Archive | August, 2012

Weekday Quinoa Salad with Bocconcini and Late Summer Vegetables

30 Aug

Back-to-school time is here.  My days of school are finally over but like the hordes of students anxiously awaiting next Tuesday, I’m embarking on my own new beginning… a real job!

During the week, salads are my preferred lunch because they’re an easy way to eat several servings of vegetables in one go.  Traditional leafy greens with chopped vegetables, a protein source (beans, lentils, tuna, egg), a grain (rice, quinoa) and dressing used to be my staple.  Over the years, the prep became tedious and salads were slowly being replaced with less desirable lunches.

Wanting to reconnect with my salad habit of days past, I’ve recently taken a new approach.  On Sunday, a week’s worth of salad ingredients and dressing are combined in bulk and each morning I top a bed of spinach with a hearty scoop of dressed salad ingredients.  Voila!  Lunch for the day in under a minute.

A lunch of quinoa salad on a bed of spinach… ready to go!

With cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and bell peppers, this bocconcini and oregano quinoa salad is the perfect weekday lunch to take advantage of the season’s local produce.  Plus, it’s easy to prepare, nutritious, and delicious!  Feel free to toss in a can of chickpeas for added protein and fibre.  Fresh oregano will almost certainly yield best results but I used dried and the salad was still delicious.  Bon appetite!

Late Summer Vegetable, Bocconcini, and Quinoa Salad


Bocconcini and Oregano Salad
(from Quinoa 365)

3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed well
1-1/2 cups water
1 cup diced zucchini
1 cup halved or quartered cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup diced red onion (the original recipe calls for 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup frozen baby green peas, thawed
1 cup diced red bell pepper (about 1 pepper)
1/2 cup diced yellow bell pepper
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh oregano or 2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp minced fresh garlic
Pinch of salt and ground black pepper
1 cup halved mini bocconcini cheese pieces

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the quinoa and water to a boil.  Cover, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes.  Turn the heat off and leave the covered saucepan on the burner for another 4 minutes.  Remove the lid and fluff the quinoa with a fork.  Set aside to completely cool.
  2. Combine the zucchini, tomatoes, onion, peas, red and yellow peppers in a large bowl.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, oil, mustard, oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Pour the dressing over the vegetables and thoroughly mix all the ingredients.
  4. Add the quinoa and bocconcini and mix until evenly combined.  Serve immediately or refrigerate before serving.

Makes 4 servings.  Per serving:  308 kcal, 34 g carbohydrate, 5 g fibre, 14 g fat (3.8 g saturated), 14 g protein, 122 mg sodium


Cajun-spiced Lotus Root Chips

23 Aug

As much as I love taking advantage of the local produce during this time of the year, curiosity gets the best of me and I can’t help but gravitate towards exotic fruits and veggies every once in awhile.  A trip to Chinatown on the weekend led to several impulse purchases…

Goodies from Chinatown

No, that’s not a sweet potato with a snout, a kiwi, or a lime.  Instead, clockwise from the left you have lotus root, sapodilla, and june plum.

Lotus root was a foreign vegetable to me until I met E.  With a beautiful appearance and slightly fibrous texture, it is commonly stir-fried or braised in Chinese cooking.  Lotus root has a relatively mild taste that is akin to a potato but a bit sweeter.  Nutritionally, it’s very similar to the potato but with slightly less starch and more fibre.  Per 100 g lotus root:  66 kcal (vs. 86 kcal), 16 g carbohydrate (vs. 20 g), 3.1 g fibre (vs. 1.4 g).

A cross-section of the unpeeled root

Peeled and sliced

The inspiration behind my recent lotus root purchase came from a recipe I stumbled across on the Internet: oven baked lotus root chips that promised to taste delicious and look gorgeous.  While the process was fun, the final product was subpar.  I can’t blame the recipe here.  Instead, I’ll blame my atrocious knife skills.  The lotus root slices all ended up being of a different thickness so some of the chips burned while others were undercooked.  Nevertheless, I managed to gobble them all up (even the charred ones) in record time… they were delicious!  With a mandoline, perfectly cooked chips would be a cinch.  Another kitchen gadget to add to my culinary wishlist…

An interesting technique to blanch the lotus root slices in the microwave

The final product: baked lotus root chips


Oven Baked Lotus Root Chips

1/2 lb lotus root (about one medium)
2 tsp cajun seasoning (or your own concoction of spices)
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vegetable oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Wash and peel the lotus root, removing any brown bits as you would with a potato.  Slice 1/8 inch thick (or use a mandoline if you have one!).
  3. Slide the roots onto bamboo skewers and string across a microwave safe bowl (as pictured above).  Microwave on high for 2 minutes to blanch.  Immerse immediately in a bowl of cold water with 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar or lemon juice and a couple of ice cubes.  When cool, drain and pat dry with a kitchen towel.
  4. Mix the lotus root slices in a large bowl with the oil, spices, and salt.  Spread out onto a single layer on a non-stick baking sheet (or for easy clean-up, a baking sheet lined with foil and lightly coated with cooking spray).
  5. Bake for 10 minutes, flip, and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  Remove the chips when they are brown and golden, just like a potato chip.

Makes 2 servings.  Per serving: 125 kcal, 20 g carbohydrate, 5.6 g fibre, 4.6 g fat, 3 g protein, 340 mg sodium.

Peachy Keen Whole Wheat Banana Muffins

20 Aug

Rarely has a day passed over the past month where my fridge or counter has been devoid of peaches.   We’re in the middle of peach season in Southern Ontario and I’ve been buying them by the basket since the first crop of the season popped up at the end of July.  My peach-a-day habit hasn’t led to taste fatigue but it’s definitely becoming more challenging to finish up an entire basket before the soft flesh starts to bruise and the skin starts to wrinkle.  So when I came across this banana muffin recipe last week calling for berries, I figured I’d swap in chopped peaches for a delightful treat.

With minimal added sugar and no added fat, I was surprised that these muffins turned out as sweet and moist as they did.  The chunks of peach are a pleasant surprise when you bite into the muffin, although the recipe would be just as good with blueberries or raspberries.  My only complaint is that the muffins didn’t rise very well, likely because of the extra liquid that accompanied the chopped peaches when I added them to the batter.

Hidden treasures of peachy goodness

Baskets of Ontario pears were spotted nestled alongside the peaches at the grocery store last week and I’m already drooling as I think of the possibilities.  I could really go for a pear, beet, and goat cheese salad right about now…

Not a perfect looking muffin, but tasty all the same


Whole Wheat Banana Peach Muffins
(adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health)

1-1/2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (about 4 bananas)
1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp honey
1-1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 cup peeled, diced peaches (about 2 small peaches) or fresh or frozen raspberries or blueberries

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lightly oil a 12-cup muffin tin or line it with papers.
  2. In a mixing bowl, stir together the mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, vanilla, and honey.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt and stir in the wheat germ.  Fold the dry ingredients into the wet mixture just until combined.  Add the peaches and gently fold into the batter (note: if using berries, toss with 2 tsp whole wheat flour to coat  before adding to the batter).
  3. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins and fill to the brims.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of a muffin comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.  Muffins will keep in a well-covered containers for several days.

Makes 12 muffins.  Per muffin: 111 kcal, 1 g fat, 3 g fibre, 22 g carbohydrate, 4 g protein, 283 mg sodium.

Easy but Elegant Asian-Style White Fish

16 Aug

It was my mom’s birthday earlier this week and I wanted to treat her to a nicer-than-usual dinner.  Sifting through my cookbooks, I came across a simple yet sophisticated fish recipe that I’ve made once before.  Mushrooms are sauteed until all of their moisture is lost and then tossed in a salty yet sweet Asian-inspired sauce.  Next, a firm white fish of your choice is topped with the mushroom mixture, then baked in the oven for just over ten minutes.  Easy peasy, right?

To class up the meal just a bit more, I decided to forgo the usual plain brown rice for a coconut rice dish from the Looneyspoons Collection cookbook.  Good ole Janet and Greta… again, providing me with much-needed inspiration!  Admittedly, I was slightly disappointed with the rice despite it being a nice addition to the meal.  The coconut flavour was too subtle; however, the ginger shone through and saved the day.  Next time I’d omit the salt and try it with the lemon zest (the fridge was void of lemons).

Do you have any easy, pseudo-gourmet meals worth sharing?  I’m always looking for new recipes to add to the pile, especially ones that trick my guests into thinking I’m a great chef!

Tilapia hiding under a mound of mushrooms


White Fish with Black Bean Sauce and Oyster Mushrooms
(from Rose Reisman’s Family Favorites cookbook)

Black bean sauce is a Chinese sauce made from fermented soy beans and wheat flour.  It’s very high in sodium (like many Asian sauces), so use it in moderation.

1-1/2 lbs (675 g) firm white fish (e.g. tilapia or pickerel)
1 tsp vegetable oil
4 cups sliced oyster mushrooms (feel free to substitute any kind of mushroom)

1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp sweet chili sauce (or ketchup)
2 tbsp black bean sauce
3 tbsp water
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp finely chopped ginger
1 tsp minced garlic

Garnish (optional):  3 tbsp chopped green onions, 2 tbsp chopped cilantro

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with cooking spray or oil.
  2. Heat the oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms and saute for 8 minutes or until the mushrooms are no longer wet, stirring often.
  3. Meanwhile, make the sauce by combining all sauce ingredients in a small bowl.  When the mushrooms are finished cooking, add the sauce to the mushrooms and saute for one more minute.
  4. Place the fish on the prepared baking sheet and divide the mushroom mixture evenly between the fillets.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the fish just starts to flake.
  5. Garnish with the green onions and cilantro, and serve.

Makes 6 servings.  Per serving: 203 kcal, 10 g fat (1.4 g saturated fat), 0.7 g fibre, 23 g protein, 5 g carbohydrates, 268 mg sodium


Twice as Nice Coconut Rice
(from The Looneyspoons Collection)

Click here for tips on what to look for when choosing a coconut milk

1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp grated gingerroot
1-1/2 cups uncooked brown rice
3/4 cup light coconut milk
2-1/4 cups water
1 tsp honey
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp salt

  1. In a medium pot, heat oil over medium heat.  Add garlic and gingerroot and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute.  Add rice and cook for one more minute.
  2. Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.  (Exact cooking time depends on brand of rice.  Check instructions on the package as some brown rice takes up to 45 minutes to cook).
  3. Fluff rice with a fork and serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.  Per serving: 208 kcal, 4.6 g fat (3.1 g saturated fat), 4 g protein, 38 g carbohydrate, 1.7 g fibre, 4 g protein, 203 mg sodium.

Homemade Tart Frozen Yogurt

14 Aug

Summer has been here for awhile but it feels like the blissful, laissez-faire days have only just begun.   If my less-than-impressive blogging track record wasn’t enough of a hint, the past few months were busily spent working towards finishing my internship.  Now that I’m officially done my training I have some free time to give my neglected appliances and cookbooks a bit of TLC before I enter the real world of work.

Frozen treats scream SUMMER! so what better way to celebrate the season than with the purchase of an ice cream maker?  Every magazine and blog that I’ve read over the past few weeks has featured delectable frozen recipes that I haven’t been able to make without this very specialized appliance.  A new machine wasn’t in the cards given my lack of income.  Coincidentally, a friend recently held a yard sale to prepare for her move to England so I was able to scoop up (no pun intended) her quality, barely-used ice cream maker for a bargain.

The plot (er, frozen yogurt) thickens…

The plan was to make peach frozen yogurt.  After realizing that my local Ontario peaches aren’t quite ripe enough, I opted for a basic tart yogurt similar to those found at self-serve FroYo joints.  I reduced the amount of sugar by a touch but the recipe could have easily used less.  The final product was soft and creamy, sweet yet tart.  Plus, it contained a whopping 12 grams of protein per serving thanks to the Greek yogurt.  A solid first attempt.  My next endeavor will be a little bit more more exotic… perhaps banana coconut or dark chocolate cherry. I’m open to suggestions!  E suggested a savory treat… salmon ice cream, anyone?

The final product! Homemade FroYo

Peach frozen yogurt came to fruition after all


Homemade Tart Frozen Yogurt
(adapted from

2 cups plain, whole-milk (3%) yogurt
2 cups plain, non-fat or low-fat (2%) Greek yogurt
1/3 cup superfine sugar
3 tbsp light or white corn syrup

Whisk all ingredients in a large bowl to combine.  Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions.

For a soft consistency, serve right out of the ice cream maker.  For a firmer texture, transfer the frozen yogurt to a covered container and freeze before serving.

Makes 4 and a half cups.  Per 3/4 cup (2 scoop) serving made with 2% Greek yogurt: 190 kcal, 4 g fat, 12 g protein.

N.B. If you don’t own an ice cream maker, a fabulous frozen treat can be made by pureeing frozen, chopped bananas with a small amount of milk to form a smooth, soft-serve consistency.  If you’re feeling really exotic, use coconut milk or chocolate milk, or add cocoa powder to taste.