Old Recipes, New Tools

Hummus and VeggiesHave you ever purchased a new appliance, and found yourself looking for every possible way to use it? Last year it was the spiralizer (I admit the novelty wore off just a little, although I do have a spiral meal planned very soon); this year it’s my new blender from Blendtec.

I’ve been making homemade hummus for years, using my food processor. The processor is heavy and cumbersome to get out of the cupboard, but there isn’t room for it on the counter. In the old recipe, I started by mincing a couple of cloves of garlic and the zest of half a lemon in the processor. The Blendtec didn’t do much of a job of that – not enough volume, I guess. However since I had already started the job, I decided to press on.

To that I added:

3c cooked chickpeas (drain, but be sure to reserve the cooking water) – I cook a big batch without salt and I add cumin and garlic instead, then freeze them to have on hand whenever I need them.

The juice from the 1/2 lemon

More cumin to taste – about 10ml

10ml or a heaping teaspoon of tahini

I processed this at a medium-high speed in the blender, and then added most of the reserved cooking water until I got the consistency I liked.

It was creamy, smooth, and just the way our guests expected it to be – no perceptible difference in the end product, and I’ll be able to skip a step in the process.

It keeps very well in the fridge, has a fresh taste (no salt!) and can be frozen for up to 3 months if you have more than you can use.

It’s great served with veggies, pita slices, or spread in a sandwich with some sprouts.

 

Get Your Veggies with All-Season Salads

There’s a tendency, perhaps precipitated by cooking magazines, to move off of salads this time of year, and focus on warmer fare, like soups or stews. I know that this seems logical, but there are so many great veggies available now, that it seems a shame to only eat them cooked. Sure, local lettuce may be less available. What I’m suggesting is that if you have the privilege of accessing fresh fruit and veg in your local market, please do take advantage.

What I am not saying is that everyone is as fortunate as we are in Toronto. A head of hydroponic Canadian lettuce is out of reach for many families. Heck, there are some places (not in far-off lands, but here in our own country), where fresh produce of any sort is just not in the store, or it costs so much that you can’t possibly afford se it to feed your family. This is a travesty. Please speak out about this.

And while we are on the subject of hunger, if you do have enough, do support your local food bank or soup kitchen. You would be amazed how far they can make a dollar go. I learned from one of them that they can get wholesale prices, making better use of their money, although I’m a big advocate of having your kids choose foods from the store, so they learn about sharing and healthy choices). When our kids were small, we started emptying our coins into a jar at the end of the day. Once a month, we would use this money to buy food bank food. We still give regularly, even though the kids are grown.

If you have all these ingredients, make a great salad. If you don’t, I’m not giving a recipe. Try using whatever veg you can get. If you have frozen veg, give them a quick refresh under cold water rather than cooking. Or if you have “winter veg” (beets, carrots, turnips, cabbage), shred them. Use leftovers. They’re all good. Here is what I did today:

Chopped some hydroponic butter head lettuce onto a plate.

Diced celery and yellow pepper (both “ugly vegetables”  ). Use whatever veg you have, truly. Serve in a bowl if necessary, and use a spoon instead of a fork.

Drizzled with this dressing:

2t/10ml Dijon – it emulsifies, thickens, adds flavour

1T/15ml vinegar

2t/10ml canola oil (it’s Canadian!)

Next add some protein. I had cheddar. You might have hard-boiled egg, tofu,  beans, nuts, seitan, or leftover pork chop. No matter. Protein builds muscle and helps your blood pressure stay regulated. Not too much! A couple of ounces. It’s lunch!

Here’s what it looked like, when it was done. Enjoy. Use stuff up. Appreciate what you have, and give someone else a hand.

Have an awesome day!

Crunch Fall Salad

 

Meal Planning 101

Just last week I was talking about meal plans, and how we need to give ourselves room to deviate, in order to accommodate fresh, local food. I stand by that. But the vast majority of the time, a meal plan will make your life a whole lot easier. By investing time once a week (or a couple of times a month, or monthly, to coincide with payday), you can plan meals that are healthier and easy to prepare. Think about what’s in season and buy local produce. Consider the specials, but limit your packaged and September Foodprepared foods. (Here’s my label primer so you can see why).

“What’s for Dinner?”

Even if you make most of the meals and shop for yourself, a meal plan can make it easier to shop. If you’ve got kids, a partner, a busy schedule, or weeknight commitments, it can help you map out the days when you need easier meals, versus those where you can spend a little more time. It will let you figure out how to incorporate things that are in your cupboards. It can also save you a lot of money, especially if you cook in batches that can be used for lunches or incorporated in multiple dishes throughout the week. Lastly, if your partner, your kids, your nanny, your roommates, or others share the cooking, a handy list on the fridge means you won’t always have to be thinking about (and answering), “What’s for Dinner?”

 Ready to Plan? Here’s what you’ll need, and some tools you can use…

  1. The household calendar for the week (You have one of those, right? It’s a one-stop calendar that lets you see everyone’s activities. If you don’t, maybe that should be this week’s activity).
  2. A quick inventory of what food you already have in the house. Look in your fridge, your cupboards, and your freezer – wherever you store your food. If you can’t find anything in there, make time to organize. Throw out anything expired. Write it down in three categories:
    1. Freezer
    2. Fresh and can spoil (produce, eggs, milk)
    3. Refrigerated or in the cupboard with a long shelf/fridge life
  3. Something to write the meal plan on. The easiest is to start by planning dinners, and this can be a simple sheet of paper, or a calendar. I like to track calories, so I’ve looked at apps like Paprika, software like Mastercook, as well as fitness apps like My Fitness Pal. Each of these has advantages, but what I know is this: You’re more likely to manage your calories, fibre, sugars, fat and salt well if you plan in advance (just like exercise) than if you try and log as you go. Over time I’ve developed a spreadsheet that works well for me.
  4. Get your laptop or a couple of good recipe books like How to Cook Everything VegetarianSave with Jamie; you might like an all-purpose website like Cooking Light.
  5. Start by choosing meals that include things you have in the house. Think about your dietary goals (Are you a vegan? Do you need a celiac/gluten-free diet? Or perhaps you’re just counting calories?) Make sure you consider what’s important, in advance. For our house, we rely on label reading for fibre and other nutrients; calories are what I count to maintain a healthy weight.

Now, make a plan for each day until the next payday or shopping day. Shopping only once per payday, with a midweek check on perishables, will keep you on track, save time, and mean you don’t spend every trip home from work with a mad side-trip to the grocery store. If one of your fresh foods needs to be used sooner, switch up the days so you don’t waste. Write it down and post it where everyone in the house can see it.

A simple plan for a week look something like this:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Breakfast Peanut Butter and Banana Toast Smoothie Poached Egg w avocado on sourdough Smoothie Cheese and fruit Smoothie Peach Muffins
Lunch Pear and walnut salad Tuna melt Monday leftovers Tuesday leftovers Wednesday leftovers Kitchen Sink Salad Lunch out
Dinner Pork tenderloin w winter slaw and boiled potatoes Celery and leek Gratin Carrot and chickpea soup Pork and mushroom stir fry with brown rice Pasta with Marinara and Kale Grilled Salmon Steaks with boiled potato and steamed broccoli Dinner with Friends

You can see we often try and cook once, use twice during the week – it saves money, time, and effort, and gives us a much more interesting and nutritious lunch than fast food or a sandwich. If someone is away at dinnertime, we can freeze their portion to make a nice lunch for another day, or incorporate it into soup or salad.

Happy, healthy eating!

We Interrupt this Plan For…Fresh Local Food!

Fresh from the GardenMeal-planning is an important way to stretch your food budget, to keep mealtime interesting, and to get other family members involved in the harvesting, shopping, preparing, or cooking. However if you’re gardening, vegetables wait for no man (or woman). They ripen on their timeline, not yours. The consequence of this is that you may have veggies or fruit that are ripe when you didn’t plan on using them, or more than you needed, or not quite the same quantity as you had imagined. How do you reconcile a well-thought-out meal plan with home-grown produce?

Homemade PestoBefore you go thinking, “you don’t”, consider the possibilities. For produce where you have an over-abundance, or early ripening, consider whether you have space to preserve – by canning, freezing, or dehydrating. We’re cautious in the volume of veg we are putting up for winter, since this is only our first harvest year in our small condo. But some things, like this pesto, let us pack a lot of flavour, and volume, into a small space.

I don’t use a recipe for pesto any more, because I’ve made it many times. But the easiest one I found when I started out was from Jamie Oliver. Nowadays, I add other herbs sometimes, or use walnuts (the sacrilege!) or make other variations according to what’s on hand. One thing I always do, though, is this: I freeze my pesto in small mason jars like the ones above – just enough for a week or so of flavouring, or a single dinner’s worth of pasta for two. To freeze, simply pour a small layer of olive oil on top of the pesto to keep it from discolouring, seal the jar, and pop in the freezer (make sure it’s upright, at least until it is fully frozen). This will give you delicious, fresh basil-y flavour anytime you want, and is especially welcome on a drizzly day in February when you don’t want to venture out and there’s nothing in the cupboard but a little dried pasta. (Yes, those days are coming, my friends)!

We Grew 1001 Balcony Tomatoes (OK, Quite a Few)

fresh tomatoes Fresh, ripe tomatoes, warm off the vine. You might think you need a plot of land, or at least a large-ish garden to make this happen, but we have been happily surprised with the productivity of our condo garden this first year. We have planters on our balcony, as well as a metre-square plot in the building’s communal roof garden (a yard, if you’re using imperial measures).

We’ve been incorporating fresh tomatoes into our menu for a couple of weeks now, and have even canned a couple of jars. Small-batch canning is easy cooking tomatoesenough; you really just need a big poaching eggs in tomatopot of boiling water that is deeper than your canning jars. I’ll blog about that another time.

Today’s recipe is for a favourite breakfast of ours. Simply chop a big bunch of tomatoes. Add herbs if you like; we had a bit of basil and also a smoky chipotle in adobo which we chopped and put in the pot. Get the tomatoes really simmering. Once you’ve got them bubbling away, crack in a few eggs, one or two per person. I find the easiest way to do this is to crack them one at a time into a small bowl or cup, and gently pour into the tomatoes. Cover with a lid, turn the heat to medium-low, and check every couple of minutes until they are poached as you like. (Probably 5 or 6 minutes). Typically this is just enough time to make some toast.

This is an easy lunch or brunch dish, or a hearty, healthy, low-fat breakfast.

Eggs tomatoes and sourdough

These Savoury Biscuits are Sweet

Cheddar Sage BiscuitWe are very conscious of food waste in our house, so when we cook, we save vegetable scraps to make broth. We also roasted a chicken earlier in the week, and the carcass went into the stock pot to make chicken soup. Since I hadn’t made bread yet this week, I put together this batch of savoury whole-wheat cheddar and sage biscuits to go with the soup, and we ate the leftovers the next day for breakfast.

It’s an easy recipe, adapted from tea biscuits from a recipe book of my mom’s. You could probably make vegan substitutions such as chilled coconut oil for the butter, or soy cheese – my go-to expert is my friend Louise Spiteri at Vegan Footprints – but I used what I had on hand:

Preheat oven to 400F

Put 1 c (250ml) whole wheat flour, sifted with 1 T (15ml) baking powder in a large bowl. To this, cut in chilled butter until mixture looks like coarse crumbs. I used to use vegetable shortening but I would rather have an ingredient that is less-processed. When using butter, I generally use the salted kind but there is no additional salt in the recipe, except what occurs in the cheese.

Gently stir in 2T (30ml) chopped fresh sage or 2t (20ml) dried sage, plus 1/2c (125ml) grated sharp cheddar (or other hard, flavourful cheese as you like). Vegan cheese can be substituted.

Add 1/2c (125ml) almond milk and stir just until mixed. Drop onto cookie sheet lined with parchment. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden.

Makes 8 biscuits.

Our recipe used Canadian-milled flour from Rogers Foods, sage from our garden, and aged Ontario cheddar, purchased at St. Lawrence Market.

It IS Easy Being Green (Or Nearly Any Other Colour)…

IMG_5343Green is one of the less-popular colours of smoothie with my friends (although there are worse outcomes from my smoothie obsession). They like pink. Chocolate is okay if you don’t tell them there is kale in there. Yellow tends to get a decent reception. All the recipes are basically the same, but much like when you mixed modeling clay together when you were a kid, the colours you end up with sometimes leave something to be desired. The taste, though, is always divine.

What Salad Season Means To Me

Two great things for me about salad season are (a) variety and (b) surprises! We do our best to eat local produce when we can get it, and we are at the height of the #Canadian season, with lots of delicious things in abundance. I have no trouble buying lemons, or spices, or coffee, or even avocadoes from afar. But oh, the glorious greens, the field tomatoes, the cukes…who could resist?

Combine that with my efforts to eat more plant-based meals, leading to new and interesting mixtures of veg – and I’m having the best time! Today I had a Greek-salad-inspired dish with an Asian flair. That’s a real Toronto meal if I ever saw one.

IMG_5307

 

How do I Find A…in Regent Park?

Dive In!Regent Park is a neighbourhood in transition – where new residents are meeting and mingling with folks who have lived here for a very long time. So some of us newcomers, like me, are finding our way around to the services, people, and places that surround us.

One of the places to connect is our amazing aquatic centre – with this friendly guy at the entrance. There are lots of other opportunities to connect also; all you have to do is dive in! (Yes, I’ve been known to like a pun or two).

Today, for example, and every Wednesday for the summer, you can get an amazing, tasty meal for only four bucks at Regent Park. Just show up around 6pm, and buy a ticket from the folks in the Community Food Centre booth. Get in line, and be prepared for something delicious (last week it was rice, lentils, curry beef, and salad – tasty!) While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the vendors on site, selling fresh bread, Ethiopian coffee, and lots of other treats.

One more great way to get involved in the RPNA Logoneighbourhood is the Regent Park Neighbourhood Association, or RPNA. You can also find the RPNA on Facebook, or follow what’s happening on Twitter. There are lots of amazing people to meet, with tremendous community spirit, and whether you want to simply find out what’s going on, to communicate with others who live in this fantastic community, or you need to find where to get a…well, you name it, the Neighbourhood Association’s got a place for you.

So come and visit, or if you live here, walk around – there’s so much to see and do. And if you’re so inclined, follow my WalkEatLive blog, or my tweets where I talk about places to walk and sightsee; healthy, fresh-made food; or other stories about the way we live and get the most out of life.