Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Candy Brownies

Brownie Jack-o-Lantern

As a lover of all things healthy, Halloween is definitely my least favorite holiday.  Sure the dressing up is fun, but the amount of candy my kids consume during all their holiday parties and of course the bags of candy they collect drive me crazy.  I usually let them eat whatever they want that first night, within reason, and then portion out the rest to about one or two pieces a day. But sometimes that can last for weeks and I hate feeding them junk and having the candy around to tempt me. One solution?  Use the candy in a slightly healthy brownie recipe that provides a bit of fiber and protein so that you can feel a little better about eating all those sweets.

Some of my favorite combinations are Reese's peanut butter cups or Reese's pieces baked into a peanut butter brownie like the one below, although using mounds candy bars or almond joys with either coconut oil or almond butter in the place of some of the butter would be delicious.  Peppermint patties also make a good brownie mix in as well as good old M & Ms like I used here.  Granted, this is not a health food, but it is slightly better for you and more satisfying than just eating piece after piece of left over candy. For a special Halloween day treat, it can even be fun to frost the brownies with a light cream cheese frosting and decorate with melted chocolate jack-o-lantern shapes.  Happy trick or treating!!!  (Just remember to eat a salad first!!)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cheesy Whole Grain Breadsticks with Spicy Tomato Dipping Sauce

cheesy breadsticks
with spicy tomato dipping sauce
and a side salad

Sometimes even making a pizza seems like too much work.  On nights like that, or for dinners meant to be eaten on the run, I have turned a pizza inside out with these delicious cheese breadsticks.  My kids think it is fun to eat one thing that counts as a whole meal and I like how quick and simple it is.  I have made them in regular shapes, circles, pretzel shapes, whatever makes my kids laugh and interested in dinner.  If your kids don't mind bits of green or red, you could easily mix some of their favorite veggies right into the dough, or just serve a few cut up vegetables on the side.  I have added a recipe for making your own tomato dipping sauce, but your favorite canned pizza or pasta sauce would work as well, and as everyone knows, kids love foods that you can dip.  So get mixing and whip up these kid friendly dinner treats tonight!!

Whole Grain Pizza Dough

pizzas made with love for my kids

I used to think that making my own pizza required spending a couple of hours in the kitchen watching dough rise, or giving in and using store bought dough, but this recipe changes all that.  By using quick rising instant yeast and organic whole wheat flour, you can now make a delicious and nutritious pizza in about 40 minutes, start to finish.  Of course the nutrition content all depends on what you top your pizza with, but that is the fun part about making your own: you can use whatever you like and whatever you happen to have on hand.  And it is a great dinner for kids to help out with.  My daughter is much more likely to eat a pizza that she helped create and you can make them in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  I have even experimented with sweet toppings like fruit and ricotta cheese with a drizzle of honey.  The possibilities are endless!!

Monday, October 28, 2013

My Mom's Pantry Soup

My Mom's Pantry Soup
My mom is an amazing cook.  If it were not for her instruction, guidance and enthusiasm about food I have no doubt that I would never be as creative in the kitchen as I am now.  My earliest memories are of happily watching my mom bake cookies, make bread and chop vegetables.  I thought she was amazing, and of course I still do.  This past weekend she was the gracious host to a family reunion gathering that numbered 22 people.  Like a pro, she (over)fed us all and the whole weekend went as smoothly as we could have ever hoped for.  Early on in the planning she asked me what I thought she should serve to this growing group of cousins, and my first thought was soup.  A large pot of soup.  Well, she took my advice, but used the soup for lunch, and went on to also make an elaborate dinner of pasta, salads, baked chicken and roasted vegetables.

When making her soup, however, she kindly took photos so that I could post her original recipe for what she dubbed "my pantry soup". Most of the ingredients came from her cupboard and you can basically make different versions of this soup depending on what canned and fresh vegetables you have on hand.  It almost tastes like a brothy chili, but not at all spicy, and I even added some of the left over baked organic chicken to it as a leftover dinner and it was amazing.  It is simple to put together, quick to cook and feeds a large crowd of people.  And it is incredible filling, flavorful and full of nutrients.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Buttermilk Pancakes

smiley faced pancakes
Nothing is better than waking up on a weekend morning and enjoying a delicious plate of warm pancakes.  I know it always puts a smile on my kids' faces and they are happy to wait longer than usual for their morning meal because dad is cooking three dozen pancakes, four at a time. I always make an extra large batch because I want to make sure there are plenty of leftovers to save for another day.  I like to have them in the freezer for school mornings: just pop a few in the toaster oven and they taste almost as fresh as the day we made them.

I have to admit that I do sometimes resort to using a boxed pancake mix since I have found a few great whole grain ones in the organic section of my local grocery store. But this recipe is a basic, simple, buttermilk pancake recipe that is almost as easy to whip up as pouring a box of mix into a bowl and adding some eggs and oil.  I have amended this recipe many times to make the pancakes either chocolate, banana, pumpkin, etc... and have added different types of fruit and nuts as well. I hope this weekend you surprise your kids with a delicious batch of healthy buttermilk pancakes!!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Creamy Lemon Spaghetti

Creamy Lemon Spaghetti

There are very few meals that everyone in my family will eat.  Taco night is always a hit because my daughter loves to eat soft whole wheat tortillas filled with cheese. Pizza can be hit or miss depending on the type and my kids' mood, and macaroni and cheese is usually safe, although the homemade version sometimes bothers my daughter.  But spaghetti, or more recently all pasta, is a favorite for everyone.  My picky daughter may not eat it with anything on top, not even butter, but still, I can make one meal, serve a few vegetables on the side and please everyone. 

When it comes to pasta, I believe simpler is better.  Some of my favorite dishes are nothing more than spaghetti, olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and basil, occasionally with some canned tuna thrown on top.  Super easy and nutritious.  My son has always liked lemons, and like me as a child, he even sucks on lemon wedges if I let him.  So I try to incorporate lemon flavored dishes on a regular basis and this one definitely fits the bill.  It has very basic ingredients, but a lot of flavor and can be made in about 30 minutes or less. Usually recipes for lemon cream sauce include at least a cup of heavy cream, or sour cream, but this recipe is considerably lighter.  Do not be afraid of the half and half (you could probably get away with whole milk as well) because without some fat or richness, the meal will not be as satisfying, leading you to want to eat more later.   It is great as a stand alone vegetarian dish, with some vegetables on the side, or served alongside a nice piece of grilled chicken or fish. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pumpkin Spice Birthday Cake

In my very first blog post, I included a recipe for a Pumpkin Spice Cake that is a definite family favorite.  I have made it in just about every shape, but have never tried it as a three layer cake with cream cheese frosting. One of my first cousins turns forty today, and since I don't see him very often and we happen to be getting together tomorrow for a mini family reunion, I had to bake something.  I asked his wife (since it is always the women who talk the most), whether she thought he would appreciate a cake and if so, what kind is his favorite.  Her reply: "He likes any kind of pumpkin cream cheese icing combo."  Lucky for me, I knew a perfect recipe.

The main reason I am making it as a three layer cake is because I have a nice round cake carrier and we are going to have to travel about four hours in the car tomorrow with the cake. If I have any hope of arriving at my parents' house with the birthday creation in one piece, I figured keeping it securely covered and wedged between items in the trunk of the car is the best bet.  Normally I would try to make a frosting using just low fat cream cheese, but again, since this will be sitting out for so long before serving (planning to arrive right at dinner/ dessert time), I decided to use half butter since butter holds up better at room temperature than cream cheese.  I didn't want my beautiful tower of a cake to become a leaning tower of mush during the trip.

Since this recipe uses all whole grains and nutrient rich pumpkin, it is about as healthy a recipe as you can have for a cake.  Besides the one cup of sugar, (and of course the icing), everything else in it are extremely healthful, but you would never know that by how it tastes.  Even without the frosting, this cake is moist, flavorful and totally satisfying. This is definitely a recipe that allows you to feel good about having your cake and eating it too.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Apple Cider Muffins

Apple Cider Muffins
One of my favorite childhood treats were apple cider donuts that a local apple orchard made fresh every fall.  I always looked forward to going apple picking, but I honestly think it was more about the bag of hot mini donuts that my mom bought for my brother and I afterwards that made the day special.  I don't know if it was the cinnamon and sugar topping or the buttery grease smell that permeated the apple shack, but those donuts always called to me.  I suppose they did have apple in them, or at least apple cider, but whatever the magic ingredients, they always hit the spot.  Unfortunately I am sure they were not at all healthy.  This recipe changes all that.

Every fall I see apple cider start to fill up the shelves in the produce section of my local grocery store, but I rarely buy it.  I am picky about buying my apple products organic, and I don't drink a lot of sugary beverages. But a few weeks ago I saw organic apple cider and so on impulse, I bought a jug.  It has sat at the bottom of my fridge waiting to be opened ever since, and because my kids don't seem to like it much, I thought maybe I could bake with it.  That is when I remembered the apple cider donuts of my childhood and realized that there has to be a good way to make muffins using cider.  I searched online for a couple of recipes but as usual didn't find anything that I really liked, so I took a couple of different ones, morphed them together and wrote up this recipe.  I really had no idea how it would all come together, but I can assure you they are incredible.

I wasn't sure I was going to be able to find apple butter in my store, and I really wasn't sure what was in it, but I went searching and found a jar of organic apple butter in the jelly section.  The ingredients are simply organic apples and organic apple juice concentrate, but you would never know that by the taste.  It is incredibly sweet, moist and rich.  If you cannot find apple butter, I am sure apple sauce would work as well.  For the fresh diced apples, I used the organic granny smith variety because they are firm and tart and great when baking.  So next time you get a craving for an apple cider donut made the old fashioned way, try whipping up a batch of these wholesome ones first! You will not be disappointed!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Maple Walnut Muffins

Maple Walnut Muffins

I love maple syrup, or to be more accurate, I love maple sugar.  Despite being a dark chocolate addict, one of my favorite candies of all time are those leaf shaped blocks of pure maple sugar.  Usually you can only buy them at specialty shops, Northern touristy spots, or large country fairs.  I was at one such fair a few weeks ago and was in search of maple sugar the whole day.  Not only did I find a bunch of the candies I love, I also bought a jar of pure maple sugar and the best find of the day: maple cotton candy.  My son loves cotton candy, but I never let him buy the traditional type made with chemical food coloring, so as soon as we saw the pure maple version, I knew we had to get it. And I think I ate more of it than he did!

But I digress.  I love maple syrup so much that despite the cost, we go through a 12.5 ounce bottle or two a month because it is not only good on pancakes, waffles and oatmeal, but it is great to bake with as well. While being full of flavor, it is also lower in carbohydrates than other types of syrups, has a significant amount of calcium and potassium, small amounts of iron and phosphorus and trace amounts of B vitamins.  When cooking, you may need to adjust the ratio of dry and liquid ingredients if using maple syrup in place of regular sugar*, but otherwise it is a nutritionally superior substitute.

This recipe is all fixed and ready for you, so no need to worry about substitutions, and it is so worth the slightly extra cost of maple syrup.  I also used organic butter in this recipe, but you could definitely use oil instead if you are worried about saturated fat.  I chose butter because there is not a lot of other flavor besides the maple, and I wanted to have a very rich decadent muffin to pair that subtle flavor with, and this way there is no need to add extra butter when eating.  They are that good.  If you happen to have any pure maple sugar, you could definitely sprinkle some on top before baking for an extra boost of sweetness. And please, whatever you do, do not use imitation maple syrup or flavoring.  Most of the syrup sold in grocery stores today is nothing more than flavored corn syrup full of chemicals and harmful additives.  Spend the extra few dollars because with the intense flavor of real syrup you will need considerably less, and thus not break the bank and possibly shrink your waistline in the process.

*To substitute maple syrup for sugar, you should use about 1/3 less maple syrup than the amount of sugar called for (use 2/3 cup maple syrup for every 1 cup of sugar) and decrease the wet ingredients by approximately 2 tablespoons for every 1/2 cup of maple syrup added.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Baked Potato Soup

Creamy Baked Potato Soup
Who doesn't love a delicious, creamy baked potato covered in toppings?  Now how about you make that into a rich and flavorful soup using ingredients that are tasty and healthy?  That is what I did last night and it was amazing.

Usually if you look up a recipe for baked potato soup, it will be loaded with cream, butter, cheese, sour cream, and probably more butter.  Basically a bowl of saturated fat bound to make you feel awful both physically and mentally afterward.  This recipe is different, without losing any of the flavor.  In my opinion, it probably tastes better because it uses wholesome ingredients that add flavor without fat, to create a satisfying soup that is high in protein and full of comfort.

I was able to whip this soup up very quickly once the potatoes were baked and scooped apart.  I would recommend adding in about half of the milk, and then adding as much more as you need to get the consistency you are looking for.  My mom chose to use vegetable stock in place of half of the milk, and olive oil instead of butter and it turned out just as delicious.  I had it for dinner last night, and for lunch today and I swear it tasted better today.  But that could of been because of the very small drizzle of gourmet white truffle oil I poured on top... so decadent. Regardless of how you choose to garnish this soup, it is a hearty meal for a cold fall day. Eat up!!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Healthy Chocolate Donuts?

Healthy Delicious Donut!!!
(my daughter's breakfast)
To be honest, these are muffins, baked in a donut pan, but they still satisfy that craving for a delicious, chocolate cake donut.  They do have a bit of regular sugar in them, but not a lot, and all the other ingredients are extremely healthful so you can feel good about feeding them to your family.  This recipe is an old one, which I have made many times, for a lot of family occasions or lazy mornings and it is always a favorite.  I like to make a large amount and freeze them so whenever I need to get my daughter to eat something nutritious without her knowing, I can pop one out, defrost it and maybe spread a thin layer of Nutella on top and call it a cupcake. Works like a charm.  Like a lot of my morning recipes, I often mix up the dry ingredients the day before, or in this case two days before, so that in the morning I just have to whisk together the wet ingredients, stir it all up and bake.  This gives me plenty of time to wash and cut up some fruit to round out another amazing meal.

Ch Ch Ch Chia

This is not a flash back to the 1980s when chia seeds became popular as the means to grow fur and hair on kitschy ceramic animals and heads. I have never owned one of those, but I do regularly buy large bags of chia seed in the organic section of my local grocery store.  I had been hearing about the health benefits of chia for a couple of years now, but it wasn't until I started working out a year ago and became even more focused on everything I put into my body that I decided to try them.  Chia seeds have been shown to have numerous health benefits in addition to being a great substitute for eggs in recipes because of the gelatin like binding structure of them when soaked overnight.  (1/4 C. soaked chia seeds equals 1 egg). They are the highest vegetable source of omega-3 fatty acids, high in fiber, protein, as well as manganese and phosphorus (good for bones).  The reason I started using them was because I was always hungry during my morning workouts even after eating a large breakfast, and chia seeds have the amazing ability to expand up to three times their size and therefore slow the digestion process by keeping the stomach fuller for longer.  They are known to increase energy and endurance and help the body to rebuild muscles after exercise, and even more remarkably they have been shown to lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol, while increasing levels of good cholesterol.  For more information about their health benefits, check out the following websites:

When I first bought chia seeds, I would just sprinkle them on my cereal, wait a few minutes to let the milk soak in a little and then dig in.  But one of the coolest properties of chia seeds is their ability to absorb liquid so another favorite way to eat them is as a chocolate pudding that I often make in large batches and use in recipes all week as well as in my breakfast yogurt mixture.  I have even begun feeding it to the rest of my family in the hopes of reducing my husband's cholesterol naturally and increasing my children's nutritional intake.  My son requested a "strawberry chia pudding" so I mixed about 1/3 cup of the plain mixture soaked in organic soy milk and stirred in about one tablespoon of strawberry preserves.  He loved it, and I am glad I found a healthy alternative to jello to feed him.  Here is the basic guidelines for soaking chia seeds and the chocolate recipe that I use:

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Double Chocolate Oatmeal Breakfast Bars

Double Chocolate Oatmeal Breakfast Bars
I suppose I could have just eaten the last 1/2 cup of chocolate chia seed pudding that I had in the bottom of my fridge.  But it is Saturday morning, my family is hungry and I have time to bake, so of course the natural thing is to make up a new recipe, using the chocolate chia seed mixture, hoping it turns out well.  This morning's creation was definitely a success.

These nutritious and scrumptious breakfast bars are chewy, sweet, moist and full of wholesome whole grains and healthy fats from walnuts and almond butter.  And best of all, extremely rich and oozing with dark chocolate.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Spicy Peanut Noodles

Spicy Peanut Noodles

If you read my post last night for Coconut Curry Noodles, you know that I based that entire meal around purple corn and rice noodles that I saw at my local store this past week.  Well, to be honest, those noodles intrigued me so much that I bought two packages.  I love when foods are deeply colored naturally because usually the darker the produce, the more nutrients it has for your body, and although I know that the amount of actual purple corn in these noodles probably holds very little nutritional benefit, I figured that they had to be better than plain old white ones. And more importantly, they are prettier. 

Anyway, I realized that unless I wanted tons of left overs I only needed to cook one package per recipe to feed my little family, so that left me with another box to work with.  I had initially had a spicy peanut sauce idea in my head when shopping but then realized that a lot of my posts have featured peanut butter recently, and having a nephew with a peanut allergy, I try to cook with and offer alternatives to peanuts.  But for this recipe, it is all about the spicy Thai inspired peanut sauce.  Full of healthy fats, tons of veggies and barely any sugar, this is a dish that is rich, satisfying and most importantly, easy to pack for a night on the run (once again).

This evening there is a walk-a-thon for the local school district at our high school track.  Normally on a night like tonight I would pack sandwiches, or just take a night off and go somewhere before or after to grab a bite to eat.  But this event goes from about 4:30 until 7:30 pm which doesn't leave a lot of time for eating.  I am planning to help out while there and my husband will be walking with the kids, but I figure he and I will be able to find some time to sit down and eat a quick meal.  Which is why I am packing this.  It is best served at room temperature and there is nothing in it that would spoil sitting out for a few hours, so I thought it would be perfect, and a nice change of pace to actually have a decent meal while out and about.  Of course the kids will be way too busy with their friends to stop for more than a minute or two so they have bags of fruit and veggies and Peanut Butter and Banana muffins to eat at some point.  Hopefully it all goes smoothly, and everyone is well fed.  I know that I am sure looking forward to it!

Halloween Bake Sale Treats

Halloween Bake Sale Treats

It is bake sale season again and this fall for my daughter's Harvest Festival at preschool I have decided to make a favorite from last Easter, decorated this time for Halloween.  These treats are super simple and easy to make and yet full of healthy ingredients.  And according to my super picky daughter, "the best things ever!"  Obviously using the dark chocolate would be the healthier choice, for unlike the white chocolate which is basically just sugar and milk fat, the dark chocolate is full of antioxidants and low in sugar.  But my son loves white chocolate and these treats are kind of pretty that way, so this time around I decided to make some of each (made a recipe and a half). They take about half an hour to assemble and then need to refrigerate for awhile to harden, but if kept refrigerated they will last for days, provided you don't gobble them up first.  I made 24 mini cookies for the bake sale and put the left overs in mini cake pans for us to eat and in less than 24 hours they are all gone. Delicious and fun!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Who comes first?

You do!!

As a stay at home mother of two I know how easy it can be to put your kids first, your husband first, your house first... everything but the most important thing: yourself!!  I know that there were years where I focused on making sure everyone else was ok and let myself, and my health slide a bit.  But I am trying (not always perfectly) to change that pattern and make sure that while I am there for my family and do what needs to get done, I am cautious as to what that does to me and what I need to do to make myself happy, healthy and spiritually whole.

Definitely starting a regular gym routine a year ago was the beginning of giving myself some much needed "me" time that didn't revolve around watching a television show or taking an hour long nap.  Both of which are good for you as well, but I was letting my health and my sense of purpose slide away.  This blog has given me focus for sure and a new found sense of responsibility, because I am not going to write about knowing things or doing things unless I practice what I preach.  I have always eaten well, more or less, and now I exercise, but when it comes to simple things like making doctor's appointments or following through with health advice I still have some work to do.

This week, however, I have been on top of things, and I got some results back today that I wanted to share with my followers to help encourage you to think about and try to eat the way that I do, even if some of the recipes might seem a bit odd or the ingredients a bit too "healthy." I had gotten an order from my doctor back in May for routine blood work, but it included the instructions to fast (for the cholesterol test).  The fact that I work out a lot, am always hungry, get up very early and stay home with my kids made it basically impossible to get to the lab in the morning and get the test done.  So here it is, October 17th and I figure I will just go and get the test done after the gym, even though I ate 4 hours ago and just hope for the best.  There were other things being tested that didn't require me to fast (liver function test, basic blood cell count, etc.) so at least I could get that accomplished and maybe my cholesterol would still be normal.

I actually had an appointment with my doctor last minute this afternoon about a different topic and I mentioned that I had gotten the blood work without fasting and she basically told me that it was probably pointless and that I would most likely have to have it done again.  I was there to see her about the fact that my hair seems to be thinning a lot and since I was trying to take charge of my health from all aspects I wanted to be proactive and see what a professional would recommend.  I had hoped that the blood work I had done earlier today would have also checked for hormone levels or thyroid function (what she now wants to check), but no such luck. So I figured that if my cholesterol came back all whacky, I would just have it all done again together early next week.  I am confident, as is my doctor, that my hair is or will return to normal (I think this blogging has added to my stress level, while conversely increasing my sense of fulfillment) and that although I do have a genetic predisposition for fine, thin hair, I will in no way be going bald any time soon.

Needless to say, the lab technicians were working expeditiously today because while I was busy cooking my delicious Coconut Curry Noodle dinner a nurse called with my test results from this morning.  She was pleased to inform me that ALL of my blood work came back normal.  My blood count, my liver function, and my cholesterol were all great, even though I had not followed directions and eaten prior to the test.  She said that because it all came back normal, I would not need to retest for cholesterol, but before I could thank her for calling she told me that "just so you know, your HDL levels were really impressive."  I guess normally they want the HDL cholesterol, the "Healthy" cholesterol to be above 40, and mine was 90.  Which I guess is good.  Really really good.  So then I really thanked her for calling, hung up, did a little happy dance and thought that maybe I should blog about it.  I suppose I am just trying to prove that not only are my recipes delicious and my exercise habits attainable, they work!  I really am as physically healthy as I have ever hoped to be, and I no longer have to call myself a hypocrite.  So even if something I post sounds odd, or includes an ingredient you have never heard of before, give it a try. This way of living has done wonders for my energy level, outlook on life, happiness and productivity!!!  Maybe it will for you as well. (let me know!!)

Coconut Curry Noodles

Coconut Curry Noodles
Usually when I go to the grocery store I have a very detailed list and a fairly good idea of what I plan to serve for meals for the next few days.  I rarely succumb to impulse buys and besides waiting to see what produce looks the best, I pretty much know exactly what I am going to buy when I walk in the door.  But every once in awhile I see something that I just have to try and then scramble around trying to figure out what else I need to buy in order to turn that ingredient into a meal.  This is what happened when shopping yesterday and I happened to see a box of purple corn and rice noodles.  I have cooked with rice noodles many times before because my son loves all kinds of Asian inspired noodle dishes and I love cooking inventive and adventurous meals that I know he will enjoy.  But what was I going to make with these intriguing purple noodles?

As I stood there in the aisle I tried to think of what I already had at home so that I wouldn't have to add too much more to my list and break my budget. Luckily I keep a fairly well stocked pantry and quickly realized that with the addition of a few fresh veggies I had enough to make a new meal using the purple noodles that was sure to please my family and be quick and easy to whip together on a school night.  You could definitely change up this recipe with your favorite vegetables, and a different protein source.  Fresh cooked shrimp, or even raw ones that you could then cook in the coconut milk (if you have more time), or cooked organic chicken or tofu would be delicious in the recipe, but I used the canned shrimp because I always have it on hand and it is an easy and convenient source of protein.

Now don't get all concerned about the level of fat in this meal because of the use of coconut milk.  Yes, the regular kind can be high in fat, but because it comes from a plant source as opposed to a cut of beef or a block of cheese, it is the kind of saturated fat that your body actually needs. Of course you could use a lighter version of coconut milk, but you will sacrifice the creamy texture and the satisfying richness of the dish.  Just because something is low in fat or lower in calories, doesn't necessarily make it healthier.  Plus when you eat "real" food, the way nature intended it to be, you won't be inclined to overeat afterwards.  This is the type of meal where you will not need a lot to be satisfied and although you could have dessert afterwards, you may not crave it like you would with other entrees.  And yes, my plateful is huge, but I did a heavy work out this morning and have been busy in the kitchen ever since. So now it is time to eat!!!

purple corn and rice noodles

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich Muffins

Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich Muffins

On days like today, I know I struggle to find easy and healthy foods for my kids to eat while on the run from one activity to another.  It would be very easy to drive through a pick up window at the local fast food place and grab something quick to go, but even if I could bring myself to do that more than once every couple of months, my kids actually don't even like that type of food anymore.  So what to do?  I could make yet another turkey sandwich, or peanut butter and jelly, or as I often do, give them a kids' protein bar and a bag of fruit and nuts to hold them over... but how about a healthy sandwich disguised in a muffin?  You could even spread a thin layer of chocolate peanut butter or Nutella on top and call it a cupcake like I do with my daughter and it works even better.  Obviously a muffin is not a perfect dinner replacement but if your kids are active like mine, it is a great before activity meal that will fill them up without weighing them down.  And because it is sweetened with bananas and honey, it tastes like dessert and will be sure to please even the pickiest eaters.  Trust me, because I have one of those kids!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Back to Work(ing out)

ready to work out

I may have been busy baking and blogging this past weekend, but unfortunately I wasn't able to get to the gym to work out for four days in a row.  Granted I could have worked out at home, or gone out for a quick run, and I did do a few sets of push ups and sit ups, but it definitely wasn't my usual.  The combination of a preschool field trip with my daughter, a soccer tournament with my son and a holiday weekend full of activities took up most of my time.  I tried to remind myself that it is good to give your body a break every once in awhile so that when you do go back to intense working out, you are "fresh". I just try not to do that more than once a month.

I took advantage of my time away from the gym by getting some much needed baking and cooking done, and catching up a bit on my sleep, if there is such a thing. I could always use more sleep, so not having anywhere to be late at night, or early in the morning was a nice break these past few days. Consequently, when the alarm went off at 5:15 am this morning, I may have been initially tired, but I was ready to go.

I started out my morning as usual with a soy milk and berry juice smoothie, followed at 7 am with my favorite Chocolate Pre-workout Breakfast Pudding and a side of fresh fruit.  I mixed it up the night before because I knew it was going to be a busy morning of house cleaning, child care and the usual rush off to school.  Surprisingly I was actually early today and got to the gym right as class was starting as opposed to a minute or two late.

This morning the class was a tire class, yes tires.  Basically a CrossFit style class using large construction vehicle tires to do a variety of hop up, run through, and push up moves. The class was only 20 minutes of activity but it was non stop and quite intense and definitely a great way to start off my day.  There was a spin class offered afterwards, but I was in a rush and as I have said before I do not like to do large amounts of cardio, or spend more than an hour working out at the gym at any given time. So I did my own routine after the tires class which took me about 20 minutes more.  In case you are interested, this is what I did:

50 GHD (CrossFit style) sit ups
25 dead lifts using a 35 pound kettle bell
50 walking lunges (25 each leg)

25 basic stomach crunches
12 crunches to the left
12 crunches to the right
25 dead lifts using two 20 pound kettle bells (increased the weight)
50 walking lunges

50 GHD sit ups
25 dead lifts using two 20 pound kettle bells
50 walking lunges

2 sets of 12 knee tucks using the seat of a rowing machine for my feet and holding my body in the push up position

3 sets of 12 lateral row arm exercises using 8 pound weights

stretch and shower!!!

It felt really good to workout again after a long weekend off and I am sure I am in no worse shape because I let my body rest a bit for once.  It was nice to relax with my family, eat lots of healthy meals and a few decadent treats and reset my mind and body for another busy week ahead.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Vegan Chocolate Coconut Sugar Cookies

Vegan Chocolate Coconut Sugar Cookies
Who doesn't love a chocolate sugar cookie?  I know my family goes crazy for them, ever since I amended my mom's decades old sugar cookie recipe by adding a touch more sugar and some dark cocoa powder to create my kids' favorite snack.  I have made them in every shape and size, from 1 inch tiny stars to sandwich sized Millenium Falcon Star Wars cookies, and they are perfect every time.  So I decided to try amending the recipe again to not only increase and diversify the flavor, but to make them slightly more nutritious as well by replacing the butter with coconut oil, half the sugar with coconut nectar and the egg with soaked chia seeds.  Consequently, they are not only healthier, but they are vegan as well, which to me means that I could test out the uncooked batter without any worries.  (it is delicious)...  Like any sugar cookie, bake them longer if you like them crunchy, or shorter if you like them chewy, but they are great either way.

Canadian Thanksgiving Casserole

Happy Thanksgiving Canada!

Canadian and American Flag painted play house in our back yard
(built by my husband, painted by me)

This recipe is in honor of all my amazing family and friends who live in my country's wonderful neighbor to the north, Oh Canada!!! My Canadian husband may not have remembered until I said something a few days ago about today's Thanksgiving, but he was quick to request that I make him a turkey dinner, and knowing that the fastest way to a man's heart is through his stomach, I had to oblige.  I would much rather celebrate the Canadian fall harvest than the man who accidentally sailed his boat into the Bahamas 500 years ago and then tortured and enslaved the people who had lived there for centuries.  So Happy Thanksgiving it would be today.

However, after a long week of baking, exercising and blogging, I really didn't feel like cooking a turkey from scratch.  I have yet to find any organic turkey at my local supermarket, and since I don't cook or eat meat that often, I decided to cave in and buy a precooked, yet delicious, rotisserie turkey breast at the store.  I had initially planned to just serve it with some gravy from a jar (definitely not a normal staple in my home), a side of fresh veggies, homemade stuffing and mashed potatoes.  But then I got to thinking... what if I tried to do something a bit more creative? The thought of mashed potatoes led me to think about changing up a traditional shepherd's pie recipe using turkey instead of ground beef.  And what if I add in stuffing too?  I am sure I am not the first to think of a creative way to basically heat up leftovers, but I thought it sounded like fun. And then of course it would give me something to blog about as well. 

In order to make my meal as healthy as possible, I am sticking to my usual organic, whole food, whole wheat, full of vegetables style of cooking.  I have tried to make my process as simple as possible to understand, although in the end you can always make whatever stuffing and version of potatoes you prefer and just layer it this way.  But here is exactly what I used and how I put it together.  And it was totally worth celebrating!!  Happy Thanksgiving to the land of maple syrup and polar bears!!! I love you Canada!

Canadian Thanksgiving Casserole

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Savory Pumpkin Biscuits

Breakfast is served!!
pumpkin biscuits, fruit salad and turkey sausages
These are incredible. They are moist, flaky, and good for you!  Usually I don't bake with a lot of butter, but I figured that this twist on my pumpkin scone recipe has so little sugar (a mere tablespoon of honey) that I figured using good old delicious organic butter would be best without affecting the overall healthfulness of the recipe.  Made with a whole cup of fresh roasted pumpkin (canned pumpkin would be fine as well), 100% whole wheat pastry flour and antioxidant rich spices, these biscuits are a healthy addition to any meal; morning, noon or night.  Even my super picky daughter gobbled up two of them which means I got her to eat a couple of spoonfuls of pumpkin with her breakfast without her even knowing! These biscuits can be made any size or shape, and if made large enough would be fabulous as the base for a breakfast sandwich.  They could also be served with a little extra honey as a dessert or with some tea, and would make a fabulous addition to a Thanksgiving dinner. Definitely one of my best creations ever!

Pumpkin Brownie Bonanza

Pumpkin Pie Brownie
Pumpkin Fudge Brownie

When I roasted the two small sugar pumpkins the other afternoon, I had no idea how much pumpkin puree I would end up with.  I know I could have frozen some, or sauteed it in a pan with olive oil, salt and pepper and eaten it, but of course I felt the urge to keep baking until it was gone.  So this afternoon I decided to whip up another batch of pumpkin pie brownies, amending the recipe slightly, and a batch of deliciously moist dark chocolate brownies using pumpkin as well.  Both recipes use all organic whole wheat pastry flour, organic canola oil, organic eggs, and healthful spices.  I cut down the sugar in the pumpkin pie brownies because I always thought they were a bit too sweet and used more healthful agave and coconut nectars in the chocolate brownies, as well as antioxidant rich dark cocoa powder.  I baked them at the same time and they made the house smell incredible.  Only trouble is deciding which one to eat first!!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Creamy Pumpkin Gnocchi

Creamy Pumpkin Gnocchi

This recipe is a slight twist on the pumpkin pasta in my All About Pumpkin post, using what I had on hand and switching out the pasta for my favorite: potato gnocchi.  I love the soft, chewy, heaviness of gnocchi, especially on a cool night when all I want is a nice warm, full belly.  Gnocchi is as versatile as pasta and is good with all sorts of sauces, so I thought I would put my freshly roasted sugar pumpkins to good use and make a deliciously simple, and very gourmet tasting meal.  This was my first attempt at roasting pumpkins and it was super easy (as long as you have a sharp knife).  It made the house smell delicious and I know it made a huge difference in the quality of the sauce.  Of course you could easily use canned pumpkin and it would be equally as satisfying.  But for the minimal effort required, this dish tastes like something truly extraordinary.  I hope you try it and serve it to your friends!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Muffin Cookies

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Muffin Cookies

My 9 year old son has a 3 v 3 soccer tournament tomorrow and I wanted to bring something for him and his teammates to eat while running around all morning that would be quick, kid friendly, filling but not heavy and of course nutritious.  I figured the easiest thing for a kid to grab on the run would be in cookie form, but most cookies are high in sugar and not high in nutrients. These cookies are different.  Peanut butter (could substitute any other nut butter of course) is high in protein and healthy fats, oatmeal has fiber to keep you full, and bananas are a perfect nutrient dense sweetener when baking, so I combined all three and came up with these.  They are definitely not very sweet, and have the consistency of a muffin or cake more than a chewy cookie, but they are satisfying, flavorful and great for taking along on a busy day.  Think of them as a peanut butter and banana sandwich in cookie form... two kid favorites blended into one treat!  Hopefully my son's team will enjoy them as much as my family does and I look forward to hearing how your family likes them as well. 

* this recipe has been amended since it's first posting. 

Tropical Oatmeal

Tropical Oatmeal

I love using bananas in oatmeal as the main form of sweetener and this chilly morning was definitely one that called for a hot bowl of oatmeal.  For a change however, I thought I would try a twist on my usual banana, walnut and cinnamon combination and throw in a slightly tropical twist.  By adding just a small amount of coconut oil, shredded coconut and some chia seeds for texture, I created this delicious, nutritious, tropical delight.  It was too good not to share!!  Now if only I was eating it in the tropics too!!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Spicy High Protein Black Bean Chili

Spicy High Protein Black Bean Chili

Today is definitely one of those rainy days that just makes you want to curl up under a blanket with a good book and a bowl of soup and stay put for awhile.  I didn't have the luxury of the blanket or the book yet, but I definitely enjoyed the soup, or in this case, chili.  I love cooking with beans because they are a meatless, high protein way to satisfy even the strongest appetite. Like most of my recipes, this one can be switched around depending on what type of beans and veggies you prefer or have on hand, because it is the basic process and seasonings that make it so deliciously simple.  Because I wanted more protein, I decided to add TVP (textured vegetable protein), which is basically just dried soy beans, into this chili, but that is completely optional. Either way, this is quick to throw together, can sit on the stove simmering for hours and will feed a family of 4-6 easily.  So feed your body, mind and spirit tonight with this bowl of healthfulness.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

High Protein Pumpkin Maple Custard

High Protein Pumpkin Maple Custard
I had no idea if this recipe would even work until it was about halfway through the baking process, but it did, and it is amazing.  I came up with it basically to use up some left over canned pumpkin that I had in the refrigerator, as well as a package of silken tofu.  I have often used silken tofu to make a healthy, high protein chocolate cream pie by mixing it with melted dark chocolate and a touch of honey, so I started to think that maybe I could use it to make a pumpkin custard pie as well.  I am sure this recipe would work with even more canned pumpkin if you want a stronger flavor, but I like the subtle pumpkin flavor of this one because it lets the maple sugar take center stage.  If you cannot find the maple almond butter I used, you could definitely substitute plain almond butter with about 3-4 tablespoons of brown sugar mixed in.  This creation is definitely a healthy alternative to pumpkin pie and I promise you won't miss the crust at all!!  It is definitely not very sweet, so if you prefer it sweeter, I would recommend topping it with some heart healthy organic granola and a drizzling of maple syrup. (or maybe even some vanilla ice cream!!)

Pumpkin Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies

Pumpkin Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies
Cookies for breakfast??  Sure... especially when made with organic oats, pumpkin, spices and only a small amount of sugar!!  These yummy and amazing smelling beauties are a twist on the Banana Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies I posted about before.  The best part about these is that the wet and dry mixes can be prepared a day ahead and then mixed together in the morning quickly to make a warm, healthy treat your whole family will love!!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Biscuit Bites

The Original Chocolate Almond Biscuit Bites
As a lover of all things chocolate, I came across a recipe a few years ago for double chocolate scones that I just had to try.  It was a pretty basic recipe that called for flour, sugar, cocoa, melted chocolate and of course, lots and lots of butter.  The first time I tried it, I only changed the type of flour to my favorite organic white whole wheat but kept the rest of it the same and they were ridiculously good.  Rich, decadent, flaky and buttery, and obviously not that healthy. So I kept changing the recipe a little more each time, adding new things in, changing out fat and sugar sources, trying to make it more nutritious... until I came across this combination.  It still uses cocoa powder and lots of melted dark chocolate, but instead of the butter, I use almond butter. Genius. Not only is it a healthy fat source, it is also high in protein and is equally as rich and decadent without being too overpowering in flavor.  I named this recipe "Chocolate Almond Biscuit Bites" and they have become a true family favorite.

The recipe makes a lot, but that is the point because as soon as they are cool from the oven I put whatever has not been already eaten into bags and freeze them.  They can last for months in there (if they don't get eaten first) and are perfect for my son's snacks at school, a quick breakfast when I am in a rush, or an afternoon pick me up on a busy day.  Like most of my other recipes, I never stop at just one.  As soon as I perfected this one, I changed it up and made lots of variations, and each member of my family has their favorite.  I almost always have a couple of different kinds in my freezer and you can easily change up the ingredients in the ones you make as well depending on what you prefer or what you have on hand to work with.  I hope you too enjoy my one of a kind "biscuit bites" as much as I do!!!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Meatless Monday, Mexican Style

Enchilada Lasagna 
served with crispy kale chips and carrot sticks

This is a vegetarian Mexican spin on a traditional lasagna that I came up with last year.  It is so hearty and delicious that even my meat loving husband frequently requests that I make it.  The choice of beans, tomatoes, any additional veggies or spices, even the cheeses can be switched around depending on what you and your family prefer or what you happen to have in your pantry.  This is my go to combination when I want to feed everyone and warm the house up in the process.  So give meatless a try this Monday and let me know what you think!!!

Chocolate Pre-workout Breakfast Pudding

Chocolate Breakfast Pudding

Ok, this one might seem weird to some people (like my mom) and totally delicious to others (makes me think of my father in law's breakfast yogurt creations) but I swear it is a tasty, super effective way to gain energy and stamina for the long morning ahead, which for me will hopefully include an hour long work out. I have found in the past that regardless of how much I ate for breakfast by the time I was halfway through a workout an hour or two later I would be starving and unable to perform at my best.  So I have been trying out a few new combinations to see what will give me the most long lasting satiety while still being super nutritious.  The combination of high protein Greek yogurt, stomach filling chia seeds, healthy fats in peanut butter and walnuts combined with the satisfying flavor of chocolate and cherries makes this my new go to breakfast. Enjoy it with a side of sliced bananas and kiwis (two vitamin packed fruits that are inexpensive, available all year round and safe to buy non organic).  I had this every day last week and I thought it was time I share it with you as well!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Chocolate Coconut Brownie Donuts

Chocolate Coconut Brownie Donuts

Today was one of those days that called for a little indulgence, and usually for me that means chocolate.  But as always, I try to find ways to add a little health into everything I make, so although there is sugar, fat and chocolate chips in these, there are also whole grains, fiber and plenty of nutrients as well.  This is also an example of how I interchange ingredients and how you can learn to do the same.  Instead of the usual white sugar, I used half coconut nectar, which has a very low glycemic index (and won't affect blood sugar levels as drastically), is high in minerals, amino acids, and vitamins B and C.  If you do not have or cannot find coconut nectar, you could easily substitute honey, maple syrup or agave nectar.  Instead of butter, I used coconut oil, which although high in saturated fat, also helps control blood sugar levels, can increase your metabolism and helps your body absorb fat soluble vitamins.  You could also use canola oil, peanut butter or almond butter, depending on your flavor preference.  And as always, I used whole wheat flour and added in wheat germ and flax seed for an added nutritional boost.  The result is an incredibly rich, slightly flaky and delicate treat that my whole family loved!!!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Oatmeal On the Go

Oatmeal Bars
Who doesn’t like a sweet warm bowl of oatmeal on a cold morning?  It fills you up, warms you from the inside out and is usually a nutritionally sound option (so long as you don’t add a lot of additional sugar).  A favorite sweetener in our house is mashed up bananas, or frozen berries, mixed into cooked oatmeal and topped with a little cinnamon and chopped walnuts.  Unfortunately the most nutrient dense oatmeal choices are the ones that take the longest to prepare (steel cut) and sometimes trying to cook even regular oats quickly in the morning doesn’t turn out so well.  And although I have tried the trick of par boiling oats the night before, I also find that cumbersome, and to be honest, oatmeal is always best when freshly cooked.  One simple solution?  Oatmeal bars and cookies made to go!!  You can prepare the dry mixture the day before, although these recipes literally take minutes to throw together, and then bake them quickly in the morning.  I even think they taste good the next day, and the day after that, so long as they are stored tightly in the fridge and reheated a bit before eating.  The ingredients are interchangeable depending on what types of dried fruits and nuts you prefer or have on hand.  The following are some of my favorites...  and they are literally as healthy as a bowl of oatmeal... on the go!!

Happy Breakfast Baking!!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

All About Pumpkin

Even if it weren't for the drop in nighttime temperature and the fact that my modest back yard organic garden looks about done for the year, it is obvious that fall has arrived in my home.  No longer am I sitting outside in the sunshine reading a book when I have a free moment, or inside washing pounds of produce from my garden.  I noticed it a few weeks ago when my son went back to school and the temperature dropped... that unmistakable urge to bake that comes when I feel cooped up inside my house.  Over the course of three days I baked four different items and if it weren't for my children's relentless after school schedule (soccer, dance, guitar lessons, baseball...) I am sure I would have baked even more treats.  Not that we have that many mouths to feed.  :)  And of course when fall comes around and my favorite season full of fresh produce is over, what do I turn to in my kitchen?  PUMPKIN!!!
Growing in my backyard!!

Not only is pumpkin easy to use and convenient to have on hand, but it is also extremely nutritious. It is one of the lowest calorie vegetables and contains no saturated fats or cholesterol.  However, it is high in fiber, anti-oxidants, minerals (copper, calcium, potassium and phosphorus) and vitamins A, C and E.

Usually I am happy to use canned pumpkin and to be honest I have never roasted and scooped out the inside of a sugar pumpkin for baking, but this year we are attempting to grow a few in our yard.  If the not so healthy vine does grow me a usable pumpkin or two, I will definitely roast it up and use it in one of the following delicious recipes... none of which are a basic pumpkin pie.  Why stick to something so boring (although a favorite of my husband) when there are so many other options to experiment with?  My all time favorite is a recipe I concocted last fall after looking up pumpkin bar recipes online and not finding anything that I liked.  After a few tries, I got the recipe perfect and it has been a year round favorite in our home ever since... pumpkin pie brownies!!  Not only are they delicious and nutritious (one sure way to get my very picky daughter to eat some vegetables), but they make the house smell amazing while cooking and for hours afterwards.  All of the recipes that follow are original pumpkin creations (or modified versions of old favorites) that my whole family looks forward to each fall. Happy baking!!