The Fresh Sheet…Grapefruit

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For many of us, January is NOT the time when we think of anything being fresh and in season. But after the holiday festivities, fresh is exactly what I am craving. Luckily, while many parts of Canada and the US are under a few feet of snow, it’s citrus season under sunnier skies.

Luscious red grapefruit are a much sweeter, friendlier variety than their paler cousins and they just what the New Year ordered. Ruby hued grapefruit is full of the skin-loving phytochemical lycopene, along with a dose of vitamin C to help fend off cold and flu season.

When choosing grapefruit, look for fruit that are quite heavy for their size which means that they will be juicy and delicious! They will do fine on the counter but I love my grapefruit chilled.

Grapefruit are lovely on their own as a snack, broiled with a bit of brown sugar and chili flakes or in a smoothie but they also make a lovely addition to salads. No matter how cold it is outside, I am a salad girl. In the colder months, I tend to gravitate towards chewier leaves like parsley and kale. Stick-to-your-ribs kind of greens…if you can call greens stick-to-your-ribs.

If you are on the healthier path this month and looking for a dense, hearty salad to begin the year with a clean slate, we have just the thing. This salad will actually fill you up with plenty of heart-healthy fats and even has a bit of ginger to help settle an over-indulged tummy. Did I mention the scent of grapefruit helps to quell appetite?

Eat well. Heather and I wish you all the best for the year ahead!

Grapefruit and Avocado Salad with Ginger Lemon Dressing

Serves 4-6

1 large bunch of your favourite kale, de-stemmed, leaves torn into bite sized pieces (about 8 packed cups of leaves)
1 large red grapefruit, peel and pith removed and sliced into bite sized pieces
1 ripe avocado, chopped
1/2 cup raw almonds, whole or slivered

2 tbsp avocado oil or other lightly flavoured oil like almond or grapeseed
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 tsp honey
pinch of salt

Wash and spin kale leaves so they are nice and dry and place in a large salad bowl. Save the stems and mince them for use when making a soup or stir fry. Don’t waste good food!

Mix dressing ingredients together and then pour over kale. Using fingers, massage dressing into kale leaves until they wilt and shrink by about 50% in volume. Magic!

To make the grapefruit seem juicier, use a knife to slice off a 1 cm (1/2 in) piece from top and bottom. Then use a knife to cut off all of the peel and pith so you are left with just juicy fruit. Cut the fruit into pieces, placing your cuts so you don’t get any of the skin on the outside of the slices to reign in all that juicy goodness.

Toss grapefruit, avocado and almond with kale and serve.

Tip: to make this a complete meal, serve with shredded leftover chicken or some pan-fried tofu, cut into “croutons”

The Fresh Sheet…Eggplant

 

 

Eggplants.Desiree Nielsen RD

Eggplants are one of those vegetables that feel like summer to me but I am often at a loss for preparation ideas because my husband has an utter disdain for them! Serving gorgeous slabs of grilled eggplant won’t do unless I am willing to eat them all myself. A staple in mediterranean cuisine, eggplants have yet to really seduce us here in North America. But it’s worth giving eggplant another shot for its versatility and nutrition. With fall right around the corner, bringing these jewel-like beauties home will help extend the feeling of those long sun-drenched days (even if the only sunshine around is the artificial kind).

Eggplant.Peppers.DesireeNielsenRD

Preparation is key to enjoying eggplant’s charms – salting and resting the flesh will help to remove any bitterness that some might find unpleasant. It is also best to enjoy eggplant while they are fresh and in season…which is right now! Eggplant doesn’t just look pretty, it comes with plenty of nutrition to spare: eggplant is a source of soluble fibre to help stabilize blood sugars, lower cholesterol and soothe the digestive tract. It is also rich in manganese, an energizing mineral; potassium and magnesium protect the heart and potent antioxidant pigments give its skin that glossy dark purple colour.

When these little gems hit the farmers’ market, I too often give them a pass. So I was determined to find a recipe that would convince even an eggplant hater and I think we might have found it. This caponata pairs eggplants with their cousins, bell peppers and tomatoes for a savoury match made in heaven.

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Eggplant Caponata
Makes about one litre

Caponata is an Italian antipasti that is sweet, savoury and delicious – it takes time to make but will last through the week in the refrigerator to perk up any meal. It has a myriad of uses: try it as a sandwich spread, a pasta sauce, a topping for Bruschetta, layered in a casserole or as a sauce for proteins. We have paired it with grilled tofu in the photo but it would also be delicious with chicken or white fish.

3 cups cubed eggplant (about 2-3 small)
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 1/2 cups chopped bell peppers
1 tbsp minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
1- 28 oz can of plum tomatoes
3/4 tsp oregano
3/4 tsp basil
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped Kalamata olives
1 tbsp Red wine vinegar
1/4 – 1/2 cup Italian (flat leaf) parsley leaves

Place cubed eggplant in a bowl and generously salt, tossing to coat the eggplant. Let sit for 30 minutes and then rinse and pat dry.

In a large saute pan, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat, then add onion and bell peppers; sauté until glossy and soft, about 10 minutes. Add eggplant and sauté for 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is soft and golden brown.

Deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup of the juice from the plum tomatoes and then crush the plum tomatoes into the pan by hand, reserving the juice for adjusting the moisture of the dish later. Add the herbs, 1 tsp freshly ground pepper and garlic, stir and reduce to simmer for about 40 minutes. Stir occasionally and if the mixture sticks or gets too dry, deglaze with a bit of the reserved tomato juice. Stir in the red wine vinegar, olives and parsley before serving.

One litre of caponata will make a large volume of appetizers or will comfortably serve 8 people as a pasta sauce or side dish for proteins.

A Better Breakfast: Stick to Your Ribs Granola

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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

Resolve to Eat Breakfast…Breakfast Cookies

Happy New Year everyone!

Right about now, many of you might be launching into some healthy eating resolutions. January 1st never really works since after the party, what you really want is to sleep in and have a big, rich brunch. Then you might need a couple of days to focus on what you want the New Year to bring…which leads you to the weekend so you can prepare to make it happen. Personally, I love the ‘blank slate’ feeling of January. In reality, you can vow to evolve and change on a daily basis but there is a lot of tradition and cultural support for making a fresh start at the turn of the year.

So Heather and I thought we would share our slightly different spin on New Year’s resolutions. To us, dietary change as a whole works better when it is focused, concrete and sustainable. When you focus on building new, positive habits you avoid the deprivation trap and eventually the less positive habits get crowded out. It might not be as dramatic as a juice cleanse but it is sustainable!

So for the first weeks of 2013, we would like to offer our suggestions on healthy eating resolutions that will not only make you healthier but will actually be possible to maintain long term. Because of course, a resolution that you pick up every year in January and drop every year by February 1st doesn’t exactly spell real change.

For this week, we are taking our mother’s advice and advocating that breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Here’s why…

1. You need to break the fast: As you sleep, your body has to switch from storing energy to liberating it to keep your organs and brain fueled with glucose. In order to do that, hormones such as glucagon and cortisol (the stress hormone!) rise and help convert stored energy into useful forms. When you eat breakfast within 2 hours of rising, the morning meal sends a signal that the fast is indeed over and the balance of hormones can shift into a fed, relaxed state. If you don’t, your hormones continue to work hard to keep your body running, which can lead to cravings, crabbiness and sluggishness.

2. You will set a good example for the kids (and for your future self!): In the morning we tend to have stronger willpower (there’s that old ‘fresh start’ again!) than at the end of the day and consciously eating a very healthful breakfast helps set the eating tone for the rest of the day. Bolstered by a good meal, you just might choose another good meal at lunch. For those of you with kids, modeling healthy eating behaviours pays off!

3. It will help you stay trim. There is some evidence that breakfast eaters weigh less than those who regularly skip it. This probably has to do with hormonal and metabolic response to prolonged fasting but the evidence is still a work in progress.

Convinced? Great! So…what should you actually eat for breakfast? Anything is better than nothing but certain foods are clearly better than others.

A medley of white flour, fat and white sugar will send your own blood sugars soaring and keep you on a blood sugar rollercoaster for the rest of the day. What you want is a meal that will help provide a slow, steady rise in blood sugars to hit the ‘reset’ button on your metabolism. Whole, intact grains, nuts, seeds and lean proteins, along with some fruit or veggies are a nice combination.

Here are a few options to try, some of which you can prep the night before for those who can’t think straight before 8:00AM:

– Scrambled eggs and spinach with a slice of sprouted grain toast. Bake the egg mixture in muffin cups for a make-ahead option.
– A smoothie with silken tofu, Greek yogurt or plant-based protein powder and fruit. Bonus marks for throwing a bit of kale or spinach in with your blueberries!
– Hard-boiled eggs and a piece of fruit for those in a super rush!
– Cottage cheese layered with berries, a bit of high fibre cereal, chopped nuts and ground flax seeds
– Our Brilliant Breakfast Cookie…ta da!

breakfast cookies - round & stacked

Brilliant Banana Breakfast Cookies

Makes 15 cookies.

Why are these cookies so brilliant? Because they are made from whole foods, with all their fibre, protein and slow-burning energy intact. Make them on the weekend and have an on-the-go breakfast ready when you are. Enjoy them with a skim milk or organic soy latte or crumble them over Greek yogurt to add vital protein to help you stay energized all morning long.

3/4 cup oat flour – if you can’t find oat flour, you can make it yourself by pulsing oats in a food processor until they are fine as flour
3/4 cup large flake oats
1 cup unsweetened coconut
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1 tbsp agave syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

If you want to toast the walnuts, roast them in a preheated 375°F oven for 4-6 minutes. Then reduce heat to 350°F.

In a large bowl, whisk together oat flour, oats, coconut, flax and salt. Stir in toasted walnuts and dried apricots.
In another bowl, mash bananas with a fork and stir in coconut oil, agave syrup and vanilla. Add banana mixture to flour mixture and fold until combined.
The dough for these cookies is pretty easy to handle so we recommend getting your hands dirty!

Run a little coconut oil on the inside of a 3 inch square or round cookie cutter so dough doesn’t stick. Place cookie cutter on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Add a small handful of cookie dough into the cookie cutter and lightly press the dough down with your fingertips. Aim for about a 1/2 inch thickness. Repeat until the baking sheet is full and cookies are about 1 inch apart.
Bake for 25 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Allow to cool 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

These breakfast cookies are perfect for freezing. They will keep for 1-2 months in the freezer. Simply remove from the freezer the night before and grab’n go for a quick breakfast in the morning.

Turkey Leftover Idea – Thai Pizza

pizza thai turkeyThe holiday turkey dinner may be scrumptious, but there is nothing like the yummy leftovers re-created into more family meals in the lazy days after Christmas. My dad loves to make a basic turkey sandwich for breakfast the next day and my aunt loves to take the bones home to make a hearty turkey soup. My sister loves to create mashed potato turkey bowls with all the leftovers. Oh ya, I live in foodie heaven when I’m at home with my family.

There always seems to be a little bit of turkey left and we’re not quite sure what to do with it. That’s when I step in and spice up a pizza with colourful Thai flavours and leftover turkey. This is one of my favourite standby meals that’s super quick and easy to make and uses up leftover turkey, chicken or tofu – whatever you’ve got in your fridge. Whole wheat pitas make a tasty thin crust that’s crunchy and requires no prep work. This is a lovely fresh flavoured pizza thanks to its colourful vegetables and peanut sauce. It’s delicious piping hot from the oven or slightly chilled for breakfast or lunch the next day.

pizza thai turkey uncooked with cilantropizza thai turkey unslicedThai Turkey Pizza
Makes 4 small pizzas

4 whole wheat pitas
4 Tbsp peanut sauce – I like to use spicy peanut sauce
1 medium carrot, grated
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup leftover cooked turkey – you can substitute chicken or tofu
3/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese
handful of fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Place whole wheat pitas on a baking sheet. Spread 1 Tablespoon of peanut sauce on each pita. Divide vegetables between pitas. I like to start with grated carrot, red pepper and then green onion. Divide turkey on each pita. Sprinkle with grated cheese.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cheese has melted and starts to turn golden brown. Cut each pizza into 4 pieces. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro stems and leaves.
This pizza is delicious served cold for breakfast or lunch.

Some Cold Weather Comfort…Homemade Mac and Cheese

I have a confession to make…I grew up on Kraft Dinner. There was plenty of vegetables and real food lovin’ at home but from time to time, I loved my KD. I loved the very orange-yness of it, which I would make extra creamy with lots of butter. Amazing how I never wondered why milk was white but cheese was orange!

So the first time I tasted homemade mac and cheese, it was pretty underwhelming. Nature can have a hard time pushing the manufactured flavour buttons that processed foods set off in your tastebuds. If you just put a bit of cheese in a white sauce and call it mac and cheese, it will taste more like mac and white sauce. Not exactly worth the calories!

In my university years, my tastes became more sophisticated and I started eating Annie’s macaroni and cheese. Somehow it never occurred to me to make my own until a few years ago. I have tried several recipes but never found one that exactly suited my tastes. Since I can’t leave well enough alone, this recipe of course has beans and extra veggies so I can think of it as a ‘real meal’. Let’s just say that this one falls into the ‘sometimes foods’ category. Enjoy it with something nice and green, after a long, rainy day at the park (or the pumpkin patch!).

Mac and Cheese and More
Adapted from Spilling the Beans by Julie Van Rosendaal and Sue Duncan

Serves 6-8

250g macaroni, I used Tinkyada Brown Rice macaroni
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/2 cup white wine or water
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tsp dry mustard
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
3 cups sharp white cheddar, I used L’Ancetre raw milk cheddar.
1/2 tsp salt
385ml can of white beans such as navy or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 head of cauliflower, florets crumbled with a knife and stalks cut into 1/2 cm cubes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions, undercooking by 1-2 minutes. Add cauliflower stems to pasta 1 minute before its done. Drain, rinse and set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, melt butter and whisk in flour. Cook, whisking constantly for 1-2 minutes or until golden. Whisk in milk, white wine and mustard. Add garlic and rosemary. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, whisking the entire time, letting the sauce thicken. Turn off heat and stir in cheese until melted then add salt.

Place pasta, cauliflower and beans in a 9×13 baking dish and pour sauce over it and mix through. Bake for 15 minutes and enjoy.

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.