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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Frico

Cheese lace or frico is simply baked shredded cheese.  Almost four years ago today, I shared how I make cheese lace bowls.  These delicious edible bowls are an ideal presentation for salad.  Frico can be shaped into simple rounds for a low calorie, no carb crunchy snack or the frico can be crumbled to sprinkle on top of salads and vegetables.  They can also be used as a garnish.  Frico are very easy to make!

weighing shredded cheese for frico
I made a batch of frico for snacking.  Since I was calculating the nutritional value, I weighed 15 g (about 2 tbsp) of the shredded cheese for each frico.  It was important to weigh the unbaked cheese to determine the nutritional value in the finished frico.  I placed each weighed portion of the shredded cheese on a Silpat lined baking sheet in a small mound that I spread into a circle about 2½ - inch diameter leaving space around each for spreading.  I had a total of six prepared cheese circles.  I baked the frico at 350°F until golden brown, just crisping on the edges.

Any shredded cheese can be used to make frico.  Don't worry about mixing the kinds of cheese either.  It is a great way to use up those little bits of left-over cheese.  You can add extra flavour by sprinkling the shredded cheese with seasoning salt or dried herbs of choice.  If you want a little extra crunch, sprinkle a little chia seed on top.  If you want to form the frico into bowls, double the amount of shredded cheese and spread to about 5 - inch diameter.  Form the bowl as soon as the frico is taken from the oven while still warm.

baked frico
As the frico bakes, you will notice oil being released.  The oil will pool around the frico and on top.  It is a bit had to see in the picture but the shiny liquid around the edges of the frico is oil.  This is not a lot but this does reduce the amount of fat in the finished frico which in turn reduces the caloric value.  It is important to allow the frico to drain on paper towel to absorb as much oil as possible.  This ensures the frico are crisp and crunchy. 

Once the frico has been cooled and drained, carefully place them in an airtight storage container.  The frico will be brittle to be careful not to break if you want them for snacks or garnish.  You can crush and store that way as well.

weighing baked frico
I weighed each finished frico.  They were 9 g each so baking resulted in a 6 g weight loss.  Part of this weight loss was oil, effectively lowering the caloric value but part was water.  The 9 g frico has a nutritional val of 33 calories, 0 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat, 2 g protein, 53 mg sodium and 0 g fibre.  The nutritional value will vary slightly depending on the cheese used but not a lot.

Frico are crunchy, tasty snacks that will satisfy your cravings for a salty, crunch snack.  They are surprisingly filling too.  They are the perfect snack for those eating low carb and unlike many snacks have a bit of protein.  Frico are a healthy snack that is sure to please!


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sweetie Pie Smoothie

I recently posted about my new Ninja blender bought specifically to make smoothies.  Smoothies are an ideal way to use protein powder for an after work-out recovery beverage.  The main problem with smoothies is it is very easy to create a high calorie, high carb beverage that is a tasty way to boost your energy level but not help with muscle recovery.  A high carb beverage has a low satiety level as well meaning that in comparison to a high protein beverage, you will be hungry much quicker.  A good protein smoothie will aid in muscle recovery while keeping you feeling full for about three hours so you won't be turning to other high calorie snack foods.

baked sweet potatoes
I've learned several ways to keep the calories low in smoothies.  For example, unsweetened almond milk provides nutrition that water does not but is only 35 calories per 250 ml serving so I use that as a base rather than milk.  Fruits can quickly raise the caloric value and carb content of smoothies so the simplest way to avoid this is limit the amount of fruit used.  Banana is a common fruit in smoothies but I have found avocado gives a smoother, creamier result for less calories, lower carbs and it provides healthy fats.   Peanut butter adds flavour and protein but is high in calories.  Substituting peanut flour keeps the flavour and protein but reduces the calories.

A few days ago, I was looking through the refrigerator for smoothie ingredients.  The left-over baked sweet potatoes caught my eye and quickly became the base flavour for my newest smoothie creation.  Sweet potatoes are a nutritional powerhouse rich in beta carotene.  Their natural sweetness is perfect is breads, muffins and other baked goods so I always bake extra.  Baking the sweet potatoes causes the sugars to caramelize giving a rich, deep flavour.

sweetie pie smoothie
I like to keep my protein smoothies to a protein:carb ratio of 1:1 to 2:1 with less than 10 g sugar per 100 calories.  Many add yogurt to their fruit smoothies but Greek yogurt is a better choice because it is three times higher in protein than regular yogurt.  However, the secret ingredient in this smoothie is 2% MF cottage cheese.  It is lower in carbs and higher in protein than Greek yogurt.  Cottage cheese gives the smoothie an incredibly smooth and creamy texture. 

The Sweetie Pie Smoothie is currently my favourite smoothie.  The flavour echos that of sweet potato pie topped with whipped cream.  It is rich, creamy and delightfully delicious!   

Sweetie Pie Smoothie
recipe by:  Garden Gnome

250 ml (1 c) Silk unsweetened almond milk
39 g (1 scoop) Body Fortress 100% Premium Whey protein powder, vanilla creme
50 g (1/4 c) 2% MF cottage cheese
50 g (1/4 c) cooked sweet potato
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Measure ingredients into blender pitcher.  Blend until smooth.

Yield: 16 oz

Nutritional value:  273 calories, 23 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 33 g protein, 402 mg sodium, 4 g fibre


Monday, April 14, 2014

Almond Crusted Stuffed Chicken Breast

I recently wrote about a few alternative flours that I am experimenting with.  Flours like almond, black bean, and rice make it possible to make gluten free baked goods.  Some are suitable for making baked goods that meet the requirements of a Paleo or Primal diet.  However, you don't need to be eating a special diet to enjoy the benefits alternative flours offer.  They add a whole new dimension in creative cooking allowing you to bring a little pizazz to your family favourites,

almond crusted stuffed chicken
There is just something comforting about stuffed chicken breasts.  They are easy to make yet tasty and filling.  Stuffed chicken breasts are quite economical as well.  They can be lightly seasoned and uncoated or coated with seasoned flour or bread crumbs.  I used unblanched almond flour to make almond crusted stuffed chicken breasts.

Almond flour adds a light, nutty flavoured crust to the stuffed chicken breasts.   The almond flour browns nicely.  It adds a little extra protein as well.  These delicious bundles of yummy delight are sure to please!

Method:  Pound out boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  Place a single layer of washed spinach leaves over top of each prepared chicken breast.  Place sliced or shredded cheese on top of the spinach.  Carefully roll the chicken breast jelly roll style.  Secure with wooden toothpick if desired.  Place the prepared stuffed chicken breast into a bowl of almond flour.  Pat the almond flour around the chicken breast to coat evenly.   Place the coated chicken breast onto a Silpat or parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Bake at 350°F until golden brown and cooked through, about 40 minutes.


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Ninja Professional Blender and Raspberry Coconut Smoothie

I had to admit that when I started my fitness journey over a year ago that I really had little appreciation for smoothies.  Sure, I had made them before but not very often.  It is possible to pack a lot of calories into a smoothie and if the focus is on fruit, a lot of carbohydrates as well.  As I worked my way up to a daily high calorie burn routine, smoothies became an appealing way to incorporate a high protein recovery meal.  They are an economical, easy to prepare post-exercise meal that can be tailored to individual needs.  I tend to boost the protein on the days I have a high exercise calorie burn but on the weekends when I take a break from the higher burns, I don't worry about boosting the protein.  I also pay attention to the carbohydrates content adjusting based on activity.

Ninja Professional Blender
A blender is necessary to make smoothies.  While a regular blender works fine for the occasional blender, a heavy duty blender performs better for regular use.  There are specialized smoothie blenders (eg. Magic Bullet) but I have not seen good reviews on them.  At the same time, I didn't want to pay $600 for a Vitamix, the king of the blenders.  I simply wanted a heavy duty blender that would stand up to fairly regular use making smoothies.

Canadian Tire had a good sale on small kitchen appliances.  The Ninja Professional was reduced to $79.99.  This is a no frills, heavy duty blender that had good reviews so I bought one.

Ninja blender compared to Osterizer blender
I've had the Osterizer blender for a number of years.  It is a 425 W, 8 speed blender with a glass pitcher.  The base fits a mason jar and a separate smaller blending jar that I use quite often for sauces and dressings.  This is not a feature available on most newer blenders so my Osterizer will not be going anywhere any time soon.

The Ninja is a 1,000 W blender with three settings - on, pulse and off.  It has a heavy 72 oz plastic blender.  The size is impressive, definitely larger and heavier than the Osterizer.  The lid has a locking feature that must be activated for the blender to work.  A mason jar cannot be used on the Ninja base.

comparing blender blades
The Osterizer blade sits in the black screw on base.  A rubber gasket sits on the blade then the assembled unit is screwed onto the pitcher.  The design of the Osterizer The Ninja blade has a completely different design than the Osterizer.  It is a one piece unit with three sets of curved blades that sits on a post in the pitcher.  A pin at the top centres the blade unit when the lid is locked on to the pitcher.  The design of the Ninja blade reduces the need to stop the blender to redistribute food for smooth blending.  It is designed to efficiently crush ice, The Ninja is reputed to blend ingredients smoother than any other blender.  I certain will be putting this blender through the paces!

raspberry coconut smoothie
Protein shakes made with water, milk or nut milk and protein powder are great by themselves.  They are the perfect base for smoothies.  My morning smoothies start with a base of protein powder and almond milk.  This gives a base calorie value of 165 to 195 depending on which protein powder I use.  I like to boost the protein content and nutritional value.  I made a tasty raspberry coconut smoothie inspired by a cookie recipe to test out the Ninja.  The carbs are a bit higher than I would like so will adjust to reduce that but overall I'm pleased with the taste.

The Ninja gives a thicker, frothier texture to the smoothie which is quite appealing.  It is nice and thick, similar to a milkshake without adding a thickener or crushed ice.  The volume was increased as well.  This is a definite improvement over the Osterizer.  The Osterizer makes a nice smoothie especially using unfrozen ingredients, ice or harder fruit but it is a thinner consistency than a smoothie made in the Ninja. 

Raspberry Coconut Smoothie
recipe by:  Garden Gnome

1 c Silk unsweetened almond milk
1/4 c (100 g) Greek yogurt, 0% MF, vanilla
1 scoop (33 g) Vega Sport Performance protein powder, vanilla
15 (50 g) raspberries

Measure ingredients into blender.  Blend until smooth.  Serve.

Yield: 500 ml (16 oz)

Nutritional value: 322 calories, 30 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat, 38 g protein, 452 mg sodium, 6 g fibre