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!

Fuel Up! Keep Your Body and Mind in Shape…

When you start to think of food as fuel, instead of comfort, you re-evaluate what you eat all the time. Salty, sugar-y treats don’t look so appealing any more. But in a busy life, it can be difficult to figure out what to cook. One of my go-to dishes when I’ve had a long, stressful day is homemade pizza. We make the whole thing ourselves, starting with the crust. Here’s how:

Turn on your oven to 425F so it will be ready.

In a measuring cup, put 3/4c of warm water with 1t of maple syrup or sugar, if that’s what you have. Sprinkle with 1T of yeast and let it rest. I sit mine on the stove since that will be giving off some warmth. While that happens, relax. Have a glass of water. Check your Facebook. Read a blog. Give yourself a little neck massage. Put away some laundry. Whatever.

Next, stir the yeast mixture and pour into a medium bowl. Sprinkle in some oregano, hot sauce or smoky paprika for  flavour. If you don’t have any, no worries! It’s good plain. Add whole wheat flour, stirring in with a fork in a circular motion, a little at a time until it begins to come away from the sides of the bowl. Then sprinkle a little flour on the counter, dump the dough on that, sprinkle with a tiny bit more, and knead a couple of times to form a ball (not for ages, maybe a minute at most).

Spray the bowl with cooking spray or oil it lightly, and put your dough ball back in. Cover with a tea towel and put it in a warm place (like the top of the stove) to rise for 10 minutes.

Put a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet or pizza pan. This will save you cleanup time! Pat the dough out to the size of the pan on the parchment, using floured hands to keep from sticking. Top lightly. For this one we used 1/2c marinara, a few sliced mushrooms, and a diced red pepper. If you eat dairy, add cheese – 2oz of feta and 2oz of manchego. That’s it! Bake for 18 minutes, cool slightly, and serve. For two, you can do 6 slices, and save 2 for breakfast. Ready in less time than to select, order, and wait for delivery. The best part? When you get up as early as this to fit in a walk the next morning…

…when you come back home for breakfast, those extra slices will be waiting. Great topped with a poached egg! Feeling grateful, hope you are as well.

Better For You Bread

If you’ve been following my posts for a while, you’ll remember my obsession last year with sourdough. I still love it, but the care and feeding of an infant dough all the time can be kind of time-consuming. I still follow my “no store bought loaves” rule pretty well all the time (even hamburger buns, although I don’t know the last time I actually used them for burgers). Yet I will admit to using store-bought yeast as it does speed up the process.

I’ve made lots of changes to bread that really help it be healthier than what we buy in the store. Of course, eliminating salt really helps. Yes, salt can be a regulator of the rise, but frankly, with modern yeasts, that is really rarely an issue. Keeping the amount of sugar down is just plain good for you, and using something more natural, like maple syrup, is better than a refined version. What else can I do to make the break healthier?

Recently I needed chickpea flour for a recipe – and in my neighbourhood, we have lots of neighbours from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Middle East – all of whom rely on this staple in their cooking. That means we can get it in huge bags, very cheaply. But what to do with the rest? I tried an experiment a couple of weeks ago with my bread, and it turned out really well. The texture was not compromised; if anything it was better, and the added bonus was to increase both the fibre and protein content of the bread.

Here’s what I did:

I always start with water that has been boiled then cooled to lukewarm, because that gets rid of some of the chlorine, which can inhibit the yeast. Begin with 3 cups.

I added a tablespoon of maple syrup and sprinkled on two tablespoons of traditional yeast, not the breadmaker or instant kind. This should sit in a warm place for about 10-15 minutes until it is good and foamy. Stir it with a fork and add to a large bowl. You can mix this bread with a mixer and dough hook, or by hand with a spoon and your hands, but the batch is a little large for a food processor. You could cut the recipe in half, but it seems a waste to heat the oven for a single 8″ loaf

Many traditional recipes have fat – butter, lard, or oil, but I added none to this. I did add a cup of chickpea flour, and then 5-6 cups of 100% whole wheat flour. Add the flour a cup or two at a time, with the machine running, or with the spoon, stopping to knead in by hand when it becomes difficult. About halfway through add tasty treats if you want – this batch had sunflower seeds, but I’ve also done raisins and cinnamon or other kinds of nuts or seeds.

Knead until the flour is incorporated and you’ve used just enough that it feels elastic and not sticky – or if using the mixer, until it cleans nicely away from the sides of the bowl. Remove it from the bowl, spray the bowl with cooking oil or wipe gently with cooking oil, and put the dough back in, turning to coat. Let it rise, covered with a clean tea towel, for an hour or so (not much more, or it will deflate).

Then shape it into two loaves, or a loaf and a cookie sheet with 12 buns (divide the second half of the dough into 12 even pieces, and press or roll into discs, about 4″ or 10cm across). Cover with clean cloth and let rise for another hour. This is a great project for when you are also making soup, when you are snowed in, or when you have a long project you’re working on at home.

About 20 minutes before the end of the rising time, heat the oven to 400F. Bake your loaves about half an hour; if you make rolls, check them about 20 minutes in. Tap on the bottom and listen for a hollow sound to be sure they are done. Remove from the oven and take them out of the pans to a wire rack immediately.

The “no store bread” rule has meant I can enjoy my bread without eating too much of it, and that’s a compromise I’m willing to work for.

Alterations and substitutions: 

I have also substituted 1c/250 ml old-fashioned oats, soaked in an equal measure of hot water, for 1-1/2 c/375ml of the wheat flour.

I have used 1 c/250 ml of dark beer instead of the same amount of the water – this can make a very light loaf with a lovely flavour.

Any kinds of nuts, seeds or dried fruit can be added, about a cup or 250ml in total. Herbs, olives, or sundried tomatoes also make a very interesting bread.

 

Start Fresh! It’s a Whole New Year

Welcome to a whole new year! Of course every day is an opportunity for a fresh start and to revisit resolutions, but January 1 often sees folks making commitments to their health and wellness. I’ve talked about meal planning before, even including some tips and tools. The dark side of start-of-year diets and eating commitments is that they can be expensive, and involve a lot of foods you don’t necessarily know how to use up. Being in favour of a zero waste policy, I won’t tell you to throw out anything in your cupboard, but please don’t re-buy what you’re committed not to eat.

Ourselves we always have leftover holiday foods, and even in regular weeks there are meal plan days that didn’t happen, stuff that came in packages too large for the plan, things that looked intriguing but got forgotten in the cupboard. Once a month, or so, it’s worth taking stock of what you already hav, so you can figure out how to use it up as part of your plan, adjusting portions and how it’s used to account for your food goals. Cheesy lunch? Plan on a low fat dinner. Three kinds of lentils? Dal, curry or soup come to mind. We always have enough staples to stand up to a couple of weeks of emergency rations.


With that said, plan males shopping faster and more cost effective. This week’s purchases: carrots, peppers, celery, onions and a couple of sausages. The dinner plan looks like this – we will make according to what needs using the most:

Jamie Oliver Pie – the original has salmon but we will sub in some leftover turkey, as well as cabbage and carrot and onions for the leaks and courgettes

Veggie chili with mushrooms

Pumpkin chickpea curry with apples, raisins, and brown rice

Homemade mac and cheese with salad

Buffalo drumsticks with carrot sticks and blue cheese mashed potatoes

Split pea soup with homemade bread

Sausage with winter slaw

Wishing you a healthy and happy 2017 with enough – exactly what you need, no more, no less!

Sourdoughlicious!

Whole Wheat Sourdough LoavesI don’t buy store bread, typically, except the occasional pitas or wraps. I make bread once a week and that’s more than enough for the two of us, even if we have dinner guests. Lately, I’ve really been on a sourdough kick – inspired by Michael Pollan’s Cooked.

The idea of bread that rises without the use of commercial yeast appeals to a person like me, who loves inventing things, and wanted to grow up to be an astronaut.  Combine that with my search for the perfect technique that combines my commitment to using as much whole-grain flour as possible, with getting great crust, a moist interior, and that elusive “spring” where the interior forces itself through the slash as it bakes in the oven, and you can imagine lots of sourdough-baking in my future.

Unlike the precision of, say, cake baking, sourdough isn’t so much a recipe as a science experiment (albeit a tasty one). I don’t typically use a recipe so much as check out other bakers’ successful tips and then work at adapting it until it feels right. I’ve used different versions, but for starters I would suggest you check out Anne Marie’s (the Zero Waste Chef). Check out her other incredible, helpful, and sometimes edible posts, also.

You might also like the post specially-designed for beginners from The Perfect Loaf. He has many, many versions of sourdough – which makes me slightly fearful of my eventual fate, having embarked on this journey.

The most interesting thing I’ve noted is that both the examples provided by these excellent bakers seemed lately to be unduly wet. Sourdough afficionados will tell you the dough should be wet, but I’m talking ridiculously wet, almost like soup. Yet it didn’t start out that way at the autolyse stage, nor during the folding. It seemed to happen during the bulk fermentation. What I’ve realized is that, being a typical Toronto summer, it is much more humid than it was in the spring, and definitely more than the winter. So I think the dough is absorbing more moisture from the air. The other day it was 60% humidity inside, with the air conditioning turned on. So I’m learning to adjust for that.

Anyway, each loaf has turned out very well, some better than others. This pair of loaves have been a real treat, as you can see! I hope you’ll share your favourite way to use sourdough bread.

PB Toast Scrambled Egg Sandwich

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 Minutes or Free?

When we’ve had a long day and don’t have a plethora of things in the fridge, we nearly always have the ingredients for pizza. From start to finish, in just over 30 minutes – a healthier, less expensive version than takeout, and you can keep the tip for yourself.

Preheat your oven to 400F

In a small bowl or measuring cup, put 1/2 c or 125ml lukewarm water. Stir in 1 t or 5ml sugar, honey, or maple syrup. Sprinkle 1 T (15ml) yeast over top. Set a timer for 5 minutes and choose some toppings. 

When the timer goes, your yeast should be foamy. A few grains may still float on top, and that’s okay. Stir with a fork and add this to a larger mixing bowl, along with 1T/15ml olive oil. Sprinkle in whole wheat flour, stirring with a fork, until it forms a ball and starts to clean the bowl a little. Knead on the counter half a dozen times with another light sprinkle of floor. (Other flours work also – experiment!) Sometimes we add dried herbs or pepper to the flour. Grease the bowl and pop the dough back in. No need to wash, the bowl should be mostly clean. Cover with a tea towel and let rise for 10 minutes.

In this case we started with a base of caramelized onions, but pesto or marinara work great also.

  
For toppings we added mushrooms and olives, and a bit of Beemster cheese.

 18 minutes in the oven and it’s done – we usually let it cool five minutes before cutting as no one loves that pizza cheese mouth burn!

  

Fast food!

  
Today’s lunch is on a limited time budget. Lots of client work to do, problems and puzzles to solve! So how to make good food fast? You can never go wrong with a salad.

It helps to have one or two serving batches of frozen cooked legumes on hand, as they are much healthier than canned. But even those are an excellent choice in a pinch.

I layered some prewashed spinach on plates, and then cucumber, celery, mushrooms, and the chickpeas. For the dressing, 1/3 c or 80ml cider vinegar, 1 T/15ml olive oil, and the same amount of Dijon – whisk together for 2 servings. 

You could also make one of those handy mason jar salads this way, and take it to the office.

That’s it! Now back to work.

The Zest of Life

We’re off to see our niece and her husband this afternoon – they’re home for a visit from Germany, where Eric had an opportunity to be transferred this year. We will also be celebrating three birthdays – my hubby’s, my sister-in-law’s, and my nephew’s. The surest way to not overeat at a party is to have something healthy in advance – and hence this tasty salad.

For two:

A couple of large handfuls of mixed baby greens, and another of arugula on each plate. Dice half a green pepper, slice four  mushrooms, and drain a can of salmon – layer all this on the greens. Lastly, the dressing: zest half a lemon (keep the zest aside). Squeeze the juice into a small bowl and remove any seeds. Add 10ml/2t of Dijon mustard and stir together. Drizzle this over the salad and garnish with the zest.

  
The upside? We’ll have our cake (a little slice) but we’ll also have more time to enjoy the real zest of life: friends and family.

On Top of Old Smokey…

We were in California this week, where roadside stands were selling avocados ten for a dollar. (Grapefruit, too!) With the skyrocketing price of produce here in Canada, this is hard to even imagine.

Friends know I am a keen “eat local, make it yourself” advocate. So I’m not going to buy a Brussels sprout that has travelled halfway across the continent when we grow them right here. On the other hand, I have no illusions that the world is going to give up coffee, tea, or spices. So today, I propose a delicious compromise.

On top of a slice of homemade wheat bread, toasted (Canada is a huge provider of wheat to the world), some locally-made Kozlik’s Old Smokey mustard. Then, an avocado (yes, even at $1.29 each, one makes two affordable breakfasts). Finally, local eggs, nicely poached. 

That’s a compromise I can live with!

  

Speedy Sunday Pancakes

  
It’s Sunday morning and we are rushing around to get out the door (again). No excuse not to have a delicious breakfast in our bellies! 

For two:

In a blender, whirr 

2T / 30ml flaxseed to grind (always keeps better if you grind as needed)

Add

3/4 c  180ml buckwheat flour 

2 t / 10ml baking powder

1T / 15 ml brown sugar

Pulse to mix

Then add

1 c / 250 ml almond milk 

1 large egg or egg substitute 

1 T / 15 ml butter or oil or coconut oil

Mix just to combine (you might need a spatula to help).

If needed just enough milk to make a thick but pourable batter.

Pour pancakes into  a nonstick pan buttered or sprayed with cooking oil on medium high heat, about the size of your palm. They will spread and puff a little.

When bubbles appear and the edges start to look dry, time to flip. My frypan does four at a time. 

They can be kept warm in a 150F oven as additional batches are made. Recipe can be doubled. Finished pancakes can be frozen with parchment in between for reheating in the toaster.

Serve with fruit and maple syrup.