Archive | November, 2015

Pumped Up Cinnamon Buns

22 Nov

No matter how many lucky stars I may wish on, cinnamon buns will never be a “healthy” treat. But special occasions call for special treats, and everyone wins if you can make a make them a little bit healthier without compromising taste.

It was my dear friend Lucia’s birthday this weekend and we celebrated with a potluck brunch in her honour. My first instinct was to bring a fruit tray (classic dietitian move), but that seemed too boring for such a special friend. With cinnamon buns on my mind all week (and the luxury of a bit of extra time over the weekend), it became clear that my potluck contribution would be a freshly baked batch of sweet, yeasty buns.

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13 years of friendship… time flies!

The Looneyspoons Collection cookbook has a wonderful recipe for cinnamon buns that have more fibre + less fat and sugar than traditional buns.  Despite these healthy modifications, they taste just as good. Some of the white flour is replaced by whole wheat flour, and ground flaxseed adds a punch of fibre and omega-3 fatty acids. While most cinnamon bun recipes call for upwards of 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of butter per batch, this one calls for a modest 1-1/2 cups of sugar (a small improvement) and 1/3 cup of butter.

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Before going into the oven

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Fresh out of the oven

Cinnamon buns, while intimidating in appearance, are actually relatively simple to make. The key ingredient is TIME as the dough needs to rise not once, but twice before baking. All in all, from start to finish it was a 2+ hour process. The end result was well worth the effort, especially for such a special occasion. Happy Birthday Lucia!

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“Rolls Royce” Cinnamon Rolls
(from The Looneyspoons Collection)

Dough
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1 pkg (8 g) or 2-1/4 tsp quick-rising yeast
1 tsp salt
1 cup 1% milk
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg, lightly beaten

Filling
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp butter, at room temperature

Glaze
2 tbsp light cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tbsp butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup icing (confectioner’s) sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

  1. To make dough, combine both flours, flaxseed, yeast, and salt in a medium bowl. Mix well and set aside.
  2. Add milk, sugar, butter and vanilla to a small pot. Heat over medium heat, stirring often, just until milk is warmed, butter is melted, and sugar is dissolved. Do not simmer or boil. (Lisa’s tip: use a thermometer to be safe, following the temperature recommendation on the yeast package). Remove from heat and carefully pour into a large mixing bowl. Add half the flour mixture and egg. Stir using a wooden spoon until well blended. Add remaining flour mixture and stir until a soft ball forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Add a bit more flour if dough is too sticky. Knead dough until smooth and elastic, about 1 minute. Place dough in a clean bowl that has been lightly oiled. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes or until double in size. (Lisa’s tip: pour boiling water in a shallow glass dish, place in the oven, and use this as your “warm place” to allow the dough to rise)
  3. Meanwhile, make filling. Mix brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.
  4. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  5. When dough has risen, turn out onto a lightly flour surface. Roll out dough to a 12 x 14-inch rectangle. Using a butter knife, spread 2 tbsp butter evenly over dough. Sprinkle with brown sugar-cinnamon mixture and spread evenly to edges. Roll up dough jelly-roll style. You should end up with a 12-inch long roll. Using a very sharp knife, slice roll into 12 equal pieces. Arrange rolls in a single layer in prepared pan. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake rolls for 25 minutes. They should be puffed up and light golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool slightly while you prepare glaze. Using an electric mixer, beat together all glaze ingredients in a small bowel until smooth. Spread evenly over warm rolls. (Note: if you prefer to drizzle the glaze, add 1 tbsp milk to the glaze)

Makes 12 rolls. Per roll: 270 kcal, 7 g fat (3.7 g saturated fat), 47 g carbohydrate, 3 g fibre, 6 g protein, 227 mg sodium.

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Mediterranean Broccoli Salad

11 Nov

If I had to rank my favourite vegetables, broccoli would be among the top 3. Hands down. For starters, its bright green colour gives off a healthy “halo” and adds visual appeal to any plate. Its firm texture and crunch means it takes a bit of chewing to ingest, which helps you feel more satiated than some other vegetables (like a serving of sautéed greens, which I can gobble down in seconds then immediately find myself wanting more). Broccoli is hardy, so it can be stored in the fridge for many days (even weeks!) without drying out. And it’s relatively affordable, so it won’t break the bank if you’re eating it regularly.

If you’re still not convinced, broccoli’s nutritional profile should make you a believer. It’s an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin K, providing 100% of your daily needs of each in a one cup serving. Like many other dark green vegetables, it’s a source of folate and fibre, and contributes some (albeit a small amount) of calcium towards your daily requirements. As a member of the cruciferous family, it contains phytochemicals that have potential anticancer properties. One such component, diindolylmethane, has been used in clinical trials by the U.S. National Cancer Institute as a therapeutic against various forms of cancer.

Today I had the day off of work. Instead of catching up on errands and projects around the house, I thought I would bring lunch to a friend who is going through a difficult time. Broccoli salad popped into my head as a nice accompaniment to Moroccan quinoa salad and maple-Dijon-lemon-dill chicken breasts, but I was craving something different from the standard creamy version with raisins and bacon. Plus, raw broccoli doesn’t always agree with my tummy so I wanted a recipe where the broccoli could be cooked.

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Amongst a sea of mayonnaise-based recipes, I found a Mediterranean-style broccoli salad that combined sundried tomatoes, olives, and feta in a lemony vinaigrette. It was fate, I thought, since my fridge had all of these ingredients tucked away. I made a few modifications, including less olive oil to keep the salad lighter and less salt as the ingredients themselves seemed salty enough. To keep my digestive tract happy, I steamed the broccoli briefly then dried it well to minimize added moisture (if raw broccoli is your thing, the original recipe does NOT call for cooking so skip this additional step). My only mistake was that I tossed the salad last night, forgetting that acid turns green vegetables brown (my undergrad food science professor would be so disappointed!). Luckily, the dull greenish appearance of the salad didn’t bother my friend and didn’t detract from the delicious taste.

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This salad is simple yet flavourful. The umami from the sundried tomatoes and olives adds a punch of flavour, which is balanced nicely by the earthy roasted almonds. A great make-ahead dish for potlucks, or for every day!

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Mediterranean Broccoli Salad
(adapted from CookieandKate.com)

Broccoli Salad:

1 large head of broccoli, florets removed and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup minced shallot or red onion
1/3 cup oil-packed sundried tomatoes, patted with paper towel and chopped coarsely
1/8 cup thinly sliced kalamata olives
1/8 to 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup slivered or slices almonds, toasted

Dressing:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup
1 clove of garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Pinch of red pepper flakes

  1. In a large pot, steam broccoli until just slightly tender (do not overcook!). To quickly stop the cooking process, rinse broccoli with cold water, then plunge into a bowl of ice cold water. This will also minimize browning.
  2. In a medium serving bowl, combine shallots, sundried tomato, olives, and feta. Add broccoli once cool.
  3. In a small bowl, combine all dressing ingredients and whisk until combined. Toss salad with dressing approximately 30 minutes before serving. Add almonds just before serving.

Makes 4 servings. Per serving: 200 kcal, 12 g fat (1.7 g saturated), 20 g carbohydrate, 6 g fibre, 8 g protein, 650 mg sodium

Pumpkin and Coconut Soup

4 Nov

Coconut oil is a controversial topic in the nutrition world. Supporters claim it can burn fat, boost your metabolism, and help you lose weight. Skeptics say it’s high in saturated fat and may promote heart disease. So who should we believe?

Without delving too deep into the scientific literature, the health effects of coconut oil can be grouped into three different categories: body weight, heart disease, and inflammation.

Body weight. The predominant fat in coconut oil is thought to be medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), a type of fat that gets metabolized differently (and more efficiently) than more common dietary fats. In actuality, the chemical composition of coconut oil is markedly different from MCT oils; therefore, results from studies using MCT oils cannot be extrapolated to coconut oil. A couple of small studies suggests that coconut oil may modestly decrease waist circumference in overweight adults, but has no effect on fat mass.

Heart disease. Coconut oil is 92% saturated fat. Historically, foods high in saturated fat were discouraged due to their ability to raise blood cholesterol levels, which in turn was thought to increase heart disease risk. Newer research suggests that the link between dietary saturated fat (animal fats, tropical oils) and heart disease is not as strong as once thought. Some systematic reviews do not support a relationship between saturated fat and heart disease, while others have found that replacing saturated fat with mono- and polyunsaturated fats can reduce heart disease risk. Research looking at coconut oil specifically has found that blood levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol both increase following regular coconut oil consumption. Longer term studies looking at the relationship between coconut oil and heart disease are required.

Inflammation. The polyphenols found in virgin coconut oil (very different from refined coconut oil) may act as antioxidants in the body and help fight inflammation; however, studies are few and far between. Claims that coconut oil will help in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, and other ailments require more research before recommendations can be made.

So what’s my take on the coconut oil debate? Too much of any kind of fat will lead to weight gain, since fat is the most energy-dense of all macronutrients at 9 calories per gram (compared to 4 calories per gram of protein or carbohydrate). Use coconut oil in moderation to add flavour to dishes, but stick to monounsaturated fats (olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats (preferably those with a higher omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, such as canola or safflower oil) for day-to-day cooking. And aim to get your polyphenols from sources such as fruits and vegetables, green and black teas, coffee, and extra-virgin olive oil.

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As a huge fan of coconut-flavoured everything, I’ve always been intrigued by the prospect of using coconut oil in cooking. People say it lends a nutty, sweet aroma that is perfect for curries and roasted vegetables like yams and carrots. Yet I’ve never been able to bring myself to purchase a jar. Just looking at the white, solid-at-room-temperature, lard-resembling fat makes my arteries cringe—and yes, I realize there is insufficient scientific evidence to support these irrational thoughts. So when I received a jar as a gift from my aunt, I was eager to experiment.

Sifting through a pile of old recipes, I came across a simple pumpkin and coconut soup. The directions were a bit vague, and I realized some steps were left out, so I was naturally skeptical. But soup is pretty hard to mess up, and I had a sugar pumpkin sitting on my counter waiting to be used.

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The recipe calls for a whole sugar pumpkin (not to be mistaken with carving pumpkins which are NOT ideal for eating due to their bland, fibrous flesh) but if you’re in a bind, you could try buttercup squash. Roasting the pumpkin adds depth that you’re unlikely to get from canned or boiled pumpkin, so don’t skip this step. It’s worth the extra effort.

The coconut flavour was IN-YOUR-FACE (in a good way!). It was a nice contrast from dishes that call for coconut milk alone, where the coconut flavour can be mild and almost undetectable. The spice combination of cumin, chili powder and cinnamon together with the sweetness of the roasted pumpkin paired beautifully with coconut. A wonderful autumn soup to keep you warm during the cold months ahead.

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Pumpkin and Coconut Soup
(source unknown)

1 tbsp virgin coconut oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 sugar pumpkin
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
1/8 to 1/4 tsp chili flakes (optional)
3 to 4 cups water
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 cup light coconut milk
Salt and pepper to taste (approx 1/4 tsp salt worked for me)

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Quarter pumpkin, scoop out seeds (reserve for roasting if you wish!), and place cut-side down on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil that has been lightly oiled. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until flesh is soft. Allow to cool slightly, then scoop out the flesh into a medium bowl when pumpkin is cool enough to handle. You should have approximately 3 cups.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, approximately 5 minutes.
  3. Add cumin, chili powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and chili flakes (if using). Cook, stirring, for one minute or until fragrant.
  4. Add pumpkin and 3 cups of water, and stir to combine. Using an immersion blender, puree soup ensuring no pieces of onion remain. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. If the consistency is too thick, add additional water.
  5. Remove from heat, add lime juice and coconut milk, and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 4 servings. Per 1-1/2 cup serving: 170kcal, 8 g fat (6 g saturated), 26 g carbohydrates (8 g fibre), 4 g protein, 165 mg sodium