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Favourite Things: Healthy (but not so whole) Foods

1 Jul

First things first: HAPPY CANADA DAY to all my fellow Canadians! Even though we don’t have all the great healthy/natural food options that our American neighbours do, I still think that our country is pretty darn great! As I mentioned yesterday, I am being un-patriotic and am currently on a shopping excursion in Buffalo.

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So today’s favourite things post might be somewhat controversial – allow me to explain. In the healthy living community, and in many of the blogs/magazines/sites I read, there is definitely a movement towards whole over processed foods – which I totally agree with! I will NEVER tell you that something out of a box or bag is better than the stuff that grows on God’s green earth. In the healthy living community, I find in general that “fake” food is shunned, and it’s all about the real stuff. I will say again, I am totally on board with that, but….

….there are some “not-so-whole” foods I’m not ready to give up. Let me explain… basically, I’m coming off years of the “diet” mentality. Even before I started losing weight, I was always wanting to, so calories were (and to a large extent, still are) the bottom line. So, if something was/is made in a lower fat/calorie (or fat-free) version, I’d go for it. My way of thinking,is that if it’s available for less calories, why wouldn’t I go for that version? So the “processed” stuff I’m talking about isn’t cheesies and chips, it’s more like low-cal breads, Splenda, that kind of thing.

I still think I heat a healthy diet, and really, as you can see from this blog, I incorporate a lot of whole foods. However, not everything I eat is something my ancestors would recognize, or fresh from the field. I like things like:

Splenda I know this is a huge no-no in the healthy living community (it’s fake! it’s artificial! it’s all chemicals!)….I know, I know, I know (thankfully, Donna has also confessed her love for the stuff, so I feel a little less guilty). But here’s the deal: I. LOVE. SWEET. And if I added sugar (or even honey or agave nectar) to get all the sweetness I wanted in every day food, the calories would pile up quickly. I haven’t seen any studies which directly link Splenda to cancer, so, until I do, I’m probably still going to keep using it. I haven’t tried Stevia, but I’ve heard it has a weird aftertaste (anyone tried it and have an opinion? I’d love to know).

Light breads/wraps/buns I will always love carbs. And while there are some delicious (and totally healthy) breads out there made with lots of whole grains, seeds, etc, calories can add up quickly. I just don’t want the bread I eat on a day-to-day basis to add over 200 calories to a meal, especially when I want that meal to include meat and other side dishes. Since I like to eat BIG meals, I go for foods that give me the biggest bang for my calorie buck. I’d rather have the bun, the burger, and some sides rather than have to cut back on my other food because I’ve got a ginormous bun. Same goes for wraps, English muffins and regular breads. Again, I will eat “regular” bread on occasion, but for the very day, 100 calorie will be king for me (despite the longer ingredient list).

Fat-free spray-on Margarine Yikes! I’m starting to feel a little sheepish, but I’ll admit it: I love this stuff (I’m even buying in bulk today in Buffalo because I can’t seem to find it in Canada anymore). We’re big popcorn eaters in our house, and like to make the air-popped kind. Some would say we’re ruining a healthy, whole snack like that by topping it off with a bunch of chemicals. I say, by using a “whole food” (butter) to top if off, you’re taking an extremely low-calorie snack and making in extremely high in calories. I guess you just have to pick your priorities. This stuff is also great for corn on the cob and grilled cheese.

Fat-free Sugar-free JELL-O Puddings (and Kozy Shack fat-free rice and tapioca puddings) I’ll say it again – I need sweet! Whatever can help me get it for no fat, and 60 calories or less, I’ll take it. I almost never eat one of these guys on their own, but they’re the perfect base for any number of desserts – mix with Cool Whip, cream cheese, or ricotta. Crumble or dip in 100 calorie pack cookies (another guilty pleasure). Use as the base of a fruit dip. These guys do it all, and at a very reasonable caloric price tag.

Fat-free Italian Salad Dressing As you’ve seen all over this blog, I love salads. And while many healthy living experts out there tell you do use less dressing or go without, I love my dressing. I don’t need my salad totally swimming it it, but I like each leaf to have good coverage. I ALWAYS make my own dressing, but if just using olive oil and vinegar, the oil calories go up quickly when making the amount of dressing I’d like to use. So I add some of the fat-free stuff to my homemade vinaigrette to bump up the volume for less calories. My typical “recipe” for one serving is a teaspoon of olive oil, and a splash each of Dijon mustard, fat-free Italian and some type of vinegar. I play with it from there –adding different herbs/seasonings, etc. I figure that using a small amount of store-bought dressing in my own homemade version is better than dousing the whole thing completely with store-bought vinaigrette.

Frozen Yogurt, Light Ice Cream, and “novelties” (ice cream sandwiches, sundae cups) I’ll admit, I eat a lot less of this stuff since discovering banana soft serve and all its spin-offs. However, if I need a quick sweet, creamy, caramel and/or chocolate fix, these are my go-to options. They let me eat flavours I love without totally splurging. Obviously, the ingredient list is longer than my homemade soft serve, but these items aren’t stuff I can easily replicate at home.

So…those are my confessions, I’ve put it out there….do you still love me? Like I said, this post may be slightly controversial, and you may disagree with me, and that’s fine. I’d love to know your thoughts though. Are there any “healthy” processed food that you’re not willing to give up? Do you shun anything out of a box/bag or can or do you incorporate some of these foods into a more whole foods approach?

Favourite Things: Simply Strawberries

22 Jun

It’s strawberry season here in Southern Ontario!IMG_1840 SmileThat means berries aplenty here in HHH world for the next couple of weeks. Did you know that ounce for ounce, strawberries have more vitamin C than oranges? (I heard that somewhere awhile back, don’t ask me where). There are SO MANY wonderful ways to enjoy these beauties, here are some of my favs. Don’t waste time – get the berries before they’re gone and whip up a tasty treat!

1. Dip in brown sugar (twin) and sour cream (or Greek yogurt) Quite some time ago, a family friend let us in on this delicious flavour combination. While it may sound a little strange, it’s actually quite delicious. Nowadays, to boost protein and cut calories, I substitute fat-free Greek yogurt for the sour cream and brown sugar twin for the sugar – equally delicious! Try either variation for a tasty snack or light dessert.

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2. Make your own tasty dips. Like I did for Father’s Day, whip up some lime or chocolate dip. Or change up the flavours and create your own unique concoction. Both of the recipes above are pretty basic, so they can easily be personalized to suit your flavour preference.

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3. Top off your favourite cereal. This is an oldie, but a goodie (I know you can’t tell from the photo, but there is cereal under there, I promise!). This combo (and my personal favourite) is one cup of Wildroots Organic Triple Berry Morning Bliss (from Costco) topped with one and a half cups of sliced fresh strawberries, 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk and just a touch of brown sugar twin.

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4. Make a breakfast (or dessert) berry quesadilla. This is a dish that I make with apples or or pears in the winter, but is easily summer-ized. Spray one side of a light tortilla with no-stick spray, sprinkle with Splenda and cinnamon. Mix a few tablespoons fat-free cream cheese with vanilla extract and sweetener of your choice to taste (I used splenda). Spread on one half of the non-sprayed side of the tortilla. Top with an even layer of sliced berries. Fold other half over the berry side. Cook in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat – brown on one side, flip, then brown on the other. Optional but delicious: serve with a side of stewed rhubarb for dipping.

5. Use ‘em in a yogurt parfait. While we’re on the subject of stewed rhubarb, why not stir some of it, along with chopped berries into some yogurt (plain, flavoured, Greek, sweetened or not, your choice) and top off with cereal for a cool and crunchy breakfast treat. Don’t have the rhubarb? No worries! Go all berry, or mix with another fruit of your choice.

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6. Top off French toast. Make my usual French toast, and top with sliced fresh berries (and if you’ve got the stewed rhubarb, add some of that too). For an extra treat, top with 1/4 cup light ricotta, lightly sweetened and mixed with vanilla.

IMG_17147. Make a tasty toast. This is another ricotta special, and with similar flavours to the French toast, but quicker and easier for a weekday breakfast. Just lightly spray a thin bun or English muffin with PAM, sprinkle with cinnamon and Splenda, then toast. Mix 1/4 cup light ricotta with a splash of vanilla and some Splenda. Spread this over the toast, then top with sliced berries (I know I sound like a broken record, but also good if you add stewed rhubarb to the party). This is another breakfast that works with almost any fruit all year long.

8. Top off your favourite fro yo. Any kind of ice cream or frozen yogurt gets a boost from delicious fresh berries (and who can argue with something that means dessert contains a serving of fruit?). Add a bit of light chocolate syrup and/or a chocolate vitatop and make it a sundae! Also try berries in a soft serve sundae…mmmm!

9. Go Savoury. I know so far that all of my ideas have been sweet, but strawberries also work well in savoury applications. Try stirring a few into salsa for a different dip or topper for grilled meats. Or throw some strawberries into your typical salad for something deliciously different (I LOVE salads with fruit in them).

10. Make a trifle or top a cake. Here’s my basic trifle recipe. Just use fresh berries in place of the fruits I’ve used, and add any other to suit your tastes. You can also go basic and top off any number of cake flavours with fresh berries. For optimum flavours, slice the berries and let sit for 30 minutes or so (with or without added sweeteners) to let the juice develop. Easiest dessert ever? Buy an angel food cake, top with slice berries and some frozen yogurt or Cool Whip.

11. Chill out! Strawberries will never be as delicious, fresh and cheap as they IMG_0641-1are now (California strawberries DO NOT count…they don’t taste nearly as delicious), so why not freeze them to enjoy all year long? You can use them in everything from smoothies to soft serve even in the midst of a winter storm. To freeze my berries, I wash them, hull them, and freeze them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Once they’re frozen, I transfer to a re-sealable plastic bag. *Tip: If you want a large amount of berries for freezing – pick ‘em yourself….WAAAAAY cheaper!

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12. Once you’ve got your frozen berries, make these. What are “these,” you may ask? They are Hungry Girl’s Freezylicious Strawberry Squares  and you should really give them a try. One warning: this recipe uses half a can of sweetened condensed milk. While I love, appreciate and respect Hungry IMG_1805Girl, I think this is stupid and dangerous. I think sweetened condensed milk is basically the nectar of the Gods, and kind of like crack. Some of you out there may say it’s too sweet, but I disagree. I can (and do) eat it straight from the can and be completely satisfied. In fact, I think it would make the perfect dessert on its own. Sadly, even the low fat stuff is way higher in calories than I’d like to know about. But, I was smart, planned ahead, and made a half batch of cookie dough truffles so I’d have somewhere (other than my mouth) to put the other half of the can.

Freezylicious Strawberry Squares
PER SERVING (1 square, about 2.5" X 2.5"): 173 calories, 2.75g fat, 5 g fibre
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For Crust
1/4 cup light whipped butter or light buttery spread (I use low fat becel)
1 cup Fiber One bran cereal (original)
1 cup Fiber One Caramel Delight cereal (I didn’t have, so I used my trusty Triple Berry Organic Bliss)
3 tbsp. Splenda No Calorie Sweetener (granulated)
1 tsp. cinnamon
For Filling
Half a 14-oz. can (1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp.) fat-free sweetened condensed milk
2 cups frozen strawberries, slightly thawed
16 oz. (2 cups) fat-free strawberry yogurt (I used cherry, because I bought more than I needed for this recipe, which I tried and didn’t like anyway)

1 cup Cool Whip Free, slightly thawed
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine butter with 2 tbsp. water. Microwave until just melted; set aside.

In a blender or food processor, grind both types of cereal to a breadcrumb-like consistency. Transfer to a bowl, and add butter mixture, Splenda, and cinnamon. Stir until mixed well.

Spray an 8-inch by 8-inch baking dish (I used 11 x 7) with nonstick spray. Evenly distribute crust mixture along the bottom of the dish, using your hands or a flat utensil to firmly press and form the crust. Press it into the edges, but not up the sides.
Bake in the oven for 10 minutes; remove and let cool.

Clean and dry blender (if you used it earlier), and add all ingredients for filling. Blend at high speed until completely mixed and smooth. Pour evenly over the crust in the baking dish, covering it completely. Cover and freeze for 6 hours, or until firm.

Before serving, remove from freezer and let thaw for 5 – 10 minutes. Cut into 9 squares and enjoy!
MAKES 9 SERVINGS

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Feelin’ crusty: crust is baked and ready to go and filling all blended and ready to go on top.

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Optional: serve the squares topped with mint leaves, cool whip and a whole strawberry and drink tea out of a fancy cup for a nice, blog-worthy photo.

While we’re on the subject of strawberries, I thought I’d share some web-spiration with you. I subscribe to and LOVE Food Network Magazine and each month they do a feature with 30 days of a certain food. June was strawberries. While I can’t find the exact article online, here’s a link to 30 days of berries (they use other kinds of berries, so you can come back to this all summer).

Canadian Living’s Health and Wellness Blog has 5 reasons strawberries are good for you plus 5 strawberry recipes to check out online.

Joy the Baker kicks banana bread up a notch with Brown Butter Banana Strawberry Bread…oh yeah!

Count on Martha for a beautiful photo gallery and 50 strawberry recipes to go with it!

Those are just some of my favourite ways to use the beautiful berry – what are yours?

Favourite Things: Online HG Recipes

19 May

I was scrolling through pictures on my computer, looking for un-posted ones that I could write into a post for this week. I found a couple of photos from my recent catering extravaganza of a favourite Hungry Girl recipe of mine. Then I thought, why not make a post dedicated to my favourites? I was just going to make it a regular post, but then I thought another favourite things post would be fun for while I’m away. So without further ado, I give you some of my favourite online HG recipes (some of her recipes are cookbook exclusives, for this post, I’m just using the ones online, and I’m just giving you the links, rather than typing out all the recipes here).

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Hungry, Hungry Artichoke Hummus This is the recipe in the pictures above, the one that inspired this post. Obviously, you know it’s a good recipe if it’s a healthy one that’s good enough to use for catering! And I’ve already told you how I love artichokes. Just a heads-up on one ingredient: the fat-free Greek yogurt can be swapped for regular plain yogurt or sour cream. This recipe originally comes from the 200 under 200 cookbook, and once I made it – I fell in love! Luckily for you, it’s available online. Winking smile

Fettuccini Girl-Fredo I consider this one of HG’s greatest hits. I hardly ever eat it as is though. I like to top it off with grilled or roasted veggies, some cheese, and maybe a homemade tomato sauce. It’s totally worth seeking out tofu shirataki noodles to make this. Another note: I always use the whole wedge of Laughing Cow even though the recipe only calls for half – FYI: Canadian Laughing Cow is lower in calories and fat than American – great, eh? ‘Winking smile 

HG’s Fiber-ific Chicken Parm It’s chicken parm, without the harm! Cheesy, braded foods are NOT off-limits. Try this, you’ll love it! And pair it with the above recipe and a salad, and you’ve got an Italian feast fit for a queen.

HG’s Top Banana Bread Who doesn’t love banana bread? Even my brother-in-law, who doesn’t like bananas, likes banana bread. The only thing better than banana bread (which, although it’s made with fruit, is also usually high in fat and sugar) is guilt-free banana bread. This recipe makes 8 HUGE delicious, slices!

HG’s Bake-tastic Butternut Squash Fries I love squash. I love fries. When they unite, it is SO good! I like seasoning mine with garlic salt and cumin, maybe a few other Epicure seasonings, and whipping up some sort of dip on the side (of course, ketchup always works).

HG’s Lord of the Onion Rings It’s been a while since I made these things, but it’s not because they’re not delicious. It does take a bit of time to grind up the cereal, slice up the onions, then dip them in the egg substitute and cereal, but it’s well worth it. Try adding different spices to the breadcrumbs for your own delicious variations.

HG’s Raspberry Mocha Madness Swappucino I LOVE this drink…make it so much. Although sugar-free raspberry syrup is hard to find (you can order online here, but I’ve found mine several times at Home Sense/Winners….random, eh?), it’s worth seeking out for this drink. I have the recipe in an HG cookbook, the only difference to the online version is that you can use any type of milk you want – I usually go for skim.

HG’s Sweet ‘n Salty Caramel Cocoa You have to go to Buffalo (or another US city) to get most of the ingredients for this drink, but it’s well worth it. If you’re a sweet and salty fan like me, you’ll love this great drink.

HG’s Swirls Gone Wild and Nutty-good PB Brownies  I just made the peanut butter variation a couple weeks back. You heard how good they are. And as I said before, the cheesecake version is basically the same recipe, only with a cheesecake swirl instead of a peanut butter one. Both are delicious and guilt-free. Try one recipe, or try both and pick your favourite!

I could go on and on, but I think I’ll stop here. There are SO MANY more HG recipes that I love, these are just some of my favourites. Are there any you think I’ve missed? Do you have a favourite HG (or other online) recipe?

Favourite Things: Healthy Food on-the-go

13 May

Happy Friday the 13th! If you’re like me, this date has absolutely no impact on your life since you’re not superstitious in the least. Maybe the casinos in Vegas will all be empty? I’ll let you know. Since I’m leaving for vacation today and will likely be eating at least one meal in an airport, I thought I’d take the chance to share with you some of my favourite meals and snacks at fast food restaurants (plus it has been WAY too long since I’ve done a favourite things post). I’m not one to eat at fast food restaurants more than I have to (really, I hardly ever do). But, there are times when it’s unavoidable for me (and you). Read on for some of my fav finds that fill you up fast without filling you out.

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1. Wendy’s Chili. Love love LOVE this stuff. In fact, if you told me that I had to eat a healthy meal at a fast food restaurant, Wendy’s would probably be my first choice, mostly because of this stuff. If I’m going for lunch, I pair a small chili with a PLAIN side salad (get one of the low-fat dressings, only use half and don’t even think about going for one of those huge salads they have with crazy calorific add-ons). For dinner, I order a PLAIN baked potato (no sour cream, cheese or bacon please) and top it with the chili. Since this stuff has beef, beans and lots of fibre, it really fills you up!

2. Starbucks Light Frappuccinos frappucino So this is not a meal…but it sure is a delicious snack/treat! I can’t say enough about just how much I love these things – I usually order caramel or mocha (although I hear there’s a new coconut mocha flavour I’m dying to try) LIGHT…make sure you say light! Go for the tall, and skip the whip, and you can escape with a delicious sweet and creamy drink under 150 calories. These things are perfect for warmer weather (but I still enjoy them in the colder months)….and I’ll be sipping all summer whenever I can get to the big city to get my hands on one of these things (really hope there’s a ‘bucks in the airport terminal I’m in today).

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3. Tim Horton’s Yogurt and Berries This is a great option as a snack, or a light breakfast on the go. While many of Tim’s options are nutritional death traps (hello donuts, giant muffins, pastries and Double Doubles), this one is worth seeking out. You can go with either vanilla or strawberry low fat yogurt, and there are 4 types of fresh, whole berries layered in. It’s got only 2 grams of fat, plus 2 grams of fibre. And it’s probably the only thing on the menu for 160 calories that offers some nutritional benefits too. You really can’t go wrong here!

4. Subway Saladssubway salads I’ve told you before, but here’s another reminder: any sandwich on the Subway menu can be made into a salad! While many of the sandwiches on Subway’s menu have great stats (and we all remember Jared and his Subway “diet”), if you’re like me, sometimes when you’re on the go, particularly if you’ve been eating out a lot, you crave something a little less carb-y and a little more veggie-packed. And when it comes to fast foods, veggie-rific options tend to be few and far between. Even though there are fast-food salads, they tend to have way too many delicious, but calorie-heavy add-ons. Subway salads are the perfect solution – just like the sandwiches, they’re made your way, and you control what goes in (or not). Just be sure to ask for one of the low-fat/fat-free dressings – you don’t want to wreck your healthy creation with a dressing that is anything but virtuous.

So I’d say those are my top 4. Honestly, I really don’t eat fast food that often, as I enjoy cooking, and I know that I can make something that’s healthier and just as tasty (if not more so) at home. But like I said before, everyone has to dip in to the fast food world at some point, so hopefully these finds will help you choose wisely. We’ll see what I come up with at the airport today! Smile with tongue out What are your favourite more virtuous fast food finds?

P.S. One more eating on-the-go tip: bring stuff from home and combine it with something from a fast food restaurant, and create your own money and calorie-saving combo meal. My favourite breakfast example? Bring fruit and a Vitatop from home and get a tall skinny latte at Starbucks…YUM!

Favourite Things: Low Season Produce Boosters

4 Apr

I’ve made a couple more recipes from my new Hungry Girl cookbook, but I thought I’d give you a bitIMG_0640 of a break today for another edition of my Favourite Things. The title may be a bit confusing, but once I explain further, I think you’ll get it. I try to eat seasonally and locally when I can. Let me emphasize again – try! I certainly do buy produce frown in other countries, but if there is something local available, that’s always my first choice. I love fresh, crisp apples in the fall, and happily eat squash all winter long. Of course, I love the wide variety of fresh fruit in the summer, and am eagerly awaiting the arrival of fresh, local asparagus. But right now, we’re in a bit of a lull. Apples and pears are getting old, citrus is past its peak, squash is now shipped in from Mexico (although I do still buy it), and asparagus and strawberries are a month away. Lest I (and you) get scurvy, I have a few tricks to get you through the produce doldrums…take heart, before you know it, we’ll be drowning in fresh asparagus and eating rhubarb crisp (drool, sigh)!

1. Canned Tomatoes I’ve written before about my love for this pantry staple. They are so inexpensive and you can use them in so many ways. Add them to a soup or cook them as a sauce (sauté garlic and chili flakes in olive oil, add tomatoes, season with salt and simmer). On the weekend, I even tried them in a salad. Since fresh tomatoes are expensive (and pretty tasteless) this time of year, canned just make sense. Plus, you don’t need to worry about peeling and chopping…just open a can and pour right in. Depending on your recipe/preferences, you can buy them whole, chopped or crushed. There are lots of varieties available with different seasonings too if you want to be different. Check out one of my favourite quick, easy and healthy recipes for eggs poached in tomato sauce from Smitten Kitchen (I haven’t made this one in forever – I need to get on it) – a great way to put those canned tomatoes to use.

IMG_0641 2. Frozen Berries (or any fruit) (if you’re wondering why this is such a strange and frosty-looking phot0, it’s because it’s right out of my freezer…I just went down to my basement and snapped away) I am blessed to live in a region where fresh fruit is widely grown in the summer. That means that it’s also inexpensive, especially if you pick it yourself. So every summer, I freeze lots of berries – strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. After I get over the sore back and sunburn that often accompanies the strawberry picking (I usually buy the other 2), I’m always glad to have my stash stored away in the freezer. Locally grown taste so much better than those imported from Florida or California, and you can’t argue with the price! To freeze the berries, I wash first (and hull, if using strawberries), then spread in a single layer on metal baking sheets. After they’re frozen, I transfer them to resealable plastic bags. Frozen aren’t the same as fresh (and I’ll admit, this time of year, I sometimes break down and buy the strawberries…who can say no when they’re 3 boxes for $5?!), but I manage to use them in a variety of ways. Smoothies are the most obvious route. I also like to thaw the berries and stir into yogurt or oatmeal at breakfast. You can bake them into muffins, or make a great sauce (just boil the berries down with a bit of the sweetener of your choice) for pancakes, French toast, or ice cream. I’m always motivated to use up my stash at this time of the year too, because I know that the fresh ones will be here in a few months, and I want to make room in my freezer!

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3. Frozen Spinach This stuff is one of the biggest bargains in the grocery store freezer! When you look at the amount of spinach you get, then think about how much fresh stuff you’d have to cook down to get that much…it’s a steal! And now you don’t have to just buy the one big block of frozen spinach (great if you need the whole thing for a big batch of tasty spinach dip, not-so-much if you just want to add a handful to your recipes), you can buy bags like the one pictured (brands vary depending on where you shop) of chopped spinach pieces/nuggets, so you can just take out as much spinach as you want then re-seal the bag. Just a tip when using this stuff, I like to take out the amount I want and pop it in the microwave for a minute before using. That way I can drain the excess water (I like to just dab with a paper towel), which can affect the flavour/texture of recipes. Once drained, I’ll add the spinach to pasta dishes, soups, or stir frys. I also like to add the drained spinach to a mushroom sauté and then sandwich it between bread with cheese (goat cheese tastes AMAZING)  and grill for a yummy panini. I will often add spinach to my own dip creations – some mix of cream cheese, sour cream and Miracle Whip (all fat free, of course), seasonings (like Epicure dip mixes, garlic salt or herbs) and then toss in the spinach for your own signature dip! Another great use for the green stuff? Add to an egg scramble for a tasty veggie omelette! In short, any where you see a recipe/meal that you think is a little shy on veggies or nutrients, break out the bag of frozen spinach and make Popeye proud!

Well, hopefully these tips have helped keep scurvy away and your teeth intact! Smile Do you have any other tips for incorporating fruits and veggies in your diet, even when the fresh selection leaves a lot to be desired? Do tell!

Favourite things: cross-border food finds

21 Mar

I love shopping in the United States. Even though I only live a couple of hours from the border, the different stores always seem new and exciting (any Americans reading this post may have a good laugh :)). When I go shopping in the States (typically in Buffalo), I not only shop for clothes and stuff at the mall, I also go grocery shopping. Now, I love Canada and being Canadian. There are so many great things about our country. However, there is WAY more variety in the low fat/low calorie options available in the US. It has gotten a lot better here. Since it’s been a couple of years since I started my American grocery trips, I’ve noticed that often Canada will get the same or similar products, but it always takes longer! 😦 I’ve also streamlined my purchases. When I first started cross-border grocery shopping, I would bring home HUGE hauls! There would always be so much stuff I wanted to try. Now that I’ve been doing it longer, I know what my favourites are, what things are worth, what things are not, and what things end up going to waste/just sitting on the shelf. Also, happily, since I’ve started cross-border shopping, several of the items I used to drive to Buffalo for are now available here in Canada (or at least versions similar enough that I don’t feel the need to drive south for them). Nevertheless, there are still some things I just can’t get here. So take a look at my photos and I’ll run down the highlights of what I bought on last week’s trip.

1. Low Calorie Breads – These are always one of my biggest purchases. I figure, if you can have the same taste for less calories, why wouldn’t you? It’s a really easy way to cut calories on the things I eat on a day-to-day basis. There are my favourite, flat-out wraps, which I use for pizza crusts, quesadillas and wraps (yes, you can order them online in Canada now 😀 :D, but since I was there, I thought I’d pick them up and skip the shipping charges). I also get thin buns…again, Weight Watchers now has thin buns in Canada, but there are way more varieties in the US….plus they have hot dog thins, not available here. I also buy light English muffins, since the American ones are lower in calories than any sold here (not quite sure why….maybe different recipes for different regulations?). And this time I grabbed a bag of 110 calorie everything bagel thins which I haven’t tried before.

2. Chips – No, I am not driving 2 hours just to buy the same chips you can buy here. I’m talking about fat-free Lays/Ruffles (you can’t buy chips like that in Canada, because Olestra, the oil used to fry them, is not approved in Canada…article about it here), fat-free Pringles (also use Olestra) and the new cracker chips by Special K and Pepperidge Farm I’ve heard so much about (these last 2 are brand-new for me, so I’m super-excited to try them :)).

3. Fat Free Caramel Dip. Yes, you can buy caramel dip in Canada. No, it’s not fat-free. Marzetti caramel apple dip is delicious…and is also an ingredient in many Hungry Girl recipes…like my personal fav…Sweet ‘n Salty Caramel Cocoa.

4. Fat Free Reddi-Whip This stuff is another HG staple…when it comes to topping drinks (hot or cold), it can’t be beat. Fat-free Cool Whip (available in Canada) is an acceptable substitution, but it just doesn’t taste the same…it’s not aerosol, and the flavour of Reddi-Whip really does taste like whipped cream (I’m not sure how they do it in the fat-free version, and I’m not sure I want to know ;)).

5. Diet Hot Cocoa Wow…the more I type my list, the more I see how Hungry Girl-influenced it is. Swiss Miss “Sensible Sweets” 25 calorie cocoa can be used in all kinds of HG recipes, from the hot chocolate one above, to baked goods, to cold drinks….you name it, Swiss Miss can do it…and for only 25 calories! I also love to make a cup of the stuff using half water, half almond milk for a yummy chocolate pick-me-up.

Now onto the freezer section….

6. Weight Watchers Smart Ones Sundaes Ok…these things are GOOD! They come in varieties like cookie dough, peanut butter cup, fudge brownie and turtle…YUM! If you’ve read my About Me page, you know that WW helped me lose weight. I still roughly follow the “old” points system as a guide to help me in maintenance…so pre-portioned, delicious desserts like these are a HUGE help. They truly don’t taste diet-y at all.

7. Light Ice Cream Variety in this area has gotten a lot better in recent years in Canada. However, there’s still better selection south of the border….umm, hello Girl Scout Thin Mint light ice cream? Yes please! I also buy this kind of Breyers fat free vanilla ice cream with super-low stats and even fiber (nothing in Canada compares). Finally, I buy chocolate mint Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches (only vanilla ones here).

8. My beloved Boca Burgers There are lots of great frozen veggie burgers in Canada, but none have the same great flavour as Bocas (they were once available in Canada…come back please Boca…do you hear me?). I love the original (again…a HG favourite in many recipes) and the bruschetta flavour.

This post doesn’t cover absolutely everything I bought, as I said, it’s just the highlights. If you see something in either of the pictures of my “stash,” feel free to ask me. I love to share my fabulous food finds with the blog-world. Do you have any favourite foods you drive across the border (or order online) to get? What are they and why are they worth it?

Favourite Things: Salty Snacks

12 Mar

If you ask me what’s my vice, sweet or salty, I’d always say sweet. I love dessert more than anything else, and I don’t just have a sweet tooth – it’s more like a whole mouth! That being said, I like a good crunch as much as anyone else. Salty snacks are great for parties or movie watching, and they don’t necessarily have to be unhealthy. Here are a few of my favs.

1. Popcorn

This has to be at the top of my salty snack list. I just love popcorn – always have, always will (fun fact, and I’m just putting this on here to annoy my sister: my sister didn’t like popcorn when she was little :P). My grandpa actually started a small local popcorn company with his best friend, so it was always something we had growing up in our house as a snack, at our house or when we were visiting my grandparents. I don’t smother it in butter though. My favourite way to enjoy popcorn is plain, air-popped popcorn topped with butter spray and salt. Butter spray is the ideal topping for popcorn – it’s got the flavour of butter, and it coats the popcorn so perfectly. And since popcorn is super-low in calories and high in fiber (did you know it’s a whole grain?), I can eat it in large amounts and not feel guilty (see that bowl in the photo – that’s one serving for me 😀 ). I also enjoy 100 calorie popcorn packs when I’m looking for a bit more portion control. They’re another great option (and easier if you don’t have a popcorn popper). I like the basic butter flavour, but I LOVE 100 calorie packs of kettle corn (which are harder to find in Canada, I usually stock up in the US)….it’s that sweet and salty thing I can’t say no to!

2. Pop Chips

Have you ever tried Pop Chips? They are relatively new in Canada, so you may not have seen them yet. They are called POP chips because they are popped – not baked or fried (read more about it here). Just the other night, I recommended them to my friend Megan, a die-hard chip lover who is trying to cut back. She texted me about her love for them, and said that I needed to blog about them (so Megan, you are the inspiration for this post :)). They come in all those great classic chip flavours – sour cream & onion, barbecue, cheddar, salt & vinegar. You won’t believe how good they taste, with better texture than a lot of baked chips and none of the greasy fingers of classic fried chips. I can’t say enough about how good these chips are, but the bottom line is, you need to go try some!

3. 100 Calorie Classics

I blogged awhile back about 100 calorie packs. To be honest, when it comes to salty snacks, I don’t reach for the 100 calorie packs that often. I am a volume girl, which is why I typically go for popcorn, as I enjoy the HUGE serving size. That being said, 100 calorie packs have their place. I love 100 calorie Cheetos, Doritos and Sunchips, as these treats are something I enjoy, but it’s super-hard to control portion size  with high-calorie salty snacks out of the big bag. The 100 calorie packs allow me to enjoy my favourites. I even mix them together sometimes to make my own snack mix.

4. Cross-Border Crunch

I love being Canadian, but one thing I don’t love is that there are many low-fat/low-calorie favourites of mine that aren’t readily available to me. Since I live fairly close to the US border, I occasionally make shopping trips to stock up on some of my favourites. For salty snacks, they include fat-free Pringles, Rold Gold honey mustard pretzel twists (which have all of the flavour of the pretzel nuggets I love, but waaay less fat), Lay’s light chips (I have to hide these when I but them, my mom loves them SO much) and 100 calorie packs of kettle corn. If you happen to be state-side shopping, stock up on some of these goodies!

5. Guiltless Gourmet Tortilla Chips

I can’t believe I almost finished this post without mentioning these! If you haven’t tried them: YOU MUST (that is an order). Why would you want to eat plain old fried tortilla chips when you could have Guiltless Gourmet in flavours like spicy black bean (my fav), chili lime, mucho nacho, chipotle and spinach artichoke Parmesan (haven’t tried that one yet and really wanna)?! These can be harder to find, but they are becoming available at more and more grocery stores these days (tip: they’re often in the organics section). I eat these more during the summer months – for some reason, nachos and salsa/dips are more of a summertime thing for me – anyone with me, or am I alone on this one? Next time you’re having nachos – grab the GG chips for a flavour fiesta you’ll never forget. They are great as dippers or in baked nachos – just TRY THEM!

So those are my favourite ways to get my crunch on when a salty craving strikes. What about you? Any favourites I haven’t mentioned here/need to know about?

P.S. I really want to try the new PC Blue Menu Lentil Chips but I couldn’t find them at the grocery store. 😦 Hopefully I will soon and I can update you!

Favourite Things: 100 calorie pack accessories

2 Mar

I love 100 calorie packs. Can you believe we ever lived without them? But when you think about it, it’s really only been a few years since these things came around. That being said, sometimes 100 calorie packs need a little help. Although they are designed to be a snack, let’s be honest – 100 calorie packs are not always that satisfying on their own. If I am really hungry, I turn to something more substantial, something with protein and fibre to fill me up. But I still eat 100 calorie packs – I just like to glam them up a bit first. With a little back-up from a supporting player, a 100 calorie pack goes from ho-hum to something special (and still keeps calories low). Here are some of my top tips:

1. 100 calorie cookies + marshmallow creme

Oh, how I love marshmallow creme. It’s totally fat free, about 20 calories per tablespoon and fluff-i-licious…what’s not to love? This stuff makes a great dip for 100 calorie cookie packs (any flavour). Just put 2 or 3 tbsp in a little bowl (use a small one so it looks like more), open up that cookie bag and dip away…your cookies won’t know what him ’em!

2. 100 calorie cookies + sugar-free pudding cups (and maybe a little bit of Cool Whip too)

Another thing I love? Jello sugar-free refrigerated pudding cups! They are only 60 calories and fat free. Take that bag of 100 calorie cookies and crush ’em up (you choose whether you want fine crumbs or a chunkier texture). Mix the pudding cup and the crumbles in a nice dessert bowl and you’re ready to enjoy. But do you want to take things up another notch? Add a few tablespoons of fat free Cool Whip to the pudding before you stir in the cookies. This makes for a fluffier, mousse-like texture. Mmmm!

3. Salty Snack Mix and Match

This is one I haven’t done for a while, but it’s a good one! Who doesn’t like snack mix? My favourite kind is the one with Cheetos, Doritos, Sun Chips and pretzels, but I never buy it because this stuff is SO GOOD and once you start, it’s hard to stop (which reminds me of a funny commercial I’ve seen for Special K Cracker Chips….the girl says that’s why they’re called chips: because you can’t eat just one…lol). Anyways, I digress. Fortunately for me (and snack mix lovers everywhere), all of the above ingredients come in 100 calorie packs (well, I don’t know if pretzels do in Canada…but you can use pretzels from a big bag)! So make your own! Just open a bag each of the ingredients (or 2 bags if you want to make a bigger batch) and mix it together. Then divide up into the same number of mini ziploc bags as the number of 100 calorie packs that you opened (ie, if you used 4 100 calorie packs, but your snack mix into 4 ziploc bags. If you are using pretzels from a big bag, just look at the serving size/nutrition info on the back of the bag and use about 100 calories-worth of pretzels. Voila – you’ve just created your own custom 100 calorie snack mix! Bonus? If there’s something in snack mix you don’t care for (I know a lot of people leave the pretzels behind), you can leave it out!

4. 100 calorie chocolate bar as a supporting actor

Sometimes 100 calorie packs don’t have to be the main event. They can play second fiddle in delicious dishes – such is the case of the 100 calorie chocolate bar. They can be used as an integral part of the dessert quesadilla. Cadbury Thins work beautifully in s’mores because of their flat nature. You can melt down the bars and use them as a dip for fruit, or stirred into pudding (you can also chop them up and use like cookies in #2).

So there you have it – 4 ways to use and improve 1oo calorie packs. A quick fix makes a good thing even better – give it a try!

These muffins are Tops!

26 Feb

Remember the muffin tops I bought at Costco? I promised an entire post devoted to my love for Vitatops, and after over a month, it’s finally here! I can’t believe I waited so long to tell you more about these things. I love them so much that I’ve decided they merit a favourite things post of their own! I discovered VitaTops thanks to Hungry Girl a couple of years ago, and now they’re a regular part of my diet. Vitalicious makes several flavours of muffins and muffin tops (sadly, they’ve cut back on what is offered in Canada, so I can no longer get my beloved chocolate peanut butter chip) but the best by far (of what’s available in Canada) is the Deep Chocolate VitaTop (and fortunately, it’s the flavour that’s the most readily available). You can also get flavours like cran bran, apple crumble, golden corn and pumpkin spice (the newest flavour…still haven’t tried it yet). They’re all good, but chocolate’s my favourite, hands-down.

Now, where do you get these things? The good news is they’re getting easier to find all the time. My grocery store stocks 4 packs of the deep chocolate in the breakfast freezer section. Many Costco stores also have 12 packs available (a great deal) in the frozen section. Or you can order online(sign up for their emails, they send out lots of coupons for free shipping and discounts). Now that you know where to find them, what do you do with a VitaTop?

More like, what don’t you do with a VitaTop? Hungry Girl is so mad about them, she devoted an entire chapter to VitaTops in one of her cookbooks! Before I get carried away, let me mention that you can keep these things in the freezer for months…so don’t worry about ordering large quantities. I microwave mine for 30 seconds, then I’m good to to. First off, I love these babies for breakfast. I typically pair a VitaTop with 1/2 cup plain fat free yogurt mixed with fruit (whatever’s in season) and Splenda. In the winter months it’s usually a sauteed apple or pear with some cinnamon, but there’s a lot more to choose from. I sometimes add vanilla extract to the mix to switch it up. I also enjoy either one of my cafe mocha drinks (sometimes change the flavour by adding either cinnamon or some sort of extract) or a pumpkin spice latte. This breakfast never gets old (after all, there are lots of ways to switch it up). Side note – I don’t know if you can read it in the photo, but I love what this mug says: “I’d give up chocolate – but I’m no quitter.” 😀

But these muffins go waaaay beyond breakfast. They make a great quick snack on their own or spread with a little pb. Or cut one in half, stuff with a little frozen yogurt for your own (HUGE) guilt-free ice cream sandwich. Or crumble it in some sugar-free pudding. Top it with ice cream and sauce for a brownie sundae. Hungry Girl’s recipe for a frozen pumpkin whoopie pie is one of my personal favs.

The sky’s the limit with these things…are you getting the idea? I’m sure I’m forgetting some ways to use these versatile Vitas, as I’ve done so much with them in the past. Have you ever tried VitaTops? Do you have any creative ideas for using them? Please share!

Favourite Things: Funky Foods in a Can

10 Feb

Time for more of my favourite things! Today I am spreading the word about some more unusual foods. These are foods that you may not have heard of or ever used, and ones that I have only started using in the last year or two…and although I didn’t intend for this theme when I started the post, they are all from a can or a jar. And…bonus…you don’t have to cook any of them! I hope this post will broaden your culinary horizons and encourage you to try things you haven’t before, so here goes.

1. Capers

These little guys are a great flavour booster. I think what initially inspired me to try them is that they are a 0 point Weight Watchers Food (always a good thing). If you want to find out what capers actually are, click here. Capers have a really salty, briny flavour that taste great in all sorts of dishes. I like them in tomato-based veggie and pasta dishes, you can also throw them into a salad. I don’t enjoy olives, but I love the salty flavour that capers add to a dish (heads up – you may want to cut back on salt if you’re adding capers, as they do pack a punch). Capers are sold in small jars usually around where the pickles/pickled vegetables are in the grocery store.

2. Hearts of Palm

I’m trying to remember why I first tried these…I think maybe I saw them featured in a recipe in Rachael Ray magazine? Hearts of palm are unique in flavour and texture….I think I’ve heard them described as a cross between asparagus and artichokes? That’s as close as I can come up with. Again, here’s a link if you want to read more. Like the capers, they are 0 points. I mostly use them in salads….it adds something different, and switches it up from your usual veggies. But according to the article I linked to above, you can blend them up in spreads….interesting! Again…sold in the pickles area, right by capers.

3. Artichoke Hearts

I am not just doing a heart theme since it’s close to Valentine’s Day…I “heart” these as well (I crack myself up). Artichoke hearts are becoming a bit more common I think, probably because of all the yummy artichoke dips out there (try this one from Hungry Girl….seriously YUM). I think I first bought them because a Pampered Chef recipe I was making called for them (I used to be a consultant). The recipe was called “elegant artichoke cups” and it was always a hit when I made them. But in terms of more day to day things, artichokes taste great when added to pasta dishes, or in salads. They also make a great pizza topper. Another HG favourite artichoke recipe of mine? Her artichoke hummus is just out of this world…I love to have it on hand during the summer…yum! Artichokes are found in the same part of the grocery store as the capers and hearts of palm.

Do you have any favourite ways of using these foods? Or any other funky canned foods we need to know about? Please share!