Healthy Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip

30 Apr

Canada’s Food Guide recommends that we eat 7 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. For many people, getting in enough fruit is no problem. Sweet and portable, it makes an easy snack. Vegetables, on the other hand, tend to be harder to squeeze in. That’s where an easy, yet tasty and healthy dip comes in handy.

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When I don’t have the energy to plan out my lunches for the week, I tend to throw together a picnic of sorts. This usually consists of an easy protein like hard boiled eggs or canned tuna, whole grain bread or crackers, and two to three cups of chopped veggies with dip to meet my daily quota. But it’s hard to find a truly healthy vegetable dip. Most are mayo or sour cream-based, and loaded with fat and calories. So I turned to the Internet in search of a tasty yet healthy make-at-home option.

I was initially drawn to this ranch seasoning recipe because of the blogger’s stunning photos (which I poorly tried to recreate at home). But once I tried it out, it became clear that this recipe is a winner. Buttermilk powder forms the base (found at bulk food stores) and is pumped up with onion and garlic powder, and dried herbs like parsley, dill, and chives. As a bonus, the seasoning mix can be made in bulk and stored in the fridge to be used whenever you need a quick and easy dip.

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Low-fat Greek yogurt is the perfect foundation for any vegetable dip. It’s thick and creamy, yet low calories and high in protein. For the best flavour, I’ve found that adding a dollop of light mayo adds just the right amount of tang for a next-level vegetable dip. Low-fat sour cream can also act as a healthier dip base, but lacks the nutritional boost that Greek yogurt offers.

If you’re not meeting your recommended daily vegetable quota, try throwing together a batch of this skinny ranch dip. It will make raw veggies sing!

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Healthy Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip

2 tbsp homemade ranch seasoning mix (see below)
1 cup 2% plain greek yogurt
2 tbsp light mayonnaise

  1. Mix ingredients in a small bowl until combined. Can be served immediately or left overnight for flavours to meld.

Makes 1-1/4 cups. Per 1/4 cup serving: 91 kcal, 3.3 g fat (1.4 g saturated), 7 g carbohydrate, 0.5 g fibre, 8 g protein, 106 mg sodium

 

Homemade Ranch Seasoning Mix (from www.gimmesomeoven.com)
1/3 cup dried buttermilk powder
2 tbsp dried parsley
1-1/2 tsp dried dill weed
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp dried onion flakes
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dried chives
1 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 months.

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

What’s the story morning glory (muffins)?

15 Mar

“Well… need a little time to wake-up, wake-up” – Oasis

Morning glory muffins used to be a constant in my diet growing up. After curling practice, my usual snack was a glass of milk and a muffin.  While the curling club always had a few different muffin varieties at any given time, morning glory was my favourite.

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After stumbling across a morning glory muffin recipe in my Looneyspoons cookbook recently, I began to wonder: what’s in a name?

The original morning glory muffin recipe was created by chef Pam McKinstry in 1978. Some say the muffin was named after her restaurant on Nantucket Island, the Morning Glory Cafe, while others say her restaurant at the time was named the Sconset Cafe. Either way, her beloved recipe became famous when it was published in Gourmet magazine in 1981. Ten years later, it was named one of the magazine’s 25 favourite recipes.

Chef McKinstry’s original morning glory muffin recipe uses white flour, one cup of oil (for a mere 12 muffins!), and a whopping 1-1/4 cups of sugar. Sounds more like a cupcake than a muffin to me! The Looneyspoons version is a definite improvement, with some whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup of oil, and 1/2 cup of sugar, but still not my idea of a healthy muffin. Since the recipe seemed like it would be sweet enough from the pineapple, applesauce, and raisins, I decided to cut back on the sugar even further to 1/4 cup and used 100% whole wheat flour. I also opted for unsweetened coconut instead of the sweetened stuff used in both the original and Looneyspoons recipe.

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Cora, my quality control technician, sleeping on the job

The final product ended up more than adequately sweet (I actually suggested to E that I use even less sugar next time, but he thought they were perfect as is), super moist, and very hearty! Half a muffin is very satisfying, so I ended up cutting each muffin in half for a quick, portable snack.

If you like carrot cake, you will love these muffins!

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Morning Glory Muffins
(adapted from The Looneyspoons Collection)

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp each nutmeg and salt
1 cup well-drained crushed pineapple
1 cup finely grated carrots
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened medium coconut
1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray or oil. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Mix well and set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together pineapple, carrots, applesauce, brown sugar, oil, egg and vanilla. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in coconut, raisins, and nuts.
  4. Divide batter among 12 muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in centre of muffin comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 12 large muffins. Per muffin: 196 kcal, 11 g fat (3.7 g saturated), 23 g carbohydrate, 4.1 g fibre, 5.1 g protein, 310 mg sodium

Roasted Brussels Sprout Salad with Apricots and Almonds

5 Mar

Today I’m paying homage to my dad (Happy Birthday Dad!) by writing about his favourite vegetable: Brussels sprouts.

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Growing up, we never ate Brussels sprouts because my dad detested them. This probably stemmed from his mother’s ill preparation of the green, cruciferous vegetables: boiled, grey, mushy, and sulfurous. It’s not her fault; she was British! As a result of my dad’s whining, I grew up assuming Brussels sprouts = yucky.

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Fast forward to when I first started dating E. He cooked dinner for me on one of our first dates and set out to make me a Brussels sprouts believer, knowing that I had never tried them before. Not surprisingly, I loved them. They had a similar flavour to other members of the Brassica family that I enjoyed (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower) but had a different texture and a unique appearance. From that day forward, steamed Brussels sprouts became part of my vegetable repertoire. But my dad remained unconvinced. Until this Christmas (or so I’d like to think).

I brought a side-dish of roasted Brussels sprouts to our family Christmas gathering, not in spite of my dad, but because they are a simple side dish that remind me of the holidays. (Sidenote: it’s the easiest yet tastiest recipe and can be found here). My dad was a good sport and tried them, and remarkably… even liked them. Success!

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In an attempt to convert him into a Brussels sprout believer, I am sharing a recipe for a different kind of dish: a roasted Brussels sprout salad with apricots, almonds, and a hint of citrus. The sweetness of the apricots distracts from the slight bitterness of the Brussels sprouts, and the citrus Dijon vinaigrette contrasts really nicely with the earthy toasted almonds. I can’t guarantee that my dad will try this one, but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying.

Happy birthday, Dad!

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Roasted Brussels Sprout Salad with Apricots and Toasted Almonds
(from Rose Reisman, courtesy of metronews.ca)

1½ lb trimmed Brussel sprouts, cut into quarters
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp orange juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp grated orange rind
½ tsp minced garlic
Salt and pepper
10 dried apricots sliced thinly
1/3 cup toasted sliced almonds

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Place quartered sprouts on baking sheet lined with foil and greased with vegetable oil. Roast for 15 minutes or just until tender and browned.
  2. To make the dressing: combine oil, juice, mustard, rind, garlic, salt and pepper.
  3. Place Brussels sprouts in serving dish, add sauce and apricots and garnish with toasted almonds.

Makes 6 servings. Per serving: 170 kcal, 8.2 g fat,  20.8 g carbohydrates, 6.6 g fibre, 5.8 g protein.

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.

 

Loaf Potion #9: Cranberry Orange Nut Loaf with Zucchini and Carrot

14 Feb

Happy Valentine’s Day! February is heart month, where national organizations in both Canada and the US strive to increase awareness of heart disease. In addition to achieving a healthy body weight (check here to see where you’re at) and being physically active, diet plays an important role in reducing your risk for heart disease. Limiting sodium, saturated fat, and trans fats can help prevent heart disease along with increasing your intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts, and soy.

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Instead of making E’s favourite brownies for Valentine’s Day, I decided I would switch things up (much to his dismay) and make a healthy loaf full of whole grains, vegetables, and nuts— all for a happy heart. This loaf recipe has been one of my favourites since I discovered it many years ago. Grated carrots and zucchini add a hint of colour and texture, dried cranberries add a pop of sweetness, and the addition of orange zest and juice seem to bring all of  the flavours together really nicely. It tastes good the day it’s made, but even better the next, so make this loaf a day in advance for maximum flavour.

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In my opinion, there’s no better way to say “I love you” than with a heart-healthy loaf this Valentine’s Day. Or at least that’s what I keep telling E…

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Loaf Potion #9: Cranberry Orange Nut Loaf with Zucchini and Carrot
(from The Looneyspoons Collection)

1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour (the original recipe calls for all-purpose flour)
2/3 cup oat bran
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chopped dried cranberries
1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 cup grated carrot
1 cup grated, unpeeled zucchini

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 9×5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray or coat lightly with oil. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, oat bran, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Make sure you get all of the lumps out of the brown sugar. Stir in cranberries and nuts.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil, eggs, orange juice concentrate, and orange zest. Stir in carrots, and zucchini. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix just until dry ingredients are moistened.
  4. Spoon batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Bake on middle oven rack for 45 to 50 minute, or until loaf is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in centre of loaf comes out clean.
  5. Cool loaf in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove loaf from pan and cool completely on rack. Cover with plastic wrap and store at room temperature or in fridge. To serve, cut loaf into 8 thick slices, then cut each slice in half (this is easier than trying to cut into 16 thin slices!)

Makes 1 large loaf (16 slices). Per slice: 150 kcal, 5.3 g fat (0.8 g saturated), 24 g carbohydrate, 2.6 g fibre, 268 mg sodium, 4 g protein

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.

Butternut Squash and Spinach Soup

26 Jan

As a dietitian, I occasionally receive mailings from food companies. Some are practical, like summaries of the latest research and coupons for new products. Others are less useful. Exhibit A: Quaker® recently mailed out a document highlighting the benefits of consuming orange juice and oatmeal together— a “synergistic” benefit, the materials touted. Yes, vitamin C can enhance iron absorption, but this is hardly a new concept in the nutrition world. Furthermore, is an ‘orange oat smoothie’ the most appealing way to combine these nutrients? I would rather add berries to my oatmeal, thank you very much. Innovation in the food industry can help create more healthful food items, but sometimes food companies try a bit too hard to make basic nutrition sound cutting-edge and sexy.

Recipes are one of the best things to receive in the mail, especially when I get around to actually making them (instead of having them accumulate dust in the binder o’recipe clippings). A few weeks ago, I was sifting through said binder and discovered an old favourite from the people at Becel®. The ingredients are simple (leeks, butternut squash, spinach) while the flavour is anything but.

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Leeks don’t make it into my kitchen very often. But when they do, I realize that I’m missing out by not cooking with them more regularly. Sautéed leeks elevate the most basic of dishes with an umami flavour that packs more punch than you would expect from such a humble member of the Allium family. Just be sure you wash them well— nobody wants sand in their teeth! I used the leftover leeks from this recipe to make a crustless quiche and was surprised by how much flavour they brought to an otherwise simple dish.

Enough about leeks, though. The star of this soup is the butternut squash, whose natural sweetness infuses the broth while simmering. It was so flavourful that I didn’t even need to add salt! The chili flakes balance the sweetness really nicely and generous handfuls of spinach add a pop of colour.

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With the cold weather upon us, a warm bowl of soup really hits the spot. And with the indulgent holiday season now behind us, starting a meal with soup can also help with weight management. What’s not to love?

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Butternut Squash and Spinach Soup
(from Becel® Canada)

1-1/2 tbsp light margarine (or 1 tbsp regular margarine or olive oil)
1 leek (pale green and white part only), washed well and sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp hot chili flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
2 cups butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth (low sodium or no-salt-added)
2 cups baby spinach leaves (I use much more!)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Hot pepper sauce to taste (optional)

  1. In a large pot, heat margarine or oil over medium heat. Add leeks and garlic. Sauté until softened and fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  2. Stir in chili flakes, cumin, squash and carrots, stirring for 1 minute. Add broth; bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 25 to 30 minutes until vegetables are tender.
  3. Stir in spinach and simmer uncovered for 2 to 3 minutes. Season to taste with hot pepper sauce and garnish with chopped cilantro if desired.

Makes 4 servings. Per serving: 115 kcal, 4 g fat (0.7 g saturated fat), 15 g carbohydrate, 3.5 g fibre, 7 g protein.

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.

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