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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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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.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Let's Talk Protein

Back in early November of 2013, I embarked on my fitness journey.  Yesterday, I stepped off the scales with a reading within 5 lb of the ideal weight for my gender, age and height.  My %BF and BMI have dropped.  I look good and feel amazing!  However, I am pushing forward towards my goal of a BMI of 18.5, the lowest on the scale of healthy (18.5 to 24.9).  Less than 18.5 is considered underweight and above 24.9 is overweight.  Once I reach my weight that gives me a BMI of 18.5, I will move into maintenance mode.  Exercising will be for fitness and toning.  All in all, I am very pleased with the results so far!

I have joked several times that the improved me is proudly brought to you by protein.  The fact is, most folks do not get enough protein in their diet.  We eat a fairly healthy diet that would be considered about 80% clean and 20% general.  We very seldom eat at fast food restaurants.  So, in comparison to many, I really needed to do little as far as the foods I was eating.  The only notable change I made was putting more emphasis on protein.  

Protein becomes even more important when eating at a calorie deficit for weight loss or when eating at a calorie surplus to bulk-up.  During a calorie deficit you lose water, fat and without adequate protein intake, you will also lose lean muscle.  Protein also helps you lose weight!  During bulking you are building muscle so protein becomes even more important.  You cannot repair or build muscle without adequate protein.

Well Wisdom created this informative infographic to show why women need more protein. Their recommendation is 50 g of protein a day but the daily recommended protein is 0.7 g to 1 g per pound lean body weight.  The default macro setting on My Fitness Pal is 50% carb, 30% fat and 20% protein.  I changed mine to 40% carb, 30% fat and 30% protein.  The 40:30:30 ratio gives a nice balance with higher protein to help maintain, repair and built lean muscle.  My protein goal is 90 g per day, almost twice what Well Wisdom recommends.  Consider though that athletes and body builders will have a protein goal of 200 g or more per day.  Those on a low carb, high protein diet will also have a high daily protein goal.  

There are 4 calories per gram of protein.  My daily goal of 90 g protein would be 360 calories.  The problem is that protein does not come with just the calories from protein.  There will be carb and/or fat calories in addition to the protein calories.  It did not take me long to realize that eating enough to get 90 g of protein a day would present a bit of a problem.  I'm not a big eater at the best of times.  The chances of me eating 34 slices of bacon in one day is simply not ever going to happen!  The challenge became getting more protein without dramatically increasing calories especially those from carbs.

In general, I have found lean meats, poultry, eggs and fish to be the best in terms of protein and fats.  I don't drink milk but if I did, it along with yogurt, sour cream and cottage cheese are good for protein and carbs.  Fruits and vegetables have little protein but have a low caloric value with necessary micronutrients so are part of a healthy diet.

Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to focus on how I increased protein in our diet.  It really hasn't been difficult.  I've been able to maintain a calorie deficit for my desired weight loss so increasing protein without trying to lose weight shouldn't be a problem.  I've had a lot of fun discovering new foods, experimenting and creating so now it is time to share with you.  Stay tuned...

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Peanutty Chocolate Chip Quinoa Muffins

I have been experimenting with quinoa, much to the dismay of my husband who doesn't mind the taste but has a problem with the texture.  Quinoa is quite popular with those eating a Paleo diet and the fitness crowd due to its protein content.  So, I set about looking for recipes using quinoa that my husband might like.  I came across Jen Nikolaus' recipe for Chocolate Chip Quinoa Muffins that looked tantalizingly delicious.  I decided to tweak her recipe into something similar but different. 

peanutty chocolate chip quinoa muffins
Jen's original recipe is for a lovely chocolate chip The addition of peanut butter not only adds flavour, it adds protein.  Almond flour also adds protein.
muffin that incorporates the health benefits of quinoa.   I took that a step further by using the popular combination of chocolate and peanut butter for my deliciously health peanutty chocolate chip quinoa muffins.  Her version used canola oil which is a GMO, something we avoid.  I replaced it with organic peanut butter.  Jen's original recipe came in at 258 cal, 41 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 6 g protein, 186 mg sodium and 3 g fibre muffin.  My version comes in at 246 calories, 32 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 8 g protein 141 mg sodium and 4 g fibre per muffin.  I would still like to get the carbohydrate content a bit lower which would reduce the caloric value as well.  I will share that recipe as soon as the testing is finished.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this healthy, tasty muffin!

Peanutty Chocolate Chip Quinoa Muffins
recipe by:  Garden Gnome

2 c cooled cooked quinoa
1 c whole wheat flour
1 c almond flour
¾ c packed golden yellow sugar
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp sea salt
½ c semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ c organic peanut butter*
¼ c plain Greek yogurt
½ c buttermilk (1%)
½ tsp pure vanilla extract

Measure flours, baking powder and salt into a small mixing bowl.  Mix well.  In a separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients except chocolate chips.  Mix well.  Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.  Stir until just lightly mixed.  Pour in the chocolate chips and stir lightly to distribute.  Spoon evenly into prepared muffin tins.  Bake at 350°F until golden brown and centre tests clean with toothpick.  Remove from oven.  Cool on rack.

* Do not use regular peanut butter in this recipe as it contains added sugar and salt that will give a higher sodium and carbohydrate content in the finished muffins.  It is also too thick for this purpose.