Archive | July, 2011

Don’t Judge A Coconut Milk By Its ‘Title’

29 Jul

Part of the reason I started this blog was to give myself motivation to cook many of the recipes that I’ve been collecting over the past year or two.  I have a fixation with seeking out healthy recipes but I collect far more than I cook, and so the pile grows…

The other night I tackled a recipe for a spicy vegetable curry that I clipped from the July 2010 issue of Chatelaine magazine.  Instead of purchasing a large bottle of Indian curry paste that would sit unused in my fridge, I decided to whip up my own version based on a little bit of research and the spices I had on hand.  I was pleasantly surprised– despite my makeshift curry paste, the dish turned out quite nicely.  Next time I think I will increase the number of eggplants (Japanese eggplants are one of my favourites– they have an amazing texture) and throw in some tofu for a little extra protein.

As a side note, while shopping for coconut milk I made an interesting discovery.  Despite being almost double the price, light coconut milk has always been my go-to since it’s a healthier alternative to the full-fat version.  But… lo and behold, this is not entirely the case!  Light will almost always be lowest in calories and in fat, but not necessarily by much.  For example, the regular version of brand #1 ($1.49 for a can) contained a whopping 120 calories and 10 grams of fat per serving while the light version of brand #1 ($2.49) contained only 40 calories and 3.5 grams of fat.  Out of curiosity, I looked at the label of brand #2 (which only came in regular) and noticed that it only contained 50 calories and 4 grams of fat in an identical serving size … and was the cheapest one of all at $1.29 per can.

The moral of the story?  You can’t judge a coconut milk (or any food item, for that matter) by its title.  Always read the Nutrition Facts Panel!

Summer Vegetables with Spicy Coconut Curry

Summer Vegetables with Spicy Coconut Curry
(from Chatelaine magazine, July 2010)

1/2 cup red lentils
500 g green beans, trimmed and cut in half
2 tbsp Indian curry paste, preferably biryani (or make your own, recipe below)
200 mL coconut milk
1/8 tsp salt
2 Japanese eggplants
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced
lemon wedges*
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

  1. Combine lentils with 2.5 cups of water in a medium pot.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat slightly and boil uncovered, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, fill a large pot with water 1 inch deep and bring to a boil.  Add green beans and steam, covered, until tender-crisp, approximately 5 minutes. Drain beans and set aside.
  2. Mix curry paste with 1 tbsp water and add to simmering lentils.  Stir in coconut milk and salt.  Simmer, uncovered, until thickened, 7 to 9 minutes.
  3. While lentils simmer, slice eggplants into quarters lengthwise, then into 2-inch wedges. Heat oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat.  Cook onion until softened, about 3 minutes. Add eggplant, skin-side up.  Cook until tender, about 7 minutes.  Add green beans and toss to combine.
  4. Divide eggplant mixture between 4 bowls and top with lentil mixture.  Garnish with lemon and cilantro.  Can be served with toasted naan or over top rice.

*I didn’t think omitting the lemon would be a big deal, but the lentil mixture really needed a bit of acidity. I didn’t have lemons or lemon juice on hand so I used a few teaspoons of white wine vinegar. It made a big difference!

Makes 4 servings.  Per serving: 250 kcal, 11 g fat, 8 g fibre, 310 mg sodium


Homemade Indian Curry Paste  (Makes 2 tbsp)

1/2 tbsp each cumin and coriander
heaping 1/4 tsp each turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper, paprika
pinch of salt
3 cloves of garlic, grated
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
1/2 tbsp white vinegar

Mix spices in a small bowl.  Add garlic and grated ginger, mix well.  Add vinegar, mix well.

When Life Gives You Basil, Make Pesto

14 Jul

At the beginning of the summer I joined a community garden at the university.  If you’re not familiar with the concept, a community garden is essentially a garden (in our case, a vegetable garden) that is collectively maintained by a group of people.  Early on I helped clear the garden space of wild grass and weeds and I even got to plant some seeds.  Now that the garden is up and growing, I visit on an ongoing basis to help weed and water the plants.  It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience– I’ve learned a lot from my fellow gardeners and from watching the garden grow over time.


Me and some of my fellow gardeners in the vegetable garden


While I was weeding at the garden this morning, one of the organizers insisted that I take home some basil.  She said that it was going to flower soon, which is undesirable as it makes the plant taste more bitter.  Who knew?  Anyway, she really didn’t have to pull my arm– I was happy to take home what was more than just “some” basil… she practically gave me an entire plant!

It didn’t take much thought to figure out what to do with the basil.  Loads of basil = pesto, but not the calorie-dense store-bought pesto. I wanted a lightened up pesto full of fresh flavours that I could use liberally on my pasta.


Lightened Up Pesto


I found this recipe on Weight Watchers but modified it a bit based on taste and what I had on hand.  Pine nuts are traditionally used in pesto but I’ve seen recipes that use almonds/walnuts/just about any nut imaginable.  I didn’t have pine nuts on hand so I used sliced almonds and it worked out perfectly.  And much more cost effective!  If you’re using the pesto for pasta, a great trick is to save some of the pasta cooking water.  When it’s time to toss, first add the desired amount of pesto to the pasta, toss a bit, and then add a dash or two of the pasta water.  This makes it easier to evenly coat the pasta with pesto while giving the sauce more body and an almost creamy mouthfeel.

Buon appetito!


Whole Wheat Spaghettini with Lightened Up Pesto and Shrimp


Lightened Up Pesto   (Adapted from

1 cup packed basil leaves
1 tbsp pine nuts or sliced almonds, toasted
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp olive oil
5 tbsp vegetable or chicken broth (or water)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt (or to taste)

Place all ingredients in a small food processor and blend on high speed until smooth.

Makes 1/2 cup pesto.  Per 2 tbsp: 85 kcal, 9 g fat, 158 mg sodium

Wild Black Raspberries… worth every bite?

12 Jul

E and I went for our annual 20 km hike around Lake Fanshawe on the weekend.  We perfectly timed our trek with black raspberry season after being just a bit too early last year.  Tupperware container in hand, I was ready to forage… but was I ready for the mosquitoes?

We managed to bring home roughly 2 cups of wild black raspberries… and just over 3 dozen mosquito bites between the two of us.  I’m itching as we speak!  Unsure of what to do with the berries, I did some searching.  A lot of blood, sweat, and near tears went into these berries and I wanted to find a great recipe.  Originally I decided on healthy raspberry cobbler bars, but then changed my mind after stumbling across a recipe for a mango berry cobbler.  I had 2 mangos lying around, along with some buttermilk and half a lemon that needed to be used up quickly.  This was the perfect way to kill several birds with one stone.

Freshly Foraged Wild Black Raspberries

The cobbler smelled delicious coming out of the oven, but… the taste was slightly disappointing.  Being a McCormick’s recipe, it called for what seemed like a LOT of cinnamon and ginger.  I’m a cinnamon-lover but even I thought it was excessive (of course, this is quite strategic from McCormick’s perspective, being a spice company and all).  Instead of trusting my gut, I followed the recipe as written and the result was an overly spiced, slightly bitter cobbler.   On the bright side, a dollop of vanilla yogurt served alongside the cobbler muted some of the spice and made for a much more enjoyable dessert.

Black Raspberry-Mango Cobbler

Below I’ve posted some changes to the original recipe that I will try next time. This cobbler has a lot of potential, so I’ll definitely be making it again (perhaps when peaches are in season… mmmm).

Black Raspberry-Mango Cobbler
(adapted from McCormick’s Mango-Blueberry Cobbler)

3 cups mango, peeled and sliced (or peaches)
2 cups black raspberries (or red raspberries, or blueberries)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/3 1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger

Biscuit Topping:
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
4 3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1/3 cup buttermilk

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Spray an 8″ x 8″ baking dish with non-stick spray.
  2. For the filling, combine mango, berries, and lemon juice in a large bowl.  In a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup sugar and cornstarch. Sprinkle over fruit and toss to coat well.  Spoon into prepared dish.
  3. For the biscuit topping, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and baking soda in a medium bowl.  Mix with a fork.  Add buttermilk and mix well.
  4. Drop biscuit topping by rounded tablespoonfuls into 6 portions onto fruit mixture.
  5. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until fruit is bubbling and topping is browned.  Serve warm.

Makes 6 servings (3/4 cup each).  Per serving: 185 kcal, 1 g fat, 5.8 g fibre, 120 mg sodium

Kale Two Ways

11 Jul

I’m a late-bloomer in the world of kale, having tried it for the first time just under two years ago.  I must be honest; up until recently I was never as big of a fan of kale as I thought I should be.  You see, I love just about every green vegetable imaginable (Brussels sprouts included!) so kale should be no exception.  Furthermore, kale is considered to be one of the most nutritious vegetables in the world… and this is why I am determined to find a way to enjoy kale.

I stumbled across this first recipe for a simple kale salad from Chatelaine magazine.  The great thing about kale is that it’s sturdy enough to sit in dressing for more than a few hours without becoming soggy.  In fact, this salad tasted even better the next day!  The lemon juice brought brightness to the salad and there was a hint of sweetness from the cider vinegar and honey.  For best results, dress the salad at least 1 hour before serving.  We were a bit too hungry to wait the full hour and E described it as tasting “herbacious, as if someone just cut the grass in my mouth.”  (FYI: the  “grassy” flavours were non-existent the next day)

Emerald Kale Salad

With half a bunch of kale leftover, I turned to one of the most trendy ways to cook kale: baked kale chips.  They hardly look like potato chips but they pack the same satisfying crunch and punch of saltiness. The flavour combinations are limitless– I used salt, cayenne, and onion powder (I was out of garlic powder) but I think next time I’ll try a more spiced-up version with chili powder and cumin. The key is to make sure to dry the kale thoroughly after washing, otherwise you’ll steam the leaves (not-so-crispy) instead of baking them.

Baked Kale Chips

Emerald Kale Salad
  (from Chatelaine Magazine)

5 cups shredded kale, large stems (ribs) removed
1 large carrot, grated
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp honey

In a large bowl, whisk lemon juice, cider vinegar, olive oil, and honey.  Add kale and grated carrot, toss well.  Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Makes 4 servings.  Per serving: 110 kcal, 4 g fat, 2 g fibre, 38 mg sodium


Baked Kale Chips

1/2 bunch kale, washed and dried thoroughly,
large stems removed and leaves torn into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp olive oil
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp cayenne

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray or line with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, toss kale with olive oil.  Use fingers to massage oil into kale.
  3. Add spices and toss well.
  4. Spread out kale onto prepared baking sheet.  Some overlap between kale pieces is okay.
  5. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until kale is browned around the edges.  Check on kale after approximately 8 minutes– it goes from perfectly cooked to burnt very quickly (I learned this the hard way!)

Betcha can’t eat just one…

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia! Pudding

10 Jul

Remember Chia pets?  I never owned one but the commercials always gave me a little chuckle. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, click here to take a peek)

The seeds used to grow the Chia pet’s “fur” are– you guessed it– chia seeds, and they just so happen to be a nutritional powerhouse.  One serving (2 tablespoons) contains 5 grams of fibre and 2.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids (approximately double the recommended minimum intake).  In addition, chia seeds are a source of iron, calcium, magnesium, and selenium.

Chia Seeds

How to eat chia seeds, you ask?  They are neutral in flavour and can be eaten raw so the sky’s the limit.  The brilliant thing about them is that they absorb liquid readily, forming an interesting gel-like consistency.  For this reason, they’ve become popular as a thickening agent in smoothies and as an egg substitute in vegan baked goods.

I tried eating them raw but I wasn’t thrilled with their crunchy texture (it was like eating a mouthful of poppy seeds), not to mention the fact that I ended up with most of the seeds lodged between my teeth.  Unwilling to give up, I did some Googling and stumbled across my new favourite (healthy) dessert: chia pudding.

The concept sounds odd, the pudding itself looks even more bizarre (check out the photo below), but there’s something about this chia pudding that has me hooked!  It perfectly satisfies my post-dinner chocolate craving and the fibre makes it rather filling.

Note: Chia seeds can be purchased at bulk food stores.  There are two varieties: black chia seeds (Salvia hispanica) and white chia seeds (Salba), with both varieties considered to be equally nutritious.

Chocolate Chia Pudding

Chocolate Chia Pudding
(adapted from

2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 cup hot water + 3/4 cup cold or room temperature water
1/2 cup chia seeds
2 cups soy milk (or cow’s milk, or almond milk, etc.)
2 tbsp maple syrup/honey/sweetener of your choice

  1. Mix cocoa powder with hot water in a large bowl.  Stir with a fork until cocoa clumps disappear.  Add cold water and stir.
  2. Add chia seeds and soy milk.  Stir continuously for 1 minute, ensuring that all seeds have come into contact with the liquid.
  3. Add sweetener of your choice.  Stir pudding every 10 minutes, for 30 minutes.  Serve immediately, if desired, or divide pudding into 4 bowls and refrigerate.  Note: Pudding will thicken as it sits.  For best results, let sit overnight.  This gives you an extra-thick pudding.   

Makes 4 servings, approximately 1 cup each.  Per serving: 130 kcal, 6 g fat, 6 g fibre

Not Your Average Baked Beans

8 Jul

When I hear the words “baked beans” I immediately think of beans drenched in a sweet tomato-ey sauce that come from a can.  I have fond memories of some of my earliest self-made lunches: canned baked beans, heated in the microwave, and eaten with a piece of buttered toast. Oh the good old days.

While I still love the taste of baked beans, I’ve never been willing to make them at home due to the amount of sugar found in most recipes.  Brown sugar + ketchup + molasses and/or maple syrup = a lot of sugar!  Those poor navy beans.  So when I stumbled across this recipe for lightened up baked beans, I knew I had to give these a try.

The verdict? Absolutely AMAZING!  I have never been so excited about baked beans in my life.  The beans were sweet (thanks to the Spanish onion, Bosc pear, and a little bit of honey) but not overwhelmingly so.  And the complexity of flavours!  The ground ginger and the balsamic vinegar really added a certain je ne sais quoi to the dish.  Who knew baked beans could be so interesting?

Baked Beans and Pears

Baked Beans and Pears
  (from Clean Eating Magazine, January 2011)

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 Spanish onion, diced
1 can (19 oz) navy beans, drained and rinsed well
1 Bosc pear, diced
3/4 tsp ground dry mustard
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp honey or molasses
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
2 tbsp water

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Rub a 9-inch glass pie plate with 1 tsp of oil and set aside.
  2. In a medium skillet, saute onion and 2 tsp oil over medium heat for 5 minutes or until onion is translucent.
  3. Stir in beans, pear, mustard, ginger, honey, salt, and water.  Spoon into pie pan and cover with aluminum foil.  Bake for 45 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.  Per serving: 220 kcal, 4 g fat, 8 g fibre

The Best Hummus… Ever

6 Jul

This is the best hummus you will ever eat.  Seriously.  The roasted red peppers give it a mild sweetness which is countered perfectly by the spicy cayenne pepper.  The roasted red peppers also add a ton of moisture, meaning you get a nice smooth texture without having to add excessive amounts of water (which dilutes the flavour) or oil.

This hummus is so good that I’m at a loss for words.  Try it yourself and let me know what you think!

Spicy Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Spicy Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

1 can (19 oz) chickpeas, rinsed well and drained
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, coarsely chopped
3 tbsp lemon juice
1-1/2 tbsp tahini
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)

Combine all ingredients in a food processor.  Process on medium to high speed until the mixture is smooth and slightly fluffy.  Periodically scrape the mixture from the sides of the food processor.

Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Makes 2 cups.  Per 1/4 cup serving: 64 kcal, 2.2 g fat