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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

For Your Information

Please watch this area for important information like updates, food recalls, polls, contests, coupons, and freebies.
  • [January 15, 2016] - It's National Soup Month so this month's posts will focus on soups. Yum!
  • [February 1, 2016] - An interesting report on why you should always choose organic tea verses non-organic: Toxic Tea (pdf format)
  • Sticky Post - Warning: 4ever Recap reusable canning lids. The reports are growing daily of these lids losing their seal during storage. Some have lost their entire season's worth of canning to these seal failures!

Popular Posts

Friday, December 19, 2014

2014 Top Blogger Award

My goodness! I was pleasantly surprised to open my email a couple of days ago to find notification from that my blog had reached their Top 100 Recipes for 2014.  This has been a very challenging year for me that has resulted in significantly decreased blogging so I certainly was not expecting such acknowledgement.  Thank-you for this honour!

My recipe that made it onto the Top 100 Recipes for 2014 was White Castle Burgers Copycat Recipe.  This recipe is a sure winner for curbing those craving the delicious White Castle SlydersTM.  I hope you enjoy this great recipe.  I had a lot of fun cloning it!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Crab Cakes for Two

Crab is such a lovely seafood - sweet, tender, low calorie, high protein and delicious with hot drawn butter!  I absolutely love crab, specifically king crab legs.  I am rather picky about crab preferring fresh or frozen to canned.  Canned crab is fine for crabmeat dip but that is about the extent of our use for it.  I will often bring home a few crab legs from a restaurant meal when possible but for most purposes, we buy froze king crab legs from Elite Gourmet Food Service that delivers to the door in southern Ontario.

favourite crab cakes
I thoroughly enjoy sitting down to a plate of king crab legs, leisurely savouring each succulent morsel.  My husband, on the other hand does not enjoy cracking crab legs!  In order to use crab meat as an ingredient, the legs must be cracked open releasing the tender, sweet meat.  This is not a difficult task but it is a bit time consuming.

I bring water to a boil in a roasting pan then add the frozen crab legs.  Most of the leg pieces have the larger knuckle where it was attached to the body of the crab.  I crack the cooked crab legs according to their segments, pulling connective tissue to help release the meat.  I also use a thin tipped fork to help release the meat and kitchen shears to open segment portions that refuse to crack open.  Once all the crab legs have been cleaned, I break the larger chunks up depending on how they will be used.

Crab cakes are a delightfully tasty way to use fresh or frozen crab meat.  Like many homemade favourites, there are as many ways to make them as there are cooks.  The big debate appears to be which is best, baked or pan fried.  Baking reduces or eliminates the butter for cooking but at the same time removes the flavour the butter imparts to the crab cakes.  We prefer pan fried crab cakes.  They are easy to make, a tender and tasty seafood main or make them smaller for an appetizer.  Our recipe gives a yield of four crab cakes just perfect for two.  We like Breton crackers for this purpose but you can substitute with your favourite cracker. 

Crab Cakes for Two
recipe by: Garden Gnome

½ c Breton Bites, original whole wheat, crushed
1 egg
4 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
3 tbsp Miracle Whip (or Miracle Whip Clone)
1 tsp garlic pepper
1 tbsp finely chopped green onion
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley (optional)
8 oz (226 g) crab meat pieces
1 tbsp butter

Whisk egg, lemon juice, Miracle Whip and garlic pepper together.  Stir in crab meat and green onions.  Gently mix being careful not to break up crab meat.  Mix in crackers.  Divide into four equal portions (mixture will be stickly).  Heat butter on medium heat.  Place each crab mixture portion in heated butter and flatten.  Fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes each side.  Remove from fry pan.  Drain and serve.

Makes 4 patties
Serves 2

Nutritional Value per serving:
298 calories, 14 g total fat (7g saturated fat), 177 mg cholesterol, 726 mg sodium, 468 mg potassium, 19 g total carbohydrates (2 g fibre, 4 g sugar), 25 g protein

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Successful Canning Run (Beans)

I have affectionately named this year the Land of Not!  Seriously, it has been nothing but chaos which means a lot of the things I normally do are not being done, including blogging.  Some years are just like that but honestly, I need things back to normal.  Aside of mint and gooseberries, my garden is non-existant and I doubt there will be much in the way from the peach and pear trees.  I realized the year quickly slipping away leaving me little time to get my canning done before we head south.  So, I went to my favourite organic grower last Thursday to pick up beans for fresh eating and canning. 

fresh beans washed for prep
Green and wax beans are one of my favourite vegetables to can.  By far, the best canning bean with respect to flavour and texture is Blue Lake but any string bean can be canned, especially the heirloom favourite Kentucky Wonder.  Ask for these varieties if buying.  Both grow easily and are suitable for small spaces growing vertically.  It's best to remove the string for some varieties as it can become hard when canned resulting in a less than ideal end product.

Quite often someone will ask how many pounds of beans to buy for canning.  I generally aim to buy enough beans to run a full canner load of 19 - 500 ml (pint) jars.  I prefer this size for beans because we use the entire jar in a meal with no left overs.  One and a half to two pounds of beans gives a yield of about 1L (quart) or 2 - 500 ml (pint) jars according to Putting Food By (1975).  Ball Blue Book estimates 1½ to 2½ lb beans per 1L (quart) jar.  Pictured are the beans I bought, 3 lb wax beans and 8 3/4 lb green beans.  Based on the estimated yield, I should have had a yield of about 16 - 500 ml jars. 

twenty seven jars of beans
I ended up with a yield of 7 - 500 ml jars of wax beans and 20 - 500 ml jars of green beans, well over the predicted yield.  This is one reason why I always prepare extra jars because the actual yield is seldom the same as the predicted yield.  Another reason is, I very seldom buy produce by the pound or kilogram.  Rather, the organic growers I buy from sell by the basket full or by the unit and it is quite common for them the add an extra or two for me as a thank-you.  This time I did pay $32 for the beans but they gave me three large slicing tomatoes and three field cucumbers at no charge!  The organic growers are generally close to or even a bit lower in price than the grocery store.  I should have waited as fresh beans went on sale in the grocery stores for the long weekend so the organic grower would have lowered the price as well!

Another common question is whether I save money canning beans.  The answer is yes but the amount of savings is dependent on whether I grow the beans myself or buy then.  In this case, I had a yield of 27 - 500 ml jars which is the equivalent to 34 - 398 ml cans of commercially canned beans.  The cost worked out to $1.18 per 500 ml jar which is equal to 94¢ per 398 ml can.  Even with paying the higher price for the organic beans buying them when I did, I still realized a savings!  More importantly, I have a higher quality product in my pantry.

How do you calculate how many jar of beans to can?  This is actually quite easy simply by analyzing our eating patterns.  We eat beans as a side at least once a week which works out to 52 - 500 ml jars.  We are away almost 16 weeks of the year so at bare minimum I need to can 36 - 500 ml jars.  I plan on canning at least another canner load of beans this week.  If I were canning home grown beans as I normally do, I would can whatever we didn't eat fresh, freeze or give away even if over the amount needed for the year.  This ensures a steady supply that compensates for years such as this where I can less than the normal amount.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Bernardin's New BPA-Free Canning Lids

This has been the first year in many, many, many years that my home canning in down.  Despite that, I am always on the look-out for home canning products.  One of the recent food contaminants concerns has been BPA (Bisphenol-A), an additive found in many plastics.  Most of the exposure to BPA is dietary through plastic food containers and the lining in metal cans.  The general work around is to avoid using plastics entirely and if not possible use BPA-free plastics.  Home canners, however were forced to use BPA lined single use canning lids unless they used glass inserts or Tattler reusable canning lids.  [Please note the warning against using the 4ever Recap canning lids as they have an extremely high seal failure rate during storage.] 

Bernardin BPA-free canning lids
One of the reasons I do a lot of home canning is to avoid food contaminates like BPA.  The fact that the metal single use snap canning lids contained BPA has bothered me ever since I made that discovery.  As a result I have been in the process of switching to glass inserts and Tattlers.  However, only gaskets for the Gem jars are currently available which limits how many of my inserts can be used and switching to Tattlers is expensive when doing large scale canning.  Despite the additional initial cost, Tattlers really are the frugal choice but only if you going to do enough canning that they will be reused to justify the added expense.  Glass inserts and Tattlers are too expensive to be used on home canned foods that will be given as gifts.

I recently discovered Bernardin BPA-free canning lids at Dollarama.  Dollarama is currently the cheapest source for the single use canning lids.  A couple of years ago a package of 12 cost $1 but now they are $1.50, still almost half the cost of other retailers. A lost cost BPA-free canning lid is definitely a welcomed addition in the home canning world!

Visually there is very little difference between the BPA-free lids and those containing BPA.  In comparison to the older gold colour Bernardin lids, the underside is whiter than the newer silver lids.  The newer lids with BPA are very slightly mottled while the BPA-free lids look smoother.  Other than that, you can't really tell the difference.  You can however, have peace of mind that you are not contaminating your food with BPA.

I currently have a stash of 36 boxes of snap lids in three sizes (standard, widemouth, Gem).  As I use those boxes I am replacing with the BPA-free lids.  In general, food does not come into contact with the plastic coating when foods are properly processed in a boiling water bath canner.  Food will come into contact with the plastic coating when foods are pressure canned.  It is imperative to follow the instructions with the lids as the prep has changed.  The plastisol sealant on the new lids (with or without BPA) has changed so there is no longer a need to boil or heat the lids before processing.  Simply place them on the prepared jars and continue with the sealing process. 

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Welcome to Aruba - One Happy Island!

view from our condo balcony in Aruba
Our View From Our Condo Balcony
Costa Linda Beach Resort, Aruba
May 17, 2014

Aruba is an amazing island to visit!  It is one of the friendliest and safest islands in the Caribbean.  The average temperature is 82ºF with trade winds keeping the humidity at bay.  My husband and now former friends first visited Aruba in May of 2012.  We very much enjoyed our visit so when the owner of the condo offered to sell it to us, we accepted buying it between the two couples.  Quite frankly I was against the purchase but decided to go along with it because it made good financial sense.  Unlike a time share that has a set ending causing the value to decrease, the units at Costa Linda Beach Resort are deeded with no ending date so the value will increase.  Essentially we own that unit for one week each year until such time we decide to sell.  If we don't go one year, we can always rent our unit out.  It is an ideal way of making a tidy profit.  This year it was apparent that we were incompatible for shared ownership so we are in the process of buying out the other couple.  The paperwork was on its way to us before we left Florida!  Aside of that bit of conflict, my husband and I had an amazing time in Aruba!

Our trips to Aruba are very much a vacation in that we have housekeeping services so there is no time wasted opening up or preparing for possible tenants like there is with our vacation home.  There's no laundry or maintenance aside of clearing after any meals we make.  While the kitchen is fully equipped for cooking, the kitchen equipment in minimal.  I suppose cooking is not a high priority when you have only a week to enjoy such a beautiful island.   Surprisingly, I forgot to take pictures of the kitchen in the condo that was renovated in 2013.  It is now sporting new cabinets and a granite counter top with expanded space.  I'll be sure to take pictures next year!

There are a couple of grocery stores nearby so one of our first stops was for groceries.  We generally eat breakfast and lunch in the condo then eat out for dinner.  I was up every morning just before 7 AM to do a quiet, brisk 30 minute walk then hit the gym before heading up to share breakfast on the balcony with my husband.  Just look at that view!  It is total eye candy! 

After breakfast we went down to lounge around the pool.  Our usual spot was under the canopy to the far upper right just where beyond where the person in the white shirt is standing.  My husband would take a dip in the ocean then do water aerobics at 11 AM, island time.  Everyone is on island time so the 11 AM was just a suggestion.  After water aerobics he slips across the beach for a dip in the ocean before settling in to people watch and relax. 

The largest peak to the back of the rounded peak is an enclosed restaurant Water's Edge North 12º N that replaces the former Turtle's Nest.  The larger peak on the right side is the restaurant's bar and casual, open seating area.  There is drink and meal service right to the lounges with three happy hours and live entertainment.  The many iguanas and birds are always on the lookout for any food that happens to drop to the ground.  It's a relaxing, pleasant way to spend much of the day!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps at Ohana's Restaurant in Disney's Polynesian Resort

Ohana's restaurant in Disney's Polynesian Resort quickly became one of our favourite eateries when at our vacation home.  This restaurant is famous for it's grilled meats prepared over an oak fire served from long skewers, churrascaria style as well as their delicious Ohana Bread Pudding à la mode with Bananas-Caramel Sauce!  The atmosphere is simply delightful.  Reservations are a must and are six months out so we have already booked for our fall visit!

Ohana's has changed their menu slightly.  Grilled chicken skews are no longer available, the salad dressing has been changed from honey lime to passion fruit vinaigrette, and the stir fried vegetables have been updated to include more vegetables, less broccoli and no garlic sauce.  The atmosphere and quality of food remains above average.

The dinner began with Ohana Pineapple-Coconut Bread Mixed Greens Salad with Lilikoi Dressing (passion fruit vinaigrette with chunks of passion fruit and mandarin oranges).  Pork Dumplings tossed in Garlic-Ginger Sauce Honey and Coriander Chicken Wings appetizers are followed by skewers of Sweet-n-Sour Pork Loin served with Peanut and Sweet-n-Sour Sauces,  Szechuan Sirloin Steak served with Peanut and Sweet-n-Sour Sauces , and Spicy Grilled Peel-n-Eat Shrimp accompanied with noodles, tossed in a Teriyaki Sauce with Fresh Vegetables and Stir-fried Vegetables.   Ohana Bread Pudding à la mode with Bananas-Caramel Sauce finishes off the delicious meal.

I was intrigued with the vegetarian lettuce wraps.  This low calorie dish is a must make at home.  The spicy  filling consisted of edamame, bean sprouts, mushrooms, shredded carrot and sauce.  Unfortunately there is no mention of the wraps on the website for Ohana's dinner menu.  They may be a new menu offering in the testing stage.  According to reviews, the wraps replace the grilled chicken which may or may not be the case.  At any rate, I am going to experiment to create a similar filling for lettuce wraps.  These will be a nice change from salad!

If you go to Ohana's the Ohana Bread Pudding à la mode with Bananas-Caramel Sauce is a must!  Even if you are counting calories, factor in enough wiggle room to enjoy a bit of this absolutely heavenly dessert.  The ice cream has flecks of vanilla bean giving a decadent flavour that pairs nicely with the bread pudding.  The warm banana-caramel sauce tops this dessert nicely.  Delicious! 

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Steak and Zucchini Stir Fry

The first part of the May trip at our vacation home is quite the adjustment as we are coming off of a four month schedule of up at 3:30 AM and into be by 8 PM.  Suddenly we are thrust back into somewhat normal hours without any time to get used to the change.  We generally spend the first few days of our trip rather low keyed and relaxed.  The second day of any of our Florida vacations is always grilled steak.  The Publix there has a nice meat counter so we buy a couple of extra thick cut steaks.  There is always enough steak left over for snacking and another meal!

steak and zucchini stir fry
Zucchini melody is one of our all time family favourites!  This simple dish consists of sautéed zucchini, mushrooms and onions.  Not only is zucchini melody tasty by itself, it can be quickly converted to a full meal stir fry as I did with the left over steak.

Basic Method:  Heat about a teaspoon of olive oil and a little butter in a non-stick fry pan.  Add the onions and cook until translucent.  Add the mushrooms and continue cooking until onions start to caramelize.  Add the zucchini pieces. Cook, stirring often until zucchini is tender.  Remove from heat and serve.

For the steak and zucchini stir fry modification, I added fresh green beans with the zucchini.  Once the vegetables were tender, I stirred in slices of left over steak cooking just to warm through.  The result was a delicious, quick to prepare stir fry to enjoy on the lanai while chatting about our plans for the rest of our vacation. The following day we would be picking up my husband's sister and her son.  They would be staying with us for four days so we were excited about the days to come. 

Monday, June 02, 2014

Tex Mex Salad at the Clubhouse

Yesterday, I wrote about my May hiatus.  We left home in beautiful but still quite cold Ontario in the early evening of May 6 to stay overnight at a motel close to the airport for an early morning flight with our final destination being our vacation home in sunny Florida.  It seemed like such a short time ago that we had arrived home!  Really we had only been home four and a half months but it had been through the brunt of a rather nasty, cold winter that refused to relinquish its grip.  Like many northerners, we were anxious to enjoy a bit of warmth and sunshine.  And so our spring vacation started...

tex mex salad at the clubhouse
Travel days are always quite exhausting even if they go smoothly.   They tend to be high calorie expenditure but low caloric intake aka we are very active but don't eat much.  We finally have flying south down to a routine where we stay overnight leaving on an early flight which puts us in Florida around 2 PM.  We stop for groceries then head to the house.  After opening up the house, unpacking, and putting groceries away we head to the pool for a quick swim.  Feeling refreshed, we head back to the house to change then back down to the clubhouse for dinner.

Our clubhouse is a lovely spot to meet up with friends we haven't seen since our last trip.  The food is nothing spectacular but it is decent.  As homeowners there we do try to support it by eating there at least a couple of times each trip.  We ordered an appetizer, Tex Mex salad and drinks. 

The Tex Mex salad was huge!  We shared the salad that was served in a large bowl.  The salad consists of chopped tomato and chicken on a bed of iceberg lettuce topped with shredded cheddar cheese and Fritos corn chips then drizzled with ranch dressing.  It was quite tasty and filling!  The corn chips were something a bit different that added a nice crunch.  There really wasn't a lot of dressing on the salad even though it looks like there is.  I would guess at about 2 - 3 tbsp (about 150 to 200 calories).  Despite the dressing, the salad was on the healthy side.  When I make this salad at home, I plan to kick it up a notch by adding arugula, substituting Monteray Jack cheese for the cheddar and use grilled boneless, skinless chicken breast. 

Sunday, June 01, 2014

End of May Hiatus

I have been blogging since 2006 and as many of my readers have come to expect, have written a daily post even when on vacation.  We have a vacation home in Florida, a condo in Aruba, and just recently sold our boat replacing it with a tent trailer.  Essentially we spend at least four months of the year away from our primary residence in beautiful Ontario, Canada.  This past May we spent a week and a half at our vacation home in sunny Florida, a week in absolutely stunning Aruba, then back to Florida for another week.  I decided not to do any blogging while away but rather simply enjoy my time with my husband, family and friends.  I will be back to regular posting so watch for another post hopefully later today.

We enjoyed a lot of delicious foods while away which means I have a lot of memories to share with you along with a few new recipes.  The food we enjoyed in Aruba was superb!  Even simple dishes were presented nicely.  We have gotten into a bit of a routine in Florida with respect to eating and while we did not discover a new eatery this trip we did enjoy good food from some of our favourites.  In early November 2013, I started my fitness journey so prior to leaving was still in the weight loss phase.  I'm pleased to say I'm down to 112 lb and didn't gain an ounce while on vacation!  While I'd like to lose another 2 lb, it wouldn't bother me if I didn't.   Back on the home front, I had bought a smoker and deli-style food slicer before going on vacation.  My husband is putting the smoker together as I write this post.  I'm anxious to experiment with both and share my results.  I hauled out my cookbook from of former camping days.  We camped year round every chance we had!

That gives you a bit of a hint for the focus of my blog posts for the next while.  I hope you enjoy the upcoming posts and wherever you are, may your table always be blessed with an abundance of good foods!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Pan Fried Moose Steak

One of our friends is an avid hunter who eats very little domestic raised meat.  He hunts large game (moose, deer) as well as a multitude of smaller game.  He brings us moose meat and wild goose sausage from time to time.  He also goes to hunt camp with my husband which works out nicely.  I turn to him for advice for preparing wild game and soon will be enlisting his help using my new smoker (more on that to come).  A few days ago, I cooked two moose steaks he had gifted us with.

pan fried moose steakMoose meat has a mild, less gamey flavour than venison.  Unlike venison, it doesn't require the addition of pork fat even though it is a very lean meat.  Both venison and moose are best cooked using a moist heat  (eg. braising, stewing).

The moose steaks were large but  not overly thick so I pan fried them in a little olive oil and butter until just lightly browned and cooked through.  While the steaks were frying, I sprinkled lightly with garlic pepper.  Oh my!  The moose steaks were fork tender and juicy.  I served the steaks with baked potatoes, old fashioned chili sauce, and home canned green beans.  It was a simple yet delicious dinner!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


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

Monday, April 07, 2014

Low Calorie Brown Sugar Substitute

Sugar substitutes have been on the market for a number of years.   We don't use artificial sugar substitutes or products that have artificial sugar substitutes as an ingredient.  All of the artificial sugar substitutes can have a negative impact on health.  What many don't realize is artificial sugar substitutes can impede weight loss.  Although these sugars do not have any calories, the body still responds to them and studies have shown that the artificial sweeteners can trigger cravings that ultimately make you eat more than you normally would have.  If you want to lose a bit of weight, avoid the artificial sweeteners! 

ingredients for low calorie brown sugar
We switched from white granulated sugar to organic and raw sugars a few years ago.  I have substitute either with maple syrup, honey, agave, molasses or fruit (eg. medjool dates, banana, applesauce).  Last year I began experimenting with stevia, an herb.  I plan on growing stevia in the garden this year.  I don't use a lot of stevia but knowing I can use it in place of sugar to reduce the calories is nice.

Truvia Baking Blend is a blend of stevia, erythritol (natural sugar alcohol) and sugar that has 75% fewer calories from sugar.  It resembles granulated white sugar and like white sugar it adds sweetness and bulk but no real flavour.  There is no brown sugar substitute version.  The work-around if you need to substitute brown sugar with a lower calorie version and want to use stevia is to mix fancy molasses with Truvia Baking Blend.  By the way, this will also work using granulated white sugar if you find you are out of brown sugar for a recipe.
mixing the low calorie brown sugar
You will need Truvia Baking Blend, fancy molasses, a measuring cup, a measuring spoon and air tight storage container.  Measure 1 cup of Truvia Baking Blend into a small bowl with lid.  Pour 1 tsp of fancy molasses over the Truvia.  If you want to make a smaller or larger batch, use the ratio of 1 tsp fancy molasses to 1 c of Truvia.   Using a fork, mix the molasses into the Truvia until well blended.  It will resemble golden brown sugar in texture and flavour.  If you want a deeper brown colour and flavour, add an extra half teaspoon per cup fancy molasses.  This will also increase the caloric value slightly, about 12 calories per cup higher, but still less than the caloric value of regular brown sugar.

low calorie brown sugar
Store the homemade low calorie brown sugar substitute in an air tight container.  Substitute the amount of brown sugar called for in the recipe with half the amount of the low calorie brown sugar substitute.  For example, if the recipe calls for 3/4 c of brown sugar, substitute with 1/4 c + 2 tbsp of the low calorie brown sugar substitute.

Regular grown sugar has 829 calories and 214 g carbohydrates per cup or 52 calories and 13 g carbohydrates per tablespoon.  The low calorie brown sugar substitute has 403 calories and 101 g carbohydrates or 25 calories and 6 g carbohydrates per tablespoon.  The low calorie brown sugar substitute will reduce the calories from brown sugar by a little over half.  This sugar substitute can be use in place of brown sugar for many applications.  Be aware that although the low calorie brown sugar substitute is lower calorie, it does still contain sugar.

Monday, March 31, 2014

PB2 vs Peanut Flour

Peanuts are an economical high source of protein.  A few days ago I wrote about a long time staple in our pantry, PB2 (powdered peanut butter).  This product is simply mixed with water to make traditional peanut butter for spreading but because it is made with peanut flour, it is lower in calories due to the lower fat content.  As a result, although PB2 was intended as a high protein food for camping and survival, it has become extremely popular with the weight loss crowd. 

pb2 verses peanut flour
Both PB2 and peanut flour can be difficult to find.  I have yet to find a local source.  I have found PB2 in Michigan but not the peanut flour.  In fairness, I haven't checked a lot of stores there as I can easily order online.  So, which is the better value?

Peanut flour is made from dry roasted peanuts that are partially de-fatted then ground into flour.  It is gluten free and high in protein.  Peanut flour can be used as a thickener for soups, a flavourful and aromatic ingredients for baked goods, a creative coating for meats and fish, a tasty protein boosting addition for smoothies and it can simply be mixed with water for a low calorie spread.  PB2 is made from peanut flour, sugar and salt. 

Peanut flour is slightly higher in calories at 110 cal/4 tbsp verses PB2 that is 90 cal/4 tbsp and it is just slightly higher in fat (35 g vs 26 g).  However, peanut flour is considerably lower in sodium with 0 mg sodium verses the 118 mg sodium in PB2.  It is slightly lower in carbohydrates than PB2 (8 g verses 10 g) and higher in protein at 16 g verses 10 g protein in PB2.  Peanut flour works out to 1¢/g (31¢/oz) while PB2 is double that (2¢/gr [61¢/oz]).  I found the peanut flour in a 907 g (32 oz) package which is a bit more convenient size for baking than the PB2 that comes in a 184 g (6.5 oz) container.  In my opinion, peanut flour is the better choice in terms of value for your food dollar.  It is more versatile without the added sugar and sodium that PB2 has. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Alternative Flours

In my early teenage years eons ago, I was enthralled with a local hippie couple who occasionally drove their 'flower power bug' into town.  That was a time in our lives where my Mom had a small black and white television complete with rabbit ears that gave us three channels to enjoy.  By enjoy I really mean that the television came on Sunday nights to watch Lawrence Welk, sometimes on the weekend to watch Bill Kennedy at the Movies and few times during the holidays.  That's it!  There were commercials back then and I can recall Euell Gibbons promoting grape nuts in what my Mom referred to as 'hippy food'.  It really didn't matter because unless we went to the city, we wouldn't be able to get any kind of 'hippy food' in our tiny village!  In fairness Euell Gibbons was a proponent of natural diets in the 1960's.  Many of his ideals have simply been refined and tweaked but the focus for many of today's diet trends is on healthy, natural foods.  Fast forward to today's diet trends and honestly, I have no problem finding any food products they endorse.

Three current culinary trends are influencing the products offered by the food industry.  They are Paleo and Primal diets and gluten-free eating.  The Paleo and Primal diets have received a lot of attention in the culinary world.  The Paleo diet (aka cavemaan diet) is based on eating wholesome, existing foods that can only be foraged.  This included grass fed meats, poultry, fish, greens, seeds, regional fruits and vegetables, fungi, nuts, oils made from fresh produce and flours made from fresh produce (eg. nuts, fruits).  Foods not to be consumed on the Paleo diet are: cereal grains, legumes, dairy products, refined sugar, potatoes, table salt and refined vegetable oils.  The Primal diet is similar to Paleo but makes no restriction on saturated fats so butter, lard, full fat milk, cream, sour cream, cheese and chocolate are allowed. Gluten is a protein found in cereal grains.  It is responsible for the elasticity in doughs made with wheat, barley and rye.  True gluten is restricted to certain members of the grass family however those avoiding gluten will also not consume corn and rice which has a gluten-like protein.  About 1 in 133 in developed nations have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity (not allergy) however, many have restricted gluten from their diets on the basis of antidotal reports of the alleviation of certain gastrointestinal problems as a result of eliminating gluten.   As a result, the food industry has responded with a wide range of gluten free products and other products to meet the needs of Paleo and Primal diets.

alternative higher protein flours
You do not have to be on a Paleo or Primal diet, or eat gluten free or even be one of the multitude of various forms of vegetarianism to enjoy using these products.  Unlike some foods, products directed especially to the Paleo and Primal diets tend to be organic, preservative and additive free.  It is still possible to enjoy a wide range of baked goods simply by substituting white or whole wheat flour which is not permitted on either diet with another flour.

I bought a few alternative flours.  With the exception of the black bean flour, all are permitted on a Paleo or Primal diet and are gluten free.  These flours are a great way to boost the protein content in your home baked goods.  The protein content of unbleached white flour is 10 g/100g and whole wheat is 14 g/100g but they are not allowed if following a Paleo or Primal diet and they are not gluten free.  Almond flour is available as unblanched and blanched with a protein content of 21 g/100 g.  It is used for cookies, cakes and pancakes.  Chickpea flour has a protein content of 22 g/100g, black bean flour 22 g/100 g, coconut flour 20 g/100 g, quinoa flour 14 g/100 g and peanut flour 53 g/100 g.  Coconut flour is a dense flour so is substituted with 1/4 c for every 3/4c of grain flour and a little extra liquid is needed.  Quinoa flour is extremely popular for those on a Paleo diet due to its versatility.   I will discuss each of these in greater detail in future posts along with a few ways to use them.   

These flours as well as arrowroot flour and tapioca starch can be found at most health food stores, some larger grocery stores and online from sources like Vitacost.  Bob's Red Mill is a very popular brand of specialty foods like these alternative flours.  Be warned, if buying this way, the flours are expensive at $13 or more for 623 g (1 lb 6 oz).  Bulk Barn is selling the alternative flours at a more reasonable prices.  Our smaller Mom & Pop bulk food store and local health food store also has reasonable prices for some of these flours.  Most of the alternative flours can be made at home from the whole foods as well.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Kitchen Updating Continues

If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you are likely wondering what the heck has been up.  Posting has been considerably less than it usually is.  There is a reason for renovations!  We bought this house in August of 2011, moving in just before heading down to our vacation home in Florida for the fall.  Upon our return, just after the holidays I started on the kitchen.  January of 2012 saw a fresh coat of paint that lead to a massive snowball effect.  Our friend who does custom woodworking made a couple of suggestions and the kitchen has been in an uproar since.  The snowball effect did not stop at the kitchen though as he had done custom work for the upper bathroom, custom wall unit for the games room and other finish work.  He will be doing the crown molding and trim on the main level as well.

Our kitchen is small so we are adding custom features to increase the functionality while giving it the custom look.  The marble tile floor and ceramic tile counter and backsplash were installed by the previous owner.  Aside of those two features and the layout, the kitchen bears little resemblance to what it was when we bought the house.

cabinets as they were on January 4, 2014 before work started
We arrived home from our vacation home just in time to celebrate Christmas with our kids.  We had a few days to settle in then on January 3 our friend was out to take my cabinet doors for refinishing.  When he installed the custom bulkhead, the stains did not match.  We liked the darker cooler tone so opted to have the cabinets refinished to get rid of the yellow tones.  Once again the kitchen was being pulled apart.

Pictured is the kitchen as it was the morning he came out to take the upper cabinet doors for refinishing.  Aside of the cabinets, we still have the microwave oven, sink and faucet to replace.  The under cabinet lighting on the custom built shelf was added in 2012.  We have decided to update that to LED lighting along with LED lights in the ceiling as well as adding a solar tube.

top cabinet doors removed
Little did I know when he took the doors on January 3 that the work would be dragged out until March!  Honestly, by that time my frustration was definitely showing.  I have refinished the cabinets in three of the homes we have owned so know the work that goes into it.  Yet, those kitchen cabinets were completely refinished in under two weeks.  I was quite surprised that he was taking so long.  In hindsight, I should have done them myself but my husband felt this was the easier route to go.  And so the kitchen sat, and sat!

We hosted our monthly games night in January and February with the kitchen looking like this.  I had to keep the patio panels closed in the morning to prevent the strong sunlight damaging the contents of the spice cabinet.  We tried to minimize any cooking that would create a lot of steam or grease being released into the air.  The worst part though was as things dragged on, my mood sunk deeper and deeper. 

staining the cabinet trim
Finally, in March he came out to take the base cabinet doors for refinishing.  He sanded down the cabinet trim the same day.  Talk about a mess!  Even with taping a plastic sheet over the kitchen entrance and opening the patio door, there was still a fine layer of dust on many surfaces.   The stain went on the cabinet trim the same day.  A couple of days later, our friend installed the custom built drawers in the short end of the base cabinets.  We lost a bit of space but gained in usable space.  The drawers are on soft close runners.  My husband took one look at the drawers and said we needed to do the same with the other smaller cabinet.

That night, I heard a dripping noise in the utility room.  The refrigerator was leaking!  My husband shut off the water supply then did some troubleshooting.  It was the dual valve intake so we ordered the part and he fixed it the following Monday.  This was the second water leak we had dealt with that week!  In the meantime, that Saturday night we hosted our monthly games night with fifteen in attendance and a kitchen with minimal functionality.

refinished door fronts on the cabinets
I told our friend that I would put the urethane on the cabinet trim.  I wanted three coats for good protection which would be faster if I did it than wait for him to come out three times.  Finally, he was able to get the refinished cabinet doors installed.  The kitchen was starting to come back together, once again.  He measured up the cabinet next to the sink for drawers before he left.  I set about putting things back into the cabinets knowing full well that I would have to pull everything out of the one cabinet for the new drawers.  He wasn't planning on coming out for a couple of weeks to install the drawers so it was better to have the items in the cabinet rather than in boxes on the floor.

preparing cabinet for drawers
Last week, our friend came out to install the new kick plate and drawers in the smaller base cabinet.  Surprisingly, this installation was quite disruptive.  We emptied the cabinet and cleared the counter the night before.  He had to build a spacer the width of the divider in the cabinet.  This holds the runners on one side of the drawers.  He also had to reinforce the inside of the cabinet sides to hold the runners on the other side of the drawers.  This actually took longer than I expected.  Once the divider and sides were installed, it was time for him to install the drawers.  He went for lunch while I mused about how I would organize the new drawers.

custom built drawers installed in cabinet
Finally the new drawers were installed and the cleanup finished.  We had discussed turning the original drawer to the left above the new drawers into a knife drawer with a custom built knife rack.  Unfortunately, there was only room for eight or nine of my chefs knives which wouldn't really free up that much space on the counter or other drawer so we decided against it.   We aren't sure what we are doing next although I did buy LED strip lighting to test out.  At least the cabinets are one step closer to being finished.  The planned lighting should only take a day for installation but it will once again disrupt the kitchen.  Still, the disruptions should be getting shorter.  I'm at least back to having a functional kitchen for the time being.

We really love our new kitchen drawers!  We knew we would lose the space behind the dividers but the drawers really add a lot of extra storage by making what was once unusable space usable.  We have a total of ten drawers.  The four drawers in the base cabinet on the short arm of the counter are home to pots, pans and miscellaneous kitchen equipment.  They hold everything that was in the original base cabinet as well as a few items from the upper cabinet, freeing up a bit of space there.  The six smaller drawers are home to various food items all neatly organized.  The upper right drawer has coffee supplies which is rather nice and I'm using the middle left drawer as a snack drawer.  Gone are the days of being able to open the cabinet and toss something in quickly.  Instead, everything is neat and tidy. 

While our cabinet drawers were custom made to fit our cabinets, there are stock drawers available.  If you are looking for ways to make your small kitchen more functional, definitely consider putting drawers in your cabinets.  Honestly, it is one of those little additions that makes a huge difference!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Black Bean Beer Bread

As a foodie, I love checking out the many little gift shops we come across in our travels.  Many of them offer locally baked goodies and locally produced foods.  Quite often I will buy something to bring home.  I am not a huge fan of boxed mixes simply because they tend to be overpriced and laden with food additives.   I have two rules when buying boxed mixes or any food at these types of gift shops.  First, it must be locally made.  This is a way of discovering and enjoying foods from that particular region.  Second, it has to be natural or very close to it.  That means no food additives or ingredients like HFCS.  I also consider the trip itself because given our plans it is not always possible to buy something fresh at the start of our trip and get it home safely four or five days later. 

black bean beer bread
I bought a box of Creekside Grains (Traverse City, Michigan) Black Bean Beer Bread when we were visiting the area.  Creekside Grains uses all natural ingredients without the addition of artificial food additives with the exception of a couple of ingredients (chocolate chips, mint chips, root beer and black cherry walnut extracts) used in a very small number of their products.  Essentially, they are using the very same flours and other ingredients that I would be using at home cooking from scratch.  The combination of black bean and beer sounded interesting.  I decided to make the bread for our special dinner last Wednesday. 

The instructions were simple.  Add 12 oz of your favourite beer, mix then place the dough in a mound in the centre of a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake.  My first instincts that the resulting bread would be more like a brick but it wasn't.  The ingredients were unbleached unbromated wheat and malted barley flour, black bean flour, sugar, multi spice blend, baking powder, corn starch and salt putting this bread in the quick bread category.  I used de-alcoholized beer rather than regular beer.  The rustic loaf of bread was quite tasty.  The rise was good with small pores and a crumbly texture. I served the bread with lightly seasoned extra virgin olive oil for dipping.

Surprisingly there was no nutritional value label for this bread on the box, however as explained on their website this is due to an FDA technicality not because they don't want to put it on.  I would make an educated guess that it came in at about 100 calories per 50 g serving, a half slice about a half inch thick cut across the loaf.  There was nothing in the list of ingredients that would drive the calories higher than that.  Regular white bread is about 190 calories per 75 g serving (2 slices).  This bread is quite dense so has a higher satiety level.  I liked this bread so I'm working on a homemade clone version!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Old Fashion Banana Cake

Bananas have had a lot of negative publicity recently in the weight loss industry.  The premise is that bananas will prevent you from losing belly fat.  This is a myth!  I have lost 19 lb since November by enjoying a banana in one form or another almost daily.  Bananas are a nutritional powerhouse full of micronutrients like potassium that helps lower blood pressure.  A medium banana has 105 calories, perfect for a healthy snack.  They have a low glycemic index but high satiety level and they come in their own convenient packaging!

frozen banana
Bananas freeze well.  One of my friends shared her secret for freezing bananas.  Simply pop the banana skin and all in the freezer.  When ready to use, remove from the freezer.  Let thaw just enough to peel off the skin.  Mash while still partially froze.  Pieces of frozen banana can be added to fruit smoothies if desired.

I ran out of fresh bananas (top right) so used one of my frozen bananas.  The banana looked a bit lighter than fresh and the texture was slightly thicker because it was still froze.  This has no effect when the banana is used for smoothies or baking.

baked banana cake
I have a confession...this is the first time I have made a banana cake.  It's not as if I couldn't it's just that my friend sends a banana cake in exchange for a jar of my home canned salsa, much to my husband's delight.  I turned to my trusty Big Red Betty Crocker's Cookbook (circa 1969) to make an old fashion banana cake.

I used my Nami coated baking dish for this cake.  Older cookbooks are my favourite for frugal recipes.  They tend to use simpler and fewer ingredients that can easily be modified for healthier versions.  I did not make this recipe healthier although both the flour and sugar could have been altered to use part quinoa flour (higher protein) and Truvia baking blend (lower calories).  I used unbleached white flour, sea salt and butter.  I omitted the nuts as my husband does not like nuts in most baked goods.

Old Fashion Banana Cake
modified from: Betty Crocker's Cookbook (circa 1969), Pp. 100

2¼ c unbleached flour
12/3 c granulated sugar
1¼ tsp baking powder
1¼ tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt
1/3 c shortening
1/3 c butter
2/3 c buttermilk
3 eggs
1¼ c mashed ripe bananas

Heat oven to 350°F.  Lightly grease and flower a 13x9x2 inch (or two 9-inch round or three 8-inch round) baking pan.  Measure the ingredients into mixing bowl.  Blend ½ minute on low speed, scraping sides of bowl.  Beat 3 minutes on high speed, scraping bowl.  Pour into prepared pan(s). Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until wooden toothpick tests clean in centre.  Cool.  Frost cake if desired.

banana cake with cream cheese frosting
My friend always frosts the banana cakes she sends over so I decided to do the same.  I chose an easy, deliciously creamy cream cheese frosting.  This frosting is a real keeper, one that can easily be used to frost a wide variety of cakes and cupcakes.  It is very easy to make but when first started it looks like it will be too dry.  It won't be.  A bit of blending is all it takes to get a beautiful, versatile frosting sure to please.

Cream Cheese Frosting
recipe by: Betty Crocker's Cookbook (circa 1969), Pp. 126

3 ounces cream cheese
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
dash of salt
2½ c icing sugar

Blend cream cheese, milk, vanilla and salt in mixing bowl.  Gradually blend in the icing sugar until frosting is smooth and spreading consistency.  Add a little extra milk 1 tsp at a time if necessary to get the right consistency. 

cut banana cake crumb structure
My husband was quite pleased when he spotted the freshly frosted cake sitting on the counter.  We we have a special dinner that night that included the cake for dessert.  It is easy to see why this cake has stood the test of time.  The old fashion banana cake is simply delicious!  The cake is moist and tender with a nice body.  The flavour is wonderful, not too sweet, just perfect and the cream cheese frosting compliments the cake nicely.   The cake is cut into serving sizes directly in the pan.  This makes it a very easy cake for after school snacking.  The unfrosted banana cake, like most cakes, should freeze nicely.  The batter could also be used to make cupcakes.  Hands down this banana cake and frosting combination is a sure winner! 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Banana Peanut Butter Muffins

Muffins are one of my favourite baked goodies.  They can be sweet or savoury and with a bit of attention to the ingredients used, fairly healthy.  Homemade muffins can be made super sized just like those sold at the doughnut shops but I prefer to make regular sized or mini muffins.  Regular sized muffins are the perfect grab and go, quick meal or snack.

banana peanut butter muffins
Muffins can easily be made into healthier versions by substituting original ingredients with healthier alternatives.  It is easy to boost the protein content by using alternative flours or adding additional ingredients like protein powder. Quick cooking oats is another good addition because it has 5 g protein per half cup while being low in calories.

I made a tasty, gluten-free banana peanut butter muffin that came in at almost half the caloric value of some protein bars yet with a nice protein content of 8 g.  That makes these muffins a win:win that I'm sure out friend who is gluten intolerant will enjoy.  I added Vega sport performance protein powder made from protein.  It is only 130 calories per 33 g scoop with 25 g protein.  You can use any protein powder you want but it will change the nutritional value of the muffins.

Banana Peanut Butter Muffins
recipe by:  Garden Gnome

¾ c mashed banana
¾ c egg white
 ½ c vanilla Greek yogurt, 0% MF
2 scoops Vega sport performance protein powder, vanilla
¾ c quick cooking oats
¼ c Truvia baking blend
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp PB2 powdered peanut butter

Place the oats in food processor bowl.  Pulse until the consistency of flour.  Add the remaining dry ingredients.  Pulse until well blended.  Transfer to mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix together the banana, egg white and yogurt.  Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients.  Stir to mix.  Spoon the batter into lightly greased silicone muffin tins.  Bake at 350°F until muffins are golden brown and test clean when poked with a toothpick.

Yield: 12

Nutritional value per muffin:  83 calories, 13 g carbohydrates, 1 g fat, 8 g protein, 186 mg salt, 1 g fibre

Monday, March 17, 2014

Peanut Butter Protein Bars

Like many families we increased our preparedness in 1999 as the new year drew closer.  We expected some disruptions but not the predicted end of society warnings.  Looking back, it was an amazing year of discovery in many aspects of our lifestyle.  At the same time, I discover many shelf stable products that despite seeming over preparing at the time, have become pantry staples.  I learned to make some of them like powdered fruits and vegetables.  However, I still buy and use powdered cheese, milks, honey and peanut butter.

PB2 all natural powdered peanut butter
PB2 is a natural powdered peanut butter that became popular with hikers, campers and survivalists.  I use it in applications where I want the rich flavour of peanut butter without the bulk.  In the last couple of months, I have discovered that PB2 is popular with those trying to lose weight because it has 85% less fat calories than traditional peanut butter.  A tablespoon of traditional peanut butterhas about 90 calories, 8 g fat and 3 g protein.  Two tablespoons of PB2 has 45 calories, 1.5 g fat and 5 g of protein.  PB2 can be used as a spread by mixing 2 tbsp of PB2 with 1 tbsp of water.  It can also be used in smoothies, shakes, and baking to boost protein while adding that wonderful peanut flavour everyone loves.  PB2 is also available with premium chocolate added.  It has 45 calories, 1 g fat and 4 g protein making the PB2 with chocolate a real calorie bargain.

peanut butter protein bars
My first experiment with no bake protein bars was the chocolate protein bars made with whey protein.  The results were promising so I went on to create a peanut butter protein bar.  I used a pea protein powder (Sequel Naturals Ltd., Vega Sport) to make these bars.  Honestly, I am very impressed with the Vega Sport protein powder.  It is only 130 g per 33 g scoop with 25 g protein, a calorie savings over the two whey protein powders I have.  The peanut butter protein bars are tasty but still have a slight stickiness.  I cut them into smaller bars as well so they could be used as a snack. 

Peanut Butter Protein Bars
recipe by:  Garden Gnome

1 c almond milk
2 scoops (66 g) Vega sport protein powder, vanilla
2 tsp Truvia baking blend
4 tbsp PB2
1½ quick cooking oats
1 tbsp coconut flour
1 tbsp peanut butter baking chips
1 tsp chia seeds

Place the oats in food processor bowl.  Process until fine, similar to flour.  Add Truvia, PB2 and coconut flour.  Pulse process to blend.   Pour the dry mixture into mixing bowl.  Pour most of the milk in and stir, adding just enough of the remaining milk to get the mixture to stick together.  Mix to form a ball that cleans the side of the bowl.  Place the ball on parchment paper.  Flatten and shape into a rectangular block.  Place parchment paper with the block on a plate.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Let chill to set in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.  Cut into bars of desired size. Place the peanut butter baking chips in a small bowl.  Melt over another bowl of hot water.  Spread over the top of the bars.  Sprinkle the bars with chia seeds.

Yield: 12 bars

Nutritional value per bar: 78 calories, 10 g carbohydrates, 2 g fat, 6 g protein, 63 mg sodium, 2 g fibre

Saturday, March 15, 2014

No Bake Chocolate Protein Bars

Protein bars are huge business!  These bars come in at a similar caloric value as a chocolate bar but they are considerably higher in protein.  For example, a Snicker's chocolate bar has 250 calories, 33 g carb and 5 g protein but a Pure Protein chocolate deluxe has only 180 calories, 17 g carb and 21 g protein plus it has Vitamin A that the Snicker's bar doesn't have as well as a higher calcium and iron content.  In short, the Pure Protein bar is a better nutritional value for your food dollar especially since it is only 8¢ more than the Snicker's bar.  The advantage of protein bars aside of their nutritional value is their portability.  Pop one in your purse as a healthy substitute for a chocolate bar.  The downside to protein bars is the long list of ingredients, some of which we try to avoid.  Be sure to read the label if you decide to buy protein bars!

I decided to experiment making my own protein bars.  Homemade protein bars are a practical solution to the ingredient issue.  They are tastier and lower cost.  Trust me, after sampling several brands of mass produced protein bars, taste and texture is not exactly a high priority!  Not only that, homemade protein bars are incredibly simple to make.  Homemade protein bars consist of a base, protein powder, binder and flavour.  They can be baked or no bake.  They are easily modified as desired for you own unique flavour combination.

pressing the protein bar mixture into a block
My first attempt at making protein bars was using whey protein powder.  Whey protein is often used in mass produced protein bars.  Homemade protein bars using whey tend to be sticky even after sitting for a period of time.  I wasn't concerned over this as the bars were intended for after my morning exercise routine.  I had three goals in mind when I started: lower carb, high protein and low calorie so chose the ingredients on that basis.  These bars came in at 98 calories with 12 g carb and 5 g protein, far from ideal or even close to mass produced but it was a start!  The texture was very much like some of the mass produced protein bars so I'll be working on that as well.

I simply mixed the ingredients then formed the no bake chocolate protein bar mixture into a block on a sheet of parchment paper.  It definitely was sticky but workable.  I covered the block with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator for an hour to firm up.

cutting the chilled protein bar mixture
Once the block had firmed for an hour, I cut the block into 10 equal sized pieces.  Originally I was going to cut into 5 bars but they would have been too large.   A longer rectangle and cut into 8 slightly larger bars would have worked as well.   They could also be cut into smaller bars suitable for children if desired.

I covered the   cut bars and returned them to the refrigerator to continue setting up overnight.  Some using whey protein powder put their bars into the freezer to set up.  Mine set up well in the refrigerator but they still had a bit of stickiness to them. 

drizzling melted chocolate over the protein bars
Chocolate is likely the most popular flavour for mass produced protein bars.  Chocolate and peanut butter is a common combination for mass produced protein bars.  I used cocoa and chocolate flavoured protein powder so kept the chocolate topping to a minimum as an accent flavour.  A lot of mass produced protein bars are coated in chocolate similar to a chocolate bar but that really adds to the carb content.  I melted two squares of Lindt 85% cocoa chocolate then simply drizzled over the cut bars using a spoon and slight sideways movement.  Reducing the topping reduced both the calories and carbs of the finished bars.

chocolate protein bars ready to enjoy
The warm chocolate drizzle quickly firmed on the cold bars.  I removed them from the parchment paper and placed in a storage container for the refrigerator.  Overall, I am pleased with my first attempt.  I plan to decrease the carbs and increase the protein in the next batch.  I also want to tinker with the texture, making it a bit creamier closer to a nougat texture.  I suspect that the caloric value will increase a bit with the modifications but

Each of the ingredients in my protein bars were chosen for a specific purpose.  With the exception of the Truvia, all of the ingredients added protein.  I used Truvia specifically for the natural sweetness of stevia without the calories of sugar.  I'm still sitting on the fence with stevia so may experiment using honey or molasses instead.  I used organic peanut butter because it does not have salt or sugar added. 

No Bake Chocolate Protein Bars
recipe by:  Garden Gnome

1 (42 g) scoop Pure Protein 100% Whey, Frosty Chocolate
1 tbsp Truvia baking mix
2 squares (20 g) Lindt 85% Cocoa chocolate
1 tbsp organic peanut butter
1 tbsp Fry's cocoa
1 tbsp chopped peanuts
 ½ c almond milk
1 tbsp coconut flour
1½ c rolled oats, quick cooking

Mix all ingredients together except for Lindt chocolate.  Spoon the mixture onto parchment paper.  Form into a rectangular block.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for an hour.  Cut into bars.  Cover and return to refrigerator over night.  Place the chocolate squares in a small bowl.  Place the bowl in anther bowl of very hot water to melt the chocolate without getting water into it.  Carefully drizzle the chocolate over the separated bars.  Place the bars in a storage container.  Store in the refrigerator.

Yield: 10 bars

Nutritional value per bar: 98 calories, 12 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 5 g protein, 31 mg sodium, 3 g fibre

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Scoop on Protein Powder

I wrote about the importance of dietary protein in my last post.  The recommended daily requirement for protein is 0.7g to 1 g per pound of lean body weight.  Unfortunately, many do not get enough protein on a daily basis.  During weight loss (calorie deficit), protein is needed to minimize the loss of lean muscle.  During maintenance mode (calorie intake at TDEE), protein is needed to maintain and support lean muscle.  During bulking (calorie surplus), extra protein is needed to help repair muscle from body building and develop lean muscle.  The problem becomes getting enough protein in your diet which may be difficult. 

I would need almost 34 pieces of bacon to reach my daily requirement of 90 g protein in a day.  That 90 g of protein alone would be 360 calories but when total calories in that bacon are considered it would amount to a whopping 1,700 calories leaving very little room for any further calories from other sources without going into a calorie surplus leading to weight gain.  Clearly, I cannot boost my protein intake in that manner.  A very useful product for helping meet the protein requirements is protein powder.

protein powder
Protein powder is not a new product.  It is found in many processed foods in the form of milk solids.  Powdered instant milk and powdered cheese are also forms of protein powder.  In fact, powdered instant milk has 24 g of protein in 1 cup!  Protein powder as used by the fitness crowd is more condensed with as much as 25 g of protein in about 1/4 c.  In addition to protein concentrate, this protein powder usually contains natural and/or artificial flavours, sugars, sodium and micronutrients. 

It is important to read the label as protein powders differ in caloric value, and additives.  Protein powder is either animal (eg. whey, casein, egg) or vegetable (eg. soy, hemp, pea, brown rice) base or a combination of both.  If you have a milk allergy, are lactose intolerant or are vegan, whey and casein based protein powders or a protein powder with either whey or casein as an ingredient should not be used.  Whey protein is quickly absorbed by the body making it ideal for muscle recovery in the first 20 minutes after a workout.  This is especially important if you are doing a lot of cardio.  Of note, cardio is muscle wasting and cortisol inducing making it undesirable for weight loss.  Casein protein is absorbed slowly by the body.  It is best used to prevent catabolysis while fasting during sleep.  Hemp protein powder is not a complete protein source so look for one that includes other plant-based proteins in addition to hemp protein.  Soy protein can be problematic for females.  A small amount of soy occasionally is fine but soy should not be consumed on a daily basis.  If you want to enjoy a protein shake on a daily basis, choose a protein powder that is soy-free.  Of the protein powders pictured, only the Vega Sport is soy-free.

Protein powder is a must have product to include in your emergency preparedness supplies.  It is also a good product to help meet your daily protein requirement.  The most common use is as a protein shake but protein powder can be used as an ingredient to increase the protein content in foods like baked goods, smoothies, and so much more.  It can also be used to make homemade protein bars that are tastier and less expensive than the pre-packaged bars.  While some enjoy a protein shake daily, I prefer to reserve the use of protein powder for those days when I know my protein intake from food is lower than I would like it to be.