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A review of the 12 Week Body Transformation program! Get FIT!

>> Sunday, May 20, 2012

Okay, so this post is not entirely food related, but I think this deserves a spot on this blog because of the importance of the message. Get fit, gel healthy, get active!

91/365 Crane Series (Missed) [Explored FP]

Photo by jaaanet ♫

 Over the past 12 weeks, I have been following a fitness and nutrition program called 12 week body transformation (12WBT) by celebrity fitness instructor Michelle Bridges (She’s of Australian Big Brother Biggest Loser fame). Coming to the program, I had very little expectation of what it could do for me. Or rather, I had little of belief that I could endure the whole regime. I was at the lower end of my health, battling with hormone balance problems, which was driving me absolutely insane. I did not want to depend on medicine. I wanted to change my lifestyle to battle these things but was scared to take the steps.

Those self-doubt thoughts were dealt with even before the program started. 12WBT had pre-season tasks, where participants were supposed to come personal and honest with themselves, identifying excuses that held us back. “Too tired to workout”, “No time to prepare food”… Sound familiar?

Those pre-season tasks were valuable for me to set my head straight and went through the program. It was not entirely a smooth sailing. The program was tough. There was a calorie limit (1200 calories for girls); exercising was required 5 days a week; there was a lot of cooking and preparing. Sometimes I was so tired, I wanted to quit. But then, I came back to those pre-seasoned tasks, reminding myself of why I wanted to fight and what my goals were. It was like reading a letter I wrote for my future self. Those words brought me back.

I have come to love all of it. The morning exercise, the fresh and healthy food, the pain in my body after a hard and long workout. I have cleared my time to exercise most days. I’ve lost a considerable amount of weight, and felt a whole lot better. My journey still continues, and I am back for another round of 12WBT.

 Some asked me about the programs. And here are a quick snapshot, and my thoughts.

12WBT Snap Shots

  • Participants start and finish the challenge together. There are a few pre-seasoned tasks which focus on goal setting and motivation.
  • For 12 weeks, each week there are new nutrition program and workout program. There are varieties for different fitness level (beginner to Advanced Lean and Strong. Even a train for marathon one!). 
  • The nutrition program builds around 1200 calories limit a day (more for guys and pregnant/breastfeeding women). Food are nice, fresh and healthy. A lot of cooking is required, although the recipes are very simple.
  •  Workout is "intense" with 5 sessions a week, with a nice mixture of cardio and strength training. The Saturday one is a SUPER SATURDAY SESSION, which often lasts 1 hour with a fitness/circuit challenge. 
  • There are weekly "mindset" videos from Michelle Bridges herself, which are motivational and informative.
  • Supports are available via forums with the crew and fabulous members!
Classic lunch dish - warm potato salad...
Simple and healthy potato and egg salad

What I have learned and liked from 12WBT
  • I knew what good food should be like, but not the entire story. Good nutrition is essential and I learned a lot about it and my body via the program. Like, no, making a healthier cake does not mean that you are making a healthy choice. It is still TREAT FOOD! 
  • Cooking creatively within the good nutrition framework is really fun. I don't blog about the healthy recipes often enough. But I will! 
  • Portion control!!!! 
  • "You are a lot stronger than you think" - this is truth. Put your mind into it and you can. I was unable to run, now I can jog and start running short intervals. I am getting somewhere!
  • There are no quick fixes, but building good habits take time and efforts.
  • 12WBTers on Facebook and the forums are the most supportive bunch
  • Integrity - no up selling of protein powder, fitness equipments etc. There are cross promotional activities, but they are done in a nice and "fair" way. I am so sick of empty promises that a lot of other diets/fitness programs offer. This is real, and I like Michelle's frankness. 
12WBT cons
  • It is not cheap. A real additional cost if you have already paid for gym membership. I mostly work out at home coz I can't make it to the gym early enough before work. I spent quite a bit on good video workouts AND some hand weights, yoga matt. 
  • Food cost per week is quite expensive for a lot of family... That is if your pantry is full of "crap" food. I did not have a lot of problems here, coz most of the ingredients the program uses I already have (olive oil, quinoa, grains, beans etc.). I actually save a lot of $$$ by planning the menu for the week and bringing my own lunch to work.
  • Commitment - to cook and stick to the program. Hard if you are truly time poor...
  • The meals do not always appeal to your family - Yeap. My family will NEVER eat salad for dinner. I can. So it's a fine balancing act. I swapped out meals with other comparable recipes, reading Michelle's philosophy of food and stick to those principles, 80% of the time. This is where the food knowledge of being a food bloggers do come in place.
  • A little guidance is given on eating out - I think the focus is really on "getting to the kitchen and get cooking". But I am often at loss when I eat out (which is a lot these days). So I try to eat light on days I am out, and stick to the calories intake on any other days.
Final Thoughts
I am back for another round, because I still need the support to get my head straight and I still have a lot of fitness goals to achieve... I hope this post will benefit those who are interested in getting that balance of healthy - fitness - and enjoying LIFE.

I still have far to go, but after losing more than 10% of my body weights and can work out everyday without hesitation, I think I will get there :).

And no, I am not affiliated with 12WBT in anyway. I have been and am still on the program as a full fee paying member. :)


Crème Caramel. Another childhood favourite

>> Thursday, May 10, 2012

Crème caramel

I grew up in a world without cakes, pastries. Can you imagine that? But the reality was that when I was growing up, our country was poor. Supplies were extremely limited. Powdered milk and Milo was precious back then. We did not have any fancy American brands. Instead we had a lot of Russian products! I remember the "teddy bear" and "motherhood" milk powder and chocolate drink! Cake and pastries were not in my radar until I was 11 or 12.

My sweet world was limited to fruits from my grandparents' trees (not that I complained about it), occasional ice popsicles in the Hanoi Old Quarter. Every day after a light but nutritious breakfast, mom always offered me with two options: yoghurt or crème caramel as snack. That was the part I most looked forward to! Yes, we learned them from the French, but the Vietnamese make absolutely delicious crème caramel and yoghurt. The serves were really tiny yet full of flavours. No low-fat yoghurt or custard please. A little fully flavoured sweet treats went a long way.

It may be strange, but my to-go crème caramel recipe is from Australian chef Neil Perry. It produces light and smooth custard which is not overly creamy, sugary or heavy. I've had a lot of fun experimenting with flavours though – from the common vanilla to orange blossom and rose water. Gotta love them all. And yes, I will be writing up a post on home-made Vietnamese yoghurt. Soon. Promise!

Crème caramel

Crème Caramel 

In Vietnam, crème caramel is steamed on the stove because households do not have access to oven. I prefer bake them in a water bath in the oven. It's easier to control temperature that way. I've used the pudding bottles here. Traditionally, crème caramel is cooked and cooled in small dariole moulds, then inverted onto serving plates. Based on a Neil Perry's recipe.

Ingredients (for 6-8 smallish pudding bottles, around 1/4cup capacity)

 500ml full-cream milk
 50g caster sugar 1 tsp vanilla paste, or 1 tsp orange blossom water/rose water
 3 egg yolks
 3 eggs

 Caramel 100g caster sugar, 60ml water

 1. Heat the milk to warm, add sugar (50g) and stir to dissolve. Cool completely. For the caramel, bring the sugar and water to a gentle simmer, stirring briefly to dissolve the sugar. Do not stir once it’s simmering. Watch the sugar and water carefully, and simmer only until it starts turning a deep caramel colour. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour equal amounts of the caramel into the moulds/pudding bottles. Hold the moulds at the top of the rim and swirl to coat the moulds halfway up their sides with the caramel. Set aside.
2. Preheat the oven to 190°C. Lightly mix the eggs, yolks and vanilla (or other flavouring) in a bowl. Strain the milk mixture into the egg mixture, slowly whisking. Strain again and pour into the prepared moulds.
3. Lay a tea-towel on the bottom of a roasting tin. Place the moulds inside the tin and fill the tin with hot water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the moulds. Cover the tin with foil and place in the centre of the oven to cook for around 30 minutes, or until set (the time will vary according to the oven and the size of the moulds).
4. Allow to cool, then store in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.


Hokkien mee, our 'Singaporean' way

>> Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Singaporean Hokkien Mee

Food memories are something so precious. Perhaps one of the most beautiful aspects of food blogging for me is to be able to read about food memories from many blogger friends. And sharing mine to the world, too. But food memories aren't always from the past. They always evolve, and as time passes, we are creating more and more of those meaningful memories.

 When we are in the kitchen together, my MIL often tells me about her past in Singapore. Her father used to own a fruit store where tropical fruits were always available. Everyday, he would use the overripe bananas to make fried kueh (banana fried pancake). For her, to this day, it's still the most delicious snack.

She told me too, about the hawker store just downstairs from her old flat. They were very famous for Hokkien mee, a kind of stir-fry noodles with seafood, prawn stock and pork pieces. She loved it, but was unable to enjoy often since the family was poor with a lot of mouths to feed...

After marriage, my MIL often improvised classic Chinese dishes to suit her new family, substituting away pork meat. Of course, one of the dishes she cooked often was Hokkien Mee. Then I came along (:P) and learned it from her, tweaking it from time to time. Just like that, our family version of Singaporean Hokkien mee was born.

 Our version is full of flavors from the homemade prawn stock and fresh seafood. We like to have this with this particular brand of prawn chilli sambal, which gives a nice addictive kick.

Prawn chilli oil

 Making Hokkien mee feels a lot like making risotto. Warm stock is laddled into the noodle mixture, and let them cook slowly (minimum stirring!) The end result is a soft, thick soupy noodle dish. Perfect!

Singaporean Hokkien Mee

Singaporean Hokkien Mee
Based on my MIL's memories and various recipes

Ingredients (for 6-8 serves)

1kg fresh prawns
 300g calamari, cleaned and cut into thin pieces
 2 chicken carcases
 1 onion, peeled
1 tablespoon black peppercorns

 500g Hokkien noodles
200g dried vermicelli
 200g bean sprouts
4 tablespoons light flavoured oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
 4 eggs
2 tablespoons good quality fish sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
 2 spring onions or garlic chives, finely chopped

 To serve: lime quarters and Prawn Chilli Sambal

1. First off, clean the prawns – peel them and de-vein.
2. Put the prawn shell and head + chicken bones into a big saucepan. Drop in the onion, peppercorns and a good pinch of salt. Pour in some water (around 7-8 cups). Bring to the boil then simmer for 30-40 minutes. Pass through a sieve and the liquid is your prawn stock.
3.Briefly soak the dried vermicelli in cold water for 8-10 minutes, then drain well.
4.Warm up the prawn stock. Using a strainer with large handle, quickly blanch the prawn and calamari. Avoid overcooking! Keep the prawn stock warm.
5. Boil another pot of water and quickly blanch the bean sprouts. Set aside.
6. Beat the egg with a bit of salt and pepper.
 7.Now, the real action! Heat up oil in a large wok, and then quickly fry the garlic until fragrant. Pour in the beaten egg, wait until it barely sets then stir briefly (scramble egg!). Next, put in the noodles and using high heat, sear them. You will have to stir them from time to time. Ladle in 1 cup of warm prawn stock, fry until the stock is almost dry. Then ladle in another cup of stock. Check the "doness" of your noodles. Once they are nearly done, add in the cooked prawn, squid, sprouts, chopped spring onion and seasoning. Adjust seasoning to your taste.
 8.The final dish should not be dry, but still have thick soupy texture. Serve with a squeeze of lime juice, and lots of chilli prawn sambal.

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