A Better Breakfast: Stick to Your Ribs Granola

granola jar - cropped

Eat your oatmeal. It sticks to your ribs.” That’s what my grandma used to tell us. And she wasn’t that far off. Oats are full of soluble fibre called beta-glucan that literally “sticks” around in your intestines to give you a feeling of fullness until lunch time and a good dose of long lasting energy to fuel your morning.

Besides being amazingly nutritious, a bowl of oatmeal is a blank slate for endless flavour opportunities. First, you’ve got the many oat varieties: instant, rolled, steel-cut (also known as Irish and Scottish oatmeal) and groats. Steel-cut offers the most beta-glucan and is my favourite for its chewy texture and hearty flavour. You can stir in fresh, dried or frozen fruit, crunchy nuts and seeds, even peanut or almond butter, warm spices like cinnamon, star anise and nutmeg and a touch of sweetness from brown sugar or maple syrup. You’ve got a new oatmeal flavour for every day of the winter and for every taste preference.

Chilly winter mornings are easily warmed by a steamy bowl of oats. Come spring, I crave a cooler breakfast but one that still offers so much flavour and enough energy to fuel my day. Knowing that fresh berries will be in season in just a few months, I look forward to layers of tart yogurt, sweet seasonal fruit and crunchy granola. The most delicious locally grown fruit deserves the best granola. And there’s nothing like your own homemade granola! It has a fresh, richer flavour and chewier texture that can’t be beat with any store-bought variety. Homemade versions easily trump store-bought varieties on flavour and with much less added sugar and fat. Whip up a batch on the weekend and you’ve got a healthy breakfast that you can feel good about and your tastebuds (and your family) will thank you for your efforts.

This recipe can easily be adjusted to suit your flavour cravings and whatever ingredients you have in your pantry. I usually make a batch of this granola in anticipation of the start of the summer farmer’s market, even though I know summer-fresh fruit is a still a month or two away.

granola in blue bowl with blue mat

Yummy Granola
Makes 7 cups

3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup hemp hearts
1/2 cup buckwheat groats
1/3 cup almond butter
1/4 cup honey
1 Tbsp olive oil or other vegetable oil
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon or cardamom
1/2 cup whole almonds
1/4 cup hazelnuts
3/4 cup dried fruit: I like to use a combination of 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots, 1/4 cup chopped dried cherries and 1/4 cup chopped dates
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 325°F.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, hemp hearts and buckwheat.
In a small saucepan, combine the almond butter, honey, oil and cinnamon or cardamom. Warm over medium heat, stirring often, until ingredients are well blended. Drizzle over the oat mixture and fold to thoroughly coat all the oats, hemp and buckwheat. Spread onto a large baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown, turning every 7-10 minutes. Place on a rack to cool completely.
Toast almonds and hazelnuts in preheated oven for 8-10 minutes. Cool slightly and chop coarsely.
Once cool, combine baked oat mixture, toasted nuts and dried fruit in a large bowl. Sprinkle with vanilla and toss to coat well. Transfer to an airtight container and enjoy within 2-3 weeks.
Serve this yummy granola with layers of yogurt and fresh fruit or with milk, soy, coconut or almond beverage. Even though this granola already has a little dried fruit, it’s scrumptious with fresh fruit as well.

granola crumble up close

granola crumble up close


The Fresh Sheet…Cilantro

cilantro chutney - cilantro sprig

I love cilantro. I find its earthy and slightly tart citrus flavour to be refreshing, with a hint of peppery finish. But it seems that people either have a love or hate relationship with cilantro. Take my sister for example, she thinks cilantro tastes like soap and can detect even the tiniest bit of cilantro in any dish she tries. This love-hate relationship is so facinating that scientists have conducted research to understand the strong aversion to cilantro! There seems to be a few genetic traits that are linked to our sense of smell. These genetic factors may make us more sensitive to the aldehyde chemicals that give cilantro it’s unique smell and flavour and may change our perception to dislike them.

But did you know you can change your tastebuds to enjoy new flavours that you once disliked? Adults are just like kids who need to be exposed to foods numerous times and in numerous different dishes before we will accept them. The more often we expose our smell and tastebuds to the same foods and a variety of different ones, the more we can change our perception of new and unique smells and flavours. So, perhaps give cilantro another try. A Japanese study suggests that crushing cilantro leaves allows the enzymes in the leaves to convert the aldehyde chemicals into other substances that do not have that unique aroma you might dislike. I recommend crushing cilantro leaves into a vibrantly coloured and delicious Cilantro Chutney.

cilantro chutney with limes 2

Richly coloured, Cilantro Chutney is a tasty way to brighten up party snacks or a pre-dinner nibble. It makes a flavourful dip for veggies, tortilla chips or toasted naan bread. I also enjoy it as a cooling condiment for spicy dishes, roasted vegetables, baked fries and as a dressing for salads. Try it instead of pesto tossed with pasta or roasted potatoes. For a savoury snack, I will often stir cilantro chutney into plain yogurt.

cilantro chutney with chips 2

Cilantro Chutney
This recipe comes from a fellow dietitian, Gerry Kasten, who loves food and cooking and is an inspiration to our profession.

Makes 1-1/2 cups

3 cups lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves, about 1 bunch
6 green onions, coarsely chopped
1 inch of fresh gingerroot, peeled and sliced
1 jalapeno, seeded and sliced into quarters
2 tsp granulated sugar
1-1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust the sugar and salt as needed. Cover and refrigerate or enjoy right away. Chutney will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days but is best enjoyed within a day or two.

cilantro chutney - empty bowls

October Unprocessed…DIY Nut Butter

My mom loves peanut butter. She loves it so much that as kids we gifted her with a peanut butter maker. It was a two foot tall peanut character with arms and legs. When you turned its arm, it churned out crunchy or smooth butter made from fresh peanuts. Besides the fact that it was so cool to make your own nut butter, the freshly churned peanut butter was oh so delicious. It’s a wonderful food memory that got me excited to tackle this DIY unprocessed challenge to make my own nut butter again.

I really have no idea why I haven’t tried making it again. Even for such a foodie as myself, it’s easy to forget how simple it is to make some of our most basic everyday grub. Not only is it fairly easy to prepare, making your own nut or seed butter also allows you to be creative with flavours and to try out a variety of different nuts or seeds. After all, variety is the spice of life!

For this spreadable task, we decided to bring together some of our favourite flavours. Chai tea spice pairs sweet cardamom, spicy cinnamon and cloves with a bold hint of white pepper. We swirled this well loved spice mix into almond butter. Rather than blend up good old peanut butter, we added some BC grown hazelnuts to the mix for a unique new favourite.  

DIY Nut or Seed Butter

Just a few notes to help you get started. Doing it yourself means you’re in control of everything – the ingredients, how it’s made and how it’s flavoured. After all, this is the whole point of going unprocessed anyway. You can really choose to use whatever nut or seed your taste buds desire. You also have the option of going with a raw or roasted butter. Raw butter has a milder earthy flavour, while roasted butter has a bolder rich flavour. You can also choose how much you’d like to make. I recommend starting with 2 cups of nuts or seeds to try it out and then building your butter from there. Smooth or crunchy? Naked or flavoured? The answers are up to you.

Roasting Nuts and Seeds
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Spread nuts or seeds in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Roast nuts for about 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Roast seeds for about 5-7 minutes or until golden brown. Keep a close eye on roasting nuts or seeds as they can go from golden brown to burnt really quickly. I usually like to check them every couple of minutes.
Allow roasted nuts or seeds to cool slightly.

Churning Nuts and Seeds into Butter

If you prefer a crunchy butter, save a small handful of nuts or seeds and chop or pulse in the food processor to create small pieces to add crunch to the smooth butter.
Place raw or roasted nuts and seeds into a food processor and blend until nuts or seeds become finely ground. If desired, you can add a little mild or neutral flavoured oil such as coconut, grapeseed or nut oil to help smooth out the butter. Start with 1 tablespoon for 2 cups of nuts or seeds, blend and taste before adding a little bit more. At this point, you can add any flavourings you would like such as a little sweetness, vanilla or spices. Continue to blend until nut or seed butter is smooth.

Scrumptious Flavours: Using the ingredients listed below create these nut butters following the instructions above. 

Hint of Hazelnut Peanut Butter
1-1/2 cups raw peanuts
1/2 cup raw BC grown hazelnuts

Almond Chai Butter
2 cups whole raw almonds
1 Tbsp mild flavoured oil such as coconut oil, grapeseed or nut oil
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1-1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1-1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground white pepper

October #Unprocessed…DIY a Better Bean

This is a bean house. I eat beans daily. Tofu, every once in a while. Eggs, pretty regularly. But my heart belongs to beans. Why? Because there is no food more satisfying, versatile and oh yes, economical. Beans and rice, that staple of traditional food cultures the world over, got me through my unpaid internship year. Since Heather and I are going #unprocessed this month, we thought it would be a great time to talk about making beans from scratch. Just for good, old-timey sake!

There are plenty of convenient legume options that will pass the October Unprocessed kitchen test – sprouted, dried beans; frozen beans and canned (withOUT the BHT or EDTA please!). However, the most economical and delicious way to enjoy beans is to soak and boil them yourself. They have a truly wonderful texture when you DIY. Properly soaked and rinsed beans are also easier on the ol’ digestive tract as you wash away some of the resistant starches.

I know you are busy. So am I. You can still soak beans. Here’s how:

The key is to take the assembly line approach and think ahead. Don’t try and cook soak the beans for a recipe the night before. After you boil them, you still have to make dinner. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have 2 hours to get dinner on the table on a Tuesday!

Start at night. When the house is quiet and you aren’t rushing around like mad. Choose a couple of varieties of beans you use most often – for me, this is the white cannelini bean and the black bean. You will need two large pasta pots. Economize prep time by soaking large batches: at least 3-4 cups of each dried bean topped up by enough water to at least give you 4 inches of water above the beans. Soak overnight or for a day.

The next day, once dinner is made and the dishes are done, drain and rinse those beans a couple of times and then fill the pot up with clean water and put those suckers on the stove. Let them boil as you sit back and watch a movie. See how easy this is? Once the beans are fork tender – about 45 – 55 minutes, you can let them cool and portion them into recipe-sized servings (1-2 cups, depending on how many you usually cook for) and toss them in the freezer. Date the bags. Voila! Beans as you need them.

There are plenty of delicious things to do with beans – add them to salads, soups (puree white beans in soups to make them creamy – delish!), mash for dips and sandwiches or add them to pasta. However, as the weather has made a sudden turn for fall, I was looking to cook up some serious comfort food.

Copyright Desiree Nielsen

White Bean, Pumpkin and Cauliflower Gratin

Give the potatoes a rest and up the nutrition quotient by layering cauliflower and pumpkin. You can take this recipe and lighten it up further by substituting light cheddar and evaporated skim milk. But the cream tastes really good…this serves 4-6 as a main course over your favourite whole grain or is sized just right as a side dish for a holiday meal.

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large leek, white and light green part only
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 lb sugar pumpkin, peeled and diced into 1 cm cubes
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup fresh sage, chopped
2 cups light 10% cream, full fat milk or evaporated skim milk
1 tbsp organic cornstarch or flour
salt and pepper to taste

4 cups cooked cannelini or navy beans (about 2 small cans for those in a rush)
1 large cauliflower, trimmed
2 cups of shredded aged white cheddar or gruyere

Prepare the veggies: thoroughly wash the leek and then slice lengthwise; cut halves into thin slices resembling half moons. Place the cauliflower on the cutting board stem side down and start slicing into very thin, 1/2 cm (1/4 in) slices. Much of the cauliflower will start crumbling but you will end up with enough thin cauliflower steaks to line the bottom of the baking dish.

Cauliflower Copyright Desiree Nielsen

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large, 9 x 12 baking dish, arrange a layer of cauliflower “steaks”. Sprinkle beans over cauliflower and set dish aside.

Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add leek and sauté until soft and glossy, about 5 minutes. Add pumpkin, garlic, cumin and thyme and turn up the heat a bit. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin is soft, about 10 minutes. Add remaining cauliflower crumbles and sage.

Pour the cream over the veggies and heat through. Then, in a small cup, measure out the flour or cornstarch. Add a couple of tablespoons of the hot cream to the flour and whisk with a fork until there are no lumps. Pour the mixture back into the pan, stirring constantly. Allow the cream to thicken slightly and then turn off heat.

Carefully pour the veggie cream sauce over the baking dish. Sprinkle with cheese and cover the dish with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes covered. Remove foil and bake for 10 more minutes. Feel happy.

October Unprocessed…Pumpkin Pie

“The home dining table is our last remaining tribal gathering place. Sitting face-to-face, elbow-to-elbow over hot steaming plates of simple food, we nourish our bodies and feed our souls.”  
Graham Kerr, Gourmet Chef

What better way to begin the Thanksgiving weekend than to start with this meaningful quote. For me the Thanksgiving meal is a true reflection of the tribal gathering place. A meal that centres around the gathering of family and friends at a simple table with dishes that are made with love and rich in tradition, culture and family history. Food is just so much better when created and eaten with those important in your life.

This theme also fits well into the Unprocessed Challenge. Putting aside time each day to eat together at the table means significant social and health benefits for everyone in the family. I even notice a difference in my energy when I take the time to break for lunch and eat with friends rather than eating at my desk just to get a little bit extra work done. Caring about what and how we eat is something we all need to pay more attention to. Taking ownership and feeling pride in the food we make and creating time to eat together is very gratifying.

Thanksgiving is synonymous with pumpkin pie. So we’ve tackled the challenge of making pumpkin pie from scratch including making our own pumpkin puree.

Sugar Pumpkin Puree
To make pumpkin puree, look for sugar pumpkins. This variety of pumpkin is sweeter than pumpkins used for jack-o-lanterns. You can use any size sugar pumpkin. For pumpkin pie, you usually need about 1-1/2 cups to 2 cups of pumpkin puree. To make exactly this amount, you’ll need a sugar pumpkin that weighs about 3 pounds. If you do have extra pumpkin, it’s delicious in muffins, stirred into oatmeal and makes super scrumptious soups and stews.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Wash the outside of the pumpkin and remove the stem. Cut the pumpkin in half. Remove the stringy fibres and seeds. Don’t forget to save the seeds to make roasted pumpkin seeds! Cut the pumpkin halves into 3 wedges each. Place the wedges, cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet or baking pan. Add about 1 cup of hot water to the baking sheet or pan. Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes or until pumpkin is tender. Pierce the pumpkin with a fork to determine tenderness. Let cool slightly.
Once pumpkin is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh or remove the skins. Puree in a food processor until smooth. Place pumpkin puree in a fine mesh sieve, coffee filter or cheesecloth to remove some of the excess water. That’s it! You’ve got gorgeous richly coloured orange pumpkin puree. You can now use this in your favourite pumpkin pie recipe or try ours.

Pumpkin Pie or Tarts
This recipe will make one 9 inch pie or six 4-1/2 inch tarts.  

Pecan Crust
1/2 cup pecan pieces
1-1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
4-5 Tbsp ice water

Place pecans in a food processor and pulse until they are a coarse crumb texture. Add flour, brown sugar and salt and pulse to combine. Add butter and process for about 10 seconds or until butter is pea-sized. With the processor on, add the water one tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together in a soft ball.
Shape dough into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour.
For the pie: Roll the dough out into a circle slighly larger than a pie dish. Transfer the dough into the pie dish, pressing gently with your fingers so the dough takes the form of the dish. Cut off any excess dough hanging off the edges.
For the tarts: Cut the disc into six fairly similar sized pieces. Roll each piece into a circle slightly larger than the tart shells. Transfer the dough to the tart shell and gently press the dough into the dish so it takes it’s shape. Cut off excess dough so the crust is flush with the tart shell.

Pumpkin Pie Filling

1-1/2 cups pumpkin puree
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 cup evaporated milk
2 eggs
1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground allspice

In a medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, brown sugar, maple syrup, evaporated milk, eggs and spices until smooth. Pour into pie shell or tart shells.
For the pie: 
Bake in a 425°F preheated oven for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F and continue baking for about 35 minutes or until pumpkin is set when lightly jiggled.
For the tarts:
Bake them on a baking sheet in a 375°F preheated oven for 30 minutes or until pumpkin is set when lightly jiggled.
Cool pie or tarts on a rack. Chill. Enjoy with whipped cream and a sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg or cinnamon.

DIY Fresh…Summer Corn Salsa

Summer isn’t summer without a freshly made salsa filled with sun-kissed ingredients straight from your garden or a local farmer’s market. Mango and black bean salsa is one of my favourite and is always a hit at get togethers. I have a favourite way to make it and always seem to stick to this recipe. But when local produce is in season, it doesn’t always make sense to use it since it doesn’t feature many local ingredients.

A couple of weekends ago, I attended a wonderful wedding barbecue and low and behold I discovered a summer-fresh twist on my favourite mango and black bean salsa. A friend’s mom served her famous salsa with colourful corn, black bean and mango. The sweet corn added that extra summer flavour. So, off to the kitchen I went to re-create this new twist on the classic mango & black bean salsa loaded with sweet corn, red bell pepper, shallot and jalapenos straight from my patio garden.

Summer Fresh Corn Salsa
If you’re feeding a crowd, this recipe can easily be doubled. And don’t worry, it will all get eaten! I rarely go home with leftovers.

1 ear of corn or one leftover cooked corn on the cob
1 cup cooked or canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1 mango, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 small purple onion or 1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
juice from 1/2 a lime

If you don’t have any leftover cobs of corn from dinner last night, make some tonight and save a cob for this salsa. Bring a saucepot filled with water to a boil. Add corn on the cob and simmer for 12 minutes. Remove from water and let cool. To cool quickly, you can soak in cold water. Remove corn kernels from the cob by standing it up on its end and running a sharp knife down the sides.
Place kernels in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and lime juice. Toss to combine flavours. If desired, season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to enjoy.
Serve this colourful salsa with tortilla chips, crackers or as bruschetta for toasted baguette slices. This salsa is also delicious served alongside grilled chicken, pork, fish or tofu, in tacos or as a dressing for salad.

Local Food Challenge…Frozen Blueberry Yogurt

On a hot summer day, nothing beats a chilly treat. And we’ve got a tasty recipe that’s simple and super fast to make. You can literally whip this one up in 2 minutes! The bonus is that it’s a healthy choice too. With only 2 local ingredients, it allows the natural flavour of the foods to come through. This is true local eating at its best. 

Super Quick Frozen Blueberry Yogurt
makes 2 cups or 4 small servings

2 cups frozen BC blueberries
1 cup plain yogurt, preferably 2- 3.5% M.F. – The little bit of fat makes this treat creamier than if you use fat-free yogurt.

Place the blueberries in a food processor and pulse several times to break up the blueberries. Add the plain yogurt. Blend until mixture is smooth and looks like delicious blueberry ice cream. Serve immediately.

This is a simple and easy recipe that has lots of room to be creative. Although blueberry is my favourite, this recipe is delicious using frozen peaches, strawberries, blackberries, cherries or other local fruit. Raspberries are also fun for a tart frozen treat.

Enjoy that local food!