Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Gluten Free Vanilla Wafers

This year I was dubbed with the dubious honor (or chore depending on how you look at it) of preparing the Thanksgiving feast minus the turkey. I can thank Whole Foods for taking that off of my "To Cook" list. Panda's parents are going to New Zealand for 3 weeks in the next couple of days and the last thing his mother wanted to do was cook a feast. So he volunteered me which I was okay with. I was concerned about this year's Thanksgiving considering that I have a wheat allergy and have been gluten free since August 2013. Pretty much all of the traditional dishes have some sort of wheat/gluten containing ingredients. I'm excited because I can make everything gluten free and be able to enjoy everything! Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

The family and I had a brain storming session about what to make for the dishes, and most importantly, dessert. Panda and his dad are diabetic so I had to make something that catered to their sugar free requirement and my gluten free lifestyle. We decided on pumpkin pie and a sugar free cheesecake that I used to make back in the day when I did the Suzanne Somer's "Eat Great, Lose Weight" diet (don't judge). Then we started talking about making a graham cracker crust to go with it. Traditionally, the Suzanne Somer's recipe didn't call for a crust so I had to come up with a crust that was not only gluten free, but sugar free. 

Do you know how hard it is to find recipes that are gluten AND sugar free?! Pretty freaking ridiculous! It's like the two don't even exist. I went on a Pinterest/Google online goose chase to find a recipe that would cater to both needs. Insert the Gluten Free Vanilla Wafers. At first I was a little skeptical as the recipe said it was "refined sugar free" but still used coconut palm sugar. What the heck was that and how was it any different than regular sugar?! So I had to do some research on how it affects the body and how it's different than refined sugar. Surprisingly enough, I found some great information. While coconut palm sugar isn't necessarily "sugar free" like Stevia or Splenda, it has a low glycemic index unlike its red-headed sister sugar and takes longer to metabolize into sugar which is good for a diabetic. It still has 4 grams of carbs per serving which should be taken into consideration when eating if you are a diabetic (1). I ran it by Panda and he was sold, so I decided to take a leap of faith by making these cookies for the cheesecake crust.

First of all, let me say this...gluten free baking is EXPENSIVE if you don't have the 50 flours the recipe calls for and all the other GF ingredients. I spent $50 at Whole Foods for these cookies! I almost fell over when the cashier told me my total. maybe I elaborated a little bit. I had other things in my cart that weren't for the cookies. I probably spent about $20 for the cookies. But still! That's expensive! Was it worth it? TOTALLY. Was I scared that they weren't going to turn out? Yup. But it was a risk I was willing to take especially since it was my first time baking gluten free. If you've never baked with gluten free ingredients, prepare yourself. The flours used to bake GF goodies are completely different than regular wheat flour and don't rise or fluff up like their counterpart. It's almost like you have to have a chemistry major to bake something out of the blue. Thank God for the pioneers before me that figured that ish out. Lord knows how many disasters I would've created in the kitchen had it not been for masterful GF cooks.

I digress...onward to what you've been patiently waiting for...the recipe for these delectable graham cracker tasting wafers. Yes I know that the title says Vanilla, but after it was all said and done these puppies taste like graham crackers which is perfect since that's the whole purpose of them anyway. So here we go!

There were a few modifications that I had to make since I was unable to find some of the ingredients. Refer to the original recipe for all of the specifics (the link is in the 3rd paragraph above). 

Wet Ingredients
1/2 cup non-hydrogenated butter flavored vegetable shortening
1 large egg (room temperature)
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon dairy free milk (I used almond milk)
1 tsp. butter flavoring

Dry Ingredients
2 cups Erewhon Brown Rice Crisp Cereal
1 1/4 cups brown rice flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1 1/2 cups "scant" powered coconut palm sugar + 1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch

1. Put the Erewhon cereal in a food processor and blend until all the chunks are gone.

2. Add in the brown rice flour, baking powder, sea salt and xanthan gum to the cereal mix. Process until the ingredients have mixed together. Put ingredients in a mixing bowl and set aside.

3. Next you will make the "scant" coconut palm sugar. You will add the 1 1/2 cups coconut palm sugar and 1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch. You will process this until it's powdery. This will take 2-3 minutes and will be ridiculously dusty when you take the lid off so prepare yourself.

4. In another mixing bowl (I used Panda's mom's Kitchen Aide...yes I was that fancy), you will combine the shortening, butter flavoring, vanilla, egg and non-dairy milk thoroughly. Slowly add in the sugar, making sure that the ingredients are completely mixed.

5. Slowly start mixing in the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. The mixture will look somewhat dry and you may have to start mixing by hand if you don't have a Kitchen Aide like mixer.

6. Once the dough forms, place plastic wrap on the bowl and stick in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour (I got distracted by making pies, so it was more or less that amount of time).

7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

8. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or those fancy silicone baking mats.

9. Take a small spoon (approximately tsp. size) of dough and roll it in between your hands into a circle and then flatten the dough as if you're making a miniature tortilla. Be careful not to make it too thin. Line the baking sheets with the cookies. You can put the cookies close together as they do not grow that much in the oven.

10. Place one cookie sheet on the top rack and the other one on the bottom rack of the oven. The cookies will bake for 15 minutes, however, halfway through, you will need to alternate which racks the cookies are on to bake evenly. They should be a golden brown.

This recipe makes about 3 1/2 dozen cookies and can be stored at room temperature. They are firm and crunchy like a traditional ginger snap.

I firmly believe that this recipe can be adapted to a variety of different flavors like ginger snaps, snickerdoodles, or lemon drop cookies. I will definitely be trying the ginger snap variety soon and will let you know how they turn out.

Overall, the cookies turned out fantastic and I cannot wait to see how they turn out in my vanilla wafer crust for my sugar free cheesecake!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

6 Months in Review - October Accountability Post

I cannot believe that it's been 6 months since I started my fitness journey back on April 1st of this year! Time sure does fly when you're having fun and working your ass to reach them goals! In this accountability post, I'll be comparing the results from October to when I first started measuring (May 2013) and first started taking progress pics (June 2013). Unfortunately, I started a little late on the measuring and picture taking so the results won't be a full six months. 

So let's talk about October. That was one tough month for me. I was going through a funk and ended up taking a total of 12 days off from the gym. I've been stressed out about numerous things and the stress got the better of me. Fortunately, I was able to maintain my weight and not succumb into stress eating like I used to do. So while it was a stressful month and I didn't workout as much as I would have liked, I did manage to maintain which can be challenging especially with the stress I've been under.

While it was a stressful month, there were also some highlights to mention. First off, went to Vegas with Panda and had a blast! We learned how to play Craps and Black Jack and we ended up breaking even after it was all said and done. I also got to see my grandpa who I haven’t seen since I was a little girl. While the visit wasn’t long, it was awesome to catch up and meet my step-grandmother and uncle. Finally, I got Panda to dress up for a Halloween party! He hates Halloween (much to my dismay) so this was a big deal for him and for me since I LOVE Halloween.

As you know, October was a difficult month for me so it should be no surprise that I was dreading my progress pictures. The lack of working out and just maintaining made me fear the worst. Looking back now, this is funny. Panda took the pictures and I literally was in shock. There was no way that was ME in those pictures! I looked lean! Thank goodness for progress pics. They really show whether or not you’re putting the time and effort in and don’t lie. The proof is in the pictures. I decided to share a few pictures – progress from June (when I first started taking them) to October as well as a comparison from September to October.

 Here’s the kicker – the difference in weight from June to October is a mere 5.4 pounds!! *Mind blown* I showed the side by side pictures to Panda and he guessed that I was 180 in the June picture. When I told him I was 159.4 pounds he was floored! I would like to take this moment to say this – the scale means absolutely nothing and is a HORRIBLE way to track success. I just proved that. The best way, in my opinion, to gauge your success is by measuring your body, analyzing your body fat % and taking progress pictures. I’ve always had a muscular build so I’ve never been light on the scale so to speak so measuring has always been my go-to for tracking success. So quit letting the scale define your mood and your self worth! Instead, take a look at your progress and see how far you’ve come instead of how far you still have to go. Take the following pictures for example. I felt like I hadn’t accomplished anything in October. Putting the pictures side by side showed me that, yes, I did accomplish something last month!

  Finally, I would like to show you my measurements from when I first started taking them back in May in comparison to October’s. Big difference there as well as I saw losses in every area measured.
 Weight wise, I’ve lost more than 10 pounds. If you recall, I weighed myself around St. Patrick’s day and came in at 174. I’ve been tracking my losses against that number, so the total amount of weight that I’ve lost has been 21.6 pounds since March. So it’s taken me about 7 months to lose that amount and there’s still more to go, not that weight is a factor for me anymore. It still is important to track because 21.6 pounds is not a small feat. According to I lost What that’s the same as 16 basketballs! That’s pretty heavy!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Coconut Fig Protein Shake

Instagram has proven to be a great source of motivation for fitness in addition to finding new and exciting recipes to try in the kitchen. It was no surprise to find a great protein shake recipe that involved a few of my favorite things: figs and coconut. It seemed like an odd combo at first, but once I tried it, my mind was quickly changed. It was definitely like a flavor bomb exploded my in mouth. It was soooo good that I didn't even realize that I was drinking something that was actually good for me. Who would've thought?! Eating and drinking healthy does not have to be boring or gross. This is another shake to prove that point.

1 scoop vanilla protein powder (I use Optimum Nutrition Egg White Protein)
1 cup almond milk (or any milk you prefer)
2 tbsp. unsweetened coconut flakes
5 medium sized black figs
1 cup ice cubes

Throw the ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth. Pour into the biggest glass you have and enjoy. I prefer to pour my protein shakes into beer pints cuz that's how I roll.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

September Accountability Post...A Little Late...

Once again I’m late on the delivery of my September stats. Oh-well. Not much to report for September. I started the second phase of Strong Curves and have continued to increase my strength in all areas. So without further delay, here goes nothing!

I will forewarn you, my stats were all over the board the whole month. But as you can see from this picture, it looks like hardly anything happened. It was a continuous roller coaster of ups and downs with the measurements and weight. But this is a pretty common thing especially when you’re lifting heavy like I have been. You retain water, muscles are rebuilding, fat is being burned, etc. These are all factors to take into consideration when looking at them on paper. Do I look better when I look in the mirror? Heck yes! Do I feel better about myself in general? Definitely! So that is what matters TO ME.

I will admit that it’s not fun to see a plus sign next to measurements. It almost seems like a failure when you think about it. But here’s the thing – those gains are a direct result of the exercises that I’ve been doing. I gained in the calf, thigh, hips, and bust. I’ve been doing a lot of squats, deadlifts, and jump rope which would contribute to the gains in the calves, thighs, and hips. I’ve also been doing a lot of pushups, inverted rows on the Smith machine and the TRX in addition to the bench press. These are all exercises that cause gains in the areas where I saw gains. So naturally it makes sense that if I’m working those areas, they will see the most impact. They are also the areas that see the most action…meaning…they see the most ups and downs when it comes to measurements. I’m ok with that! At first I was like WTF?! And then it dawned on me that the gains are a direct result of the bad-assery that takes place at the gym on the daily. You can also see that there’s a big difference in the progress pics. So while it doesn’t seem like I made much progress, I had to step back and take a look at the big picture and saw that there was progress!

So here’s the exciting part…the gains I’ve made in the weight room! There has been much progress in the 4 weeks of starting Strong Curves. It’s amazing to see how strong I’ve gotten in such little time.

Here's the workout schedule I followed for Weeks 1-4 for Strong Curves (Please note - I modified mine to fit my needs and goals. The original workout plan laid out in Bret Contreras's book is different). The bolded areas are the exercises that required weights. I recorded my starting weight with how many sets I did, followed by how many reps, and then how much weight which is represented by the "#".

Workout Format:
Monday: Workout A
Tuesday: Workout B + 20 minutes HIIT cardio
Wednesday: Cardio
Thursday: Workout C
Friday: Workout A + 20 minutes HIIT cardio
Saturday: Cardio
Sunday: Rest

Workout A
Exercise (3 sets of each) Starting Weight Starting Reps Ending Weight Ending Reps
Bodyweight Glute Bridge BW 20 BW 20
One Arm Dumbbell Rows  25# 10 35 6
Parallel Squat* 135# 10 145# 8
Bench Press  40# 12 75# 8
Straight Legged Dead Lift  125# 10 145# 8
Side Lying Abductors BW 20 per leg BW 20 per leg
Front Plank BW 1 @ 60 sec. BW 1 @ 60 sec.
Side Plank (Right side) BW 1 @ 30 sec. BW 1 @ 45 sec.
Side Plank (left side) BW 1 @ 30 sec. BW 1 @ 45 sec.
Incline Flys w/turn in  15# 10 30# 6
Squat Jumps BW 10 BW 10
*Mid-way through the workout plan I switched from Parallel Squats to ATG Squats (AKA: Ass to Grass, AKA: how low can you go squats) which explains the little increase in strength.
Workout B
Exercise (3 sets of each) Starting Weight Starting Reps Ending Weight Ending Reps
BW Foot elevated glute bridge BW 20 per leg BW 20 per leg
Negative Pull Ups  BW 5 BW 8
Dumbbell Step-Ups  35# 5 per leg 35# 5 per leg
Dumbbell Military Press  20# 10 25# 8
Stability ball Hyper extension BW 14 BW 20
Leg Lifts BW 30 BW 30
Walking Lunges  25# 10 steps per leg 25# 12 steps per leg
*Workout B was short, so I also incorporated a 20 minute HIIT cardio session.

Workout C
Exercise (3 sets of each) Starting Weight Starting Reps Ending Weight Ending Reps
Glute March BW 60 sec. BW 60 sec.
Bent Over Rows  30# 14 60# 10
Box Squat  115# 12 150# 10
Straight Legged Deadlift   125# 10 145# 8
Push-ups  BW 12 BW 14
Plank Twists BW 10 per side BW 10 per side
Side Dumbbell Lunges  25# 10 per side 35# 10 per side
Arnold Dumbbell Press  15# 10 20# 8

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pumpkin Pie Protein Shake

'Tis the season for anything and everything pumpkin. It should be no surprise to anyone that I created a pumpkin themed protein shake. This year has been ridiculous with my pumpkin obsession. I just can't seem to get enough of that stuff! This shake was literally like a pumpkin pie in liquid form. I just threw the ingredients in the blender and hoped for the best. I lucked out because this one is one of my favorites. Whatever you do, DO NOT mix in spinach to this shake. I tried making it with spinach and it was horrible. It tasted like dirt. Possibly one of the worst protein shakes I've had since switching to egg white protein. Save the spinach for other protein shakes that are spinach friendly. This one was definitely NOT one of those shakes.

1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup almond milk (or any milk you prefer)
1 scoop vanilla protein powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. psyllium husks
1 cup ice cubes

Throw the ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth. Pour in the biggest glass you have as it will make a little over 16 oz. of delicious goodness. For a creamier shake, you can add 1 tbsp. of coffee creamer, half and half, or heavy whipping cream. I will add Coffee Mate Sweet Cream sugar free creamer to add that "whipped cream" essence to the shake. I know those options aren't considered "clean foods" but they sure taste yummy in moderation! You can omit the psyllium husks if you don't like them. I add them to add extra fiber and it thickens up the shake.

I didn't add the calories or macros as yours will vary depending on the ingredients that you use. Mine came out to approximately 270 calories and the protein grams were over 25.

Chocolate Banana Protein Shake

I have a protein shake as a supplement to my diet in addition to the 3 meals that I eat on a regular basis. I rarely use a protein shake as a meal replacement as I'm a big fan of eating my calories rather than drinking them. I also find it extremely important to enjoy my protein shakes instead of just having to chug them down. For this reason, I HIGHLY recommend finding a protein powder that tastes good in your shakes. I will admit, it took me trying 4 different protein powders to finally decide on Optimum Nutrition egg white protein. I opted for egg white protein powder as I cannot stomach whey protein. My digestive system literally freaks out when I drink whey...sooooo the quest for finding a good protein powder was on and 4 powders later I found the one! There were literally tears of joy when I tasted the deliciousness of the vanilla cream egg white protein powder.

I'm constantly trying out different protein shake combos to spice things up when I'm needing extra protein to meet my macros for the day. The most recent recipe I came up with was pretty basic, but packed a punch of flavor to the taste buds. Who doesn't like bananas, chocolate, and peanut butter?! I sure do and this combo was a winner in my book!

1 scoop vanilla protein powder
1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp. PB2
A couple hearty dashes of cinnamon (approximately 1/4 tsp)
1 banana
1 cup almond milk (or any milk of your choosing)
1 cup of ice cubes

Throw the ingredients in the blender and mix until smooth. Pour in the biggest glass you have and then sip away. I personally like to put mine in beer pint glasses. ;)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Gluten Free Salvadoran Albondigas

This week’s meal prep took me back to a dish that my mom would always make when I was younger. Insert…Salvadoran Albondigas…AKA: Latino style meatballs. What’s Salvi about them? I have no idea except that my Salvadoran mother made them. Just kidding! Seriously though. They are flavorful, yet not spicy. Traditionally Salvadoran food is not spicy but with the Mexican and Guatemalan influences, spices have been added to the food to kick it up a notch.
Since I’ve cleaned up my plate, I had to modify the original recipe that she gave me because I can’t do gluten and I wanted a healthier option. This recipe can also be “Paleofied” if need be and I’ll show you how!

Ingredients for the Albondigas
2 lbs. 96/4 lean ground beef
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. gluten free oat flour (Paleo – almond meal)
1 tsp. Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce (Gluten Free! Paleo - Coconut Aminos or Braggs Aminos)
2 eggs
20 mint leaves, coarsely chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste

Ingredients for the Sauce
5 vine ripe tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 yellow onion chopped
Salt to taste
Miscellaneous Ingredients
2-3 coconut oil (or any type of healthy oil to “pan fry” the meat balls in) 

1.       Combine the ground beef, minced garlic, oat flour, Worcestershire sauce, eggs, mint, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Use your hands to mix the ingredients thoroughly. I’m weirded out by touching raw meat and a total germ phob so I put disposable gloves on to mix the meatball mixture.

2.       Once the ingredients have been mixed together, you will take a tablespoon sized portion of meat and roll it in your hands into a ball shape. Do this with the rest of the meat. You should end up with approximately 35-40 meatballs depending on small you make them. I neatly placed them on a plate to minimize them sticking to each other.

3.       Warm a frying pan with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil on medium to low heat. 

4.       Once the pan has warmed up, you will place the meatballs in the oil and cook them until they are lightly browned on the outside. ***Please note – you will not want to cook them all the way through as they will simmer in the tomato sauce. Overcooking the meatballs will dry them out!***

5.       Set the meatballs aside while you prepare the tomato sauce.

6.       Cut the tomatoes in large pieces and place in a blender or food processor with the garlic. Blend until smooth.

7.       Pour the tomato and garlic mixture into a stock pot along with the salt, chopped cilantro and onions.

8.       Add meatballs into the tomato sauce.

9.       You will simmer the meatballs for about 20 minutes.
You can serve the meatballs with brown rice, quinoa, avocado, or any other side that you would like. My serving size was 5 meatballs with sauce and 1/2 a cup of brown rice. Don't forget to serve in a paper bowl like I did. Keeping it classy as usual. ;)
(yours may vary depending on the ingredients used and how many meatballs you want)
Serving size: 1 meatball + sauce
Calories: 44
Fat: 1.8 grams
Carbs: 1.7
Protein: 5.1