No Skipping Allowed!

Breakfast: for me, it’s still the most important meal of the day. I know there are plenty of trends promoting fasting, or other approaches to weight loss or maintenance, but for me, exercise and breakfast are “must-haves” for a good start to any day. And it’s more about feeling great and having lots of energy to face life’s challenges, than about weight.

Our breakfast rotation doesn’t vary a whole lot – all year, one of the options is a smoothie; in winter, another is oatmeal (granola in warmer weather), and occasionally an egg (with or without leftover pizza). This particular version features one of my favourite smoothie ingredients: a beet. Along with that, there was a carrot, some kale, ginger, cinnamon, a few berries, sunflower seeds and soy milk. Creamy, delicious, and fast!

Drinking Well is the Best Reward

 Today’s re-post from a coach I’m following contained some great food for thought – it was a post about drinking (or more to the point, not drinking). She is currently working her way around the world with Remote Year, and one of her co-travellers blogged about her experience travelling the world while sober. It was a great reminder that, although we may love a toast, an after-work cocktail, or a glass of wine (or two!) with dinner, everyone doesn’t do that. They shouldn’t have to. And we absolutely need to get over the idea of having to cajole them into doing so.

So when you’re thinking of enjoying a beverage to celebrate, remember you always have options, and whether for religious reasons, health reasons, or just because that’s how they roll, remember to include your friends who don’t make alcohol the centre of every celebration. Some delicious options you can offer include:

Fizzy water garnished with a slice of orange or lemon, cucumber, or a sprig of mint

Plain old ice water, with or without a tiny splash of fruit juice for flavour

Smoothies, sweet or savory (here’s today’s recipe, for two):

1 banana

1 cup washed strawberries, fresh or frozen

1 carrot, chopped

1T/15ml or so of fresh ginger, chopped

1t/5ml cinnamon

Add these to the blender and then pour in unsweetened, low sodium soy milk to the 1L/4c mark. Blend until smooth and enjoy. No added sugars, no artificial anything, filled with fibre, sweetness, and good-for-you vitamins.

Salut! Slante! A la tienne! Prost!

Savour the flavour…

Yesterday was an absolutely stunning day here in Toronto; we took a nice long walk (about 5.7km) through the city, taking in the sights and eventually making our way to St. Lawrence Market for produce. We stopped in along the way to take in the awesome Gothic Revival Cathedral Church of St. James, with memorial plaques commemorating many of Toronto’s noted citizens. We were intrigued by the very contemporary Stations of the Cross.

To the south, we swung by Berczy Park’s new dog fountain enroute to the market. Kids and pets alike were enjoying the spraying water. We had fun finding the one cat statue amongst the dogs, and to discover just what she was looking at. (We won’t tell just now – you should check out the mystery yourself!)

The sun was blazing and hot, so by the time we arrived home, we were in the mood for something quick and cool, that wouldn’t overheat the kitchen. We put some potatoes on to cook while we enjoyed a cool beverage on our balcony and took in the sights of the neighbourhood. When they were cooked, we let them cool in the fridge while we prepared the rest of this tasty curried salad. For two, as a main course:

For the dressing, whisk in a large bowl:

3 tablespoons (45ml) mayonnaise

1/4 cup (60ml) cider vinegar

2 tablespoons (30ml) curry powder – more or less, to your taste

3 boiled potatoes, cooled and peeled, and cut into chunks

1 red pepper, diced in bite-size pieces

2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one can)

1 cup frozen green beans

1/4 cup (60ml) chopped unsalted peanuts

3 leaves basil, sliced finely

Mix all the vegetables into the salad, including the chickpeas. Divide between the plates and sprinkle with peanuts and basil. You can easily scale up this recipe to serve more people, and it keeps well in the fridge, gaining flavour as it sits. Enjoy!

Start your day colourfully!

Delicious smoothies hide tasty produce inside. We endorse Natur-A products.

Purple Smoothie Everyone can benefit from more fruits and vegetables – and one way to get them on-the-go is by starting the day with a delicious smoothie. Today’s version turned out to be a gorgeous purple colour, but a word of warning: sometimes the results are surprisingly unappetizing in their appearance, despite amazing ingredients. For this version, for two smoothies, I used a carrot, chopped, an over-ripe banana, a cup of blackberries (mine were fresh but frozen are just as good), a shake of cinnamon, and filled the blender to the 32oz or 1l level with unsweetened, low-sodium soy beverage. The brand we always use is Natur-a.  They’re Canadian, organic, and low-sodium, which can be very hard to find in plant “milks”. Unsweetened is even more difficult, so your healthy beverage can actually be quite a sugar bomb. These taste great to drink, on cereal, and also work as a one-to-one substitute for dairy milk in most recipes.

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

 

What’s in your fridge? Autumn Veggie Melts

I’m a big meal-planning fan, but life can sometimes interfere. Last-minute engagements, ingredients that come in packages larger than the meal plan needs, and special one-time deals all can impact the inventory and leave you with stuff in the fridge that needs to be used. Here’s what I made with what was on hand, for today’s lunch.

I took some whole wheat and spelt raisin cinnamon sourdough, made this week:

img_64941That’s some Dijon mustard on there, from Kozlik’s.

Then I mashed an avocado with some lime, and put it on as well:

img_6495While I was doing this, I moved an oven rack up and set the oven to broil. My trusty assistant put some parchment on a cookie sheet for me – this gets messy.

img_64961The avocado is not only tasty but it helps the veggies stick to the melt. Grate up some leftover veg, or chop. I had some grated carrot and beet.

img_64971Then I topped that with some part-skim mozza (again, what cheese have you? Use that.)

Under the broiler it goes until bubbly and golden. That’s it. Tasty veg, healthy fats, and a little decadent cheese. You could absolutely use a melting vegan cheese, if you prefer.

Eat it up!

img_64981

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 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.