Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Brief Explanation

I'm so sorry for disappearing on everyone these past couple weeks. School has been nothing short of insane! For a little bit of a visual as to what's been the time-suck of late, I give you the first gigantor paper of these two weeks: we had 7 days to compile this sucker, and it was 46 pages!! Apparently our next assignment (due a week from now FYI) is even bigger - some people are pushing 60 pages right now and aren't near done! Me? I'm on page.... well, zero. But that's what ignoring lectures in class are for: writing dang term papers, right?

I promise, when I come back I'm bringing CHOCOLATE!!!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Touch out of Season

It's probably a good thing I don't live in the US or Western Canada. Though I've been known to have a long and torrid love affair with coffee, Starbucks' brews always seemed a bit - off. I don't know if it's the water temperature, the roasting time of the beans or the way it's perked, but I'm just not a huge fan. If you ask them, or lovers of their cuppas, you'd hear I just don't appreciate a good cup of coffee. Whatever. If I want regular ol' Joe, I'd trek to Second Cup or Timothy's before Starbucks and even Tim Hortons... but if it's a double espresso - straight up - I was after (especially in university during 25-page term paper weeks), I'd only trust their baristas. And I hate to admit it, but whoever supplies the caffeine conglomerate with baked goods is a pastry genius. I have never had fresher-tasting muffins or scones than at one downtown  Vancouver Starbucks franchise, and though the French bakery in Ottawa's Byward Market still tops the list as far as amazing croissants, danishes and bread goes, the 'bucks is no slouch there either. One of my favourite things about going to a Starbucks is the fact they usually carry Jones soda (an old vice of mine), and coupled with the nice cozy ambience of most locations I don't mind spending some time there.

I haven't eaten at any coffee shop - or indeed a restaurant serving anything but sushi - in a very long time, but the thing about taste and smell memory is that it never really dies. So when I was asked by my awesome massage therapist (and musical genius) to try and re-create the short-lived seasonal goody of their Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins, I figured why the heck not?

Of course, I had to be me and jazz up the basic recipe I found on (which I can't find now!!) to make it slightly healthier and with a touch of the "coffee shop" built right in. I cut down on some of the oil, replacing it with good ol' applesauce, and tossed in half a cup of whole wheat flour for texture and a little nuttiness. To bring Starbucks into the batter itself, I decided to toss in a hint - just a touch - of ground espresso coffee, which permeated everything with just a subtle "what is that"-ness reminiscent of a muffin that's been on display surrounded by constant coffee activity and consumed with a cuppa joe. The filling, which I baked right in, was nothing more than cubed cream cheese, though the next time I make these I'll probably whip it with a touch of sugar and nutmeg before dropping spoonfuls into the half-filled cups. You live, you learn!! The "muffin" part, though, is bona fide spectacular... I have a testimonial!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Snack Bar Savvy

This was an article I wrote for my co-op at Healthy Eating Active Living. I submitted it and it should be available on their website and/or Facebook page. It is also available on my nutrition site's blog, A NEW-tritious Digest.

Snack Bar Savvy
By Sarah Reid, RHNC

We’ve often heard that snack bars are no more than candy in a healthy-looking wrapper. While legitimately nutritious alternatives to common candy are available, most of the items consumed as snacks by children and adults alike were originally developed as meal replacements or athletic supplements, not for general between-meal eating. Yet that is exactly how they are now being packaged, marketed and purchased. Splashy labels like “All Natural!” and “Whole Grain!” play across the box fronts with strategic punches of the latest wonder-food: cereal bars now have pomegranate hidden away in a sea of fillers, binders, artificial flavour and “Red Dye # 40” , while a “yogurt coating” (made of “sugar, palm kernel oil, maltodextrin, yogurt powder [nonfat milk, whey protein concentrate, yogurt cultures], nonfat milk, soy lecithin and natural flavour”) enhances a popular “trail mix” concoction. While there may be a few desiccated oat flakes and a vitamin or two under the wrapper, most run-of-the-mill granola bars are more sugar than sunshine-kissed fruit.

You don’t always get more nutritional bang for your buck in the snack food world either. The organic, gluten free and non-GMO bars look like healthy alternatives to the chocolate sitting next to them in the checkout line, but don’t forget – they’re still in the candy rack. Your $2 or more per 5-bite bar may earn you a handful of organic raisins and possibly some agave nectar, but the truth lies in the label. A “Berry Almond” flavoured LunaBar still contains three different sugars, added flavourings and a few other preservatives , and the popular BumbleBar still relies on added sweetener as its main component .

As long as in-between-meal items are small portions of nutrient-rich foods, eating frequently over the course of the day (up to 3 “meals” and 3 “snacks”) is actually a healthy habit. Snacks don’t have to be wrapped in fancy paper to be a nutritious addition to your menu – the first step is to really realize what a “snack” should be. Ideally, anything eaten as a “snack” – bar or otherwise – should be less than 200 calories, under 7 grams of fat (or 30% calories from fat), and over 3 grams of fibre. Keeping the sugar content to a minimum is also ideal, especially if the main source listed in the ingredients is not from whole fruits. Fruit juice concentrates, honey, agave nectar and malted barley or rice are simply fancy forms of sugar syrup. Considering that the much maligned corn syrup is just as natural in origin as agave, an otherwise wholesome concoction with corn syrup listed near the end of the ingredient list should not necessarily be ignored. Nor should you eschew fat entirely when choosing a snack bar – as long as it is from a nutrient-dense source such as nuts, nut butters or seeds, a small amount of fat keeps you full and helps you absorb the rest of the nutrients the bar (hopefully) has. When shopping, a good rule is the fewer and more pronounceable the ingredients are, the better. LÄRABARs have less than 10 ingredients – all whole foods – and even though the BumbleBar is a bit heavy on the added sugar it’s ingredient list doesn’t take a PhD to understand.

The obvious solution to avoiding all these label games is to make your own snacks. “Home-made” snacks can be as complicated as your own baked cereal bars (recipe at the end of the article) or as simple as a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts. For example, an apple and half an ounce (or 12 whole) almonds clocks in at 164 calories, 7.5 grams of fat, 5.5 grams of fibre and less than 1 gram of sugar . You also get a healthy dose of vitamin E and magnesium, which help keep you calm and content, while the fibre and fat prevent further snack attacks. These whole foods also take longer to eat than any snack bar, so your stomach has a chance to register the mini-meal and rev up your metabolism (and energy levels) for another hour – without the “energy bar hangover”.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Why Have One Chocolate When You Can Have THREE?

Oh, the excess! Peanut butter cups, bittersweet chocolate, cocoa and cream cheese, all packed into portble, rich bites? Yes, please!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Healthier Part

I promised you that I did add a piece of healthy to the fat-carb-sugar and general calorie-fest that was my mom's birthday. I mean, don't get me wrong - it was a birthday, and who wants to toe the diet line for your one day a year? Mom was off the hook for the excesses - well partially, really, since throughout the year there are over 20 different birthdays, a Christmas Eve bash, an Easter party, assorted Summer BBQs and what seems like neverending dinners out with my stepdad and his insurance company!! The business dinners aside, these are all as extravagant and nutrient-limited as the birthdays, so it's no wonder that most of the women in the family tend to bemoan their ever-tightening jeans. The men in the clan, though, are apparently given the gift of hummingbird metabolisms and can eat three helpings of everything including dessert and not gain an ounce! So yes, this crusty, giant boule of a bread was really more for the ladies.

I have to admit though that this hearty ball of sourdough almost didn't happen! I was all set to make a hearty, grainy, seedy bread with some purple potatoes mashed in, and had even taken out and fed my starter. Of course, though, as luck would have it, I went into our potato bin to grab those purpley-blue spuds and found... well, rather tarantula-armed, soft and shrivelled balls. Hm.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Birthday Baking with Mom

Consider yourself warned - this is not a "crunchy granola", healthy twist on an old favourite, good for your girlish figure post.

No, this is all about my mom's grand birthday meal, in particularly her birthday cake. Really, the whole meal could have just been cake, it was that awesome... but my mom not only partnered with me to make and decorate her own cake, she cooked the whole meal herself and cleaned the house to boot! Along with a Caesar salad, she decided to channel good ol' Julia (she's still working her way through MtAoFC) and make her Supremes de Volaille a Blanc (basically chicken poached in butter and finished with heavy cream, stock and port wine) as well as her Gratin Dauphinois. Then, she hopped from France over to Germany and made her infamous, to die for, just-might-kill-you Manhunter Short Ribs in the crockpot.

See? Tooootally low-cal. I actually burst out laughing at the inclusion of a Caesar salad, of all things - a little bit like adding insult to injury, no? At least I had made some nice, grain and seed sourdough bread to go along with it - but that's for another post! It's too healthy for this one :-).

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Super Random, Super Squash Loaf

In my never-ending quest to rotate the stuff in and out of the bottomless pits (or our fridges and freezers), sometimes the most random combinations of ingredients find their way into my baking. I mean really - how often are you left with a touch of this or a quarter-cup of that, nothing really enough to form a recipe on its own, but too much to warrant throwing out.

Thus, the freezer becomes a sort of "low-tech graveyard" for those bits and pieces. Peeking into any of ours, you're likely to find summer blueberries from a few pie recipes and a loaf or two, a giant Ziploc filled with homemade chicken stock ice cubes, over ripe bananas and even some leftover roasted squash puree that I just couldn't bear to get rid of. To be specific, it was the pulp of a few delicata squashes that I had roasted off near the end of the season, peeled and mashed, planning to use them for... something. Yeah, that "something" never seemed to present itself over the bulk of the winter, even though it would be the most logical season for enjoying the caramelized sweet potato-like flavour of the vegetable. So in the freezer it sat, until I finally got tired of looking at it and busted it out. A handful of leftover gogi berries, some silken tofu and an apple later and this baby was in the oven baking away to a supremely moist result. It stayed insanely tender for days, not needing any adornment to be enjoyed!

Super - Moist Squash Loaf with Apples and Gogi Berries
Serves 8
1 cup graham flour (or whole wheat flour)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp cinnamon
200g low-fat silken tofu
1 cup delicata or butternut squash puree
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tsp maple extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup gogi berries, soaked in hot water and drained
1 medium apple, peeled and diced finely
  1. Preheat oven to 350F, grease a large loaf pan.
  2. Whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl, set aside.
  3. In a food processor, puree tofu, squash, oil, maple and vanilla extracts, ginger and sugar until smooth. Scrape into a large bowl.
  4. Add the dry mixture and stir just to blend everything. Fold in the berries and apple pieces.
  5. Bake for 1 hour 25 minutes, until it tests done.
  6. Cool in the pan for 25 minutes before turning out and cooling completely on a wire rack.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 288.5
Total Fat: 9.3 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 38.6 mg
Total Carbs: 54.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.9 g
Protein: 6.2 g

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Simply Smart

Your mom always told you – eat your carrots, they’ll help you see in the dark. Take your vitamins – they’ll make you smarter. Orange juice will keep your colds away. But no cookies before dinner – the sugar will rot your teeth and spoil your appetite.
Well I found a cookie that you can eat before dinner – it won’t spoil your appetite, rot your teeth and, guess what – even has fruit and veggies in it! Not to mention that these carrot and orange juice laced versions of the traditional coconut macaroon are delicious, vegan and gluten free to boot. With only two tablespoons of added sweetener in the mix, there’s no chance of a sugar “high” or “crash” – especially since the healthy fats in the coconut and almond butter buffer the glucose a bit. The original recipe came from one of the magazines I was reading in my doctor’s office – Canadian Family – and it only took a tiny bit of tweaking to suit my needs and wants. It’s such a simple formula too, with only 3 steps, and kids can make it with the barest minimum of parental guidance (no doubt why it was in the magazine!). As a bonus, the cookies were safe for everyone to enjoy when I took them into my hair salon when I had an appointment one day – and they helped use up a forgotten bag of coconut I found lurking in the back of our deep freezer!

I found the almond butter I added to this to be a great pairing with the nuttiness of the coconut and the earthiness of the carrots. I also used an unsweetened, natural kind (stirred very well and heated until just shy of runny), which helped cap the sodium and sugar levels too. I had the pliable, easy to spoon and pack coconut sugar on hand too, which has a delicate, exotic flavour all it’s own – but I’m sure brown sugar would be just fine. I’d love to try making this with creamed coconut in place of the margarine and macadamia for the almond butter too, which would add a world of tropical flavour! Unfortunately both my skin reactions to coconut and my student-poor pocketbook will have to recover before I dare venturing into those waters... but if you do, let me know how it turns out!

Gluten - Free Carrot-Coconut Macaroons
Adapted from Canadian Family
Makes 24
1 large carrot, coarsely grated
¼ cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
¼ cup almond butter, stirred well and heated until soft
1 tbsp soft coconut palm sugar
2 tbsp non-hydrogenated margarine
2 cups shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/3 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup coconut flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp fresh-grated ginger
1 tbsp maple syrup

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet.
  2. Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Roll into 20 balls and bake for 28 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 61.0
Total Fat: 4.1 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 6.5 mg
Total Carbs: 6.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.4 g
Protein: 1.0 g

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Make it a Double

Everything seems to be coming out in duplicate. It’s not new – I mean think of your childhood with Double-Stuf Oreos, 2-4-1 deals at stores all over the place, multipacks of everything from socks to oil changes and of course the most recent abomination – the Double Down KFC sandwich. Obviously, duos come in both good and bad forms, but they all work on the same premise: more is more. While I can’t understand why there aren’t more “buy one, get one free” deals on fresh fruit or litres of gas, I can’t deny the allure of some combos. Combos like a manicure-pedicure. Salt and caramel. Or my personal favourite – peanut butter and chocolate.

Really, it’s hard to go wrong when you pair a salty nut butter with the bittersweet lusciousness of a good dark chocolate. Being a salty-sweet craving freak, I actually was one of those who fell into the camp of people who’d nosh on chocolate coated pretzel sticks dunked into a jar of creamy Skippy or Squirrel (back in the day!). I’d always wanted to find a way to meld the three into something a little more portable... or at least something I could share with both those who loved and hated the pretzel-PB-chocolate mixture, bought crunchy or creamy, or went for either white or dark chocolate. These babies have ‘em all – thanks to Jenny of Picky Palate. She figured out the formula for these killer snacks and when I saw them I knew I had to make them – stat.

If I had any mini peanut butter cups on hand (like I used in these cookie) or Reese’s pieces, you can bet they’d be in there too. As it was, these were star players with everyone who tasted them, though I’m sure their waistlines weren’t as thrilled as their tastebuds :-). Moderation, though – whether in the case of these cookies or those multi-buy deals at the mall – is something that’s never bad in droves!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Holy Molé!

This recipe was one of the “sleeper hits” I stumbled across months ago – I made it on a whim, basically just to use up stuff I had lying around the house (as always... I have an arsenal of part-bags of stuff all over the place), but it got such an incredibly enthusiastic response from the folks at my mom’s office that it soon became one of the requests they’d make. In addition to my basic banana bread, which is always a classic, slabs of this slightly spicy, sweet and crunchy loaf would disappear faster than the coffee could be brewed at break time. Come to think of it though, it is rather fitting that a mole-inspired cake would be served with a cup of Joe!

Of course, ideas take a while to percolate with me, and I need a good kick-start to get creating. While the types of baking ingredients on hand dominated the development of the flavour, I was equally inspired by Megan’s post for a cinnamon-layered quickbread. For a little textural dimension in the filling to pair up with the new chilli, cinnamon and cocoa blend I made up, I tossed the walnuts with crunchy, honey-sweetened granola with the spice. What I got was a killer granola mix on it’s own – I highly recommend it – and when I paired it with the buttermilk and coffee cake batter it was simply stellar. I know that it isn’t a “traditional” mole in any sense – seeing as the real thing has something like 20 ingredients – but I figured it had enough of the spirit to warrant it’s name. If nothing else, the taste will win your heart!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ginger Cookies, from One Grandma to Another

It still weirds me out when I realize that my old elementary school friends are “all grown up” – or at least as grown up as I am. In the back of my mind, they all stopped aging around 12 years old, when we graduated to high school, or whatever age they were when I left the hallowed walls. Sadly, or gladly depending on how you look at it, time didn’t stand still for us. We aged, became adults, and moved on with our lives – some of us coming together once in a while for school reunions every so often, but mostly getting lost in the wind. Even Facebook had minimal impact on keeping connections with each other, although most of us had each other as contacts. I’m hardly ever on there myself – mostly, my account is an extra “Favourites Folder” for nifty links I find (the other part of the reason I’m still with them is because it’s a social outlet for my nutritional consulting business). When I do actually pop on there (to answer messages or replies on my Wall), I’m often flabbergasted at what they’re up to.