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Back with a Fresh Perspective and New Inspiration

Sometimes a change of scenery is just what you need to kickstart your creativity and breathe new life into your businesses. I recently adventured to the beautiful Greek island of Crete with my *mom and business partner at Better Than Yia Yia’s Mediterranean Catering.

We spent one food and adventure-filled week exploring the island, sampling local cuisine, and seeing some of the most incredible natural phenomena imaginable. Crete is one of the most unique places in Greece and, in my opinion, the island produces some of the most delicious food in the whole country. They are probably best known for their mountain honeys, olive oil, and local cheeses, which are always featured in their traditional dishes.

I will be posting more details about our trip, including where to stay, how to get around, and (most importantly) what to eat when you are there. For now, here are some highlights of the Better than Yia Yia’s Tasting Tour #btyytastingtour.

*Special applause to my mom who, at 58 years of age, decided to launch her own catering business, and at 59, joined me to travel across the largest island in Greece; jump off pirate ships; walk across rock landscapes and climb mountains.

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CleanWorkout.com Recipes: Superfood Cookie Butter

I have teamed up with the Professional Personal trainers at CleanWorkout.com to bring you a delightfully decadent tasting, yet somewhat guilt-free, snack: SUPERFOOD COOKIE BUTTER!

Balance is key to a healthy lifestyle, as well as to a good diet. Part of maintaining that balance is never feeling like you are depriving yourself of snacks and treats. To create the perfect healthy Cookie Butter, it needed to have a rich, satisfying texture, and bold, spicy flavours.

Coconut Oil is such a versatile ingredient – You can use it for making flaky vegan pie crusts or as an intense moisturizer/cleanser/tooth whitener in beauty applications. When kept below 24 degrees Celsius, it has the perfect buttery consistency.

We use the same spices in our Better than Yia Yia’s Gingerbread cookies, which is the perfect flavour profile for traditional Cookie Butter. We added turmeric for an extra health kick and black pepper to help absorption in the body. Toasting the spices in oil for a few minutes helps them release their essential oils, bringing out deeper flavours, and removing any chalkiness that sometimes happens with ground spices. Pink Himalayan Sea Salt was chosen for its extra minerals, but table salt or fine sea salt can also be used.

Since this is a dessert, we have to have some sugar. We chose richly flavoured sweeteners like brown sugar, molasses and pure maple syrup, because a little goes a long way. Maple syrup also has a low GI, which means that it does not spike your blood sugar, leading to fat storage; The calories you consume are more quickly expended as energy. Molasses also help with the classic gingersnap cookie flavour, and help with the smooth, thick consistency of the final product.

To preserve the healthy oils in the cooked spices and to keep your Superfood Cookie Butter fresh, keep it in the refrigerator up to four weeks. Remove it about 15 minutes before digging in.

Enjoy!

Ingredients

3 tbsp + 1/2 cup Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
2 tbsp Ground Cinnamon
Pinch of Ground Clove
1 tsp Ground Ginger
Pinch of Turmeric
Pinch of Black Pepper
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
Pinch of Grated Nutmeg
Pinch of Pink Himalayan Sea Salt

Sweeteners

1 tbsp Brown Sugar
1 to 2 tbsp Pure Maple Syrup
1 to 2 tbsp Fancy Molasses

 

TIP: Make it Chocolate Cookie Butter by adding 1 tbsp of Cacao Powder

TIP: Make it Crunchy Cookie Butter by folding in chopped nuts

 

How to Enjoy Superfood Cookie Butter

  • Blend it into Smoothies
  • Spread it on Toast – Top with Chopped Nuts like Almonds, Pecans or Walnuts for a crunchy breakfast
  • Try Baking with it – Mix Clean Cookie Butter Swirls into Cakes and Cupcakes
  • Use it as a Dip
  • Melt it and Pour it onto Ice Cream or Greek Yogurt
  • Eat it on a Spoon

1. Warm your spices in 3 tbsp Coconut Oil over low heat for 1 – 2 minutes. You want to warm the spices to bring out their oils to give your Cookie Butter more flavour. I also find that cooking spices like turmeric and cinnamon soften their flavours, giving them more sweetness and less of a chalky taste.

2. Add your sweeteners. Continue warming the mixture over low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the molasses are combined.

3. Turn off the heat and let cool for 20 minutes.

4. Add room temperature spice mixture to 1/2 cup Coconut Oil.

5. Stir to Combine. Refrigerate 10 to 15 minutes until the mix starts to solidify.

6. Remove from the refrigerator and shake to redistribute spices and molasses. Chill for another 15 minutes, or until it reaches a ‘Peanut Butter like’ consistency.

7. Stir your Cooled Cookie Butter and Enjoy!

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CleanWorkout.com Recipes: Japanese Balance Bowls

I recently had the pleasure of teaming up with CleanWorkout.com to create more Delicious, Healthy, Nutritious and Versatile Meals… Japanese Balance Bowls.

I was inspired by my travels through Tokyo last year. Major department stores like Shinjuku’s Isetan and Shibuya’s Tokyo Hands had large underground grocery stores and patisseries. Filled to the brim with fresh fish, meats and produce, simple preparations are best to let the beautiful ingredients shine.

These Balance Bowls are so simple to prepare and can be customized to suit your tastes. Plus, you can make them ahead of time and store them in the refrigerate them for a quick, balanced lunch or dinner.

 

The Essential Travel Guide to Tinos, Greece

Tinos is part of the Cycladic grouping of Greek islands on the Aegean Sea. Known for the Panagia Evangelistria Church and the famous Evangelismos Icon stored inside, the island boasts naturally beautiful landscapes, great food and epic beaches.

Tinos is quieter than its famous neighbour, Mykonos, but just as beautiful and less touristic. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a relaxing Greek island getaway. Download The Essential Travel Guide to Tinos to help you explore the island.

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DIY Facials with Greek Yogurt Face Masks

I love finding natural beauty treatments and remedies that work just as well (if not better!) than store bought cosmetics. Earlier this year I experimented with the effects of Raw Honey Face Masks and was blown away by the results! It made me think about other simple, natural products and I remembered my experience with Greek Yogurt.

I learned about the skin healing and beauty benefits of yogurt years ago in Greece. Back then, a local brand called Korres was being sold in pharmacies and specializing in natural and holistic remedies, creams and cosmetics.

The first Korres product I tried was their Yogurt Face Cream. It was supposed to soothe the skin, help minimize breakouts, and have anti-aging effects. Lucky for me, the cream delivered on everything it promised.

(More than a decade later, Korres is now available all over the world and they are still using unique ingredients and plants in their lines. Check them out on Amazon.)

Korres was definitely on to something, but you do not need to visit a cosmetics counter to benefit from the effects of yogurt – instead, shop your refrigerator for some plain Greek yogurt.

Yogurt is full of proteins and enzymes that help soothe, heal and treat your skin.

Gently apply a thin layer of plain Greek yogurt to clean skin for 10 to 30 minutes 2 to 3 times per week. On its own, it will moisturize, exfoliate, minimize acnesoothe sunburns and brighten your skin. For more intense all natural masks, try the following:

  1. Intense Moisture
  2. Exfoliator and Acne Healer
    • 2 tsp Greek Yogurt + 1 tsp Organic Raw Honey + 1/2 tsp Organic Coconut Oil
      • Yogurt is Anti-Bacterial and Anti-Fungal which helps destroy acne-causing bacteria.
      • The Alpha-Hydroxy Acid gently exfoliates by dissolving dead skin cells to give you a youthful, glowing appearance.
  3. Sunburn Soother
    • 1 tbsp Greek Yogurt + 1 tbsp Aloe Vera Gel
      • The Zinc in Yogurt helps heal the skin and removes the sting.
  4. Skin Brightener
    • 1 tbsp Greek Yogurt + 1/2 tsp Fresh Lemon Juice

Which is your favourite Greek Yogurt Mask? Do you have any special concoctions of your own for other skin concerns?

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Red Velvet Beet Cupcakes for the Toronto Raptors

Red Velvet is one of those cakes that usually looks more exciting than it tastes. After years of trying, I finally create the PERFECT RED VELVET CUPCAKE!

The secret ingredient? BEETS!

To cheer on the Toronto Raptors, I combined the perfect red velvet cupcake with the perfect cream cheese frosting, and decorated them with a delicious chocolate raptor claw.

These cupcakes are great for parties and you do not have to feel that guilty for eating them.

Check out the video and recipe below!

Making the Perfect Red Velvet CakE

Ingredients:
(Yields ~9 – 10 Normal Cupcakes)
– 1/4 cup Buttermilk (or 1/4 cup of Milk + 1 tsp White Vinegar – let stand 10 minutes before using)
– 1 – 2 Medium Beets for Roasted Beet Puree
– 1/2 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
– 2 tsp Fresh Lemon Juice
– 1 Egg
– 3 tbsp Natural Cocoa Powder
– 1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
– 2 tbsp Water
– 1 cup All Purpose Flour (I use Five Roses Brand)
– 3/4 cup Sugar (I use Redpath’s Special Fine Granulated Sugar)
– Pinch of Salt
– 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
– 1/2 tsp Baking Powder

STEP 1: Roasted Beet Puree

– 1 – 2 Medium sized beets
– Wash beets thoroughly
– Place on aluminum foil with a drizzle of olive oil and salt
– Bake at 350 F for 75 Minutes, or until tender
– Cool and then Peel the Skin
– Chop beets in a food processor with 2-3 tbsp of water until they are coarsely ground.

STEP 2: Blend Wet Ingredients

– Combine the following in food processor
– 1/4 cup Buttermilk
– 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp Beet Puree (from Step 1)
– 1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
– 2 tsp Fresh Lemon Juice

– Blend until completely smooth

– Add 1 Egg and pulse a few times until it is mixed

STEP 3: Warm over Medium Heat

– 3 tbsp Natural Cocoa Powder
– 1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
– 2 tbsp Water
– Gently simmer for a few minutes, whisking periodically so the cocoa does not burn, and then turn off the heat.
– Allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before next step.

STEP 4: Sift Together

– 1 cup All Purpose Flour
– 3/4 cup Sugar
– Pinch of Salt
– 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
– 1/2 tsp Baking Powder

– Pre-heat your oven to 350 F
– Whisk together dry ingredients
– Add the slightly cooled Cocoa and Oil Mixture, and mix to combine.
– Add your Beet mixture in three stages.
– Scrape down the bowl and mix for 10 seconds after each addition.

– Fill your lined cupcake tins with batter
– Use an ice cream scoop for even cakes and cooking time.

– Bake at 350 F for 18 – 20 minutes.
– You can usually tell they are done when you smell cake!

Making your Chocolate “Raptor Claw” Decorations

What you Need:
– 3/4 cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
– 1 tbsp Cream
– Red Sugar Crystals
– Silicone Baking Liner

– Combine the chocolate chips and cream.
– Microwave on Medium Heat for 1 minute.
– Mix well. If chocolate has not melted, heat for 30 seconds at medium heat (repeat if necessary).
– Use a tea spoon to spread your chocolate “claws” onto your silicone baking liner.
– When you are happy with your shapes, sprinkle with red sugar crystals.
– Place your baking liner on a tray and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

Making The Perfect Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:
(Yields ~6 Heavily Frosted Cupcakes)
– 1/4 cup Unsalted Butter, Room Temperature
– 3 tbsp Special Fine Granulated Sugar
– 1/2 cup Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Room Temperature
– 1 tbsp Icing Sugar
– 2 tbsp Whole Milk

– Add Butter and sugar to stand mixer and beat for approximately 10 minutes.
– The mixture will roughly double in size and turn white.
– When it has whipped enough, you will not notice the texture of sugar crystals.
– When the butter and sugar is whipped, add Philadelphia Cream Cheese, icing sugar and milk.
– Whip for a few minutes, scraping down the bowl, until the icing is light and fluffy.

ASSEMBLING your Cupcakes

– Use a ziplock bag to pipe your Cream Cheese Frosting onto cooled cupcakes.
– Sprinkle with Red Decorative Sugar Crystals.
– Carefully remove Chocolate “Claws” from Silicone Baking Sheet (use a knife or spatula to help).
– Gently place your claws and serve!

The Acropolis, Athens, Greece

Travelling to Athens? Here are the Essential Sights!

If you are travelling to Athens, Greece this summer, here is my list for the essential sights, stops and landmarks.

Having visited Athens around 20 times in my life, this list was designed in a way to see the best parts of Athens with only one day and one night to spend there.

Download The Essential Travel Guide to Athens Greece and keep it with you for reference! Plus, check out my travel tips for a relaxing, safe and fun vacation!

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You CAN Win Friends with Salad

In recent years, it seems like the risk and frequency of various illnesses and diseases caused by poor diet has been rapidly increasing. As a result, celebrity chefs, doctors and personal trainers, among others, have been trying to communicate healthier lifestyle and eating habits to the masses.

Chef Jamie Oliver has been one of the most prominent personalities in the healthy eating movement for years. One of his newest shows, Jamie’s Super Food, explores cities and islands with the healthiest, longest living populations, and creates inspired healthy dishes.

In the first episode of Jamie’s Super Food, he ventured to the wild Aegean island of Ikaria, Greece. There, he “uncovered” what many of us know, yet we choose to ignore: to live long, full lives, we need to eat clean, vegetable-based diets, with smaller portions of meat, and exercise every day! For most Canadians and Americans, our portion sizes and waist-lines continue to expand at alarming rated, and we have not stopped to do anything about it.

As Jamie explained about the Ikarian diet, they eat tonnes of fresh greens and vegetables every day – dressed with healthy Greek olive oil – along with fresh cheese from healthy goats, and consume smaller portions of meat. It is the essence of the Mediterranean diet and something we should all aim to do more often.

To get you started with your Mediterranean diet, I am making a quick and easy Fennel Slaw. This is a great addition to your Meze (Greek appetizer and dip) spread, or served as a sweet and sour burger topping in place of fatty, sugar-loaded coleslaw. This Easy Fennel Slaw is a great dish to make in advance since it just continues to meld together the longer it sits.

Whenever I am creating recipes with CleanWorkout.com, we come up with fast, simple and healthy dishes that can be prepared early in the week and that keep well in the refrigerator. Most salad greens are too delicate to last for more than one day, but the fennel and carrot in this slaw are robust and will not break down.

TIP: Serve your Fennel Slaw on top of quinoa and wilted spinach, and with crumbled feta cheese for a balanced, light lunch.

Bon Appetit!

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Easter has Arrived!

The Countdown to Easter is over! The lamb has arrived and even though there is still one more day of fasting, the cooking and excitement have started.

The best way – and only – way to start an Easter meal is with a light lamb soup. Magiritsa is full of romaine lettuce and lemon. On Easter, we have it as an appetizer, but when it is made throughout the year it makes a great light meal.

Tip: Talk to your local butcher and ask them for bones the next time you are making a soup (be it chicken, lamb, pork or beef). In my experience, when they are made available on the shelf, they sell out quickly!

Wishing you all a Happy Easter. Christos Anesti, Alithos Anesti!

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Countdown to Easter: Part Five

For the fifth instalment of my Countdown to Easter series, I am featuring some beautiful, fresh produce from the Farmer’s Market.

This is a traditional Vegan Greek Stew that is a perfect, hearty meal (especially when paired with warm, crusty bread for dipping!) See what looks good at your own market and be creative!

Enjoy!

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Countdown to Easter: Part Four

For Part Four of my Countdown to Easter series, I am making delicious, versatile and healthy vegan Stuffed Peppers, or “Gemista.”

Ingredients:
6 Bell Peppers (or Whole Tomatoes)
1 Leek, Thinly Sliced
2 Green Onions, Thinly Sliced
1 Shallot, Thinly Sliced
4 Small Garlic Cloves, Chopped
1 Celery Stalk, Sliced Thinly
1 Carrot, Sliced Thinly
1 cup Arborio Rice
Water
4 or 5 Potatoes, Chopped into 3/4 inch cubes
3/4 cup Tomato Puree + 1/4 cup Water or Stock (for Rice Mixture)
3 tbsp Tomato Paste
1 Large Handful Chopped Mint
2 Large Handfulls Chopped Parsley
1 cup Tomato Juice (or 1/2 cup Tomato Puree + 1/2 cup Water or Stock) for topping peppers and potatoes
1. Sautee the leek, green onions, shallot and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until soft and translucent.
2. Toast your rice in the leek mixture for a few minutes to absorb the flavour.
3. Add your vegetables and 1 cup of water or stock to the leek and rice mixture (try carrot, celery, tomato, eggplant, zucchini or squash). Simmer the rice for 8 minutes.
4. While your rice is simmering, peel and chop your potatoes. Season them with olive oil, salt, pepper and dried oregano. Set aside.
5. Carefully slice the tops off your bell peppers (or tomatoes) and clean out the seeds and ribs. Keep the tops so you can cover the rice for cooking.
6. Place your potatoes into the pan between the peppers.
7. Season the inside of each pepper with olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano.
8. Before filling your peppers, add 3/4 cup of tomato puree, 1/4 cup water and 3 tbsp tomato paste to your rice. Fold in fresh parsley and mint, and taste for seasoning.
9. Fill your peppers with rice and top each one with roughly 3 tbsp of tomato juice. Cover the peppers with their tops and drizzle the remaining tomato juice over the pepper tops and potatoes.
10. Bake at 350 F for 75 Minutes, or until the rice is fully cooked.
11. Enjoy immediately or as leftovers… Gemista are even better the next day.

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Four Essential Honey Masks

I love using natural products in lieu of store bought beauty products, and I love honey! Honey is known for its health benefits but is often underrated for its cosmetic uses.

Honey has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and healing properties that give you healthy skin and hair. It is also rich in enzymes that calm your skin, and draws moisture into the skin. I recommend using raw honey for beauty treatments since it has not been heat-treated and contains the most enzymes.

Tip: If you do not have time for a full mask, use a dab of raw honey as a spot treatment to heal blemishes.

The next time you are treating yourself to a spa day, try one of these all natural masks. Which one is your favourite?

 

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If you Have or Know a Yia Yia…

Growing up with a Yia Yia, enjoying a cup of Greek coffee always meant that she had to tell you your “fortune” when you finished.

No matter what the cup looked like to you, she always saw the same things: money, a ‘good luck’ bird, a stenahoria (aka something bad, like the ‘mati’/evil eye) that she always “took away,” and a Greek boy.

This is for all the Yia Yias and their magic coffee-reading abilities to whom we owe hours of dinner-table conversations.

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CleanWorkout Collaboration: Maca Boost

If you are looking for extra energy, try this quick and easy Maca Boost. No need to worry about the typical “caffeine crash,” plus it will jolt your mind to be more alert and focused.

Not only does Maca balance your hormones to make your feel better, it is full of antioxidants to improve the look of your skin and minimize aging.

Start everyday with this simple shot and be prepared to feel amazing.