Vegan Thanksgiving Eats: Pumpkin and Cranberry Baked Beans

10 Oct

For the first time in 4 years, I’m not away at a conference over the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. Huzzah! I should have spent the weekend preparing for said conference (which is in a few weeks) but instead decided I would roast a turkey for a motley crew of friends and family.


My sister is vegetarian, so she offered to bring a dish that she likes to make on holidays where turkey is served: pumpkin baked beans. As a turkey lover who was vegetarian for a few short months, I can attest to the fact that they’re super satisfying and almost won’t make you miss meat. They’re sweet yet savoury, loaded with fibre and protein, and the flavours scream autumn. Prep is a cinch, and they can easily be made in advance. Everyone enjoyed them, so much so that J’s plan for a week’s worth of leftovers was thwarted.

Happy Thanksgiving!



Pumpkin and Cranberry Baked Beans

You may be able to get away with reducing the maple sugar in half and cutting down on the salt for a slightly less sweet/more healthy version. If you’re using canned beans with salt added, you will definitely want to cut down on the added salt.

3 (15-oz) cans navy beans, drained and rinsed (preferably no-salt-added)
1 sweet onion, chopped finely
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp blackstrap molasses (use fancy molasses if you don’t want to buy blackstrap)
4 tbsp pure maple syrup, to taste
1-1/2 tbsp yellow mustard
1 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 tsp kosher salt, or to taste

  1. In a pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and garlic. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Cook over low heat until thick, about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately, or for J’s variation: place in a slow cooker on high heat for 2 to 3 hours. The cranberries will plump up really nicely and the flavours will develop a little bit more. You can also make this the night before and leave it in the fridge, then reheat before serving.

Makes 6 generous servings. Per serving: 305 kcal, 2.6 g fat (0.3 g saturated), 60 g carbohydrate, 12.6 g fibre, 11.5 g protein, 490 mg sodium

The Truth About Carbs (feat. an epic Chickpea Bulgur Salad)

26 Sep

In some circles, carbs have a really bad rap. I can’t count the number of times someone has told me they’ve cut out “all carbs” from their diet for weight loss (only to then learn that they’re still eating fruit, vegetables and dairy. NEWS ALERT: those foods contain carbs, too).

Let’s investigate some of the arguments against carbs that I’ve heard.


“Carbs will make me gain weight” or “I lost 10 pounds in one week when I cut starch from my diet.” Sorry honey, that weight you lost was all water. Study after study has shown that weight loss is equivalent in subjects following a low-fat diet vs. a low carb-diet vs. a high protein diet, assuming the same number of calories are consumed. Carbohydrate contains 4 calories per gram, which is the same as protein and significantly less than fat which clocks in at 9 calories per gram. A balance of all three makes up a healthy diet— more precisely, 10-35% of your calories should come from protein, 20-35% from fat, and 45-65% of your total caloric intake should come from carbohydrate. A major imbalance in these ratios can increase your risk of chronic disease and negatively impact micronutrient status.

“Eating carbs will give me diabetes.” This is probably the #1 diabetes myth. When carbohydrate is consumed, it’s naturally broken down by the body into a type of sugar called glucose. Insulin is then released so that your body can use glucose as a source of energy. Diabetes happens when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or is unable to use insulin properly. Major risk factors for diabetes are genetic predisposition, older age, being overweight, and inactivity. If you don’t have risk factors for diabetes, your pancreas will be able to handle a significant glucose load without any problem. On the other hand, eating too many calories from carbs can cause weight gain which puts you at risk for developing diabetes. But that’s a completely different story.

Grains have toxins that bind good nutrients in other foods, making them unabsorbable.” Every Paleo fanatic will tell you this, but they fail to disclose all relevant details. Grains are rich in many nutrients: B vitamins like niacin and thiamin, magnesium, manganese, and selenium. Grains also contain phytates, which can bind some minerals (particularly iron and zinc), making them unavailable for absorption. Paleo subscribers state that humans who eat grains are at risk of nutrient deficiencies because of the “anti-nutrient” phytate. What they fail to disclose is that heme iron absorption (the kind we get from meat) is not affected by phytate, and zinc is well-absorbed from meat even in the presence of phytates. So if you eat meat, you don’t need to worry about phytates impacting your micronutrient status. Paleo dieters also fail to tell you that phytate has health benefits: it acts as an antioxidant and may protect against kidney stones and decrease cancer risk.

Lectin is another “anti-nutrient” that Paleo followers caution against. I won’t get into the details here, but this article summarizes the evidence nicely:


In my opinion, the most valid argument against carbohydrates is that they’re easy to overeat. And this can lead to weight gain. A standard 1/2 cup serving of pasta or rice seems measly on your plate, so many people end up doling out portions more consistent with what they’ve become accustomed to at their favourite restaurants. Stick to reasonable portions and carbs become part of a healthy diet.

The benefits of carbohydrates extend beyond their nutritional profile. A low-carb diet can be taxing on the environment if calories from carbs are replaced with animal protein. And carbohydrate ingestion leads to the production of serotonin which is a feel-good neurotransmitter that gives us pleasure. If you’ve spent any length of time with a no-carb dieter, you will know that they can become irritable and cranky at the drop of a hat. No fun.

In honour of today’s carb-loving rant, I present you with a salad that is full of healthy carbs: bulgur, sweet potato, chickpeas, and pomegranate.  My sister made this salad for our parents’ retirement party in the spring and it was a hit. Salty feta cheese is balanced nicely with refreshing mint and sweet, juicy pomegranate (which adds incredible texture to any dish). You really can’t go wrong with these flavours.

It’s carberific.


Happy Retirement Mom and Dad!


Chickpea Bulgur Salad with Mint, Pomegranate, and Feta
(adapted from an original recipe created by J’s friend SF)

If you’ve never de-seeded a pomegranate, it’s easier than it seems! This video shows you how to do it like a pro:

¾ cup uncooked bulgur
1½ cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 can (19 oz) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 large sweet potato, chopped into bite-sized cubes
1 pomegranate, de-seeded
3-4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup chopped mint (or to taste)
Juice from 1/2 lemon (approx. 2 tbsp)
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1/8 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Additional salt, to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. On a baking sheet, toss chopped sweet potato with 1 tbsp olive oil and 1/8 tsp salt. Bake until soft (approximately 30 minutes), stirring once partway through.
  2. Combine bulgur and vegetable stock in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cover until all liquid is absorbed (approximately 20 minutes).
  3. Once cooked, let the bulgur and sweet potato cool to room temperature in a bowl.
  4. Add chickpeas, pomegranate seeds, green onions, feta and mint to the bowl of cooled bulgur and sweet potato.
  5. In a small bowl, combine lemon juice and 1 tbsp olive oil. Add dressing to salad. Season with pepper (and salt, if needed) to taste.
  6. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. This salad tastes best if made a few hours (or the night) before.  Use as a side, or over a bed of spinach as a meal.

Makes 8 servings. Per 1 cup serving: 225 kcal, 7.1 g fat (2.1 g saturated), 34 g carbohydrate, 6 g fibre, 6.8 g protein, 265 mg sodium

Dilly Quinoa Salad with Radish and Dates

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Imagine yourself among a sea of people (2600 to be exact) dressed in white from head to toe, feasting al fresco on a homemade picnic in a public space (whose location was a mystery until you arrived by bus moments earlier). After the sun sets, sparklers are lit en masse to mark the opening of the dance floor where guests dance the evening away alongside a DJ spinning the latest hits. At the end of the night, you pack up your table, chairs (yes, you bring your own!) and all of your belongings and leave the space cleaner than it was when you arrived.

Sounds bizarre, right?!? That took place a few weeks ago at Diner en Blanc Toronto 2016, an annual event that first originated in Paris over 25 years ago. The whole concept is outright crazy. But it was pretty magical.



Guests have the option of purchasing a gourmet catered picnic meal but most choose to pack their own. Since it was a weeknight, a meal simple to prepare and transport was a must. We also wanted a meal that could be served at room temperature because as newbies, we had no idea how long it would be before we would eat. Cold poached salmon seemed like an easy yet elegant protein option with quinoa salad and steamed green beans as accompaniments. Since my favourite quinoa salad recipes tend to feature strong flavours that could overpower the delicate fish, a quick Google search led me to a recipe so unusual I had to try it.

This quinoa salad features dill and cucumber (nothing special), radish (definitely not something I would think to add on my own), and dates (what?!). Yes that’s right— syrupy sweet dates. Parmesan cheese was listed as optional, so we left it out because we would be feasting on a spread of cheese as our starter.


I was reluctant to try this recipe but the reviews were good and it was the perfect way to use up leftover dill from the salmon dish.

The salad was everything that I hoped it would be. Fresh and clean in taste thanks to loads of dill, with a nice balance of sweetness and peppery bite from the dates and radish respectively. It complemented the poached salmon perfectly in flavour and texture.


If I were to make this again, I might substitute raisins or currants for the dates as the sweetness was a bit overpowering. Or, I would try it with a different kind of date. I did some research after the fact and learned that date varieties (of which there are many!) vary in sweetness. Between the two most popular types of dates in North America, the Medjool date (which I used) is considerably sweeter than the Deglet Noor date. I guess I should have done my date research first!

Any suggestions on what to do with leftover dates? I’ve got my eye on this recipe.


Quinoa Salad with Dill, Radish and Dates
(adapted from The Kitchn)

I made this recipe a bit more waistline-friendly by reducing the amount of olive oil, dates and almonds. I also omitted the parmesan and avocado. AND I didn’t have liquid smoke. But it was still delicious!

1 cup quinoa
1-3/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
8 small red radishes, well-cleaned and tops removed
1/3 seedless English cucumber, about 1/4 pound, unpeeled
1 large shallot
2/3 lightly filled cup dill fronds, without stems
1/2 lemon, zested and juiced, about 1 1/2 tablespoons
3 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon liquid smoke*
1/2 1/3 cup sliced raw almonds
1/2 1/3 cup pitted dates, roughly chopped (look for the Deglet Noor variety)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (omit for a vegan adaptation)
Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ripe avocado, to serve

  1. If your quinoa is not pre-rinsed, rinse the quinoa for 2 to 3 minutes in a fine mesh strainer, rubbing vigorously. Drain. Heat a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat and add a drizzle of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the quinoa and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Pour in the broth, bring to a boil, cover, and turn the heat down to low. Cook for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes.
  2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment and spread the cooked quinoa over it in an even layer. Let cool while preparing the vegetables.
  3. Toast almonds in a pan over low-medium heat until aromatic and golden in colour.
  4. Dice the radishes — about 1/4-inch to a side. Do the same with the cucumber. Finely dice the shallot. Finely chop the dill fronds. Toss with the quinoa in a large bowl.
  5. Zest the lemon right into the bowl and fold in the zest. Juice the lemon half and whisk the juice together with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and liquid smoke until emulsified and thick. Toss this with the quinoa.
  6. Fold in the almonds, chopped dates, and Parmesan (if using). Taste and season to taste with salt and pepper. When ready to serve, top with chopped avocado (if using).

*Note: 1 tablespoon smoked olive oil, such as The Smoked Olive’s Sonoma oil, can be substituted for the liquid smoke and 1 tablespoon of regular olive oil.

Makes 6 servings. Per serving (with modifications as outlined above): 225 kcal, 10 g fat (1.1 g saturated), 28.5 g carbohydrate, 3.5 g fibre, 4.2 g protein, 210 mg sodium

Apple and Cucumber Salad with Dill

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Last weekend I had the pleasure of spending four and a half beautiful days in St. John’s, Newfoundland. We walked a lot: up and down Signal Hill and to and from the downtown strip daily. But we also ate a lot. Cod cakes (the best ones had a nice crispy exterior), cod tongue with scrunchions (essentially fried bits of salted pork fat), and the best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted. And we drank. A lot. Our trip coincided with George Street Festival which is the biggest party weekend of the year.



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Now that I’m back at home and feeling a few pounds heavier, all I want to eat is fresh vegetables and salads in an attempt to erase the gluttony of my trip out east.

My friend T had me over for dinner last month and made me a remarkably tasty salad that she claimed was super easy. It was a bed of lettuce topped with sticks of apple and cucumber. The dressing consisted of olive oil, rice vinegar and fresh dill. Nothing more. Since that visit, visions of her salad have been dancing in my head.


T used a mandoline to cut her cucumber and apple for the salad—something that intimidated me, but made me realize that I need to give mine a fair chance. The first and last time I used my mandoline was a year ago, and it wasn’t pretty. If you don’t have a mandoline, a good sharp knife will do.

On Saturday, I made amends with my mandoline and re-created T’s simple summer salad. It was everything I remembered (and more, since I added a sprinkle of toasted almond slivers): crunchy and sweet, light yet satisfying. And she wasn’t lying—it was super easy.


Do you own a mandoline or know of any tasty dishes that require one? Please share your recipes and any tips or tricks in the comments section. I’m eager to use mine more often (and would like to keep my fingers intact in the process)!


T’s Apple and Cucumber Salad with Dill

All measures are estimates. Adjust based on your taste preference and/or what you have on hand.

6 cups lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces (red leaf lettuce contrasts nicely with the green cucumber and apple)
2 Granny Smith apples
1 medium English cucumber
1/4 cup slivered almonds

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
Fresh dill (to taste)
Freshly ground pepper (to taste)

  1. Toast almonds in a small pan over medium heat. Remove from heat when golden and aromatic, and set aside to cool.
  2. Combine all dressing ingredients in a small jar or bowl. Set aside.
  3. Using a mandoline (or sharp knife), slice cucumber and apple into thick sticks.
  4. To serve, top greens with apple, cucumber and almonds. Add dressing and toss to combine.

Makes 4 servings. Per serving: 165 kcal, 11 g fat (1.2 g saturated), 17 g carbohydrate, 4 g fibre, 2 g protein,  130 mg sodium

Easy Baked Tofu

30 Jul

Over the past few weeks, several people have come to me with concerns about eating soy. In light of this, I thought I would attempt to clear the air with a post on the great soy debate.

Soy products, including tofu, soy beans, tempeh, and edamame, naturally contain compounds called isoflavones that are similar to the female hormone estrogen. Those who worry about eating soy are usually concerned that consumption of these foods will lead to hormonal disruptions in the body.

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There is limited research on fertility. One study showed that men who ate soy had lower sperm concentrations than those who didn’t – however, in most cases the sperm levels were still normal. It was a small study of only 99 men.

Women with breast cancer and survivors of breast cancer tend to shy away from soy. This is because the estrogen-like compounds in soy are thought to promote the growth of hormone-sensitive tumours. Research in this area is inconclusive, so prudent recommendations exist: moderate amounts of soy (several servings a day) are probably okay if you’ve previously had breast cancer, but don’t consume large amounts if you have early-stage breast cancer.

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If these theoretical concerns exist, why even bother eating soy? The amount of meat our society consumes is putting serious stress on the environment. Plant-based proteins like soy can displace meat from the diet, leading to a happier, healthier earth.

Nutritionally, soy is a good source of high-quality protein. Like meat, it contains all of the essential amino acids that our body needs to function, build muscle, and repair itself. Soy is low in saturated fat, and has been shown to protect against heart disease by reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol when 3 servings or more are consumed daily. If consumed regularly in childhood and adolescence, soy products may play a role in preventing some hormone-related cancers. Unlike meat, soy is a good source of calcium, which many people do not get enough of.

Have I convinced you to try adding a little soy into your diet? If so, an easy place to start is edamame (those little green beans served at Japanese restaurants). Almost as simple is this recipe for easy baked tofu. A basic marinade of soy sauce, ketchup, and sesame oil gives the tofu a salty-sweet taste, and roasting it until it’s firm and caramelized builds extra flavour. I’ve been making this dish for years and it’s become a regular protein in my weekday salads. Asian-inspired ingredients like mandarin orange segments, rice, and sesame dressing pair nicely with the tofu, but the marinade is neutral enough that it would work with almost any salad ingredients.

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Easy Baked Tofu
(adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health)

If you’ve never tried tofu before, you may need to give it a chance on several separate occasions – it’s an acquired taste! 

1 cake of extra-firm or firm tofu (16 ounces)
1 tablespoon sesame oil (the original recipe calls for 2 tbsp, but I find this a bit oily)
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons ketchup

Cut the tofu into bite-sized cubes and place in a baking dish large enough to hold a single layer. For easier clean up, line with foil. Stir together the sesame oil, soy sauce, and ketchup and drizzle over the tofu. With a rubber spatula, gently turn to coat thoroughly. In a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven, bake uncovered for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring once or twice. until tofu is browned, firm and chewy. Serve hot, at room temperature, or chilled.

Makes 4 servings. Per serving: 104 kcal, 6 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 5 g carbohydrate, 0 g fibre, 9 g protein,  360 mg sodium

Baked Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal Cups

28 Jun

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

We’ve all heard that line time and time again. From our parents, doctors, the media, and even nagging spouses (myself included). But is there any truth to it?

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During the overnight period, our body uses energy stores to support essential processes like breathing and to repair itself from damage. Eating breakfast helps replenish the energy stores that have been used up while we sleep and gives us much needed calories to help us function at our best in our morning activities.

If you feel like you’re already operating at full tilt without breakfast, perhaps its impact on weight will change your mind. Observational studies have found that adults who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight or obese. In men in particular, there is evidence to suggest that eating breakfast may protect against weight gain.

If you’re still not convinced, regular breakfast consumption leads to diets of higher nutritional quality and those who eat breakfast tend to rate their health status better than those who do not.

So is breakfast, in fact, the most important meal of the day? Clearly it’s important, but whether breakfast is more important than lunch or dinner is debatable. Skipping any meal can affect glycemic control, lead to hunger pangs and subsequent overeating, and overall lower nutritional adequacy.

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Which brings us to today’s dish: individual baked oatmeal cups. I’ve had this recipe flagged for almost 4 years now (!!!) and finally got around to making it this weekend. While these little guys look just like muffins, they taste just like a bowl of oatmeal— in a convenient grab-and-go format. The ingredients are basic and the prep is equally simple. In a single bowl, mashed banana, applesauce, vanilla extract and egg gets mixed with oats, ground flaxseed, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. A generous portion of milk is then added which the oats will absorb during baking. Finally, your favourite oatmeal topping (raisins for me) gets mixed in. Bake in a muffin tin for 30 mins, let cool, then store individually wrapped in the fridge (or freezer) for an easy, portable breakfast. And if you’re not on the go, you can eat it warm with a bit of milk (or even yogurt), just like a bowl of oatmeal.

It’s the perfect breakfast for non-breakfast eaters everywhere (like E).

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Baked Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal Cups

The original recipe uses stevia, a natural sugar-free sweetener with a bitter undertone, so I used a bit of maple syrup instead. 

2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
1 ripe banana, mashed (approximately ½ cup)
¼ cup maple syrup
5 cups large flake rolled oats
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 ¼ cups milk
2/3 cup raisins (can substitute for fresh or frozen berries, nuts, chocolate chips, etc!)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two 12 capacity muffin tins.
  2. In a large bowl, combine eggs, vanilla, applesauce, banana and maple syrup.
  3. Add in oats, flax, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Mix well to combine.
  4. Stir in the milk, then add the raisins. Mix well.
  5. Using 1/3 cup measure, pour mixture evenly into muffin cups. The mixture won’t rise much, so you can fill each muffin cup to the brim. You should end up with 20 muffin cups.
  6. Bake 30 minutes or until a toothpick in centre comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then carefully remove the oatmeal cups from the muffin tins and allow to fully cool.

Makes 20 oatmeal cups. Per oatmeal cup: 155 kcal, 2.7 g fat, 27 g carbohydrate, 3 g fibre, 5 g protein, 140 mg sodium

Healthy Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip

30 Apr

Canada’s Food Guide recommends that we eat 7 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. For many people, getting in enough fruit is no problem. Sweet and portable, it makes an easy snack. Vegetables, on the other hand, tend to be harder to squeeze in. That’s where an easy, yet tasty and healthy dip comes in handy.


When I don’t have the energy to plan out my lunches for the week, I tend to throw together a picnic of sorts. This usually consists of an easy protein like hard boiled eggs or canned tuna, whole grain bread or crackers, and two to three cups of chopped veggies with dip to meet my daily quota. But it’s hard to find a truly healthy vegetable dip. Most are mayo or sour cream-based, and loaded with fat and calories. So I turned to the Internet in search of a tasty yet healthy make-at-home option.

I was initially drawn to this ranch seasoning recipe because of the blogger’s stunning photos (which I poorly tried to recreate at home). But once I tried it out, it became clear that this recipe is a winner. Buttermilk powder forms the base (found at bulk food stores) and is pumped up with onion and garlic powder, and dried herbs like parsley, dill, and chives. As a bonus, the seasoning mix can be made in bulk and stored in the fridge to be used whenever you need a quick and easy dip.



Low-fat Greek yogurt is the perfect foundation for any vegetable dip. It’s thick and creamy, yet low calories and high in protein. For the best flavour, I’ve found that adding a dollop of light mayo adds just the right amount of tang for a next-level vegetable dip. Low-fat sour cream can also act as a healthier dip base, but lacks the nutritional boost that Greek yogurt offers.

If you’re not meeting your recommended daily vegetable quota, try throwing together a batch of this skinny ranch dip. It will make raw veggies sing!


Healthy Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip

2 tbsp homemade ranch seasoning mix (see below)
1 cup 2% plain greek yogurt
2 tbsp light mayonnaise

  1. Mix ingredients in a small bowl until combined. Can be served immediately or left overnight for flavours to meld.

Makes 1-1/4 cups. Per 1/4 cup serving: 91 kcal, 3.3 g fat (1.4 g saturated), 7 g carbohydrate, 0.5 g fibre, 8 g protein, 106 mg sodium


Homemade Ranch Seasoning Mix (from
1/3 cup dried buttermilk powder
2 tbsp dried parsley
1-1/2 tsp dried dill weed
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp dried onion flakes
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dried chives
1 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 months.

The Beef on Red Meat & Cancer (feat. Spinach and Sun-dried Tomato Meatballs)

29 Mar

Red meat has been at the centre of much controversy over the past 6 months. Bacon-lovers were up in arms when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization, released a report in October 2015 describing the association between processed meat and cancer risk. The report classified processed meat (such as hot dogs, ham, and sausage) as “carcinogenic to humans” and red meat (such as fresh beef, veal, pork, and lamb) as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

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Processed meats are thought to be cancerous because of the chemicals that form during salting, curing, fermentation, or smoking. These chemicals include N-nitroso compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Based on epidemiological studies, IARC felt that there was sufficient evidence to say that eating processed meats causes colorectal cancer. For every 50 gram portion of processed meat consumed daily, it is estimated that your risk of colorectal cancer increases by approximately 18%.

But what about fresh red meat? What makes it more likely to cause cancer than other meats, like poultry and fish? Unfortunately the experts don’t seem to fully understand. What they do know is that cooking red meat at high temperatures (for example, barbecuing or pan-frying) can lead to the production of carcinogenic compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic aromatic amines. Epidemiological studies have shown a positive association between eating red meat and developing colorectal cancer; however, the IARC is quick to say that the evidence remains limited because confounding factors could not be excluded in these studies.

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Does this mean that we should avoid all processed and red meat?

Yes and no. To all the bacon-lovers out there: I’m sorry to say this, but it’s probably a good idea to avoid processed meats as much as possible. Red meat intake, on the other hand, should be limited but you don’t need to completely avoid it. The World Cancer Research Fund International recommends limiting red meat to 500 grams per week, which amounts to approximately 6 deck-of-card sized servings. Keep in mind that the average North American is accustomed to eating portions of meat that are double this size, so keeping portions in check is an important way to reduce your cancer risk.

If you aren’t convinced that a small portion of beef or pork is going to cut it when you sit down to dinner, try using ground meat and incorporate other ingredients like veggies, grains, or legumes to add bulk. This way you can feel like you’re eating a reasonably-sized portion while keeping your red meat intake under 100 grams.

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Meatballs are a great way to stretch your meat portion without sacrificing nutrition or taste. I first stumbled across this spinach and sun-dried tomato meatball recipe several years ago, fell in love with the amazing flavour, and then promptly forgot about it and haven’t made it since. Until now.

Frozen spinach offers many healthy nutrients like beta-carotene, vitamin K, folate, and fibre while adding a pretty green marbling to your meatballs. It doesn’t change the flavour all that much, in my opinion, which is where the sun-dried tomato comes in. Don’t skimp on this ingredient! The sun-dried tomato adds a pop of umami with every bite and is what make this meatball so irresistible. A bit of Parmesan cheese rounds out the Mediterranean-inspired flavours to add more depth and a hint of saltiness.

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Cora versus the Meatball tower

My favourite thing about meatballs, second to eating them, is how easily they freeze. I tend to bake a large batch, cool them in the fridge for a day, then toss them in a freezer bag for easy storage. When a quick protein is needed for dinner, I pop a few in the microwave and…voila! Dinner is served.

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Spinach and Sun-dried Tomato Meatballs
(adapted from Kath Eats Real Food)

1 pound (454 grams) extra-lean ground beef
10 ounces (300 grams) frozen spinach, thawed and drained very well of all liquid (tip: wrap in paper towel and squeeze out as much excess liquid as possible)
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained well and chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons finely minced onion
1 to 2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup panko
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray (or coat lightly with vegetable oil).
  2. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients with your hands.
  3. Divide mixture into golf ball-sized meatballs (about 20) and place onto foil-lined baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes, then flip each meatball. Bake for another 10 minutes, or until meatballs begin to brown.

Makes 20 meatballs. Per 4 meatballs: 250kcal, 8.6 g fat (2.7 g saturated), 15 g carbohydrate, 2.7 g fibre, 27 g protein, 363 mg sodium

What’s the story morning glory (muffins)?

15 Mar

“Well… need a little time to wake-up, wake-up” – Oasis

Morning glory muffins used to be a constant in my diet growing up. After curling practice, my usual snack was a glass of milk and a muffin.  While the curling club always had a few different muffin varieties at any given time, morning glory was my favourite.

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After stumbling across a morning glory muffin recipe in my Looneyspoons cookbook recently, I began to wonder: what’s in a name?

The original morning glory muffin recipe was created by chef Pam McKinstry in 1978. Some say the muffin was named after her restaurant on Nantucket Island, the Morning Glory Cafe, while others say her restaurant at the time was named the Sconset Cafe. Either way, her beloved recipe became famous when it was published in Gourmet magazine in 1981. Ten years later, it was named one of the magazine’s 25 favourite recipes.

Chef McKinstry’s original morning glory muffin recipe uses white flour, one cup of oil (for a mere 12 muffins!), and a whopping 1-1/4 cups of sugar. Sounds more like a cupcake than a muffin to me! The Looneyspoons version is a definite improvement, with some whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup of oil, and 1/2 cup of sugar, but still not my idea of a healthy muffin. Since the recipe seemed like it would be sweet enough from the pineapple, applesauce, and raisins, I decided to cut back on the sugar even further to 1/4 cup and used 100% whole wheat flour. I also opted for unsweetened coconut instead of the sweetened stuff used in both the original and Looneyspoons recipe.

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Cora, my quality control technician, sleeping on the job

The final product ended up more than adequately sweet (I actually suggested to E that I use even less sugar next time, but he thought they were perfect as is), super moist, and very hearty! Half a muffin is very satisfying, so I ended up cutting each muffin in half for a quick, portable snack.

If you like carrot cake, you will love these muffins!

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Morning Glory Muffins
(adapted from The Looneyspoons Collection)

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp each nutmeg and salt
1 cup well-drained crushed pineapple
1 cup finely grated carrots
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened medium coconut
1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray or oil. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Mix well and set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together pineapple, carrots, applesauce, brown sugar, oil, egg and vanilla. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in coconut, raisins, and nuts.
  4. Divide batter among 12 muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in centre of muffin comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 12 large muffins. Per muffin: 196 kcal, 11 g fat (3.7 g saturated), 23 g carbohydrate, 4.1 g fibre, 5.1 g protein, 310 mg sodium

Roasted Brussels Sprout Salad with Apricots and Almonds

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Today I’m paying homage to my dad (Happy Birthday Dad!) by writing about his favourite vegetable: Brussels sprouts.

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Growing up, we never ate Brussels sprouts because my dad detested them. This probably stemmed from his mother’s ill preparation of the green, cruciferous vegetables: boiled, grey, mushy, and sulfurous. It’s not her fault; she was British! As a result of my dad’s whining, I grew up assuming Brussels sprouts = yucky.

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Fast forward to when I first started dating E. He cooked dinner for me on one of our first dates and set out to make me a Brussels sprouts believer, knowing that I had never tried them before. Not surprisingly, I loved them. They had a similar flavour to other members of the Brassica family that I enjoyed (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower) but had a different texture and a unique appearance. From that day forward, steamed Brussels sprouts became part of my vegetable repertoire. But my dad remained unconvinced. Until this Christmas (or so I’d like to think).

I brought a side-dish of roasted Brussels sprouts to our family Christmas gathering, not in spite of my dad, but because they are a simple side dish that remind me of the holidays. (Sidenote: it’s the easiest yet tastiest recipe and can be found here). My dad was a good sport and tried them, and remarkably… even liked them. Success!

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In an attempt to convert him into a Brussels sprout believer, I am sharing a recipe for a different kind of dish: a roasted Brussels sprout salad with apricots, almonds, and a hint of citrus. The sweetness of the apricots distracts from the slight bitterness of the Brussels sprouts, and the citrus Dijon vinaigrette contrasts really nicely with the earthy toasted almonds. I can’t guarantee that my dad will try this one, but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying.

Happy birthday, Dad!


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Roasted Brussels Sprout Salad with Apricots and Toasted Almonds
(from Rose Reisman, courtesy of

1½ lb trimmed Brussel sprouts, cut into quarters
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp orange juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp grated orange rind
½ tsp minced garlic
Salt and pepper
10 dried apricots sliced thinly
1/3 cup toasted sliced almonds

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Place quartered sprouts on baking sheet lined with foil and greased with vegetable oil. Roast for 15 minutes or just until tender and browned.
  2. To make the dressing: combine oil, juice, mustard, rind, garlic, salt and pepper.
  3. Place Brussels sprouts in serving dish, add sauce and apricots and garnish with toasted almonds.

Makes 6 servings. Per serving: 170 kcal, 8.2 g fat,  20.8 g carbohydrates, 6.6 g fibre, 5.8 g protein.