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”

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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

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.

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!

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.