Sunday, 23 November 2014

Slow Cooker Shredded Beef Tacos

I spent three winters in Mexico in my time working on cruise ships, and in that time, ate a lot of excellent meals.  There's nothing better than sitting at a restaurant on the beach under an umbrella, with a plate of tacos, a bowl of guacamole and freshly cooked tortilla chips.  I once had a guest on the ship ask me if I ever had time off.  I told him that, yes, we do get a few days off the ship every week to go into port, and he said, "no, I mean you personally...you look like you haven't seen the sun in months!"  1. I don't do well in the sun.  2. I'd rather be eating tacos under an umbrella than suntanning.  So that is what I did for three winters!

Another story about this recipe:  I have had two power outages in my condo in the past week...not sure what the problem is yet, but I was actually cooking this when I had the second power outage.  It was out for 1h20, but I plugged it back in and carried on cooking it when it came back on.  It still turned out exactly as I had hoped!

Makes 10 6" tacos

Ingredients

1kg beef chuck
1 tsp chile powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup no salt added beef broth
Juice of 1 lime
Canola spray, for greasing

Toppings

340g tortillas (10, 6")
Shredded cheddar
Guacamole
Salsa
Sour cream
Cilantro

Directions

Spray slow cooker pot with Canola spray. Place beef chuck in pot.  Mix spices together and cover all sides of beef chuck evenly with spices.  Pour beef broth over top and squeeze in lime juice. Set slow cooker on low and cook for 8 to 9 hours (mine cooked for 8).

When cook time is complete, shred beef with two forks inside slow cooker.  Serve on 6" tortillas with shredded cheddar, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, and cilantro.

Nutrition (per 1 taco with all the toppings)

Calories 344
Fat 12.2g
Carbohydrates 18.9g
Fibre 3.4g
Sugars 1.7g
Protein 39.1g

Friday, 21 November 2014

Chocolate Ricotta Brownies

Every time I make lasagna, I'm left with at least one cup of ricotta cheese leftover in the container, so it usually ends up in baked goods.  Last time, I made Pear & Honey Ricotta Bread, but this time, I wanted to try brownies.  I'm a big fan of ricotta because it is high in protein and low in calories (as far as cheese goes!

Serves 12

Ingredients

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 eggs
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
Canola spray, for greasing

Direction

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Grease a 9x7 or 8x8 baking dish and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa, salt and baking powder and stir.  Add ricotta, coconut oil, maple syrup, eggs and water.  Stir wet and dry ingredients just until uniform.  Fold in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into baking dish and bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow to cool before serving.

Nutrition

Calories 176
Fat 9.4g
Carbohydrates 18.9g
Fibre 1.2g
Sugars 7.7g
Protein 5.3g

Monday, 17 November 2014

Working Through an Injury

I haven't had the best health in the past year and a half. Last September I fractured my hip after training for a marathon; and once that healed, I developed 3 herniated discs and a pinched nerve. Needless to say my workout routines have been majorly affected. There have been times where I haven't been able to exercise at all, there have been times I've worked out despite my better intuition, and there have been times when I've been able to go to the gym and just do what I can.

I finally had a really good workout today, despite my back injuries, and I was really happy. I've come to a few realizations through this all, so I thought I'd publish what I've learned through this all:

1. Don't give up. I've come to terms that I will never run again and I may never be able to do impact exercises, like burpees (I'm not crying over that one!) but I still can be active in my own ways.

2. Listen to your body. If you have an injury your body will find ways to let you know what you can do and whether you should take time off. Listen. Its that simple.

3. If you're having a good day, don't over do it. End of story - unless you want to be bedridden again. If you have a good day enjoy it, take it slow, and hope it turns into more good days.

4. Be creative. Try new things. I've always hated swimming in public pools, but since my injury I've given aquafit a try. Its not my favourite, but it gets me active and is essentially painfree.

5. Stay active. The one thing that all of the doctors and specialists have insisted upon is that I stay active, whatever that may be. Some days I literally go to the gym and walk for 20 minutes then leave. It helps to do something, no matter how small.

6. Make time for stretching and abs. These are things I used to always skip if I was short on time (maybe helped lead to my injuries??), but now I always make time for them. I'm still working on being able to touch my knees, but day by day I'm getting there.

7. Drink lots of water and eat well. The importance of hydration and sound nutrition will become extremely apparent when you are injured. I can notice a huge difference in my pain level when I haven't been eating well or drinking enough water. So search through the blog and find some delicious recipes to keep your nourished!


Blue Cheese & Pear Salad


There's a salad at a local restaurant that I cannot get enough of, so one night I decided to make my own version. This salad is not only filled with protein, iron, and calcium, but it is also the perfect combination of sweet and salty!

Ingredients

3 cups mixed greens (my favourite is a combination of baby arugula, romaine, and spinach)
1/4 cup sliced onions
3 Tbsp hot banana peppers
1/4 cup ground chicken, cooked
1/2 pear (use the canned version, but the packed in water - not syrup)
3 Tbsp blue cheese crumbles
3 Tbsp red wine vinaigrette (below) 

Red Wine Vinaigrette
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp honey
3/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Directions

1. Layer salad with ingredients - enjoy!

Nutrition (for the entire salad - a ginormous portion!) 

Calories 450
Fat 38 g
Carbohydrate 3.7 g
Fiber 2.7 g
Sugars 2.3 g
Protein 25.3 g


Chocolate Almond Butter Muffins


I based these muffins on my Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Muffins because they are high in protein (without adding protein powder).  They are a little higher in calories than most of my muffin recipes, but they make a great on the go breakfast because they are so filling.
 
I originally planned to add dried cherries to these, but was unable to find any at the grocery stores I went to, so mini chocolate chips won out.  This recipe makes 12 muffins in a regular sized muffin tin, but they are much larger than some of the other muffin recipes I've made, so you could make them a little smaller and make 18 instead.

Makes 12

Ingredients

1 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup almond butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup milk (dairy or unsweetened almond milk)
Optional:  1/3 cup mini chocolate chips or dried cherries/cranberries
Canola spray, for greasing, or muffin tin liners

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line muffin tin with liners or grease pan.  
Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl.  In a second bowl, add oil, followed by brown sugar and mix well with a fork.  Add almond butter, vanilla and eggs and mix. Transfer dry ingredients to wet, and add milk.  Mix together, being careful not to over mix batter. Fold chocolate chips into the batter.  
Spoon even amounts of batter into each muffin liner and place in oven for 18 minutes.  Insert a toothpick, if toothpick comes out clean, muffins are done.

Nutrition

Calories 310
Fat 19.3g
Carbohydrates 28.3g
Fibre 1.9g
Sugars 9.3g
Protein 8.6g

Monday, 10 November 2014

Roasted Sweet & Spicy Chicken Legs

A few weeks ago, I bought chili-garlic sauce to make stir fry, and when I bought a large package of chicken drumsticks today, it seemed like a good match.  I mixed it with maple syrup and low sodium soy sauce, but if you have honey on hand, that would work in lieu of maple syrup.

Serves 5

Ingredients

10 chicken drumsticks, skin on
2 tbsp chili-garlic sauce
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
Black pepper, to taste
Canola spray, for greasing

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (convection) or 400 degrees F (regular oven).  Line a roasting pan with aluminum foil.  Spray the foil with Canola spray.  Place chicken legs on foil, evenly spaced.

In a small bowl, combine chili-garlic sauce, maple syrup, soy sauce and black pepper.  Stir sauces together.  Brush sauce onto chicken legs (there will be sauce remaining for basting).  Place in oven.  Every 15 minutes, remove chicken and brush with additional sauce.  Roast for a total of 45 minutes, or until chicken legs are fully cooked.

Nutrition (for 2 drumsticks)

Calories 228
Fat 6.9g
Carbohydrates 6.0g
Sugars 4.9g
Protein 33.4g

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Peanut Butter & Honey Cookies

Who doesn't love a good peanut butter cookie?  This recipe is a little higher on the sugar and oil content than others I have posted, but I wanted to make something closer to a traditional peanut butter oatmeal cookie.

This recipe made two dozen large cookies (heaping tablespoons of dough), so they can also be made smaller if you prefer a larger yield or smaller serving size.

Makes 24

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups oats, ground to a flour in food processor
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg
Canola spray, for greasing

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease two baking sheets with canola spray.
Grind oats into a flour in food processor and pour into a large mixing bowl.  Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices and mix until uniform.

Add peanut butter, honey, coconut oil, vanilla and egg to bowl.  Mix contents together (you may need to mash coconut oil with a fork if it is solid).

Scoop out heaping tablespoons of dough and form into mounds on baking sheet.  Use the back of a fork to lightly press down the tops of the mounds.  Place in the oven and bake for 8 to 9 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to cooling rack.

Nutrition

Calories 114
Fat 5.5g
Carbohydrates 14.3g
Fibre 1.0g
Sugars 6.4g
Protein 2.8g

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Roasted Potatoes with Carrots and Brussels Sprouts

Fall is the perfect time to enjoy a hearty side dish of root vegetables with crisp brussels sprouts!  This side is packed with vitamins A and C, and very high in potassium.  When consuming fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), it is recommended to consume a heart healthy monounsaturated fat alongside them to assist in vitamin absorption.  The olive oil in this recipe provides that serving of dietary fat.

You might require two roasting pans for this recipe (to avoid crowding the pan).  I purchased the sprouts and carrots both in 340g bags, but you can adjust those amounts as needed.

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 large Russet potatoes, diced
340g baby carrots
340g brussels sprouts
2 tbsp olive oil
Black pepper, to taste
Dried thyme, to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (for convection oven), or 400 degrees F (for regular ovens).  Dice potatoes into small pieces (about 1cm tall, 0.5cm wide), leaving skins on, and place in a large mixing bowl.  Chop stems off brussels sprouts and slice in half, and add to bowl.  Add baby carrots and drizzle olive oil on top and toss to coat.  Season with black pepper and thyme, and toss.  Pour contents of mixing bowl into one or two roasting pans.  Place in the oven and roast for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and use a spatula to flip pan contents.  Place back in oven for another 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Nutrition

Calories 218
Fat 7.4g
Carbohydrates 35.7g
Fibre 8.3g
Sugars 7.5g
Protein 5.7g

Friday, 7 November 2014

Slow Cooker Chicken & Prosciutto in Pumpkin Ale

As part of my love for pumpkin flavoured everything (except for pumpkin lattes...those don't actually have pumpkin in them), I get excited for pumpkin ale to make its seasonal appearance!  A few weeks ago, I bought three bottles of Pumking, which is my favourite of the pumpkin ales I've tried.  It has been a busy month, and I still have those three bottles in my fridge, so I thought I would cook with one (and drink the rest of the bottle once it was open, of course!).  I found this recipe, which I had planned to make, but later came across a totally unrelated recipe that had me asking the question, "how is this cooked in a slow cooker with no added liquid?" Then the solution came to me:  Use pumpkin ale for the liquid!  I veered off from my original plan, but this recipe was worth it.
Also, I was pleasantly surprised at the nutritional tally for this one...I don't tend to think pouring beer over fatty cuts of meat is healthy (it sounds delicious though!), but this was surprisingly low in calories, and high in protein and fibre.  For the sake of laziness, I bought cubed butternut squash in 400g packages.

Serves 6

Ingredients

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
6 slices prosciutto
800g butternut squash, cubed
Black pepper, to taste
1 cup pumpkin ale
3 cups peas, frozen
Canola oil, for greasing

Directions

Spray Canola inside slow cooker pot to grease.  Place butternut squash cubes evenly in bottom of pot.  Place six pieces of prosciutto on a cutting board.  Take each chicken thighs and unravel it so it is flat on top of a prosciutto.  Roll them up tightly and place them on top of the squash in the pot.  When all six chicken rolls are complete, season with black pepper.  Pour pumpkin ale over top of chicken rolls.  Place the lid on the slow cooker and set to high heat for 4 hours.  When there is 1h30 remaining on the cooking time, remove the lid and quickly add frozen peas.  Replace lid and finish cooking.

Nutrition

Calories 370
Fat 9.6g
Carbohydrates 27.7g
Fibre 6.4g
Sugars 7.0g
Protein 41.0g

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Healthy pre-packaged snacks

As much as I love cooking, and certainly prefer to have fresh foods or home cooked foods for meals and snacks, pre-packaged snacks make a busy day a little easier.  I've rounded up a list of some tasty and healthy on the go snacks (all of which are available in Canada...often if I google items like this, I can only find American packaged foods).

Bananatangs are dried bananas, but they are not your standard dried banana chip.  They are made by Solar Gold Premium Dried Fruit (there are other fruits as well, but the bananas are my favourite!), which have no artificial additives in the drying process.  The bananas have a chewy, fruit leather consistency, rather than a crunch to them, and the banana flavour is intense!  These are sold at various retailers across the country.

Quest bars are my favourite protein bar, and they are very high in protein and fibre, and low in sugar (1 gram!).  They come in a variety of flavours (I recommend Cookies & Cream or Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough), and have a chewy, dense consistency (like a Tootsie Roll).  Many protein bars have a chalkiness to them, but not these!  Lauren also likes to use them her cookie recipes.  You can find these at your local nutrition store.

Simply Food Trail Mix Handfull of Everything is exactly that.  In this mix, you get dried apricots, raisins, cranberries, bananas, almonds, cashews, yogurt covered peanuts, chocolate chips and coconut.  This snack will cover all your bases...fibre, protein, healthy fats and it has some sweets in there for good measure!  These are sold at Shoppers Drug Mart.

Simply Food Jalapeno Cheddar Popcorn beats out any bag of chips if you ask me!  While pre-packaged popcorn can run a little high on the sodium content, you still get a healthy dose of fibre.  I have an air-popper at home, so I typically don't buy packaged popcorn, but for this Jalapeno Cheddar flavour, I make an exception from time to time!  Find it at Shoppers Drug Mart.

Amy's Burritos are a quick fix when I don't have any food in the house and need something to eat quickly (so I don't get hangry...I'm not a nice person when I'm hangry).  They can be microwaved in 2 minutes, they are made of organic ingredients, are vegetarian, and come in gluten free varieties.  I've tried a few other Amy's products, which are also tasty, but the burritos are the quickest to heat up (other items have to be heated in the oven).  Loblaw's carries these in the organic frozen food section, or they can be found at your local health food store.

These are some of my personal favourites, but if you have any additional suggestions, feel free to add them in the comments!


Monday, 3 November 2014

Make your workout more efficient

Is your workout efficient?  Is the time you're spending in the gym getting you the best bang for your buck?  As a personal trainer, many people come to me after they've been working out on their own for years without any professional advice (which, of course, will still lead to positive results, any exercise will!), but their personal programs are imbalanced, inefficient or redundant.  Here are some mistakes you might be making in the gym and how to fix them.

Common mistake:  Working each muscle group once per week (ie. "Chest day")
How to fix it:  Every muscle group should be worked twice per week.
Work to rest ratios in your workouts are very important.  A muscle group takes 48 hours to fully repair after weight training.  To maximize your work to rest ratio, it is best to work the muscle as frequently as possible (every 48 to 72 hours).  If you work a muscle group twice per week, the work:rest is 1:3, whereas if you work a muscle only once per week, the work:rest is 1:6, which is far more rest than any muscle group needs.  To manage this, you need to work more muscle groups in each workout than just one.
If you're guilty of doing 4 different chest exercises every Monday, and wondering how you will ever fit in your 4 chest exercises when you also have to fit a few other muscle groups, don't worry, I have the answer!  Divide up your workouts into less exercises per muscle group on EACH workout, but do them more often (it will be the same number of chest exercises per week, I promise).  Let's look at an example 4 Day Workout.  In this case, the muscle group is indicated, as well as a number to differentiate the exercise (meaning chest exercise 1 can be bench press, while chest exercise 2 can be cable pec flyes, exercise 3, dumbbell press, and 4, push ups).

Day 1--Half body 1A
Chest exercise 1
Shoulder exercise 1
Abs/obliques exercise 1
Chest exercise 2
Shoulder exercise 2
Tricep exercise 1

Day 2--Half body 2A
Leg exercise 1
Back exercise 1
Leg exercise 2
Back exercise 2
Lower back exercise 1
Bicep exercise 1

Day 3--Half body 1B
Chest exercise 3
Shoulder exercise 3
Abs/obliques exercise 2
Chest exercise 4
Tricep exercise 2
Abs/obliques exercise 3

Day 4--Half body 2B
Back exercise 3
Leg exercise 3
Back exercise 4
Leg exercise 4
Bicep exercise 2
Lower back exercise 2

Common mistake:  Performing exercises that do not work with and against gravity.
How to fix it:  Exercises should have a controlled concentric/eccentric phase.
There are two types of exercises that are performed in a standard weight room workout, they are isometric and isotonic.  Isometric contractions refer to those in which the muscle is contracted, but no movement takes place (ie. a plank).  Isotonic contractions are those in which there are distinct lifting and lowering phases.  The lifting phase, in which the weight or body moves against gravity is called the concentric phase.  The lowering phase, in which the weight or body moves in a controlled manner with gravity is called the eccentric phase.  Research shows that the tiny muscle fibre tears that contribute to muscle building activity occur during the eccentric phase (controlled lowering).  Two mistakes are often made in the gym that prevent a proper eccentric phase:
1.  Improper set up of exercise.
2.  Improper technique during exercise.

So let's break those two mistakes down further:
1.  Improper set up of exercise.  When you are setting up to perform an exercise, take gravity into account.  Dumbbells and barbells should not move laterally, they should only move up and down.  When a lateral movement is necessary, a cable or tube must be used instead (because the weight stack of the cable will move with and against gravity in that case).  For example, when you want to perform a row exercise, there are several options--use a dumbbell and kneel on a bench or fold forward from the hips (maintaining a flat back) to hold the upper body parallel to the floor to work with and against gravity.  If you prefer to remain upright (seated or standing), you must perform a cable row.

This might seem pretty obvious with row exercises, but there might not some quite as obvious ones, because you've probably seen a lot of people do them, such as Arnold presses.  Arnold presses consist of a lateral movement of dumbbells in front of the chest first, then palms turned out and up into a shoulder press.  The lateral movement portion of this is not effective!  If anything, you're just risking injury by performing additional movements with heavy weights.  Only perform movements with dumbbells that have clear concentric and eccentric phases.

2.  Improper technique during exercise.  When performing an exercise, the standard concentric phase should consist of 1 second to lift up, and eccentric, 2 seconds to lower the weight down.  The importance of the controlled lowering phase cannot be understated.  If you lift the weight up and then simply allow your arms to flop back down to your sides in your bicep curls, you're not lifting effectively.  This can also be seen in exercises such as lat pulldown (pulling down, then just allowing the cable to forcefully pull your arms back up), tricep cable pressdowns, leg press, etc.  Maintain a steady eccentric phase to maximize each rep.

Common mistake: Too much rest time between sets.
How to fix it:  Know how your rest times affect your fitness goals.
Rest between sets can greatly affect the results you get from your workouts.  Understanding rest times can help you to determine how long you should be resting.
Why rest between sets?  When a set is performed to exhaustion, the body's natural creatine levels are depleted.  On the first set of an exercise, creatine levels start at 100%, deplete and slowly return to full capacity.  This process takes 2 minutes.  If a second or third set is performed when there is a creatine deficit (anywhere from 30s to 90s of rest), the body will recognize this deficit and produce additional creatine, which aids in muscle growth (hypertrophy).  If, however, your goal is maximal strength on every set, you must rest 2-3 minutes to work at full strength.
To match your fitness goals, rep range and rest times, the recommendations are as follows:

Strength--4 to 6RM--2 to 3 minutes rest
Hypertrophy--6 to 12RM--30 to 90s rest
Endurance--15 to 30RM--<30s rest

I hope these suggestions help you on your quest to getting jacked!  If you have questions, comments or other fitness topics you'd like covered, please drop me a line in the comment section!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Slow Cooker Sausage with Sweet Potatoes

This recipe is easy to prepare, high in fibre, protein and heart healthy fats for a filling meal.  Each serving is packed with vitamins A, C, and K, potassium, and iron. I've made a very similar recipe by roasting it in the oven before, but the slow cooker was ideal for this (the ingredients had various roasting times, whereas everything went in the slow cooker at the same time, with the exception of the spinach).  It also reheats well for lunch the next day!

For the spice mix, I used the leftover mix from the rub I made for the Slow Cooker Spicy Pulled Pork.  I will definitely make that spice mix again to keep in a small jar for chicken and pork recipes, it had the perfect balance of savoury and spicy!  The spice mix I listed below is a simplified version (and matches the amount you need for this recipe).

Serves 8

Ingredients

1kg sweet potatoes (about 3 large or 4 medium), peeled and diced in bite sized chunks (2 cm by 1 cm)
450g pork sausage, sliced into bite sized pieces
1 19oz can chickpeas, drained
1 red bell pepper, julienne
1 tsp spice mix (1/2 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, 1/8 tsp black pepper)
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
4 cups fresh baby spinach

Directions

Place peeled and chopped sweet potatoes in the bottom of the slow cooker and toss with 2 tbsp olive oil.  In a bowl, combine chickpeas, 1 tsp olive oil and spice mix and toss to coat.  Add spiced chickpeas on top of sweet potatoes.  Put sausage pieces and bell pepper into slow cooker and drizzle with remaining olive oil.  Place lid on and cook on high for 3.5 hours.  Remove lid and add spinach on top.  Allow to cook for another 10 to 15 minutes (until spinach is wilted).

Nutrition

Calories 573
Fat 24.5g
Carbohydrates 66.6g
Fibre 14.5g
Sugars 6.7g
Protein 23.1g