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

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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

From the Root Cellar: Carrot Apple Slaw

carrot apple salad

Getting ready for summer means eating up the winter fruit and vegetables you have in storage. I seem to have gone through all my frozen blueberries, blackberries and all my preserves. However, there always seems to be a carrot or two and the odd apple hanging around in my pantry – it’s not really surprising since both are widely available throughout the year. There are those days that I find myself gawking at those simple carrots and apples wondering what the heck do I do with them. The spring sunshine demands a fresh departure from the hearty, savoury dishes of months past; I need that burst of summer flavour that will inspire the rain clouds of April to disappear into the sunny days of the coming summer.

Slaws are a very traditional side dish and we usually remember them as creamy and rich and laden with cabbage. However, any combination of fruit and veggies works in a slaw form and a light vinaigrette is the perfect match for the energizing freshness of spring.

This recipe can easily add colour and flavour to dinner or fit into your lunchbox. I also enjoy it for an afternoon snack when the rain is pouring down and I’m trying to convince myself to get out for a walk. It’s natural sweetness makes it a hit with the kiddies too.

carrot and apple salad - close up

Carrot Slaw
Makes 4 servings

2 medium carrots, peeled and grated (about 2 cups)
1 apple, unpeeled and grated (about 1 cup)
squeeze of lemon juice
2 tbsp orange juice
1 tsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh mint or parsley, chopped

Toss grated apple with a squeeze of lemon juice to prevent browning. In a bowl, toss grated carrot and apple together. Cover tightly with plastic wrap to prevent further browning if not serving right away.
In a small bowl, combine orange juice and red wine vinegar. Slowly whisk in oil until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Drizzle over carrots and apple and toss until well mixed. Add parsley or mint and toss to combine.
This sweet slaw is perfect for lunches, an afternoon snack or with dinner. If life is extra busy, simple toss grated carrot and apple with freshly squeezed orange juice and some chopped fresh mint for a super quick slaw.

The Fresh Sheet…Birch Syrup

birch syrup with spoon

The celebration of a cold Canadian winter is never complete without tire d’érable, aka maple taffy on the snow at the Cabane à Sucre festival. Sweet maple syrup is boiled down into maple taffy and a steaming strip is poured over a bed of snow and then rolled up onto a stick for sweet licking. I like to call this delicious treat the true Canadian lollipop. I have fond memories of celebrating this tradition with our French Canadian friends in Kamloops.

A couple of years ago, we learned that some folks up in Quesnel were tapping birch trees and boiling the sap down into birch syrup. Not quite as sweet as maple syrup but the birch trees still dripped a scrumptious sap that is worth the hard work to boil it down into a sugary treat. Hiking in the forest behind our cabin we discovered a peaceful grove of birch trees. It sparked our interest to try making our own birch syrup. So, we packed up a backpack full of empty containers, a drill and some taps and headed out on our adventure.

As you can imagine, we didn’t really strike syrupy gold the first time we tapped the trees. It took a few tries and some learnings before we got a tasty batch we were proud to showoff. We quickly learned that you need to extract a lot of sap to make a small jar of birch syrup. You need about 80 to 100 litres of birch sap to make just 1 litre of birch syrup (maple syrup is about a forty to one ratio). Even so, it made for a fun adventure hiking up to the birch grove each day over a long weekend to empty our buckets and revel in how much sap dripped out of the trees.

birch sap

Straight from the tree, birch sap looks just like water. I enjoyed taking a couple of gulps right from the tree spout. It was refreshing like water with a hint of sweetness. We couldn’t wait to boil it down into sweet syrup. Three days of harvesting the sap and a few more boiling it down in our backyard to a gorgeous amber colour, birch syrup has a unique caramel-like flavour. We’ve enjoyed a quick sip of birch syrup when we crave a sweet treat or a few more spoonfuls drizzled on ice cream. We do look forward to cooking a few of our favourite recipes with our homemade birch syrup.

birch syrup in jars

You can find Sweet Tree Ventures Birch Syrup at Edible Canada on Granville Island or from the Sweet Tree Ventures website.

A Bite of Spring: Mini Lemon Curd Cheesecakes

lemon curd 2
It’s finally starting to feel like spring. The sun does more than just peek through the clouds. You enjoy and curse the birds churping way too early in the morning. You dress in layers to stay warm in the chilly shade, yet take off the coat to soak up the warmth of the sunny afternoon. It’s time to come out of hibernation. Spring has this amazing ability to get our engines revving and inspire renewed fervor to tackle life.

Being food lovers, Desiree and I were chatting the other day about how spring also has this ability to tantalize our tastebuds to shift from the comforts of hearty winter to  colourful and lighter fare. We desire the fresh flavours of sunshine and start dreaming of home grown delights from the garden. While we’re still a ways away from enjoying the rich flavours of locally grown produce, we like to indulge in seasonal fare from afar, mainly citrus fruits. At this time of year, we love to whip up a batch of lemon curd to fill in the gap until we can enjoy local berries. It’s fresh, fruity and so delicious. We like it stirred into plain yogurt, drizzled on granola or just eaten by the spoonful. It’s also scrumptious with frozen berries, spread on freshly baked scones and paired with cheese and bread. There are so many delicious ways to enjoy lemon curd.

For a treat during an evening with my girlfriends, I decided to swirl lemon curd into mini cheesecakes. It received an A+ and many requests for the recipe. I’ve made a few batches since and they seem to disappear more quickly than I can make them. Mini cheesecakes are quicker and easier to make than a full cheesecake and make bite-size treats perfect for any party, holiday celebration or tea with friends. Even lemon curd is super easy to make. I like to use another Heather’s (if it’s made by a Heather, it’s gotta be good!) lemon curd recipe from Missing Goat Farm. You can even make it in the microwave in under 5 minutes. Yes, that’s right: the microwave! Here’s the recipe from My Baking Addiction.

lemons in green bowl (juiced) 2

lemon curd cheesecake - no muffin liner

Mini Lemon Curd Cheesecakes
Makes 12 mini cheesecakes

crust
3/4 cup almonds
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
1-1/2 Tbsp melted butter

filling
8 oz/225 g cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup lemon curd

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a regular muffin tin with muffin liners.
Place almonds in a food processor and pulse until almonds are mostly ground. If you prefer, you can substitute 1 cup of almond meal in place of grinding your own whole almonds. I like to grind the whole natural almonds for the coarser crumb and for the extra flavour from their skin. Transfer ground almonds to a bowl and stir in sugar and ground ginger. Stir in the melted butter until the ground almond mixture is moist.
Place a spoonful of the almond mixture into each of the muffin liners. Use your fingers or the back of a spoon to pack down the crust. Pop them in the oven for 5-6 minutes to bake the crust.
In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the cream cheese with the sugar until well combined and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Divide cheesecake filling among the muffin cups. Add a dollop of lemon curd and use a knife to swirl the lemon curd into the cheesecake filling.
Bake for 15-18 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Refrigerate until ready to enjoy. Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving to allow cheesecakes to come to room temperature. (They taste even more delicious this way.) You can serve the cheesecakes with additional lemon curd if you like.

lemon curd cheesecake - lemons

Gluten Free? Be Grain Aware: Buckwheat Crackers (Plus a Contest!)

buckwheat crackers - close up

It’s no surprise that the most common question we’ve been asked this month is all about the gluten-free diet: “Is it healthy?” “Should I start following a gluten-free diet?” “Is wheat really that unhealthy for me?”

Let’s start from the beginning. One of the key principles of a healthy diet is enjoying a wide variety of different foods – we can’t get all of the nutrients we need from a single food or food group. From a safety standpoint, eating just a single food from any food group may also pose harm and, when it comes to your taste buds, enjoying a variety of healthy foods beats boredom. So, yes eating mostly wheat 6 times a day – especially in its most processed form – is not considered healthy.

In the North American diet, we might eat wheat cereal or a wheat muffin for breakfast; munch a wheat bread sandwich for lunch; wheat crackers for a snack and wheat pasta for dinner with wheat garlic toast. Wow! I’d say that’s a lot of wheat. And that’s just the obvious wheat sources. What you might not know is that many common pre-made and packaged products, everything from salad dressings to flavoured rice dishes, also have wheat added. When you add it all up, there’s almost no variety in our grain choices.

To add insult to injury, we almost always choose the most processed form of wheat: white pasta, white bread, white goodies, white baked goods, etc. I’m sure you’ve heard the rumours: white just doesn’t cut it when it comes to nutrition and health. White grains have had their nutritious bran and germ removed from the whole grain kernel, also removing essential vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytochemicals. You’re missing out on a whole lot when you choose white over whole grain.

What about our typical portion sizes of these nutritional zeros? They’re huge! It’s just too much white flour for our bodies to deal with.

Unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance (perhaps 10% of us, according to some recent data), there’s no need to follow a strict gluten-free diet.

However, for good health, it is essential to:
1. Upgrade to truly whole grain wheat (think wheat berries, sprouted grain bread, 100% whole grain pasta etc.).
2. Eat a variety of different grains including gluten-free grains, so you’re not eating wheat 6 times a day. Hello barley, rye and buckwheat!
3. Be aware of your portion sizes. This isn’t your last meal ever! If you are hungry later, you can have more.

Our collective taste buds are accustomed to the mild flavour of white wheat. Rather than making major changes overnight, give your taste buds a little time to adjust to the richer flavour of whole grains. Start with half white and half whole grain if you need to. Upgrading slowly will give your taste buds some time to adjust to the new flavour of whole grains and make it easier for you to make changes that lead to longterm habits. This works well with homemade baked goods like muffins, pasta, 60% whole wheat bread, light rye bread or a combo of white and wild rice. You can also combine a few different grains like quinoa, rice, millet, barley and buckwheat to create a tasty alternative to rice. Grain mixes like this are also more readily available at the grocery store.

We’ve created a nutty whole grain cracker that uses the whole buckwheat groat or kernel. Buckwheat, despite the name, has nothing to do with wheat and is actually a seed – not a grain. These crackers are fairly easy to make and perfect for everyday eating or to wow your guests at a party. It’s naturally gluten-free but versatile, so you can make it with half all-purpose wheat flour and half buckwheat flour if you’re just starting to get to know whole grains.

buckwheat crackers - rosemary

Rosemary Buckwheat Crackers

1 cup buckwheat groats
1/2 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 Tbsp fresh rosemary, finely minced
3/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp water

buckwheat crackers - asiago

Asiago Buckwheat Crackers

1 cup buckwheat groats
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/4 cup Asiago cheese, finely grated
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp water

Preheat oven to 375°F.
In a food processor, grind buckwheat groats to a fine texture. Some coarse pieces in the flour are fine. One cup of buckwheat groats will make 1 cup + 2 Tbsp of flour. Measure 1 cup of flour for the crackers and save the remaining 2 Tbsp for dusting and rolling.

Place 1 cup of the ground buckwheat groats in a large bowl. Stir in baking powder, salt and spices to mix well. Stir in cheese if making the Asiago crackers.

Pour in the oil and stir until well combined. Add water and stir until the dough comes together. The dough will be moist.

Flour hands, rolling-pin and counter. Split dough in two pieces. Pat down one piece of dough using your hands into a square shape. Roll to 1/4 inch thickness using a rolling-pin. Cut dough into 2 inch squares or rectangle shapes using a ravioli cutter, knife or bench scraper. Transfer crackers to a parchment lined baking sheet using a spatula or bench scraper. Repeat with remaining piece of dough.

Bake for 12-14 minutes or until just starting to brown on the edges. Store in an airtight container or cookie jar for 2 weeks….if they last that long!

Both recipes will make about 30 crackers.

Our First Contest of 2013!

To help ring in the New Year, we want to connect with you on our Facebook Page! It’s the easy way to stay connected to everything we are doing on the blog. We have a whole grains gift basket to give away (within North America only) to everyone who likes our Facebook page by February 1st.

Thanks to the Healthy Grains Institute for providing some goodies for the gift basket. The Healthy Grains Institute did not compensate us for this post or have input into the content…they just generously provided some treats for you!

Resolution: Cleanse? Revolution: Eat cleansing foods daily! Pineapple Lime Smoothie

smoothie pineapple lime shade

After all of the rich, indulgent food and drink we consume in the month of December, eating better almost comes as a relief. There is nothing more I love in January than loading up on salads and green tea. This kind of food just tastes better to me right now and I certainly feel better for eating it. In the post-excess hangover, the idea of doing a more formal cleanse or detox program may pop up in peoples’ minds. While a thoughtful cleansing program can be helpful to some, cleaning up your act for two weeks and then going back to the burgers and fries might not be exactly what the dietitian ordered.

If you are thinking of doing a cleanse this January, or perhaps the cleanse program you started is almost over and you need a maintenance regime, why not consider making cleansing foods a daily habit? Eating well day in and day out has the most powerful effect on your overall health so resolve to simply eat at least one food daily that has powerful cleansing effects. Here is our list of 5 foods that, when consumed daily, will support your body’s naturally ability to cleanse itself.

Green, leafy vegetables: No surprise here…top of the list are the greens. We love kale but there are plenty of other greens to tempt your taste buds and nourish your cells. Spinach, chard, collard or dandelion greens, arugula, rapini, beet greens or kale in all its forms are supremely cleansing foods. Greens top our list because they are incredibly nutrient dense and contain multiple compounds such as glucosinolates and betalains which support detoxification mechanisms in the liver and are potently anti-inflammatory. Anti-oxidants such as kaempferol and quercetin help protect our cells from the effects of daily stress. Go raw in salads and smoothies and wraps, bake up some kale chips, sauté into soups, stews and casseroles.

Citrus fruit: Oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes are a welcome dose of sunshine throughout the drizzly, grey winter. Of course, citrus provides immune-boosting vitamin C but it also offers other helpful compounds to support cleansing. Limonins in citrus fruit are potent anti-carcinogenic substances that help prevent cell proliferation. Pectin, a soluble fibre found in citrus, helps lower cholesterol in the blood. Naringenin, a compound found in grapefruit might help repair DNA damage. Lycopene, also found in red grapefruit, helps protect against DNA damage in the skin. Always a great snack, don’t forget to try citrus fruits in salads and smoothies too. When you enjoy them, be sure not to over-peel citrus – the white spongy substance called pith is nutritious!

Foods rich in soluble fibre: Your digestive tract is a key site of detoxification. When it works well, you are able to digest and absorb the nourishing aspects of food and excrete what you don’t need. Your digestive tract turns over roughly every three days and that gets sloughed off, along with dead bacteria, in your feces. Fibre is key in cleansing. While insoluble fibre from cereals acts like a ‘broom’ to sweep the intestines, soluble fibre forms a gel-like sponge in your digestive tract, helping attach to cholesterol, fats and other substances and carry them out through the intestine. We need 25 – 38 g of fibre a day and if we can get at least 10 grams of soluble fibre, we are in good shape. Barley, oats, legumes such as lentils, psyllium, citrus, apples, eggplant and okra are all good choices.

Deep blue and purple foods: Berries, pomegranates, red onions and purple cabbage all have their own unique properties with respect to cleansing too. Ellagic acid, a compound found in these dark blue and purple pigments, helps support detoxification in the liver and sulfur compounds in red onions and cabbage boost the liver as well. These pigments all offer numerous anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds to support overall health and defend against the stressors of daily life.

Water: Water is the real staff of life. Our cells bathe in a liquid medium and keeping water flowing through our system allows all the metabolic wastes that cannot be excreted in our digestive tracts to be cleansed. Despite plenty of advice to the contrary, our best guess at how much water you need to drink daily is just that – an educated guess. Your water ‘prescription’ is as individual as you are depending on your activity level, the weather, stress and your diet. If you eat more plant foods, which contain more water, you will need less than someone on a heavily processed diet. Your cleansing goal? Drink as much water (fresh juice, seltzer or tea too) as you need to have clear or almost clear urine.

Let’s raise a glass to healthier living in the New Year, pineapple lime smoothie perhaps?
smoothie pineapple lime top

Pineapple Lime Smoothie
This smoothie is a perfect start for those new to drinking their greens. The pineapple lends an almost creamy quality to the smoothie and the spinach is chock-full of green goodness. This is a thick, fibrous smoothie…if you want it thinner, thin it out with water or more apple juice.
Serves 2

1/2 medium cucumber, broken into chunks
1 cup fresh pineapple chunks
1 medium apple such as gala or braeburn, cored and sliced
1 cup unfiltered, not-from-concentrate apple juice
2 cups (or handfuls) baby spinach
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until well-combined and frothy.