Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Death-by-Chocolate Passover Chocolate Torte (aka Nigella Lawson's olive oil chocolate cake)

Most folks who know food, know that the best Passover desserts, are those that never had flour in the recipe to begin with.  So when I found Nigella  Lawson's Olive Oil Chocolate Cake, I knew I had to make it for this year's sedar.

It was definitely the show-stopper.  My picky father-in-law had multiple servings and there were nothing but accolades from everyone else (including the kids).

Unfortunately, its not super healthy.  I thought about using something other than white sugar, and might do that next time I'm making it for us, but since I was making it for a crowd not always keen on healthy substitutions, I left the recipe as is.

Actually, I kind of gilded-the-lily on this one and used almond milk instead of water to make it even richer, and instead of just dusting the top with icing sugar, as Lawson does in her recipe, I poured a chocolate fondant over the top.

I also did the lazy woman's version and skipped all the sifting, electric beating, etc.  It still turned out amazing!

While there might be a heck of a lot of sugar in this, it is gluten-free and dairy free for those with allergies or sensitivities.

Death-by-Chocolate Passover Chocolate Torte (aka Nigella Lawson's olive oil chocolate cake)

  • cup regular olive oil
  • tablespoons good-quality unsweetened cocoa
  • ½ cup boiling water or unsweetened chocolate or vanilla almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons best vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups almond meal 
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Passover Chocolate Chip Cookies (Gluten-Free)

I saw this recipe on The Detoxinista blog and instantly thought it looked perfect for a Passover dessert.

I didn't think baking soda was okay at Passover, but when I did a bit of research, a lot of sources claim it is.  I guess you can decide for yourself.  I kept it in because I am not that experienced baking with almond flour, so I didn't want to mess these up.

The original recipe uses maple syrup, but I don't like baking with maple syrup unless I want the flavour to be the focus (otherwise it's a waste of liquid gold!), so I opted for agave, and it worked perfectly.  These are super yummy even if you aren't celebrating Passover.  Adam described them as tasting like a cross between a macaroon and a cookie.  The kids love them too!

Passover Chocolate Chip Cookies (Gluten-Free) (Adapted from this one)

1 1/2 cups of blmond flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons coconut oil, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup agave syrup
1 whole egg, or flax egg
1/2 cup chocolate chips

In a medium bowl, combine the almond flour, baking soda and salt and mix well. In a separate bowl, combine the coconut oil, vanilla, syrup and egg, and mix well. Add the wet mixture into the dry mixture, and mix well until a uniform batter is achieved, then stir in the chocolate chips.

Using a tablespoon, drop the batter onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes, or until golden around the edges, turning the pan half-way through baking time.  Allow the cookies to cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 24 cookies.  Keep in air tight container for 3-4 days or freeze.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars (for Passover)

Happy Passover, and happy birthday to my dad!

Since I invented this recipe for Passover about a dozen years ago, they've been a favorite of Adam's.  The original isn't very healthy, using 2 full cups of brown sugar, but several of my attempts at making them with substitutions failed.  The recipe I posted last year is the original, but the photo is actually of the ones using coconut sugar, which ended up too crumbly.  This year, I finally mastered it!  Just a very small change in proportions and they turned out perfectly: sweet, caramel-y, crispy, chewy and amazing.

The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars (for Passover)

2 large eggs
4 tbls egg whites (or whites of 2 large eggs)
2 cups coconut sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups whole wheat matzo meal
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

Whisk together eggs, sugar and vanilla until smooth.  Add remaining ingredients and mix until combined.  Scrape batter into greased 8x8 square pan and bake at 350F for 22 minutes.  Let cool and then cut into squares.  Makes 16 cookie bars.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Know When to Fold Em

Funny Birthday Ecard: I find it strange that we celebrate you on the anniversary of a day when your mom did all of the work.

Little A's birthday is coming up, with Big A's a few weeks later.  Ugh!  Why is it that kids birthdays have turned into such a big deal?  When I was a kid, we had people over for cake and ice cream and we played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey.  My mom would make me a cat shaped cake every year (remember, I used to be a crazy cat lady), with the face being made out of jelly beans and licorice (no professionally made fondant covered masterpieces). 

Last year, we got away with doing a joint party for them at a local community centre, but just to prepare all the healthy (ish) cupcakes, cake balls, etc. that they requested, and set up all the entertainment, and make the music CDs for the lootbags, almost left me a drooling idiot.  I think I needed several days to recover from all the stress and excitement.

This year, I am subcontracting much of the work out.  I just can't do it.  Things are busy and it's too much right now.  It's also all so darn expensive.  I hate that.  Not just because its a ridiculous amount to spend, but because, I can't imagine how horrible it must be for kids whose parents cannot afford all the usual frills (venue, loot bags, decorations, etc., etc.).

Initially, the girls each chose a different venue, but just the basics for the combined parties (not including loot bags, cake, etc.) was going to cost $1,000.  My neighbour mentioned that Amazon Indoor Playground has better rates so I checked it out.  At first I was reluctant because it's really far from our neighbourhood, but when I discussed it with the girls, they loved the themed parties on offer.  Unfortunately (and predictably), Little A chose the Princess theme, while big A chose Rock Star.  I love that the snacks and cake are included (I am going to pretend it's not made with white flour and sugar), and for a reasonable price, we could add pizza (which I requested with whole wheat crust).  I thought I would deal with loot bags myself, but at the last minute, broke down out of sheer desperation and ordered them from The Loot Lady.  At least they are mostly toys and only one small sugary treat.  Sigh!

Part of me feels like a failure because I can't be more of a Pinterest-Obsessed-Make-Everything-Beautiful-All-By-Myself type mother, but at the end of the day, I realized its about making the kids happy and they are very excited for their parties.

With Passover starting Monday, it will be a busy weekend.  I am bringing several dishes to my mother-in-law's sedar, and there are still a few things I promised to make for Adam.  I also have to work this evening and tomorrow morning, and we have dinner plans with friends on Saturday night.  Hence, I tried to avoid booking any clients on Monday so I can cook, in case it doesn't all get done this weekend but I ended up having to squeeze in one appointment.

Well I am glad that it's Friday anyways.  It was another tough week.  Adam got the bug Big A and I had last week and he had to stay home Wednesday.  When he stays home from work, you know he is super, super sick!  But the weather is getting better and there is lots to be grateful for.  The fact that my top-of-mind complaint is organizing the girls' birthday parties makes it obvious how fortunate I am...I will try to remind myself of that over the next few weeks...

Have a happy, healthy weekend and enjoy this gorgeous weather!!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Red Thai Curry

I really love the complex flavours of Thai food, so I don't know why I don't make it more often.  It's actually quite simple.  If you have the time, you can add your meat raw and simmer in the sauce, or you can just use leftover meat or tofu and throw it in later, whatever.  As long as you don't overcook the meat or seafood, it's really quite hard to screw this up.

This could even be a Passover dish if you serve it over cauliflower rice!  If you want to thicken up the sauce a bit (which you definitely would want to do if using cauliflower rice), add a tablespoon or two of coconut flour.

Red Thai Curry (Vegan Option)

1 lb boneless cooked chicken, pork, beef, seafood or tofu

2 cloves garlic, minced
2 inch chunk of fresh ginger, minced
2-4 tbls red curry paste*
2 tbls fish sauce (or Ume plum vinegar for vegan)
1 can light coconut milk
1 broccoli, cut into florets
4 cups mushrooms, cut in half
2 red or yellow bell peppers, cut into strips
3 Japanese eggplants, cubed
2 cups diced fresh pineapple
1 bunch green onions, sliced
1 handful fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
Salt and/or crushed red chili flakes, to taste (optional)

In a large skillet or pot over medium heat, whisk together ginger, garlic, curry paste, fish sauce, and coconut milk.  Toss in broccoli and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Add mushrooms, peppers, and eggplant and simmer until vegetables reach desired doneness.  Add meat or tofu and remaining ingredients, season to taste and serve over brown jasmine rice.  Keep leftovers refrigerated for up to 3 days or freeze.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Vanilla Blueberry Passover Breakfast Cereal (Gluten-Free & Sugar-Free)

Happy Hump Day!  So what if it's only Wednesday, today is probably the nicest day weather-wise of 2014 so far! 

I have another yummy, healthy Passover recipe for you.

I know I say this every year, but I think it's worth repeating: Please do not buy any of those processed Passover foods at the grocery store!  They are full of total crap.  I read the ingredients on a box of the 'cereal' and it was basically nothing but potato starch and sugar.  Mmm!  If you think that can power you through your day, I think you'll be disappointed.

This, on the other hand, is not only delicious, but sugar-free, gluten-free and high in protein. I hope it will help ease Adam's suffering over the 8 days of the holiday this year.  I'll just watch.  While I am contemplating fasting for Yom Kippur next year, I have no desire...probably keep Kosher for Passover anytime soon.

Even if you're not part of the tribe, if you need to avoid gluten, this is a good breakfast or snack option.  With some milk or yogurt, its a delicious, satisfying meal to help get you through the day.

Vanilla Blueberry Passover Breakfast Cereal (Gluten-Free & Sugar-Free)

12 cups plain, puffed quinoa
2 tbls chia seeds
4 egg whites
1/2 cup granulated stevia (or you can try xylitol or coconut sugar)
1 scoop 100% whey protein powder (28g), plain or vanilla
2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup dried blueberries, preferably unsweetened
1/2 cup sliced almonds (optional)

Place quinoa and chia seeds in a large bowl.  Whisk together egg whites, stevia, protein powder and vanilla extract.  Pour over quinoa and stir until evenly coated.  Spread on 2 large parchment-lined baking sheets and bake at 350F for 10 minutes.  Stir and rotate sheets, then bake for an additional 5 minutes.  Let cool and then crumble larger clumps.  Mix with blueberries, and nuts, if using.  Keep in air tight container for up to 2 weeks.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Strength Training for Fat-Loss: Book Review

I often have women come up to me at the gym and ask me how I have managed to get so much muscle definition.  My answer is: consistent strength training.  I often share how important it is, particularly for women.  The benefits include:

  • Increases muscle strength and endurance
  • Improves body composition (% of body fat)
  • Strengthens bones and tendons
  • Improves mobility and posture
  • Decreases chance of injury
  • Improves sport performance
  • Reduces/reverses age-related loss of muscle tissue
  • Improves confidence, self-esteem and gives a sense of empowerment
Most women listen intently and then hop on the elliptical trainer.


I don't know why strength training continues to be so intimidating for most women.  Once you get started, you will wonder why it took you so long!

Since I have almost completely shifted to a strength-based fitness program, I have never felt better nor enjoyed my workouts more.  But I still struggle to get many of my weight-loss clients to commit.  This is unfortunate, because those that do, eventually see huge results.  Eventually, however is the key word.  In terms of actual weight on the scale, you will probably see a faster change if you do cardio, but believe me, over the long term, strength training is even more important for improving body composition and keeping excess body fat off for good. 

So I was thrilled when a copy of Strength Training for Fat-Loss, by Nick Tumminello, arrived at our door for me to review.  Although there are many physical and psychological benefits to strength training, I think the reality is, that I have to start emphasizing to most women the point about strength training helping with fat-loss (weight-loss).  Unfortunately, most folks, unless faced with an imminent health issue, are not swayed by information about health risks.  What does motivate people, is the desire to improve their appearance.  Of course, this makes sense, as we are, in fact, judged by our appearance.  This is often voiced as the biggest concern among my clients seeking support for weight loss. 

A growing proportion of North Americans are overweight or obese and losing weight is practically a cultural obsession.  The truth is, few people think about strength training as a key component of weight loss, but it is, and Tumminello does a great job of explaining why.

I like that Tumminello distinguishes fat loss from weight-loss.  This is important, because it is really body composition, not absolute weight, that matters.  Muscle weighs more than fat, so if you are muscular, you may weigh a lot, but you will have a lower proportion of body fat.

In Chapter 1, the first thing Tumminello does is explain the benefits of fat loss, ranging from better sport performance, healthier joints, increased energy, better sleep, to less stress, anxiety and depression.

In Chapter 2, he explains exactly how strength training can help you achieve fat loss.  Most people, particularly women, think they must do cardiovascular activities if they want to lose fat.  But strength training is also key.  Why?  Muscle is more metabolically active than fat tissue, meaning it requires more energy to function.  While cardiovascular activities burn calories while they are being performed, strength training increases muscle mass, which means your body can burn more calories, even at rest.  In other words, increasing your muscle mass is one of the few ways you can actually increase your metabolism. 

Tumminello explains why women, as well as men, need to lift heavy weight to see results.  I don't like, however, that he refers to women as 'ladies'.  Personally, I find that term rather condescending, and prefer the word 'women.'  But that's a whole other story.

The author explains the significance of sets and reps here too:

1-6 Reps - Best for increasing muscle strength
8-15 Reps - Best for increasing muscle size
Between 6-8 Reps - Provides some middle ground between the two

He points out that you should ideally do a bit of everything.

Metabolic strength training, which Tumminello defines as, strength training aimed as helping you lose body fat while building muscle, is based on 3 training concepts, which he calls the "3 Cs":

1. Circuits
2. Complexes
3. Combinations

All of these concepts are high intensity, involve the whole body, and demand extended repetitive effort in order to get you working in an anaerobic state.

The third chapter covers nutrition for fat loss.  Most people who need to lose weight will have to make changes to their diet in order to do so because exercise alone cannot make up for excessive consumption of calories.  Why?  As I've pointed out many times before, while it can take an hour of intense exercise to burn 500 calories, for example, it can take just 5 minutes to consume them (maple bacon donuts, anyone?).

Tumminello warns against diets that severely cut calories, fat or carbohydrates, or cut out whole foods groups or types of food.  Thumbs up!  So what do you change about your diet if you need to lose weight?  He calls it "Complementary Eating" which is based on 4 components:

1. Lean protein
2. Fibrous carbs (fruits and veggies)
3. Starchy carbs (oatmeal, sweet potatoes, etc.)
4. Health fats (avocado, nuts, olive oil, etc.)

He specifies that at each meal, the protein and fibrous veggies should make up the biggest portion on your plate followed by the starchy carbs and fruits, and then the healthy fats.

Hmm, sounds pretty common sense to me!

One of the reasons strength training is really key if your goal is to lose fat, is that when you restrict your calories at all, you tend to lose muscle.  This is why your metabolism decreases when you diet, and why it is often harder to maintain the weight loss than it was to lose it.  Strength training can offset this phenomenon.  In addition, we all lose muscle mass as we age, which means our proportion of body fat increases, putting us at increased risk of injury and chronic illness.  You may not see a change on the scale as you get older, but you will see it in your physique and your clothes may start to fit differently.  Strength training can prevent this as well.

Chapters 4-6 explain the principles of the "3Cs" and include a number of sample routines.  Most of these require weights or equipment.  Chapter 7 is all body weight exercises, most of which can be performed at home.  Although most do not require equipment, some utilize suspension systems like TRX or resistance band tubing.  This section also includes a lot of high intensity plyometric exercises.

Chapter 8 provides warm-up and cool-down options for your workouts.   Unfortunately, the cool-down stretches all require a foam roller, which might be annoying if you want to do the workout at home but don't have one.  That being said, foam rollers are awesome, and, in my opinion, definitely worth the investment.

Chapter 9 has an array of 4-week workout programs starting off from basic to very advanced allowing you to progress over time.  The one thing I would say, is that if you are a real newbie to strength training, and do not have great kinesthetic awareness (i.e. the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement), it is worth going through the core exercises with a certified personal trainer before you get started in order to minimize your chance of injury.

Honestly, there are so many benefits of strength training, I think it is something absolutely everyone should do.  If you are interested in getting started, and fat loss is a goal, this book is an excellent resource.