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Spiced Cabbage Soup with Lentils and Sweet Potato

7 Jan

Happy New Year! I’m not the greatest at making (or keeping) New Years resolutions, but most years I have vague aspirations to engage in some sort of healthier behaviour. This year, I’m motivated to do more batch cooking so that I’m not left scrambling to buy my lunch or pull together a last minute dinner after a busy day.

Thanks to having an extra-long weekend with not just one but TWO days to recover from New Year’s Eve, I was able to kick-start my pseudo-resolution with a simple yet flavourful cabbage soup from the new Oh She Glows Every Day cookbook. The cookbook was a Christmas present stolen from me (then lent to me) by my oh-so-generous brother, so I plan to churn out as many dishes from it as I possibly can before he asks for it back.

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If you’re groaning at the thought of another watery, bland cabbage soup, take note: this one’s anything but. It has lentils for added protein and fibre, sweet potato (because every soup can use a little sweet potato), and a 9-spice mix containing both sweet and smoked paprika. It’s simple to prepare but full of flavour. And perfect for the horribly cold weather that we’ve been hit with this week. For an easy make-ahead lunch, pair it with whole grain bread or crackers.

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Metabolism-Revving Spicy Cabbage Soup
(from Oh She Glows Every Day cookbook)

4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons 9-Spice Mix, or more to taste (recipe below)
1 pound (1/4 large head) green cabbage, cored and finely shredded (about 5 cups)
14-oz (398mL) can diced tomatoes, with juices
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1/2 cup uncooked red lentils
1 sweet potato, chopped into 1/2-inch (1 cm) cubes
1/2 tsp to 1 tsp fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

  1. In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute for 5-6 minutes, until the onion is softened. Stir in 2 tablespoons 9-Spice Mix and cook for a minute or so, until fragrant.
  2. Add the cabbage and diced tomatoes with their juices. Simmer over medium to high heat for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the broth, red lentils, and sweet potato. Stir. Cover and simmer over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the lentils and sweet potato are tender.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste, or add more 9-Spice Mix. Serve with a dollop of Cashew Sour Cream, if using (for a non-vegan option, use plain yogurt or sour cream). The soup keeps in the fridge for a week, and freezes well for 1-2 months.

Makes 4 large servings. Per serving: 278 kcal, 5 g fat, 47 g carbohydrate, 14 g fibre, 11 g protein, 596 mg sodium

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9-Spice Mix (makes approximately 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried minced onion
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoons dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

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.

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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!

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Pumpkin and Cranberry Baked Beans
(from OhSheGlows.com)

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.

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“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:  https://authoritynutrition.com/dietary-lectins/

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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.

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Happy Retirement Mom and Dad!

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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: http://bit.ly/2cxE35T

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

6 Sep

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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

The 411 on Eggs & Cholesterol (feat. Huevos Rancheros)

21 Feb

Egg lovers, rejoice! The US government released their latest edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans last month and one of the most controversial changes was their decision to remove limits on dietary cholesterol. Historically people have been advised to limit their cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams per day in order to reduce the risk for heart disease. Since one large egg contains 186 milligrams of cholesterol, eating anything more than one egg per day was frowned upon.

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Why the new recommendation, you ask? Over the past several years, evidence has emerged to suggest that cholesterol in our diet is not the main dietary cause of high blood cholesterol levels. Saturated and trans fats—most commonly found in fatty meat, full-fat dairy, and packaged and processed foods made with hydrogenated oils—have more of an impact on blood cholesterol levels, and the US government continues to recommend that we limit our intake of saturated fat to less than 10% of our total calories. For the average person, this amounts to no more than 20 to 30 grams of saturated fat per day.

Before you go hog-wild on eggs, there are a few other things that you should know. Studies have shown that eating up to 1 egg per day is not associated with increased heart disease or stroke in the general population; however, people with diabetes have an increased risk for heart disease if they eat 1 egg (or more) per day.  In people without diabetes, one whole egg per day—or 7 per week—is probably not going to do you any harm. Eggs are a good source of protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D, riboflavin, and folate—and most of the egg’s nutrition is in the yolk. If you already have high cholesterol, heart disease or diabetes, be cautious about the number of egg yolks you eat and take into account other sources of saturated fat in your diet. Egg whites can be incorporated into scrambled eggs, omelettes, and quiches in place of some of the whole eggs for similar flavour and texture with much less saturated fat and cholesterol.

With all of this talk of eggs, I’ve had a major craving for my favourite brunch dish: huevos rancheros. It’s hard to beat Mexican flavours for breakfast, plus it happens to be a perfect gluten-free brunch dish when family or friends with celiac disease come to visit. I found this recipe following a search for beanless huevos rancheros, since legumes and my tummy don’t always get along. The simple yet spectacular chipotle salsa is top notch with its mild heat and smokiness, but the true star of the dish is the corn tortillas. We have the luxury of living 10 minutes away from a tortilla factory, but you can usually find them at specialty food shops or in the refrigerated or frozen section of your grocery store.

¡Buen Provecho! (the Spanish version of “Bon Appetit”)

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Huevos Rancheros
(adapted from Epicurious.com)

6 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided
8 (5-inch) corn tortillas
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes in juice (preferably no-salt-added)
1/2 cup chopped white onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus additional for garnish
1 tablespoon chopped canned chipotle chiles in adobo
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt (I used 1/4 tsp which tasted good, but E thought a bit more salt would be best)
8 large eggs
1 avocado, sliced

  1. Preheat oven to 200°F. For the sauce, purée tomatoes with their juice, onion, cilantro, chipotle, garlic, and salt in a blender until very smooth. Set aside.
  2. To warm the tortillas, heat 1 teaspoon oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Stack 2 tortillas in skillet and cook 30 seconds, then flip stack over with tongs and cook 30 seconds more. While second tortilla cooks on bottom, turn top tortilla over with tongs, keeping tortillas stacked. Flip stack again and cook in same manner, turning over top tortilla and flipping stack again so that both tortillas are softened and both sides puff slightly, then deflate (do not let them become browned or crisp). Wrap tortillas loosely in foil and keep warm in oven. Cook remaining tortillas in the same manner, adding 1 teaspoon of oil to the skillet for each batch.
  3. Once tortillas have been warmed (and are resting in the oven), add tomato purée carefully to the hot skillet (it may splatter) and simmer, stirring occasionally, until salsa is slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.
  4. In a separate pan, heat 1 teaspoon oil in a 12-inch heavy non-stick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then crack 4 eggs into skillet and cook 3 to 4 minutes for runny yolks, or to desired doneness. Transfer to a plate and keep warm, covered, then cook remaining 4 eggs in remaining teaspoon of oil in same manner. Season eggs with salt and pepper.
  5. To serve, spoon 1/4 cup salsa onto each plate and top with 2 tortillas, slightly overlapping them. Transfer 2 eggs to tortillas on each plate and top with some of remaining salsa. Divide avocado between 4 plates. Sprinkle with cilantro.

Makes 4 servings. Per serving: 405 kcal, 24 g fat (4.4 g saturated), 33 g carbohydrate, 6.3 g fibre, 17 g protein, 495 mg sodium.

 

The Great Vitamin D Debate (feat. Seafood Chowder)

1 Feb

Vitamin D has been in and out of the news over the past few years, but it really made waves this week thanks to an attention-grabbing campaign by the Yukon government. If you haven’t seen the ads, learn more here.

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Vitamin D is well-known for its role in bone strength, but also plays an important function in keeping our immune system healthy. There is growing evidence that vitamin D may also reduce cardiovascular risk, improve insulin sensitivity, and lower the risk of diseases such as multiple sclerosis and some cancers.

Much of the world can obtain adequate vitamin D from the sun. UVB rays from the sun convert a vitamin D precursor on the skin to a form called vitamin D3, which is then transported to your liver and kidneys to be converted into active vitamin D. Sounds easy, right? Not so fast. If you live north of the 37th parallel (e.g. San Francisco), it’s virtually impossible to meet your vitamin D needs year-round from the sun. And since Vitamin D is found naturally in very few foods, obtaining adequate amounts from the diet is challenging. In fact, it’s the only nutrient that Canada’s Food Guide recommends obtaining in supplement form for adults over the age of 50. Kind of a big deal since the food guide always promotes food first.

So how much vitamin D do we really need? In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM; a trusted organization that sets dietary targets for vitamins and minerals) updated their vitamin D recommendations to 600 IU per day for children and adults aged 9 to 70 years. Several years later, research groups from Alberta and California independently reported on statistical errors in the IOM analysis and suggested that the current vitamin D recommendations are too low to promote health. The US researchers stated in a 2015 press-release that the current IOM recommendations for vitamin D are “only about one-tenth those needed to cut incidence of diseases related to vitamin D deficiency.” Health Canada currently recommends that adults over the age of 50 take a daily supplement containing 400 IU, while Osteoporosis Canada advises healthy adults between ages 19 and 50 to take 400-1000 IU daily (with those over 50 years and younger adults at high risk of osteoporosis needing 800-2000 IU daily).

If you’re still confused, the good news is that vitamin D is relatively safe. The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for Vitamin D ranges from 2500 IU for children, to 4000 IU for adults over 70 years. Not convinced that you need a supplement?  Try to get more vitamin D from your diet by regularly consuming cow’s milk (or fortified plant beverages) and fatty fish such as salmon, trout, tuna, or sardines. Even still, it can be challenging to get enough unless you eat fatty fish daily (3 ounces of salmon contains 300 IU) and several glasses of milk (1 cup contains only 100 IU).

An easy fish chowder, like this Maritime seafood chowder, can help you meet your vitamin D needs (tip: use salmon to optimize your vitamin D intake). It’s the perfect meal if you’re short on time and looking to pump up your bone health!

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Classic Maritime Seafood Chowder
(from Dairy Farmers of Canada)

1 tbsp butter, margarine, or oil
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried dill or dried thyme (use 1 tbsp fresh if you have it)
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced (I leave the skin on)
2 cups water or fish stock
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
2 cups chopped raw skinless fish fillets or cooked seafood (shrimp, lobster, scallops, crab, clams, oysters) or a combination
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Optional: Add up to 1-1/2 cups chopped carrots, red bell pepper or corn kernels with the onion for extra colour and nutrition.

  1. In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat; sauté celery, onion, bay leaf, dill, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper for about 5 min or until onions start to brown. Stir in potatoes; sauté for 2 min.
  2. Increase heat to medium-high; stir in water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium and boil for about 5 min or until potatoes are almost tender.
  3. Whisk flour into milk and stir into pot; bring to a simmer, stirring often. Stir in fish or seafood; simmer, stirring often for 5 min or until fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork or seafood is hot. Discard bay leaf. Stir in lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes 4 to 6 servings. Per serving: 266 calories, 5 g fat, 38 g carbohydrate, 4.1 g fibre, 19 g protein, 290 mg sodium.

Pumpkin Lasagna with Kale and Mushrooms

24 Oct

This pumpkin kick I’ve been on is showing no signs of slowing down.

I recently hosted an autumn bake fest with a few friends (mostly jabbering amongst some baking), where we made pumpkin spice cut-out cookies. The dough called for pumpkin purée— an unexpected addition to a fairly standard spiced sugar cookie recipe— which made it soft and easy to roll without sticking to every imaginable surface. It may not have been the pumpkin, but there was something about this dough that made for THE most perfect cookie. Sadly, it’s not healthy enough for More Spinach Please so you will have to visit Glorious Treats for the recipe.

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While I was pretty VERY proud of how well my cookies turned out, my big accomplishment of the weekend was the pumpkin lasagna that I tackled last Sunday night. Lasagna is intimidating. Even the simplest recipe can seem daunting. You have to juggle various ingredients, never sure if you’re estimating accurately when they tell you to put “one third of the mixture” on top of the noodles, only to realize that you ended up using half of the mixture and now you don’t have enough for the last layer. Luckily, taste is rarely affected by these nuances.

Once the idea of pumpkin lasagna popped into my head, I ruthlessly searched the web for the perfect recipe. The ones that sounded healthy didn’t seem quite right based on my prior lasagna-making experiences (improper ratios, not enough egg to bind), and the ones that sounded delicious were loaded with calories. I don’t usually like to mess around with lasagna recipes because if you’re not careful you will end up with a sloppy pile of noodles from too much liquid. But… I took a chance. And it paid off.

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Starting with a Rachael Ray recipe, I swapped in sautéed mushrooms, kale, and onion for the boiled escarole and cut down on the amount of cheese. I wanted to use whole wheat noodles but I couldn’t find a no-cook version (a key ingredient for a cohesive lasagna that will not fall apart on your plate). Oh well. I also managed to make a roux using a small amount of olive oil instead of equal parts butter and flour, although this ended up requiring a bit of extra flour at the end for thickening. The culinary gods were certainly frowning down on me for butchering a classic technique.

The layering process can be a pain when trying to follow written directions, so I created a quick drawing for myself that I could refer to.

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The final product come out of the oven looking like a perfect lasagna should: oozing with cheese and golden brown on top. When I cut into it, I was delighted to find nicely defined layers that did not fall apart on my plate. Success!

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If you never make this lasagna, promise me one thing: you MUST make the garlic béchamel sauce. Throw it on pasta, eat it with a spoon— whatever you wish. It’s simple yet superb. And a good source of calcium.

Pumpkin Lasagna with Kale and Mushrooms
(adapted from Rachael Ray’s Pumpkin Lovers Lasagna)

1 head garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil, separated
2 cups (227g) sliced mushrooms
5 cups chopped kale, ribs removed (approximately 5 leaves)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups milk (skim or 1%)
Pinch of nutmeg
1 can (796mL) pure pumpkin purée
3 eggs
2 cups ricotta (ideally 6% M.F. or less)
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1-1/2 cup grated partly-skimmed mozzarella cheese
1 box no-boil lasagna noodles
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Cover the garlic cloves with water in a small saucepan and simmer for 20 minutes. Drain and let cool. Squish the garlic pulp from the jackets into a bowl and mash with a fork.
  3. Meanwhile, melt 1/2 tablespoon oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes. Add the kale, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale has wilted and all liquid from the mixture has evaporated. Remove from the heat.
  4. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and mashed garlic until no lumps remain and season with salt and pepper to taste, and a little nutmeg. Cook until slightly thickened (the sauce should just coat the back of the spoon evenly without breaking up on the spoon’s surface). If your mixture doesn’t thicken properly, add another 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of flour.
  5. Whisk together the pumpkin puree, 2 eggs and some salt and pepper in a medium bowl. DO NOT FORGET THE SALT! I made this mistake and the pumpkin layer was a bit bland.
  6. In another bowl, whisk together the ricotta, 1/4 cup of parmesan, and the remaining egg.
  7. In a large dish, soak the lasagna sheets in water for 5 minutes.
  8. Pour about half the garlic sauce into the bottom of a 9 by 11-inch baking dish. Add a layer of lasagna sheets (4 sheets per layer, breaking them up as needed to fit into the dish, keeping in mind that they will expand) and then half the pumpkin mixture. Make another layer of lasagna sheets and spread with all of the ricotta mixture, followed by the kale and mushroom mixture. Top with another layer of lasagna sheets, the remaining pumpkin and another layer of lasagna sheets. Finish with the remaining garlic sauce and sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese and the remaining 1/2 cup of parmesan.
  9. Bake the lasagna, covered with foil, for 45 minutes. Try to tent the foil slightly, as part of my top layer of lasagna was pulled up when the foil was removed. Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and continue to bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes more. Let rest for 15 minutes, then cut and serve. Tastes even better the next day!

Makes 8 servings. Per serving: 405 kcal, 15 g fat (6 g saturated), 44 g carbohydrate, 6 g fibre, 24 g protein, 465 mg sodium

The Salad that Keeps on Giving

22 Oct

Salad has never tasted so good.  After being away at a conference for five days, my body craved fibre and a plethora of colourful veggies when I arrived back home.  Conference food can be notorious for large quantities of nutrient-devoid food.  A typical day was as such: wake, eat breakfast, sit, snack, sit, eat lunch, sit, snack, sit, go out for dinner, bed.  The positive of having so much food provided is the considerable cost savings. The con?  Most snacks are carb-heavy, full of sugar, and hard to resist.  Cake at 10am? Sure! Danish for breakfast? Why not.

And now my saviour: the ultimate salad to “cure” me of a week of poor nutrition.  I first spotted this Asian Kale and Tofu Salad on Pinterest over a year ago.  Why it took me so long to finally make it remains a mystery but I sure won’t wait another year before making it again.  There are a few things you should know about this salad…

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  1. It yields more than one can possibly eat in a week.  And I can eat a lot of salad.  Share it with someone or halve the recipe if you’re solo.
  2. Kale salad can be an acquired taste.  It holds its shape even when dressed, but the crunch can be too much for some.  If you’re weary, use half the recommended amount of the kale and substitute the other half with spinach (add shortly before serving to prevent it from getting soggy).
  3. The ratio of kale to other vegetables was too high for my liking.  Feel free to add more bell pepper, carrot, cucumber, or all of the above.

Below is the original recipe from Clean Eating magazine.  Keep in mind that the recipe serves FAR more than 4 (even 8 servings would be an underestimate!) despite what is written.

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Asian Kale & Tofu Salad
(from Clean Eating magazine)

“Can’t find pressed tofu? Press it yourself with our easy three-step method! Simply wrap firm tofu in a clean dish towel and transfer to a plate. Place another plate over tofu and top with one or two heavy cans. Let sit for 1 to 8 hours.”

Olive oil cooking spray
14 oz firm pressed tofu, sliced into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup 100% orange juice
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
1 tbsp raw honey
1 tbsp peeled and grated fresh ginger
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
12-1/2 cups chopped kale (about 16 oz)
2 small field-grown cucumbers, diced
2 carrots, peeled and shredded
2 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 cups shredded red cabbage
1/2 cup shelled edamame, cooked
4 tsp sesame seeds

  1. Preheat oven to 500ºF. Mist a ceramic 9 x 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Add tofu and set aside.
  2. In a blender, blend garlic, vinegar, orange juice, lime juice, soy sauce, honey, ginger and sesame oil until smooth, about 1 minute. Remove ¼ cup mixture and pour over top of tofu. Toss to combine and spread evenly in dish. Bake, turning 3 to 4 times, until golden and crisp, 25 to 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, to remaining mixture in blender, add flaxseed and process until smooth, about 10 seconds.
  4. In a large bowl, add kale and pour vinegar-flaxseed mixture over top. With your hands, massage kale to coat thoroughly until wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Add cucumbers, carrots, scallions, bell pepper, cabbage and edamame and toss to combine. Add tofu and toss to combine. To serve, top with sesame seeds.

Serves “4” as per original recipe.  Per ENORMOUS serving: 341 calories, 10 g fat (1 g saturated), 46 g carbohydrate, 11 g fibre, 22 g protein, 374 mg sodium