 cups each)

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 medium carrots, diced

1 medium onion, dice

1 stalk celery, diced

7 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 cup instant brown rice

12  oz boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed and cut into 3/4 inch pieces

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 tsp cider vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add carrots, onion an celery and cook, stirring until beginning to soften, 3-5 minutes.  Add broth and bring to a boil. Add rice, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add chicken and peas and gently simmer until the chicken is just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Stir in parsley, vinegar, salt and pepper.



(recipe adapted from Eating Well)