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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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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!

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cooking Quinoa

One of the interesting aspects of my fitness journey is experimenting with various foods.  Quinoa (pronounded 'keen wah'), popular with those eating the Paleo diet,  is one of those foods that I've enjoyed in salads but until recently did not cook it at home.  Quinoa is an ancient food that has been cultivated for years in the South American Andes.  It was known as the Mother Grain and revered as sacred by the Incas. 

uncooked quinoa
Quinoa is not a grain but rather the seed of the Goosefoot plant.  Native inhabitants used quinoa like a grain in breads and soups.  The seeds are small flattened, opaque discs with a slightly darker band around the circumference with a tiny embryo tip extending from the seed that would develop into a root tip if the seeds were sprouted.  I don't know how well the seeds sprout but that is on my agenda of quinoa experiments.  Quinoa is also available ground into a flour that can be used for baking and more importantly for the Paleo folks, quinoa flour is used to make quinoa pasta as a substitute for wheat based pasta.

Quinoa is more expensive than other grains but it is usually organic or I should say I have only found organic quinoa.  A 400 g (14 oz) bag of organic quinoa costs about $6.  It is an excellent substitute for rice with similar cooking method and timing.  Quinoa is however, considerably higher in protein than white rice.  It is just slightly higher in calories by 17 cal per cup but is also significantly higher in potassium, lower in carbohydrates and higher in iron making quinoa a good nutritional value over white rice.

cooked quinoa
Quinoa is cooked very much like white rice but because it is a seed rather than a grain, it is important to rinse the quinoa well before cooking.  Once cooked, it can be used plain as a side dish as pictured or cooled for use as an ingredient in other dishes.  The opaque disks take on a translucence while the darker band turns white when the quinoa is cooked.  It has a pleasant, nutty flavour that is sure to please.

Method:  Measure 1 cup of quinoa into a fine mesh strainer.  Rinse well.  Place the rinsed quinoa into a medium sized saucepan.  Pour 2 c of water over the quinoa.  Stire.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat.  Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Drain using the fine mesh strainer.  Return the cooked quinoa to the saucepan.  Cover and let sit 15 minutes.  Fluff and serve or cool as desired.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Strawberry Dream Smoothie

You might be wondering why I have been posting so many smoothie recipes lately.  Smoothies have quickly become a breakfast staple for busy families trying to get everyone out the door and on their way for the day.  They are also very popular for the fitness crowd.  You can pack a lot of nutrition into a smoothie with very little effort and minimal muss.  It's a way of getting the nutrition of vegetables like spinach without the taste of spinach.  Surprisingly, spinach is one of those vegetables that you can't even taste in a smoothie!  Most smoothies will keep nicely in the refrigerator for the day as well so any left overs can be used as an easy, nutritious after school snack.  At any rate, I am experimenting with smoothies for those reasons but I also have another goal in mind that I will share with you shortly.

strawberry dream smoothie
I made a strawberry dream smoothie for us to share on Valentine's Day.  The pretty pink colour was quite appropriate to welcome the start of this special day.  A little dash of cocoa on top would have been a nice addition but I didn't think about it at the time.  If you aren't weighing your ingredients, use the amounts in brackets for this delicious smoothie.

Strawberry Dream Smoothie
recipe by:  Garden Gnome

40 g Body Fortress 100% Whey Protein Powder, Vanilla Creme (1 scoop)
170 g strawberries (5 extra large)
136 g banana (1 large)
500 ml (2 c) Silk almond milk original

Place the ingredients in a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Serve.

Yield: 1.125 L (4.5 c)
Serving size: 355 ml (12 oz)
Nutritional value per serving: 111 calories, 17 g carbohydrates, 2 g fat, 7 g protein, 101 mg sodium, 2 g fibre

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Chicken Schnitzel With Provolone and Roasted Tomato Garlic Sauce

Most people have the view that 'going on a diet' means depriving themselves of pretty much everything they enjoy eating.  That view is further distorted by the myth that there are good foods and bad foods which simply is not the case.  The general premise is, if you eat the good foods you will lose weight.  The problem is this approach simply doesn't work.  All you have to do is browse through the site to see how many diets there are that really are not sustainable, so in the end even if you lose the weight you will gain it back when you resume your normal eating pattern.  What does work is eating the foods you enjoy in moderation, getting active and creating a calorie deficit which ultimately results in healthy weight loss that can later be maintained.  The focus with this approach becomes total fitness not just weight loss.  With that in mind, even fried foods can be enjoyed while you are in weight loss mode.  

pounding the chicken breasts for schnitzel
My husband offered to make dinner a few nights ago.  He had seen a dish on FoodTV that he wanted to duplicate.  The dish was a chicken schnitzel.  Schnitzel is simply a piece of boneless veal, chicken, beef, turkey or pork pounded out thin then lightly coated and pan fried.  If the meat is veal, it is referred to a Wiener SchnitzelChicken Parmigiana is chicken schnitzel topped with Parmesan cheese.

He pounded out four 183 g (6.45 oz) boneless, skinless chicken breasts then dredged the meat in milk and lightly seasoned flour.  The traditional coating is flour, beaten egg and bread crumbs.  Eliminating the egg and bread crumbs reduced the caloric value of the cooked chicken schnitzel.

frying the schnitzel
He heated olive oil and a little butter in a ceramic coated fry pan.  Olive oil is a healthier oil for frying while butter adds a lot of flavour.  Coconut oil is another healthier oil for frying.  Both have health benefits.  Vegetable oil blends, canola and sunflower oil should be avoided because they are GMO which  can have negative health effects including gastro-intestinal upsets.

He placed the prepared chicken schnitzel in the hot oil then fried to a golden brown on both sides.  While the chicken schnitzel was frying, he brought a pot of salted water to a boil then stirred in 4 oz of broad egg noodles.  A serving size of broad egg noodles is 2 oz dry weight.  He removed the chicken schnitzel, drained on a piece of paper towel, then placed on a Silpat lined baking sheet.  He topped each chicken schnitzel with 28 g (1 oz) of cheese, two with provolone and two with mild cheddar.  While the chicken schnitzel baked to perfection with bubbly cheese, he drained the pasta and heated the home canned roasted tomato garlic sauce.   
chicken schnitzel with provolone and roasted tomato sauce
The entrée was simply the chicken schnitzel with provolone cheese and egg noodles served with a light topping of roasted tomato garlic sauce, garnished with fresh basil.  The chicken schnitzel was moist and fork tender.  The provolone cheese added a lovely richness.  The roasted tomato garlic sauce perfectly complemented the chicken and egg noodles.  It was a simple, delightfully tasty meal! 

This is a low prep, easy to make, under 30 minute entrée.  The nutritional value is based on a 183 g piece of boneless, skinless chicken breast, olive oil, butter, milk, flour, seasonings, provolone cheese, egg noodles, home canned roasted tomato sauce and basil as pictured.   

Nutritional value for entire entrée as pictured: 633 calories, 52 g carbohydrates, 20 g fat, 61 g protein, 535 mg sodium, 4 g fat

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Chocolate Monkey Smoothie

Smoothies are easily modified for fitness training and weight loss, however they can also be simply enjoyed as a healthy beverage.  The real challenge when it comes to smoothies is to not make them too high calorie.  The work around for the calorie challenge is to reduce the serving size.  Most of the smoothies I make give a yield of about 685 ml with a total caloric value of 450 calories or more.  I usually plan on four 170.4 (6 oz)  servings with a caloric value of about 120 calories depending on the ingredients.  Since most smoothies will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator, one smoothie is enough for two breakfast servings for us when combined with other foods like fruit, cheese, or oatmeal.

chocolate monkey smoothie
The chocolate monkey has been a popular milk shake flavour that is easily duplicated in a smoothie.  I like to use almond milk that is lower in calories that 2% milk and is lactose free.  Almond milk is lower in protein than 2% milk which is why I like to add ingredients higher in protein.  Protein powder greatly boosts the protein content but unless you are training it isn't really necessary.  Peanut butter is a good alternative protein booster.  The chocolate monkey smoothie combines the flavours of chocolate, peanut butter and banana into a deliciously delightful, silky smoothie that is sure to please!

Chocolate Monkey Smoothie
recipe by:  Garden Gnome

500 ml (2 c) Silk original almond milk
5 g (1 tbsp) Fry's premium cocoa powder
31 g (2 tbsp) Kraft smooth peanut butter
144 g (1 large) banana

Place the measured ingredients in blender.  Blend until smooth.  Serve

Makes 4 - 170.4 ml (6 oz) servings

Nutritional value per serving:  112 calories, 15 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, 114 mg sodium, 2 g fibre

*The calculated nutritional value is based on the specified ingredient brands used.  Other brands can be substituted but may change the nutritional value.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Avocado Dream Smoothie

I have never been a breakfast eater simply because my stomach does not tolerate anything well until I've been awake for a hour or so.  My normal breakfast time is about 11 AM regardless of how early I get up.  One recommendation for improving weight loss is to not eat anything for 12 hours before exercising which forces your body to burn fat rather than sugar.  That method suits me just fine.  I can eat up to about 9 PM then start my exercise the following morning at 9 AM.  I'm usually up before 7 AM and have a cup of black coffee about a half hour before exercising, something I did not think my stomach would tolerate but so far it is.  My current exercise routine is 90 to 120 minutes depending on what sessions I'm working on.  That means by the time I eat, I really need the protein!

avocado dream smoothie
I have been experimenting with smoothies to be used primarily as a source of protein for after my work-outs.  Yesterday, I shared my Berrilicious Protein Smoothie recipe.  That recipe used Life Clearly Fibre to add fibre to the smoothie but there are other ways to add fibre.  Avocados are high in protein, fibre and healthy fat.  Their rich, creamy almost buttery flavour make avocados perfect for smoothies.

The avocado dream smoothie  has a delightful delicious smooth, creamy flavour.  You would not know the spinach is an ingredient other than the green flecks.  A 6 oz serving has 8 g of protein and 3 g of fibre yet only 121 cal making this an ideal post exercise beverage.  I used weight measurements for accurate caloric tracking and replication.  If you are not tracking calories, you can use the amounts in brackets to make this delicious smoothie.

Avocado Dream Smoothie
recipe by:  Garden Gnome

500 ml almond milk
34 g baby spinach (small handful)
83 g strawberries (3 extra large)
112 g avocado (1 medium)
39 g Body Fortress 100% Whey Protein Powder, Vanilla Creme

Place ingredients in blender.  Blend until smooth.  Serve

Makes 4 - 170.4 ml (6 oz) servings

Nutritional value per serving:  121 calories, 10 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat, 8 g protein, 109 mg sodium, 3 g fibre

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Berrilicious Protein Smoothie

The weight management aisle of many grocery and drug stores carry a varied selection of protein, meal replacement and weight loss drinks.  I am not a fan of these drinks for a number of reasons.  Unless there is a medical reason for needing to use these types of drinks, I feel they are best substituted with a homemade version.  Homemade fruit smoothies and shakes have been fairly common for quite some time.  Smoothies are made in a blender so unlike the mixed fruit and vegetable juices from a juicer, retain their fibre content.  Fibre is beneficial for weight loss.  These drinks are an excellent way to get your recommended daily requirements of fruits and vegetables in one convenient drink.  Some folks enjoy a smoothie daily for breakfast while others enjoy them more often.

berrilicious protein smoothie
I have noticed two things since joining My Fitness Pal.  First, protein is recommended after a work-out to help maintain lean body mass during weight loss and build muscle during bulking.  Protein keeps you feeling full longer which also aids in weight loss.  Second, there is a strong reliance on smoothies for weight loss.  I also noticed that many fruit smoothies have high caloric values something not necessarily conducive to losing weight. 

We do not have smoothies on a regular basis.  I have been experimenting with smoothies to help increase my protein intake after my morning work-outs.  I am not relying solely on the smoothies though because they are only 6 oz keeping the calories low yet the protein high.  This works well for me in combination with nuts and cheese.  I use metric units to make calculating the caloric value of the smoothie for tracking purposes and to make replication easy. 

Berrilicious Protein Smoothie
recipe by:  Garden Gnome

250 ml almond milk
35 g mixed berries (I used 21 g raspberries and 14 g blueberries)
20 g Body Fortress 100% Whey protein powder, Vanilla Creme
3 g Life Clearly Fibre*
50 g banana

Place ingredients in blender.  Blend until smooth.  Serve

Yield: 2 servings, 170.4 ml (6 oz)

Nutritional value per serving: 105 cal, 16 g carbohydrates, 2 g fat,8 g protein, 101 mg sodium, 3 g fibre

*Life Clearly Fibre is a fibre dietary supplement with folate and B vitamins, 10 cal, 32 g fibre (inulin)  per rounded teaspoon (3.2 g) serving.  It can be added to beverages or soft foods to increase the fibre content. 

Thursday, February 06, 2014

IIFYM, Weight Loss and Kitchen Scales

A little over a year ago, the seeds were planted for a couple of major lifestyle changes.  I started slow but on March 19, 2013 when my blood pressure reached 181/104 I sprung into immediate action.  One of my lifestyle changes was to get fit and with that came a few dietary changes.  Now, I am one of those who a) doesn't believe in dieting and b) have never had a need to diet.  I've always hovered within the normal weight range simply cutting back on portion size and increasing activity if my jeans felt a bit tight.  That's it and by all accounts our diet that relies heavily on home cooked from scratch and avoiding a lot of food additives is healthier than some but there is always room for improvement.  I started with small changes, putting one step in front of the other, dealing with the little setbacks.  In October of 2013 while at our vacation home, I had a bad reaction to MSM, a dietary supplement I was having excellent results from.  The weight gain put me right at the upper limit of my normal!  I stopped the MSM and during the three weeks home before returning to Florida, I joined My Fitness Pal (November 2013) to aid me in my journey towards personal fitness for mind, body, soul.

I am using a flexible eating plan called IIFYM (if it fits your macros).  The macros are fat, proteins, and carbs.  I track fibre aiming for at least 25 g of fibre daily and sodium.  My daily calorie goal is 1,200 without exercise which creates a 330 cal deficit.   My daily macro goals are 30%  fat, 20%  proteins, and 50% carbohydrates.  Calories burned via exercise are added back in and are meant to be consumed.  IIFYM means absolutely no food is off limits.  I could eat 1,200 cal worth of jelly beans in a day and still lose weight BUT jelly beans would only give my carbs not fat or protein so in that quantity they do not fit my macros although a couple would fit.  If I burn enough calories to eat a bowl of ice cream and it fits my macros, then no problem.  Basically, if I burn 500 calories in exercise then my total daily goal becomes 1,700 cal with the macros adjusted to values that reflect that change.   IIFYM actually encourages you to make healthy food choices so it becomes a lifestyle change as opposed to simply going on a diet. 

two types of kitchen scales
When it comes to weight loss, regardless of which method you use, accurately tracking your caloric intake is a must.  The easiest way to do this is by relying on pre-messured individual serving sizes however, this can be expensive and limited in choice.  The second method is to measure using measuring cups and spoons but this method introduces a certain level of error.  The most accurate method is weighing your food using a kitchen scale.

I have two kitchen scales.  Both weigh in metric and Imperial.  The larger scale weights up to 3 kg.  It is suitable for weighing larger amounts of foods in 10 g increments.  I have used this scale for a number of years in home canning and soaping.  Home canning recipes are often given in pounds or kilograms of fruit or vegetable, weight or cups of prepared fruit or vegetable, or volume measurements (eg. cups, tablespoons).  Most of my specialty home canning recipes like salsa are in weight measures because it means I can accurately reproduce that recipe exactly the same each time I make it.  The smaller glass digital  scale is The Biggest Loser by Taylor.   It weighs up to 5 kg.  This scale is suitable for weighing larger weights as well as smaller amounts in 1 g increments.  I use it for weighing foods and ingredients for my homemade lotions and toiletries.

small granny smith apples
Why should you weigh food for weight loss?  Pictured are two small granny smith apples (2¾ inch diameter) at 77 calories in most databases.  By weight, a 100 g granny smith apple has 52 calories.  The apple on the left weighs 133 g (69.16 cal) while the one on the right weighs 143 g (74.36 cal).  Neither weigh the actually 77 cal that you would record if going by size alone.  In this case, you would have recorded 77 cal but consumed less than that.  This can be a problem over the course of a day by actually consuming less than you thought if it puts you slightly under the 1,200 cal per day for females.  It is very difficult to get your required micronutrients at less than 1,200 cal per day.  On the flip side, if you recorded the 77 cal because the apple measured in the small diameter range but the apple actually weighed 155 g (80.6 cal), you actually consume more calories than you thought you did.  Over the course of a day, this could easily add an extra 200 or more calories just on slight weight differences.  Inadvertently putting yourself under 1,200 cal or consuming enough extra so as to not give the desired calorie deficit will cause you to not lose the weight you want.  The bottom line is, during your weight loss period regardless of the dietary method, use a kitchen scale as often as possible. 

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Italian Venison Fusilli

My husband spent a week in November at hunt camp in the Muskoka Region of Ontario.  A fun time was had by all!  They got two doe that were cleaned, cut and wrapped before they left.  Everyone brought home a bit of venison, a much welcomed addition in our freezer.  Venison is a rich, flavourful red meat that can be used in place of beef for most dishes.  It is a healthier option, well for those counting calories.  Venison is lower in calories (102 cal/3 oz), lower in sodium (42 mg/3 oz), lower in fat (2.8 g/3 oz) and lower in cholesterol (72 mg/3 oz) than beef (3 oz: 162 cal, 56 mg sodium, 5.8 g fat, 76 mg cholesterol).  It is, however, lower in protein at 19.2 g per 3 oz verses 25.8 g per 2 oz of beef.  Venison should be served hot because what fat there is has a slightly unpleasant mouth feel when cold.  For that reason, venison is often cooked with pork fat.

Italian venison sauce cooking
I used home canned Italian Garden Sauce with Mushrooms to make a delicious venison sauce for pasta.  This is a must have staple sauce in our pantry, one I created a couple of years ago then tweaked in small batches until it met my specifications. 

I lightly seared the venison pieces then poured in a 750 ml jar of Italian garden sauce with mushrooms.  I brought the mixture to a boil then reduced to a simmer.  I let the mixture simmer until the venison pieces were cooked through and tender.  While the venison sauce was simmering I cooked tri-colour fusilli to al dente then drained.

Italian Venison Fusilli
I topped the tri-colour fusilli with a generous scoop of the venison sauce along with fresh grape tomatoes, green peppers and chopped onions for Italian Venison Fusilli.  This entrée was low calorie and low fat, yet tasty and filling. 

A serving size of tri-colour fusilli is 2 oz dry which gives a yield of 255 g/9 oz cooked [210 cal. 7 g protein, 41 g carbohydrates, 25 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 1 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol].  Plain wheat fusilli does not have any fiber so the tri-colour is a healthier choice as is whole wheat fusilli.  If counting calories, it is best to weight out the cooked pasta for the proper serving size.  I often add fresh vegetables over pasta sauces.  They add a nice texture, complimenting the flavour of a wide variety of sauces while adding extra nutrition.