Archive | March, 2013

Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs

29 Mar

This Easter, I challenge you to channel your inner five-year-old and let your creative juices flow.  No, I’m not referring to an elaborate Easter egg hunt (although that could be fun, too).  I’m encouraging you to dye your very own Easter eggs!

Last Easter, I decided to re-live my childhood by making dyed eggs for the first time in two decades.  To avoid looking completely wacko (how many twenty-somethings dye Easter eggs solo?), I convinced my sister and our friend Allie to join.  This made for an afternoon of bizarre drawings and lots of laughter.  My main motivation for dyeing eggs was a recipe I came across for vegetable-based dyes, which seemed too cool not to try.

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The colour possibilities were pink (beets), blue (red cabbage), yellow (turmeric), orange (red onions), and brown (yellow onions).  Brown Easter eggs?  No thanks.  We stuck to pink, yellow, and blue but unfortunately the blue wasn’t very potent so it was a lost cause.  The natural dyes weren’t as strong as their synthetic counterparts so we eventually got out the food colouring for more variety.  Warning: the turmeric is very potent and may stain your pot/utensils if you’re not careful.

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There are lots of techniques for creating interesting patterns on your egg.  My favourite was placing strips of masking tape in a design on the egg before dunking it into the dye.  Rubber bands and hole reinforcement stickers are other alternatives.  The possibilities are endless!

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Wishing you all a Happy Easter, Happy Passover, or Happy Long Weekend (for the atheists out there).

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Got Almost-Expired Buttermilk? Make Cranberry-Orange Scones

27 Mar

The leftover buttermilk from my spiced sweet potato muffins has been calling out to me each time I open the fridge.  Visions of scones and buttermilk pancakes have been dancing in my head.

Traditional buttermilk is the liquid left behind after churning butter out of cream.  Commercial buttermilk, on the other hand, is just milk with added bacteria—similar to yogurt but made with slightly different bacterial strains.  When I explained this to E, he asked “Why do they call it buttermilk? They should call it yogurtmilk.”  (Side note: at the time, he was slightly bitter after unknowingly adding buttermilk to his freshly brewed cup of coffee. The grimace on his face hung around for days).

If you don’t have buttermilk when your recipe calls for it, thinning plain yogurt with a bit of water or milk makes a great substitute.  Alternatively, you can add 1 tsp of vinegar to 1 cup of milk and let sit for 10 minutes.  Words of wisdom: the latter is better suited for muffins and loaves, NOT scones.  It doesn’t give you the same thick consistency needed to hold a dough together. I learned this the hard way a couple of years ago.

Last night I finally stole some time to bake up the scones that I’ve been dreaming of for the past two weeks.  I was skeptical about substituting whole wheat flour in place of all-purpose but I just HAD to do it.  The result was a heartier scone than you might be used to, but still crumbly and tender.  I also got away with reducing the sugar a touch.  It was not missed.  These scones are a nice alternative to muffins and the perfect accompaniment to tea.  Or a mid-week glass of wine.

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Cranberry-Orange Scones
(from The Looneyspoons Collection)

1 ½ cups all purpose whole wheat flour
½ cup oat bran
½ cup sweetened dried cranberries, chopped
1/3 ¼ cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 tsp grated orange zest
½ tsp vanilla
1 egg

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray (or line with parchment paper) and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, oat bran, cranberries, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, butter, orange zest, and vanilla. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients.  Stir until a soft dough is formed. Add a bit more flour if dough is too sticky.  Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 2 pieces.  Shape each piece into a ball. Place balls on baking sheet and pat dough to ¾-inch-thick circles, about 6 inches in diameter. Using a sharp knife, cut each circle into 6 wedges, but do not separate them.
  4. To make glaze, lightly beat egg with 1 tbsp of water in a small bowl. Brush glaze lightly over top of dough (you will use less than half of the glaze).
  5. Bake for 15 – 17 minutes, until scones are puffed up and golden.  Cool slightly. Pull scones apart and serve warm.

Makes 12 scones.  Per scone (Lisa’s tweaked recipe):  120 kcal, 3 g fat (1.5 g saturated), 3 g protein, 20 g CHO, 2.2 g fibre, 311 mg sodium.

Spiced Sweet Potato Muffins – Healthful or Harmful?

15 Mar

Muffins can be deceiving little things. How can something that sounds so nutritious be so horribly unhealthy? Exhibit A: a Tim Horton’s Raisin Bran muffin contains 410 calories, 13 grams of fat, and a whopping 40 grams of sugar—that’s 8 teaspoons to be exact.  To put things into perspective for you non-Canadians, a Starbucks Zucchini Walnut muffin contains 490 calories and 28 grams of fat. Hardly a snack! And not a very healthy breakfast, either.

The Toronto Star’s “The Dish” column recently analyzed an organic, vegan, sweet potato and date muffin from a local restaurant.  Sounds semi-healthy, right?  Far surpassing both Timmy’s and Starbucks, the muffin contains 986 calories and 38 grams of fat. My jaw fell to the floor. How is that even possible?!

Sarah, my friend who sent me “The Dish” article, passed along a similar muffin recipe but with a fraction of the calories and fat.  Being in a baking mood last weekend, I set aside a bit of time to make my first ever sweet potato muffin.  Naturally, a few small substitutions were made: I replaced the all-purpose flour with whole wheat and reduced the sugar a touch.  The muffin was yearning for pecans or raisins for texture but sadly my pantry was devoid of these staple ingredients.  Au natural, they still tasted pretty darn good.  Not a super sweet muffin, but not a bland one either.

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Tip: to reduce the number of dirty dishes you end up with, cook the sweet potato in the microwave.  Dampen a paper towel with water and wrap around a sweet potato that has been poked generously with a fork.  Microwave for 7-10 minutes. Remove from microwave and allow to cool slightly. Peel off the skin (which makes a delicious snack) then mash the flesh.

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As per Martha: “Preheating the oven at a higher temperature, then lowering the heat when the muffins go in, gives the batter an initial blast of hot air that helps form that beautiful domed top.” It’s true. The muffins had a gorgeous top that I rarely see with my usual muffin recipes.

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Spiced Sweet Potato Muffins
(from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food Blog)

Note: these muffins are best if eaten within 3 days.  Any longer and the tops will turn soggy.  Freeze half of the batch if you’re a small household!

1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose whole wheat flour (spooned and leveled)
1/2 cup 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup mashed cooked sweet potato
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 400°. Line 12 standard muffin cups with paper liners; lightly coat liners with cooking spray.
  2. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together sweet potato, buttermilk, eggs, oil, and vanilla. Add flour mixture and fold until just combined.
  3. Divide batter evenly among cups. Reduce heat to 375°. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean, 16 to 18 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. (Store in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 3 days.)

Makes 12 muffins.  Per muffin (following the original recipe): 168 kcal, 5 g fat (1 g sat fat), 4 g protein, 28 g carb, 1 g fiber

Easy Weeknight Spicy Cajun Fish Soup

9 Mar

A certain four letter word has been sitting on my To-Do list for over a month now.  No, my cookbooks have not been sitting idle.  My belly has been very full.  My camera has seen the light of day.  But alas, I have not had the time or energy to BLOG my most recent culinary adventures with you.  That’s about to change…

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Although I’ve been spending some time in the kitchen, cooking has largely taken a backseat to convenience meals (e.g. awfully bland and boring frozen lasagna– so shameful) and breakfast-for-dinner.  Part of it is poor planning, most of it is laziness.  Even dietitians have their rough spells!

Tonight I made up for all (correction: several) of my subpar dinners over the past month.  Stored on my rarely-used Pinterest account for half a year now, this recipe for a spicy fish soup is ‘souper’ easy and requires very little prep.  Perfect for a Friday evening when all you want to do is lounge on the couch and catch up on missed episodes of Top Chef.

The only perishable ingredient required, excluding onion and garlic, is a green pepper.  The green chiles and diced tomatoes can be kept on hand in the pantry, and you can use frozen fish and shrimp (transfer to the fridge the night before to thaw).  Within 30 minutes of stepping in the door, I had a piping hot bowl of soup on the table that was hearty, delicious, nutritious, and did I mention easy?!?  A new staple dish to add to the repertoire.

It’s Nutrition Month, so I’m going to make a concerted effort to blog more often.  Hold me to it!  In the meantime, I better return to my To-Do list…

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Spicy Cajun Fish Soup

(adapted from Allrecipes.com)

This soup is only mildly spicy so feel free to add heat with cayenne, chili flakes, or hot chili sauce (e.g. tabasco).  Adding the green pepper near the end of cooking means that it retains its colour and texture.

1/2 tbsp canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1.5 cups water
1 can (4 oz/127mL) chopped green chiles
1 tsp ground cumin
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained (preferably no-salt-added)
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 cup shrimp
1 lb halibut or other white fish, cut into 1-2″ chunks
Salt to taste

  1. Heat oil over medium heat in a large saucepan.  Add onions and saute, stirring often, for about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and chili powder and cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes
  2. Add the water, chopped green chillies (entire contents of can), cumin, and diced tomatoes.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 20 minutes
  3. Add the green pepper, shrimp and halibut. Return to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Makes 4 servings. Per serving: 225 kcal, 13 g CHO, 3 g fibre, 4.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 30 g protein, 180 mg sodium.