Sunday, 28 September 2014

Baked Apples (no added sugars!)

This dessert contains no added sugars!  I used Royal Galas, which are a naturally sweet variety of apples, and pitted dates to provide sweetness.  I used natural peanut butter and coconut oil for the fat component (instead of butter), but you can use any nut butter of your choice.  Almond or cashew butter would provide a more mild flavour.  This dessert is mildly sweet, so you could adjust your spices (I used cinnamon only, but nutmeg, ground ginger, or pumpkin pie spice would also make great additions) to add more flavour without adding sugar.

You can use your slow cooker or bake them in the oven, the preparation is the same.

Serves 4


4 Royal Gala apples
1/4 cup oats
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
6 pitted dates
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp coconut oil, divided
1/2 cup water


With a paring knife, slice a small circle around the stem of the apple, cutting about 3/4 of the way down.  Using a small spoon (I used a 1/4 tsp measuring spoon), scoop out the stem and hollow out the apple core, leaving the bottom of the apple intact.  Discard the core, and repeat with three remaining apples.

In a food processor, combine oats, peanut butter, dates, cinnamon and 2 tsp of coconut oil.  Pulse until dates are blended.

Scoop oat mixture into each apple and place the apples upright in the slow cooker/roasting pan.  Drizzle remaining 1 tsp of coconut oil on top of oat mixture portion that is overflowing from the apples (1/4 tsp on each apple).

Slow Cooker:
Pour water into bottom of slow cooker to surround the apples.  Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook for 2 hours on high, or 4 hours on low.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Pour water into bottom of roasting pan to surround the apples.  Bake for 30 minutes, until apples are tender.


Calories 273
Fat 11.9g
Carbohydrates 41.1g
Fibre 6.9g
Sugars 28.4g
Protein 5.0g

Slow Cooker Chicken Burritos Over Rice

Mucho Burrito is my favourite fast food (I'm told it is similar to Chipotle, but Ottawa doesn't have one of those, so I've never tried it).  This slow cooker recipe can either be used to stuff a tortilla to achieve a similar flavour to Mucho, or it can be served over brown rice and topped with shredded cheddar, salsa, guacamole or sour cream.  When choosing canned vegetables, I recommend 'no salt added' varieties to keep sodium content down.  Chopped green chilies can be found in the Mexican section of the grocery store.  I used Old El Paso brand chilies.

Serves 6


3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
14 oz canned diced tomatoes, drained
19 oz canned black beans, drained
1 can chopped green chilies
1 cup frozen corn
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 cup chicken broth (no salt added)
Black pepper, to taste


Drain black beans and diced tomatoes and place in slow cooker pot.  Add green chilies and corn.  On top, layer chicken breasts and then season chicken with chili powder, cumin and black pepper.  Pour broth in and place lid on for four hours on high.  When four hours is complete, remove lid and break up chicken into chunks using a wooden spoon.

Serve over brown rice or on a tortilla and top with cheese, salsa, guacamole or sour cream.

Nutrition (including 2/3 cup cooked brown rice per serving)

Calories 428
Fat 5.5g
Carbohydrates 52.3g
Fibre 5.2g
Sugars 2.3g
Protein 41.8g

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Toasted Oat Granola Bars

It has been awhile since my last post. I've been busy, but I've also tried a couple new recipes that just weren't very good, so I didn't bother posting them.  These granola bars are easy to make and can be stored in the freezer to maintain freshness.  I've tried making no bake bars with oats before and I disliked the chalkiness of the uncooked oats, so toasted oats seemed to be the solution to this problem.

Makes 16 bars


1 1/2 cups large flaked oats
1 cup pitted dates
1 cup sliced almonds, roasted and unsalted
1/4 cup natural peanut butter (or sub any nut butter of your choice)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Pour oats evenly across a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until oats are lightly toasted.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

In a food processor, chop the dates until a paste forms.  Pour paste into a large mixing bowl.  Add toasted oats, sliced almonds and chocolate chips to the bowl and mix.

In a small saucepan, combine peanut butter and maple syrup and set to low heat, stirring frequently.  When mixture is uniform in appearance, pour into mixing bowl and stir to coat oat mixture.

Line a 7x9 or 8x8 inch pan with waxed paper.  Pour contents of mixing bowl into lined pan and press contents down firmly.  Use an additional sheet of waxed paper to place over top to press down to flatten.  Freeze for one hour, carefully remove contents from pan and slice into bars.


Calories 143
Fat 6.2g
Carbohydrates 20.6g
Fibre 2.6g
Sugars 12.0g
Protein 3.7g

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Bench press, Plank and Skullcrusher variations

Last month, a friend called me out on the fact that I haven't done a fitness post in a long time.  I find it tough to want to write about fitness when I'm personal training and teaching all day long, but she was right, it has been a long time.  So,  I decided to cover two of my favourite exercises (bench and skullcrushers) and one I detest, but it's good for you, so you should do it anyway (plank).

If you find yourself doing the same exercises all the time and they aren't providing quite the same challenge they used to, here are some ways you can make the exercises more challenging.

Bench press
If you've reached a point where you've been working on your bench long enough that it feels like you're just maintaining, and it's been awhile since you've made any significant gains, a drop set can offer an option to increase the intensity without increasing the weight.  Increasing the weight might not be an option if you're already working at your 4RM or don't have a spotter.  A drop set (performing a set with lighter weight immediately following reps to failure with a heavy weight) on bench might seem daunting if you have to change all the plates, so to avoid this, switch to a dumbbell chest press on your drop set.  Typically, a drop set that will achieve 6-10RM will be about 2/3 the weight of your 6-10RM on the same exercise.  This calculation is known as a wide drop set.  A drop set is typically performed after the final set.

Let's work with some real numbers here to clarify how this will be done:
My 8RM on bench press is 125lbs.
My 8RM on chest press is 55lb dumbbells.  To calculate how much weight I should use for my drop set, take the closest set of dumbbells to 2/3 of 55, which is 35lb dumbbells.  This works out to 64% of my 8RM.
I perform the first two sets of bench at 125lbs to failure with 30-60s rest between them.  On the third set, I perform the set at 125lbs to failure, rack the bar, pick up the 35lb dumbbells placed near my feet, and perform chest press until failure (which will likely be anywhere from 6 to 10 reps at this weight).

If your standard plank has become easy enough for you that you are holding it for more than 60s (which good technique, of course--your body should be aligned from head to heels--no bums in the air or drooping hips!), and you're finding yourself getting bored with it, try a decline plank.  The angle of the decline will dictate the level of difficulty.  For example, if you place your feet on an aerobics step on the lowest setting, this will provide approximately a 15 degree angle from the floor, whereas placing your feet on a weight bench will provide a 45 degree angle.  The larger angle (feet on the weight bench) will be the harder version of the exercise.

To perform the decline plank with correct technique, place your forearms on the floor or mat, and step your feet up to the bench.  Your toes should be on the bench, with your heels pressed back and upright.  Keep your elbows directly aligned with your shoulders.  Pull your abdominals in and keep your hips from drooping.  Breath steadily while holding the plank.

If you always use the easycurl bar for your skullcrushers, a great way to change your tricep workout is to use dumbbells for this exercise.  Dumbbells ensure that both arms will be working evenly, rather than favouring the stronger arm, and they allow you to work through the full range of motion more comfortably.

To perform dumbbell skullcrushers with correct technique, begin with your elbows extended (not palms facing out.  Adjust the angle of your upper arms so that the range of motion allows the dumbbells to lower above the top of your head (it is a common mistake to hold upper arm perpendicular to the floor on this exercise).  Inhale, bend your elbows and slowly lower the weight, while turning your palms inward and keeping your elbows in.  Exhale, press up and turn your palms out.  Your elbows should not flare out at any point in the movement.

Give these variations a try, and let me know how it goes!  Also, if you have any questions about these techniques, feel free to ask in the comment section.