Monday, November 8, 2010

Deliciousness, vegan style

It's Vegan Mofo month in the blogosphere, and yummy vegan recipes are popping up all over. If there is no vegan cooking in your life, there should be. Eating meatless meals a few times a week is good for your health, the environment, and your budget. Even though I'm back on the meat now, I still eat plenty of vegetarian and vegan meals.

Vegan meals don't have to be really complicated or involve a bunch of unusual ingredients. Think meatless chili, vegetable stir-fries, pasta, and bean and vegetable soups. I chose to make this eggplant and zucchini casserole last night not because it was vegan, but because it sounded delicious - and it was. The creamy filling made from beans is the best part. To me this casserole was very reminiscent of eggplant parmigiana, but with more vegetables and without a ton of cheese.

Recipe at Oh She Glows

Speaking of cheese....yes, that is cheese on top of the casserole. The crazy cheese lover in me thought the dish would need it, but it really doesn't. Seriously. The creamy filling adds plenty of richness (and without all the extra fat that cheese adds). So skip the cheese, make this a totally vegan meal, and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tofu so tasty you'll eat it with a spoon

Consider this - I turned on my oven during last week's brutal heat wave in order to make this tofu. It's THAT good. It might not look or sound that appetizing, but this Thai-peanut tofu sandwich spread is without a doubt the tastiest tofu I've ever had. The origins of this recipe go back to a couple of years ago when I bought some Thai tofu spread at a farmer's market. I devoured it in no time, and inspired by the ingredient list printed on the container, decided to try making a batch of my own.

The version I make now is a fair bit different from the original product, but I love it even more. It's ridiculously easy to make for something so delicious, and is versatile - it's particularly good in a toasted sandwich, but is also good thrown into a salad, paired with crackers, or just eaten with a spoon. I should note that calling this a sandwich spread is a bit misleading - sandwich filling would be more accurate. It's crumbly and doesn't really bind together, so it can make for a messy sandwich. Trust me - you won't care. Just be sure to eat it over a plate or container so the yummy tofu pieces don't escape you.

Thai Tofu Sandwich Filling (makes about 4 servings)

1/2 package firm or extra firm tofu, cut into 6 slices
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup hot water
1 tbsp tamari
1 tsp sesame oil
Green onions, thinly sliced (as many as you like)
1-2 tsp. lime juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Pat the pieces of tofu with paper towel to remove excess moisture, and arrange pieces in a greased casserole dish. Combine peanut butter with water until smooth (adding a little extra water if necessary - you want the mixture to be pourable, but not watery). Stir in tamari and sesame oil. Pour sauce over tofu, turning pieces to coat with the sauce.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (do this after preparing the tofu so the tofu can marinate while the oven heats up). Bake for 30 minutes, flipping the pieces every 10 minutes. The peanut sauce will dry up a fair bit, but that's ok!

Transfer the cooked tofu pieces to a bowl and mash the tofu with a fork. You want the tofu to be in small crumbles, not mashed into a paste. At this point I usually add a little extra pb, tamari, and sesame oil and mash them into the tofu - about a teaspoon of each. This helps intensify the peanut sauce flavour that has been baked into the tofu as well as keep the tofu moist. Add green onions, lime juice and cilantro and mix. You can eat this right away while still warm, but in my opinion it's even better cold the next day. It keeps well in the fridge for at least a few days - it probably won't last very long.

I've done my best to write down measurements for this recipe but in all honesty this is one of those recipes where I eyeball everything, so use your best judgment. If the peanut sauce doesn't adequately cover all your tofu, make a little extra. Add ingredients at the end to taste - if you like your Thai food with lots of lime, add more lime! If you love tamari, add a little extra. Enjoy!

Monday, July 5, 2010

More Jillian workouts with The Biggest Loser Power Sculpt

Despite my love of the 30 Day Shred, a few months ago I was on the lookout for a workout video that was a little less intense so I could still work out on days when I just wasn't up for the Shred. After some research I purchased The Biggest Loser Power Sculpt. Though I've never watched The Biggest Loser, I knew I was a Jillian fan, and one of my biggest fitness goals lately has been increasing strength. I figured this workout would be a good way to transition from 2 pound weights to 5 pound weights.

The video has 3 levels, but unlike 30 Day Shred, you are not supposed to do the levels separately. The DVD recommends doing Level 1 for 2 weeks, then Level 1 and Level 2, then finally all 3 levels. I started out with Level 1 and my 2 pound weights, but found it pretty easy, so added on Level 2. What a difference! Level 2 is only an extra 10 minutes, but it is intense, and doing it after already doing Level 1 for 20 minutes really wipes me out. I have yet to move up to Level 3 - I will do so sometime when it's not 30+ degrees in Ottawa.

I have since switched to 5 pound weights to do this workout as I had hoped - for me, this makes the workout quite a bit harder, but it's nice to know I'm actually working those muscles! For a few of the exercises in Level 1 Jillian recommends holding both hand weights in one hand. Apparently I have tiny hands because my hands are too small for this! Instead I use a 5 pound weight and a 2 pound weight together and that works well.

I would recommend this workout for exercise beginners as that is who it is designed for, with simple moves and less intensity than the 30 Day Shred. That said, this is no walk in the park! This workout gets me sweating and my heart pumping, like a good workout should. I probably do this more than 30 Day Shred now (again, I claim the heat as my excuse), but ideally I would be alternating them in order to do each workout at least twice a week. That's my goal to work towards!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Larabars - or should I say Laurabars?

I love Larabars, but hate the price. The best price I have seen them go for in Ottawa is 3 for $5 at Loblaws, and that doesn't happen very often. The normal price is $2 each, and I've seen them at the Natural Food Pantry for $2.50 (the Natural Food Pantry, Ottawa's price-gouging health food store). I've thought about making my own bars several times, and on my last trip to Loblaws, where it seems Larabars have now disappeared from the shelves, I decided it was finally time.

I followed this recipe from Enlightened Cooking to make Cherry Pie Larabars. The result, while not exactly the same as a Larabar, is still an amazing substitute. I found the texture seemed to have a bit more date/cherry than it should - but that could be because I ended up adding a few more dates and dried cherries than the recipe called for when it seemed that I had too much chopped nuts. Regardless, the flavour was bang-on, and overall these bars are delicious. Easy to make too - the whole process probably only took me about 15 minutes. It took a little while for my food processor to thoroughly chop up the dates and cherries, but in the end it did the job (and I just have a plain old Hamilton Beech processor, nothing fancy). I will have to get the mathematically inclined BF to help me do a cost-analysis of these the next time I make them. Dates, dried cherries, and pecans are not the cheapest ingredients in the world, but I still think bar for bar I have to be saving money.

Other homemade Larabars on the web:

Southern, Eh? - Pecan Pie Larabars
Oh She Glows - Banana Bread, Chocolate Chip Cookie, and Coconut Cream Larabars

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bodypump and awesome dinner. Good day!

I'm feeling strong today....I went to Bodypump this morning with my friend Steph, and it was pretty awesome. This is my second time to Bodypump, and I enjoyed it a lot more this time - I think I had a better instructor, she was good about explaining the different moves and she had a lot of energy. I have never thought of myself as a person who was able to do a class like Bodypump (which involves doing things like squats, lunges, etc while lifting a barbell) so being able to complete a class, even if I have less weight on my barbell than other people, is really rewarding. I look forward to one day having a gym membership at Goodlife so I can partake in their classes more often, as well as use the exercise equipment. Right now I find taking the bus there and back too much of a hassle to go all the time, but once I own a car, I will be all over it.

After class I had a fantastic lunch at The Scone Witch (unfortunately I didn't have my camera to take pics of lunch!) then came home and started preparing (also fantastic) dinner:

Sorry for the not so great pic, but this salad was too good to not post about. It's always a little unnerving making new recipes...especially so for me when I'm cooking for the BF. You see we normally cook separate meals...our eating habits are just far too different. I'm not worried when I make a tried and true recipe for the two of us, but making something new always has me a little worried...if it doesn't turn out, I don't want to ruin someone else's dinner!

I didn't need to worry this time though. As soon as I started chopping up the fresh dill to add to the chicken marinade, I knew this recipe was going to be good...and oh man, was it ever. This salad was restaurant quality (by which I mean it was as delicious as something you would get at your favourite restaurant, not that it was a restaurant-type salad, which often means iceberg lettuce, a tomato wedge and a slice of cucumber), and two bites in, the BF proclaimed, "I like it." Music to this cook's ears!

Dilled Chicken Salad with Tahini Dressing
Adapted from Canadian Living Magazine

For the chicken:

6 boneless skinless chicken thighs
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1 shallot, finely chopped
Zest of one lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper

For the salad:

1 head romaine lettuce, torn into bite sized pieces
6 radishes, sliced
(This is all that was in my salad because I was keeping it BF friendly, but feel free to add more veggies - shredded carrot and chopped bell peppers would be awesome additions. The original recipe called for mixed greens but I actually really liked this salad made with romaine, it gave it a good crunch).

For the dressing:

1/4 cup plain Balkan-style yogurt
1/4 cup tahini
3 tbsp lemon juice (squeeze the juice out of the lemon you zested for the marinade and you will have enough!)
2 tbsp warm water
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper

Combine marinade ingredients in casserole dish (or whatever you will be marinating your chicken in.) Add chicken and coat with marinade. Cover with foil and refrigerate for 4 hours, turning chicken at least once.

Grill the chicken on your bbq or George Foreman grill. While it's cooking, get your salad ingredients ready and make the dressing - just whisk all the ingredients together. Add chopped grilled chicken to the salad and toss with voila! (You may have more dressing than you need for the salad - save the leftovers, this stuff would be yummy on all sorts of salads, or as a veggie dip). Hope you enjoy as much as I did!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why I Love 30 Day Shred

The first time I did it I could barely walk up my stairs to take a shower afterwards. It's made me think terrible thoughts about Jillian Michaels and turn redder than most tomatoes. Despite that, I love 30 Day Shred and would encourage anyone looking to get into shape or just looking for a new workout to try it. Here's why:

20 Minutes. I love that even though I feel like I've worked out for an hour after doing Shred, it's really only 20 minutes. Very easy to fit into the day. I usually do it as soon as I get home from work and then I can relax for the rest of the night.

Simple. I was first attracted to this workout because all I needed to do it was a mat, running shoes, and hand weights. Also, the moves are pretty basic fitness moves, and there are modifications for beginners (not that these will completely save you from feeling like you're going to die).

Improved Endurance. 30 Day Shred has 3 levels of increasing difficulty. The idea is to do Level 1 for 10 days, then Level 2, etc (although I've only attempted to do a full 30 days in a row once). When I first started doing Shred I had to stop and rest so many times during Level 1 that it was embarrassing. Now I do Level 2 and usually only have to stop once for a few seconds.

Variety. The workout combines strength training, cardio, and abs exercises, so even if I only do Shred 3 times a week, I feel like I've covered all the workout bases. I find the fast pace, variety of moves, and the ability to switch between levels helps to keep me from getting bored.

RESULTS. This is what you really want to know right? "Does Shred work, or will I just be killing myself for nothing?" Well don't worry - it works. I can't say anything about the "Lose up to 20 pounds" claim - I have lost some weight since starting Shred but I've also been watching what I eat and doing other workouts. I have definitely noticed changes in my body from Shred though. To my surprise, I've noticed the biggest difference in my abs. Jeans that have always made me muffin-top, even at the same weight, now fit perfectly! Pilates may have helped with this as well, but I really think doing Shred is a big part of it, especially Level 2 with all its plank moves. Speaking of Pilates, I've noticed that the more I do Shred, the more my flexibility is improving - another important result to me. On top of that, my legs feel stronger, I look more toned overall, and I have more energy!

I'm currently trying to do Shred 3-4 times a week. I'm hoping to move up to bigger weights soon - I currently use 2 pound weights, I think 5 pound ones are actually recommended for Shred, but I'm weak! But heavier weights will equal stronger Laura, and someday I'd like to be able to do a pushup without falling on my face.

Have you ever tried 30 day Shred? What did you think of it? What about any other of Jillian Michaels workout videos?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A convenient curry

Usually when I grocery shop I try to stick to two rules: buy whole, natural foods as much as possible, and shop cheap. However, I cut myself a bit of slack on this week's grocery trip. For one thing, it's been snowing in Ottawa for 3 days straight now, and I only wanted to make one stop so I could get home as soon as possible (this meant not stopping at Bulk Barn). Also, I wanted to buy things that would let me cut down on prep time a bit, in the hopes of making it easier to stick to my meal plans.

As a result my grocery cart contained some things it hasn't for quite some time: individual Source yogurts instead of plain yogurt that I add fruit and agave nectar to, instant oatmeal packets instead of oats from the bulk store, and a package of pre-cut butternut squash cubes instead of a whole squash. I suspect no one is judging me too much for this - it's still all healthy food after all - but in the case of the yogurt, I think it was a mistake. I'm finding I can really taste the Splenda in it, and it's not pleasant. The butternut squash, however, was worth the $2.99. It meant I didn't have to kill myself trying to cut through an uncooked squash and I got to make this unbelievably delicious curry - which made at least 4 servings, so really the squash only cost be about 75 cents a meal. Worth it!

Do you rely on any convenience foods to help you stick with healthy eating (or to cope with neverending wet snow?)

Butternut Squash and Chickpea Curry (adapted from Eat Like a Girl)

1 package butternut squash cubes (or 1 butternut squash, peeled and diced if you must)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can coconut milk
Half of a 28oz can diced tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely chopped
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp coriander
1 tsp turmeric
Pepper to taste
1 cup baby spinach
2 green onions, sliced
Fresh cilantro for garnish

Sauté the garlic and ginger in a little oil over medium heat for 1 minute. Add 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp coriander and all the turmeric and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the squash cubes and cook 2 minutes, stirring to coat with the spices. Add the tomatoes, coconut milk, remaining cumin and coriander, and pepper. * see note below* Cook for 10-15 minutes or until squash is tender. Add the chickpeas, spinach and green onion and cook until spinach is wilted. Garnish with plenty of fresh cilantro. I served this over some leftover brown rice. So, so yummy!

*I also added a few shakes of dried jalapeno peppers at this step for a bit of heat - this is optional if you don't want heat, or you could also add a finely diced jalapeno when you cook the garlic and ginger if you don't have a BF who grows and dries his own hot peppers!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The physical and mental health connection

While enjoying lunch at Fresh this weekend (delicious - how can I convince the owners to open an Ottawa restaurant?) Ashley said to me, "you don't blog anymore!" How right she was. The first thing out of my mouth was "I don't have time" then realized the ridiculousness of saying this to Ashley, whose schedule makes my days look like a walk in the park. I guess the spark to write hasn't hit me lately but this weekend got me thinking about how mental health is as important as physical health, as well as the connection between the two.

I was in Toronto this weekend because my friend Kristy and I had planned a trip so that we could see Ashley perform in the musical REX. I've known Ashley since we were 12 but this was the first time I've been able to see her perform. Ashley played both Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth, and I was blown away by her stunning singing voice (you've come a long way from karaoke in Rossmore hun!) and the stage presence she brought to both characters. I also really enjoyed the show as a whole since I love musicals and am really interested in the history of the Tudor era.

The show, along with many other great experiences this weekend, was an excellent opportunity to reflect on where I am in my life right now and how it's a pretty great place to be. I feel so fortunate to have remained friends with Ashley for all these years and to get to see her shine on stage. I am also so fortunate to have a friend like Kristy in my life, with whom I always have an amazing time and who appreciates my dorkiness (by going with me to both the ROM and a dollhouse store!). It was a good weekend for mental health - a chance to take a break from work (and Ottawa weather), and an opportunity to appreciate the good things in my life.

This morning, having returned to Ottawa, I had my annual physical. On my way to the doctor's office I couldn't help thinking about last year's physical. I was not in a very good place in my life at the time. I was very stressed out by work and a lengthy bus strike and I wasn't taking care of myself - so it shouldn't have come as a shock when my doctor told me I had gained 10 pounds, but it did. 10 pounds may not seem like a big deal, but it hit me that if I kept on going the way I was, 10 would turn into 20, 30, 40 pounds very quickly. When my doctor asked me about exercise I had to admit that other than walking there had been no exercise for me for quite some time. Sitting wrapped in a paper sheet in your doctor's office is not the greatest feeling at the best of times, and that day, I couldn't imagine feeling worse.

What a difference a year makes. Today I chatted happily with my doctor and grinned when she said, "your weight is back down to normal, good for you!" We talked about the different types of exercise I've incorporated into my life, and I didn't feel guilty about some food indulgences this weekend, because I knew I'd be going home to a healthy meal and my Pilates dvd. Today's doctor's visit clearly illustrated to me that mental and physical health are so closely linked. Stress has certainly not disappeared from my life but I've learned that clean eating and exercise are healthy ways to deal with stress. I've also learned to allow myself a fun weekend without guilt, and how to get back on track once that weekend is over.

I hope to continue writing on the blog because writing has always been a great way for me to reflect and unwind, so while writing about my physical health I will also be doing my mental health a favour. I'll try to use this blog to continue being healthy in all ways!