Friday, November 07, 2014

10 Tips to Doing Your Holiday Baking Without Gaining Any Weight

This time of year can pose a real challenge to those of us who do Christmas or Holiday Baking!

10 Tips\

We are often surrounded by tasty, tempting ingredients and recipes that we don’t normally face during the rest of the year… we are looking to make salted caramels, shortbread, molasses cookies, butter tarts, pecan and mincemeat pies…. and on and on.  Every year it seems there are more and more calorie and sugar laden goodies to try… more recipes in our favorite magazines and blogs and it can all become quite overwhelming… and let’s be honest… fattening!

It would be easier to just refuse to do it… and for a brave few, that is often the solution.
But for those of us who want to make special things for beloved family members and friends, how do we go about producing these fabulous food gifts without piling on the pounds?

Some people would advise you to only make things that you don’t like to eat yourself.  Others would say to bake when you are not hungry, or to put the baked goodies in the freezer right away so they are out of sight.  Good tips, but not very realistic.  Who hasn’t discovered that peanut butter cookies taste wonderful when they are frozen?

So what do you do when faced with raw cookie dough or chocolate cake batter?  How do you keep from tasting or nibbling or licking the spoons or egg beaters while you are doing the actual baking?  We all know that these little BLTs (bites, licks, tastes) can add up to hundreds of extra calories over a few hours… and if you do several baking sessions, you might be facing thousands of calories full of sugar and fat!

I think we should reward ourselves for all of this creative and love-driven work we are doing, by enjoying some of the goodies we are making.  I think it is extremely unrealistic to expect that we won’t do a bit of sampling… but I would suggest that we decide, before we even get started, that we are going to sit down with a cup of tea or coffee, or even a glass of wine, AFTER it is all done and enjoy one piece of our favorite confection…. one cookie, one piece of brownie, one thin sliver of pie.

Keep your eye on that prize, and keep the tasting to a minimum.

I have come up with a few ways to avoid the BLTs and have been given some tips by some of my friends over the years as well… I would love to share them with you.

10 Tips for Doing Your Holiday Baking Without Gaining Any Weight
  • Brush your teeth before you get started.  A fresh, clean mouth feels so good and you are less likely to start popping nuts or chocolate chips into your mouth when you have fresh sparkly clean teeth.
  • Chew gum.  It is very difficult to pop bits of cookie dough into your mouth while you are chewing gum.  Let’s face it.  We don’t need to taste the cookie dough because we are often using recipes that we have made over and over and over again… we already know that dough tastes good!   I am not normally a gum chewer but I do find this tip really works for me.
  • It does make sense to do your baking when you are not hungry.  But you might want to have an appropriate snack at the ready, right out in front of you where it is easily accessible.  Apple slices covered with peanut butter, or some cubes of cheddar cheese will help keep you going.  Make it something a bit special that you really like, and something that can easily be popped into your mouth instead of a piece of cookie dough.
  • Have lunch already prepared so you don’t nibble instead of eating a real meal. If your baking session will last for hours, especially over lunchtime, or involves a friend, it might be a good idea to have something ready in the fridge, that you can take to a table to sit down and eat while taking a break from the baking.
  • If you do bake with a friend, challenge each other not to taste as you go along.  Make a little game of it and charge each other a penalty for catching each other tasting, or have a non-food reward pre-determined for the one who does it the least. 
  • Wear your workout clothes and shoes while you bake.   This is a really good idea for so many different reasons.  It will remind you about why you don’t want to be nibbling while you are baking.  And if you do get time for a quick break, you could get out for a little walk, or you can do some squats or pushups in the living room while the cookies are in the oven.  Or you can crank up some holiday music and do a bit of dancing.
  • Make up rules before you begin baking.  I have a rule that I don’t eat while I am standing up. If I want to put something in my mouth I have to take it to the table to sit down first.  It has happened where I have taken a brownie batter spoon to the table to sit down and lick it, but by the time I got there, I realized how silly it was and avoided the deed! 
  • Put the used bowls, mixer blades, spoons, spatulas, and other utensils into a sinkful of hot soapy water as soon as you are done with them, or at least rinse the batter off them so you won’t be tempted to lick if off!
  • Imagine that someone is watching you in the kitchen.  Behave the way you would if you were being recorded or if the neighbor or your husband was spying on you!  Better yet, set up your video camera and make a vlog about it all. You will never lick your fingers! 
  • Focus on the end goal… to make something lovely for your family and friends to enjoy.  The more you nibble now, the less finished product there will be when you are done!  If you  cannot control yourself while the cookies are cooling, get out of the kitchen.  Have someone else put the finished and cooled baking into containers and then get them out of sight as soon as you can.
I hope that some of these tips might help you to get through your holiday baking without adding on some holiday pounds!

If you have any tips, I would love to have you share them with me.

And I would really like to know what you are cooking up for the holidays, too.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

You Don't Have to Be a Foodie to Enjoy a Good Vinegar...

There is hardly a day goes by without my digging into a salad of some kind.  My lunch is usually a very large huge plateful of salad with some lean protein for staying power, topped by a tasty dressing… and my dinner plate often has a salad of some kind on it as well.

It isn’t seasonal for me. I am not one who starts to crave fresh, crunchy veggies when the weather starts to warm up… perhaps because I live in a Mediterranean climate where the temps are fairly moderate all year long. I love fresh, raw, crunchy veggies all year round.  And in mass quantities.

My salads do vary a great deal from day to day, and week to week. I tend to get into a groove with a particular taste or ingredient and enjoy it to the fullest before moving on to the next.  For example, a few weeks ago, most of my salads had some capers and green olives on them with some light feta that I found at Trader Joe’s last time we crossed the border. 

And sometimes my concoctions get quite creative when I have bits and pieces in the fridge that need to be used up.  Do you do that too?

My salads usually start out with some mixture of greens: romaine, spinach, chard… and sometimes I have mixed greens that come pre-washed in cello bags.  I also like a bit of cabbage, and the pre-packed slaws and broccoli slaws are a favorite.  I love those little English cucumbers, green onions, white mushrooms, and grape tomatoes.

Then I add some protein: canned tuna, chicken, wild salmon, sardines, or leftover chicken, pork, roast beef, or even slivers of lean deli ham.  Hard boiled eggs are a favorite, and I might opt for cheese occasionally too.  Feta is usually my favorite.

I like to change the flavor and the crunch factor with little extras such as capers, olives, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds,hemp seeds, or even slices of fruit such as pears, strawberries and blueberries… I have even been known to toss in chunks of cooked leftover squash or a few green peas occasionally. 

My salads are often very simple… and other times quite elaborate.  The sky is the limit!

And I have thrown all the 'rules' about what goes with what out the window.  For instance, I thought I would never put tomatoes and fruit in the same salad, but when in Colorado this past Summer, I ordered a Chicken and Raspberry Salad from a golf course lunch menu, and it came with cherry tomatoes. And I loved it.  Who knew?

I have found a few commercially prepared dressings that I like…. Trader Joe’s has a couple and so does Kraft… I have even been known to choose Wishbone fat free Blue Cheese... (sssshhh!) but for the most part, I like to make my own dressing.  And the ingredients I choose will depend on the items in the salad.  If I use an oil, it will be a light extra virgin olive oil or perhaps a light grape seed oil that has little to no flavor of its own.  I also have a little stash of flavored oils that my friend Kate gave to me a while ago.

And I love to use flavored vinegars.  Open my pantry door and you will find a good variety: apple cider, red wine, light and dark balsamics, rice, raspberry, and even white…. and lately a couple of new stars on the shelf that I am very excited to tell  you about. 

They are Cucumber Blush Vinegar and Morning Meadow Honey Vinegar, 2 of the many flavors that are handcrafted by Mr. Vinegar… a home-based operation in Hamilton Ontario.  I was thrilled when Joyce (would she be Mrs. Vinegar?) offered to send me some… and I have been enjoying them immensely ever since.

Mr Vinegar 001
These bottles are 155ml in volume… that is about 5 to 6 ounces for my American friends.

I chose to try the Cucumber Blush Vinegar first.  It is their best seller.  Mr. Vinegar describes it thus:

100% whole cucumbers are pureed and then fermented fully with Merlot. A precise balance offering fresh spring like flavours with Merlot at the front and crisp late after notes of cucumber on the finish. Oak aged.

Mr Vinegar 002
Looks like wine!

I chose to use it on a simple salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and white onion slices over a bit of cottage cheese… no oil… just spooned a bit of the vinegar over the top. I thought that would be a true test of of the taste.

Mr Vinegar 003
Look at the beautiful color.

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A bit of pepper and voila!  Lovely.

I have also used it several times mixed with a bit of EVOO.  I particularly like it on salads with feta cheese.

Mr Vinegar2 004

And I have also added a spoonful to a chilled glass of Mott’s Garden Cocktail… makes a lovely non-alcoholic cocktail!

I chose to try the Morning Meadow Honey Vinegar over a salad that has fruit in it.  From the Mr. Vinegar web site:

100% pure Ontario Honey is first fermented into a quality Meade. It is then fermented to very high quality honey vinegar and aged in Apple Wood. Honey flavours at the front and lasting wild flower after notes.

Mr Vinegar2 001
Golden nectar!

I made a lovely lunch salad with a few well-chosen ingredients that I thought would go nicely with the slight sweetness of the vinegar… spinach leaves, white onion, ripe pear, light feta, and a few pecans.  Drizzled the Morning Meadow Honey Vinegar over the top.

Mr Vinegar2 002

And I have also mixed it with EVOO and enjoyed it over other salads with berries, too.  It is truly special.

The Captain is not normally a vinegar fan but he really likes both of these because they are light and tasty.. not the normal over-tart or sometimes even sour taste that we tend to associate with commercially-made vinegars.

All of the vinegars in the line-up take at least a year to make.  And Mr. Vinegar has won 17 international awards… 2 of them being double gold.  It’s not hard to see and taste why. They do not contain sulphites, colouring, or artificial ingredients.

So, where can you find Mr. Vinegar, to learn more about the company, see the growing line of products (yes, there is a mustard now, too) and get your hands on some for yourself?

Check the web site…  Mr. Vinegar … you can order directly from there.  

And do look for them at The One of a Kind Christmas Show in Toronto from November 27th through December 7th, 2014.  You can also find Mr. Vinegar at FEAST in Toronto, on Queen Street West.

Here is Mr. Vinegar himself… Roger Lambert. Picture from

Are you a fan of flavored vinegars?  Have you a favorite?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Black Bean Noodles with Thai Peanut Sauce

When I first gave up gluten a couple of years ago and stopped eating wheat-based pasta, I found brown rice pasta… and also occasionally enjoyed the white rice pasta favored by The Captain’s sister.  I never cared for either cold though, in pasta salads.

Then I decided to try a Paleo diet for a few months, and started using spaghetti squash in place of noodles. The firm strands of the baked spaghetti squash make a nice replacement for noodles in many dishes, particularly with tomato-based sauces.  But like the rice pastas, I just didn’t care for it cold at all.

Then I got a spiralizer and discovered zucchini noodles.  Zoodles quickly became my pasta of choice and I love them with both hot and cold sauces.  But lately, just when harvest here should be at its peak… sadly, the zukes are not very nice at all.  They are either too large and subsequently quite tasteless, or way too small to put through the spiralizer to make zoodles.

Lucky for me that I had come across and purchased this Organic Black Bean spaghetti at Costco a few weeks ago.  It has a high protein content 23g per serving, is gluten-free and quite tasty.  And for the low-carbers out there, it has only 5 net carbs per serving too…. and that all works out to 3 Points Plus if you are a Weight Watcher.  Oh yeah... it is also vegan and kosher.

I admit, the color of the cooked noodles does tend to put me off a bit, but the texture and the taste is very good.   They are good hot or cold.  And they only take 6 minutes to cook… I wish I had discovered them while we still lived on the sailboat.

Organic Black Bean Spaghetti

Organic Black Bean Spaghetti NI

The first time I tried them I ate them hot with a tomato and ground beef sauce.  Delicious.  Filling with great staying power.

Organic Black Bean Spaghetti with meat sauce

And then I decided to try them cold.  And because The Captain would much rather have plain old wheat pasta, I made a single serving, just for me.

I cooked the 50g suggested amount for a single serving in boiling water for about 7 minutes.  Then I drained the noodles in a colander and held it under the cold water tap for a couple of minutes to cool the noodles as quickly as I could. I wanted to eat my lunch right away… if I had had more time, I would have left them in the fridge for a while to chill even more.

I made up a sauce with some PB2 and some gluten-free soy sauce (tamari) and then added some unflavored North Coast Naturals whey protein powder… to thicken my sauce and also give it a nutritional punch.  A few slices of red pepper and green onions and I was good to go… and gobble it all up! 

Next time I might add a bit of minced fresh garlic, and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.  I am sure any unflavored protein powder would work, too.  If you used a pea or rice protein instead of whey you could make it vegan.  A few chopped peanuts or cashews would make it company-worthy!  And of course you could serve this quick sauce over any cold pasta, or zoodles.

Black Bean Noodles with Thai Peanut Sauce

Black Bean Noodles with Thai Peanut Sauce
Makes 1 serving
  • 2 Tbs PB2
  • 1 Tbs water
  • 1 Tbs tamari
  • 1/2 scoop NCN unflavored whey protein powder
  • 1/3 medium red pepper
  • 2 green onions
  • 1 serving noodles of choice, prepared and chilled
  • salt and pepper to season
  1. Mix the PB2 and water in a small bowl until creamy.
  2. Add the tamari (soy sauce) and blend well.  Set aside.
  3. Slice the red pepper into thin strips.
  4. Cut the green onions into short lengths.
  5. Place the noodles in a serving bowl.
  6. Pour the sauce over the noodles and then arrange the veggies over the top.
  7. Serve with salt and pepper to season.
Per serving, sauce and veggies only.
Weight Watchers P+ = 3.
Calories 129; Protein 20g; Carbohydrate 11g; Fat 2 g; Fibre 4g.

Oct 14 Black noodles and sauce 001
50 g is a very generous serving. You may be happy with less. Yup, the color is not very appetizing at all.

Oct 14 Black noodles and sauce 002
Prep your veggies and make the sauce.

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Assemble and dig in!

Have you tried black bean noodles?

Are you a fan of PB2?

Do you like to punch up your dishes with added protein/protein powder?