‘Nutella’ Protein Shake

Nutella will always be one of my vices. I have demolished jars of it in one sitting and back in my first ever ‘prep diet’ Nutella topped oatmeal formed the basis of my refeeds. Chocolate and hazelnuts are just a winning combination, which is why I was delighted to experiment making a ‘Nutella’ protein shake. This contains none of the sugar that real Nutella does but if you like chocolate and hazelnuts, you will like this. The thick, creamy mix of freshly roasted hazelnuts combined with raw cacao powder will have your kitchen smelling delicious and it is especially delicious when paired with a cup of freshly poured coffee.

Macros: 249kcal; 29g protein, 8g carbs, 9g fat

Ingredients 

  • 1 scoop chocolate whey (I used Dymatize double fudge brownie whey isolate)
  • 5g cacao powder (or cocoa powder)
  • 15g hazelnuts (I used raw hazelnuts and roasted them in the oven at 350f for 20 minutes, but this is up to you and your preferences/time restrictions. If you do have time, I do recommend freshly roasting them as it really adds to the flavor and your kitchen will smell incredible!)
  • 170ml unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • (Optional: 30ml calorie free chocolate/hazelnut syrup/few drops of chocolate Stevia)
  • Handful of ice

Method

  1. Add a handful of ice to your Nutribullet or blender.
  2. Measure out your almond milk and liquid sweetener (if using).
  3. Add in the dry ingredients.
  4. Pour water into your blender up until the ‘maximum’ line.
  5. Blend until smooth.

    -Benchpressingbaubles, x

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    Carrot Cake Protein Smoothie

    If you don’t like carrot cake, then, well…. who doesn’t like carrot cake?! Definitely my favorite cake due to the moist sponge, abundance of spices and textures and not let’s not forget the cream cheese frosting! Although this recipe doesn’t replicate the frosting aspect of carrot cake, it does contain the flavours and is easy to whip up at any time of the day! I drink more smoothies on the weekend, but smoothies are the perfect grab and go breakfast and this will definitely satisfy any sweet tooth!

    Macros: 234kcal; 33g protein, 18g carbs, 3g fat

    Ingredients

    • 3/4 scoop vanilla whey (I used Dymatize vanilla whey isolate)
    • 1/2 scoop cinnamon/snickerdoodle whey (I used PeScience snickerdoodle whey blend)
    • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
    • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
    • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
    • 150ml unsweetened vanilla almond milk
    • 200ml carrot juice (I have tried this recipe with shredded carrots and it will result in you almost having to bite through your smoothie)
    • Handful of ice
    • (Optional: 15g raisins. This will make it sweeter and have a slightly thicker texture and will add approximately 45kcal and 12g carbs to your smoothie)

    Method

    1. Add a few cubes of ice to a Nutribullet/blender. (I always do this first to avoid splashing the other ingredients everywhere!)
    2. Measure out the almond milk and carrot juice into the blender.
    3. Add the dry ingredients.
    4. Top up to the line on your blender with water.
    5. Blend until smooth.

    -Benchpressingbaubles, x

    Being ‘Fitspo’ led to my disordered eating

    I was brought up on predominantly freshly cooked, homemade meals and freshly baked cakes and desserts. My Mum used to hand make and decorate mine and my siblings’ birthday cakes and we were often greeted in the morning with freshly baked muffins. In the evening, most of our meals were made from scratch, with only a small minority coming from ‘bang on a plate’ meals. 

    From a very young age, I was exposed to an extremely wide variety of foods. One of my Mum’s favorite memories to recap is grocery shopping with me (aged 2) and asking me what I wanted for lunch. I responsed by saying ‘smoked salmon or taramasalata’ (a Greek dip made from cod’s roe). Needless to say, passers by found it very amusing that I had such a sophisticated pallete! I was always allowed to eat until I didn’t want anymore and had some nasty nappy rash from consuming 7 satsumas in one go! My favorite packed lunch was a vegetable and wild rice salad and an Orange Club biscuit (not homemade, but those of you who grew up in the nineties in the U.K. can relate I’m sure!) Other than ensuring my food was as freshly prepared and as varied as possible, the only aspect of my diet my parents were strict about was sugar consumption (and not because of the carbohydrate content, but because it is not good for your teeth). Fruit juices were diluted and I didn’t have any candy until I was six or seven years old! In fact, my first packet of candy is one of my most vivid childhood memories! My parents were shopping for a car and bought myself and my siblings a packet of Fruit Pastilles each from a vending machine to keep us entertained! Neeedless to say, I treasured those sweets!

    So growing up, I had a very healthy diet and a healthy relationship with food. I was, however, concerned and aware about my weight from a very young age. My brother was hospitalized from food poisoning when I was about six. When I was visiting him, I weighed myself on a scale at the hospital and was dismayed that I was more than five stone. I didn’t know what it meant, nor did I have anything to compare it to, but I think seeing the arrow go past the ‘5’ mark bothered me. It didn’t affect my relationship with food, but I was always aware from then on that I had much thicker legs than most of my friends.

    During my teenage years, I learnt how to properly cook. I studied food technology (and loved it) and lived by myself from aged 15. I have always been very independent but became more self-sufficient when catering for myself. It was then that I began meal prepping in a very simple form, often cooking a pasta bake for my weekday meals or a chilli and freezing portions. At school, I became more aware of calories and naively opted for a wholemeal bread roll, apple and apple juice for my lunch as I thought it was ‘healthy’. I would then be ravenous come 3.45pm so would devour a chocolate bar (or two) on the bus journey home. 

    By the time I started university, I was a big time party girl. I often woke up at 2pm, drank a lot of alcohol multiple times per week and devoured chips (fries), cheese and mayonnaise at 3am. Aside from these habits, I often cooked with my housemates, who had also been brought up on freshly made meals. Our house favorite was fajitas, but we cooked a whole host of meals and had great fun doing so! I put on quite a bit of weight from my drinking and late night eating habits and was very conscious of the fact that both my housemates were a lot slimmer than me, even though I didn’t do anything about my weight at this point. In fact, it wasn’t until a drunken agreement to do a half marathon that I really pursued any exercise at all. Anyone who knows me knows how stubborn and determined I am, so, not wanting to break this commitment, I began running. I lost a few pounds and definitely became fitter, but I also really enjoyed it. I ended up doing three half marathons! Ever since my initial run, fitness has been a part of my life, but it is also since then that my relationship with food has been turbulent.

    Gyms where I lived in the U.K. were few and far between, so when posters started popping up advertising the opening of a new low cost gym, conveniently located in the center of the city, it became hard to ignore the advertising. My boyfriend at the time already went to a gym and was really excited about this new, low cost, no frills gym opening. I was in two minds about joining, but in the end, I gave him my credit card and instructed him to sign me up! I knew that I needed someone else to commit to joining on my behalf otherwise it would forever remain an open tab on my Internet browser (so guilty of that!) My introduction to the gym was a Friday night circuits class with a very friendly and enthusiastic trainer (who I later hired as my personal trainer for the whole rest of the time I lived in the U.K.). I really enjoyed the experience and started going to multiple classes each week. I initially lost some weight, but then I began to plateau. I had heard a lot about meal replacement shakes so decided to pursue that avenue to help.

    After a month of using two meal replacement shakes every day, I had lost about six pounds and was noticeably leaner. I really wanted abs (to be honest, that was all I really wanted) and was told the only way to get abs was to switch to the gluten free versions of the shakes. Not only did these taste disgusting, but they also didn’t give me abs. I gave up the shakes and rebounded. I found myself craving sugar (the meal replacement shakes, although high in protein were also high in sugar). My boyfriend had gotten a lot more interested in nutrition and exercise and read/researched a lot of information. I only understood snippets of what he told me and sort of ‘piggybacked’ on principles like carb cycling and cheat meals, without having the same level of knowledge as him. Frustrated at the lack of progress, I began following a meal plan. At this point, I was thought of as being ‘into fitness’. 

    I meal prepped every weekend, but without any sense of portions, not weighing any of my food unless I was baking a cake! I stuck to my diet plan and began utilizing ‘cheat meals’ at the weekend. These cheat meals were nothing crazy, normally a pizza and some chocolate, or something similar. I didn’t see any weight changes on the scale, but there was no doubt that I was getting stronger and I loved lifting weights. The relationship with my boyfriend ended and I moved into a house with two people I didn’t know.

    When I moved in, I was instantly associated with being really into the gym; my protein powders occupied the space on top of the fridge, I went to the gym multiple times per week and spent most of my time away from work in workout clothes. My cupboards and space in the fridge were always full and I meal prepped religiously every week. This was probably around the same time that protein infused nut butters really started taking off and I would go to my favorite supplement shop to stock up on these treats (and the occasional protein bar too). I didn’t really look at the nutritional information, I was just of the opinion that the label says it is high protein, so it is healthy to eat. I often demolished half a jar of nut butter in one go, thinking this was a healthy quick snack, not realizing I had probably consumed about 800kcal. I was guilty of ‘piggybacking’ on what I had heard other people were doing, and, instead of having the knowledge (or portion control) of these people, would think that eating an entire box of granola advertised as being high in protein was a nutritious, healthy option. Being single, I cooked on my own and was always referred to as being healthy. Any time I went to eat something like a cookie, someone would make a comment in shock, something like ‘you aren’t going to eat that are you?’ Or ‘Nia is eating chocolate, what is that about!’ These comments made me put whatever ‘naughty’ food it was back. It was at this point that I started eating biscuits and cookies in private, either in my car or my bedroom. 

    My job became more stressful and I worked all hours. The gym was a welcome relief, but on rest days I struggled. I used to take Thursday off the gym, and after one particularly stressful day, I went to the nearest Tesco to buy a chocolate bar for the journey home. I was so indecisive about which particular chocolate bar I fancied, that the intent of purchasing one chocolate bar turned into two chocolate bars, hummus and crisps. The following week, I repeated my grocery shop visit and this time my haul was a bit more. A few weeks later, this habit had turned bi-weekly and my haul had turned into a feast fit for a child’s birthday party. A typical shop would be; a tub of Ben and Jerrys, a jar of Nutella, 2 packs of freshly baked large cookies (10 in total), hummus, crisps and a couple of cakes. By the time I got home, the cookies would have been eaten and I would run up to my room to finish the feast. I wouldn’t stop until it had all been eaten and then would forcibly make myself sick. The following morning, I would weigh myself and end up being distraught, limiting myself to egg whites and Pepsi Max all day. This habit became chronic and I didn’t tell a soul. I worried what people would think, after all I had the identity of someone who was ‘into fitness’. I also refused to acknowledge it was a problem and pushed it to the back of my mind. During this time, I began dating someone from Florida.

    I moved to Florida and moved in with my parents. My boyfriend and I began preparing for a fitness photoshoot and I was put on a strict meal plan. Not wanting to fail, I stuck to it religiously so my binge eating subsided. My boyfriend was already lean and so adopted more of an intuitive eating approach. My meal plan and my adherence to it, became a sore subject in our relationship. He became frustrated at the lack of freedom and started making negative comments about my appearance. He insisted on eating extravagant meals out, where I was forbidden from choosing what to order myself. Due to the expense of the meals, I was always expected to pay him back sexually, and any resistance on my part resulted in blazing rows and comments that I made him feel worthless. By the time our photoshoot happened, the relationship was extremely toxic and it ended. Unfortunately, so did my adherence to any sort of meal plan. I was hurting emotionally from the break up, struggling to adjust to a new country and hating my job. I also didn’t realize how much emotional baggage I had from that last relationship. My binge eating started again, hoarding and hiding food in my room and eating it in the bathroom with my shower and fan on to mask the sound of wrappers. I was so miserable that the binge eating was the last of my worries. 

    After a couple of frank discussions with my Mum about my misery, I decided to make an effort to be happy and sought nutritional help from someone else. They gave me a workout and strict diet plan. The new workout plan motivated me and the diet plan initially excited me as the calories were a lot higher than my final dieting calories. The ‘clean’ approach got to me and the programmed Saturday cheat meal worried me. I started reading a lot for myself and longed to be utilizing an ‘IIFYM’ (if it fits your macros) approach but was worried about leaving my coach. I decided to calculate the calories, protein, carbohydrates and fats from the plan I was given and experiment. I gave myself two weeks, I told myself that if I put on weight then I would go back to ‘eating clean’. Two weeks went by and my weight was actually dropping. I didn’t have the urge to binge and my arbitrary cheat meals weren’t used. Several months went by and my calories were increased to a very healthy 2200. 

    During this time, I had become really interested in podcasts and started listening to New York Muscle Radio, among others. I loved the frank and honest approach and downloaded all episodes and binge listened over a week or two. When they announced they were looking for athletes, I applied. It is only since working with Pete and Anthony that my relationship with food has become as good as it is now. They evened my cycled calories, told me that all the supplements I was taking were unnecessary and took away all the rules. Fundamentally, they made everything much more simple. My previous coach had done a great job on getting my calories that high, but she really hadn’t helped my relationship with food. Over the past seven months, I have learnt an awful lot and have come a very long way. People still make comments that they are surprised I eat carbs or cookies, but now those comments don’t phase me. I am labeled as ‘into fitness’ more than ever and I am totally okay with that. I still eat Nutella, just it is weighed out instead of demolishing a jar in one sitting. For me, controlling the portions of what goes into my mouth has helped me become less obsessive about my weight and to be able to live each day without negative thoughts of food taking over. I am not perfect though. I avoid eating out where possible. Most of the time, people choose places where the food isn’t great, but also eating out and eating food prepared by someone else haunts me. It brings me back to a very dark place of my life and I don’t know that I am ready to address that yet. 

    I know the comments made from people about me eating biscuits or cookies were partially in humor and partially in surprise, but they really affected my attitude towards food. From there on, it was a slippery slope and I abused food in times of stress and desperation. The very notion of being labeled ‘fitspo’ was the very thing that made me the furthest from inspiring.

    -Benchpressingbaubles, x

    Blueberry Muffin Protein Smoothie

    Sunshine makes me want smoothies. They are refreshing and always seem somewhat more indulgent than a regular drink. Most smoothies in restaurants are laden with additional sugar, instead of embracing the natural fructose from fruit. I have been craving anything blueberry muffin flavored since my Mum started burning this blueberry waffle cone candle from Bath and Bodyworks, so this protein packed smoothie satisfied my tastebuds that had been teased by that delicious smell!

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    Macros: 278kcal; 29g protein, 28g carbs, 5g fat

    Ingredients

    • 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (approximately 250ml)
    • 1 scoop vanilla whey (approximately 30g; I used Dymatize whey isolate)
    • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1 tsp cinnamon
    • 100g fresh/frozen blueberries
    • 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
    • 20g oats/oat flour/instant oatmeal (I used Ready Brek)
    • Handful of ice
    • Water

    Method

    1. Add a handful of ice cubes to a Nutribullet/blender.
    2. Measure out all your ingredients into your Nutribullet and add water until you reach the ‘maximum’ line.
    3. Blend until thoroughly mixed.

    -Benchpressingbaubles, x

    Deloading; My First Experience (From the perspective of someone who has previously trained for aesthetics rather than strength)

    Deloading is something that powerlifters are incredibly familiar with, but for those of us who have come at fitness from a different angle, it is a wholly unfamiliar territory. Working out at a gym where several people compete in powerlifting competitions, I had both heard the term and seen it practiced before I experienced it myself and I can’t say it was ever something I wished was in my program before!

    But, what is a deload? A deload is a deliberate and programmed reduction in training volume and/or intensity. Its purpose is to enable you to recover from intense previous workouts and improve your future training sessions. Deload weeks in powerlifting training typically end with a ‘test’ on your compound lifts, whether this be a new one rep max attempt or a set where you get as many reps as you can at a percentage of your one rep max. Either test gives you a number for you to gauge your progress from your previous training block and to establish a new baseline for your next training block. 

    Despite this all sounding great, I was very apprehensive to have a deload, mainly because I am used to (and enjoy!) pushing myself to my limits every time I enter the gym. It is not in my nature to ‘go through the motions’ in any aspect of my life; I either give it everything or I don’t bother. I also couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I would gain lots of weight from drastically reducing my time and intensity during the gym. 

    So, post deload how did I fare?

    My first day of my deload, I felt very lost in the gym. I was extremely hesitant to workout (especially as it was a Monday at around 6.30pm, one of the busiest gym times of the week!) I didn’t want people to judge me occupying a squat rack to move minimal weight for a few reps. Looking back now, this was a bit of a ridiculous thing to feel! I don’t go into the gym judging women (or men) who aren’t squatting much more than the bar. In fact, when I spot a new face in the squat rack, I get weirdly excited! I either assume it is someone who is new to lifting and get excited because I hope they develop the same passion for lifting as me, or I assume they are an athlete of some sort (the gym I am a member of is a bit fancy!) and get excited because I know they will, directly or indirectly, motivate me! Despite this, I still did feel very cautious about approaching Monday’s workout and made my warm up far longer than I normally would to delay me squatting! My workout didn’t take me as long as usual, so I decided to spend about fifteen minutes stretching and foam rolling. Recovery and mobility are aspects of my training I severely neglect, and, mid-Monday foam roll, I decided to fully embrace the deload and make these the forefront of my training for the week. Altering my mindset and approach to my deload helped tremendously. Instead of being nervous and cautious, I actually embraced the week. To be honest, I almost forgot that this concept was novel to me and went on with my week as usual. When I entered the gym on Tuesday, I approached the session entirely differently and had come to terms with the fact that recovery is just as important as progressively overloading my workouts every time.

    This particular deload ended with me doing AMRAP (as many reps as possible) with 75% of my progressed 1 rep max on my compound lifts. I got between 8 and 14 reps on my squat, bench and deadlift and felt both energized and ‘fresh’ when doing so. I rarely start a gym session without some sort of muscle soreness (those people who say that after a while of working out you don’t get sore just doesn’t seem to apply to me…I am always sore!) so it was an unusually empowering feeling to feel so rested! 

    Post workout of doing my AMRAP sets, I probably actually felt more sore than from a usual workout. I had a 60 minute massage after my final workout for the week and the masseuse said that my traps, back and glutes were substantially tighter than most people’s. To put this into perspective though, I hadn’t had a massage in about two months and most people that get a massage do not lift weights six days a week. 

    Aside from feeling like a gym phony, my other main concern was my weight. Right at the start of my deload, my calories were actually increased by 27kcal a day. Doesn’t sound like much, but, over a week, equates to 189kcal. I was convinced that my calories would actually decrease with a lower output, not increase! 

    I started the week weighing 117lbs (53.1kg) and ended the week weighing 116.6lbs (52.9kg). This has really shown me that calorie expenditure is comprised of how you spend your day as a whole, rather than your workout dictating your calorie burn. I have a sedentary job, but I use my lunch break to walk laps and get outside and I ensure I get up from my desk at least once per hour. I always volunteer for any office task that needs completing too, as it typically involves moving around. Over the past year, I have become a lot more aware of my NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis), I.e. My activity levels outside the gym, and I make a conscious daily effort to ensure I get a substantial amount of steps in.

    So why have I written this blogpost? When I was dreading the start of my deload, I was frantically searching for anyone’s personal experience of it. I wanted some reassurance that I wasn’t alone in having my concerns and also some reassurance that it would be okay. So, my final thoughts to you on this are, that it will be okay – better than okay – you will learn a lot from it and you will feel so much more energized at the end! You will not suddenly balloon and you do not need to cut calories. My best advice – embrace it, and make recovery and mobility your priorities for the week.

    -Benchpressingbaubles, x

    Cajun Cod and Dirty Rice

    Cajun food is extremely popular in southern states – I typically associate it with Louisiana. Living in the south, cajun flavours and restaurants are fairly common. There is an abundance of spice in cajun cuisine, but also a lot of fat due to the high butter content. I rarely use any fat in my cooking methods because I think it is both useless if you have a good non-stick pan and I also don’t like the texture. This recipe excludes the butter, but definitely does not exclude any flavour! It is easy to prepare and cook and I don’t think that anyone would miss the butter! If you would like more of a seal on the fish, then I recommend adding a couple of tablespoons of corn starch to your seasoning. Catfish is often used in cajun cooking too, but is far less readily available than cod and I also don’t like the flavour of catfish very much. But, if you want to be truly authentic, I would substitute the cod for catfish. Enjoy!

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    Macros per portion (based on 5 servings): 265kcal: 28g protein; 35g carbs; 0.5g fat

    Ingredients

    For the fish

    • 1.25 – 1.5lbs fresh or frozen cod (I used Trader Joes frozen Alaskan cod pieces)
    • 2 tsp smoked paprika
    • 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp garlic powder
    • 1/2 tsp onion powder
    • 1/2 tsp dried parsley
    • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper

    For the rice

    • 200g long grain rice
    • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
    • 1/2 tsp onion powder
    • 1 tsp smoked paprika
    • 1/2 tsp turmeric
    • 1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
    • 1 tsp crushed red pepper

    Method

    *If you are using frozen fish, make sure it is thoroughly defrosted prior to use.

    1. On a large dinner plate, measure out the spices needed for the fish. Combine well to ensure each of the spices are evenly dispersed.
    2. In a small bowl, measure out and combine the spices needed for the rice.
    3. Cook the long grain rice according to packet instructions.
    4. While the rice is cooking, place the fish on the seasoned plate and ensure both sides of the cod are covered in the seasoning.
    5. Place a large non-stick pan over a high heat and add the fish when the pan is hot enough. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the fish for approximately 5 minutes per side. When the fish is cooked through, turn off the heat. (You may want to keep flipping the fish to ensure it doesn’t stick and that it doesn’t get over-cooked).
    6. Once the rice is cooked, add the spices from the bowl and stir well.
    7. Serve immediately – or portion out for a weekly lunch! I have teamed mine this week with steamed haricot verts and sliced fresh red bell pepper.

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    -Benchpressingbaubles, x

     

     

     

    Sweet and Sour Chicken with Udon Noodles

    I typically associate Chinese food with being greasy take-outs with inconsistent quality (often resulting in stomach aches and regret the day after!) I love the flavor of sweet and sour chicken, but rarely eat it because of this. Most supermarket sauces, for me, are overly sweet and processed – this recipe is low calorie and SO much more delicious. It would work perfectly for an evening family meal as well as for a lunchtime weekly meal prep. I don’t recommend you eating this cold though, so if you haven’t got access to a microwave at work, save it for the evening!

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    Macros per portion (based on 6 servings): 331kcal; 27g protein, 48g carbs, 2g fat

    Ingredients

    • 1.2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
    • 3 single serve packets sweetener
    • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
    • 1/2 tsp onion powder
    • Pinch of salt and pepper
    • 2 tbsp reduced salt and sugar ketchup
    • 1 tbsp cornstarch + 2 tbsp cold water
    • 4 tbsp cornstarch
    • 2 tbsp coconut aminos
    • 2 red bell peppers, chopped
    • 21 oz Udon noodles
    • 36 oz broccoli
    • 10oz water chestnuts

    Method

    1. Add sweetener, vinegar, coconut aminos, garlic powder, salt, pepper, onion powder and ketchup to a small pan. Stir and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer.
    2. In a small bowl, add the 1tbsp cornstarch to the 2tbsp cold water and stir thoroughly until the cornstarch has dissolved. Add to the saucepan and stir continuously until the sauce has thickened. Reduce the heat further and stir every couple of minutes to ensure the cornstarch doesn’t ‘clump’.
    3. Slice the chicken breast into small pieces and transfer to a large bowl. Add the 4tbsp cornstarch to the bowl and, with a large spoon, ensure each piece of the chicken is thoroughly coated.
    4. Place a medium non-stick pan over a high heat. Add the chicken only when the pan is hot enough that it ‘sizzles’ when it touches the pan. Cook the chicken over a high heat, flipping continuously to ensure it is cooked through and does not burn. Once cooked through, reduce the heat.
    5. Add the water chestnuts to the pan with the chicken and then add the sauce. Meanwhile, steam the broccoli and heat the Udon noodles. (I kept the peppers, broccoli and noodles separate from the chicken, but you can add these to the pan with the chicken if you want all the ingredients incorporated).
    6. Serve hot!

    -Benchpressingbaubles, x