Month: June 2013

Nature’s Candy

In a previous life, I used to work in advertising. Which meant many hours sitting around during shoots. Most of the time, this involved being tempted with crappy food that left me feeling sluggish but I remember one shoot where the photographer had brought in a large bag of cherries. Between myself and the designer, we ate the entire bag. This time, though, I didn’t even feel bad afterwards (maybe because I didn’t have to pay for them!).

Cherries have a vast array of health benefits including being a powerful antioxidant and a source of melatonin which helps regulate sleep cycles.

There are 2 types of cherries, both of which – although not native plants – grow in Canada, particularly around the Great Lakes. The sweet variety are the dark crimson, finger staining version that are oh, so good. They need nothing more than a wash and a bowl for the short time they have left.

The other variety is the sour cherry. It’s lighter in colour and better for cooking with. They are particularly good as jams or, since it’s cottage season, cherry pie. If you are taking a vacation at a cottage, take a recipe in case of a rainy afternoon.

The downside to cherries is the cost. They are one of the higher prices fruits but they aren’t listed on the Dirty Dozen list so it’s not imperative to buy organic. They aren’t, however, on the Clean 15 list either so they aren’t totally free of toxins but they aren’t bad. Sometimes you have to pick your battles and strawberries win my organic battle at this time of year.


Cottage Dangers

The media will feed you all the dangers you need to be aware of this Canada Day with traffic accidents, boating accidents, drownings and all the other lovely things that can happen the minute you step out of the city.

But there is a definite caloric danger with going to the cottage. Mostly in the form of alcohol. Particularly if you are drinking mixed drinks, the mixers are very high in calories (not to mention all the other issues I have with them, blah, blah blah). Anyway, it all adds up and a weekend at the cottage can throw that 80/20 rule right into the lake.

A few things you can do that will help:

1. Don’t feel like it’s ok to stop at McDonalds on the way up just because it’s the thing to do. Nor is it ok to get a Tim Horton’s Iced Cappuccino because “it’s a vacation”. Those are both killers. Instead, eat before you leave or take some snacks with you. Nuts and dried fruits are filling and won’t decay in the car when you forget them while unpacking. If you do want to stop, choose something basic like a cream cheese and sliced tomato bagel from Tim Horton’s. But ask for half the cream cheese, otherwise you get an ice cream scoop. I’m not kidding either!

2. Take cut up fruit. Lots of it and do remember to take it out of the car and transfer it to the fridge as soon as you get there. It’s going to be handy the whole weekend when you get the munchies.

3. Stop at a roadside fruit stand and stock up. Much of it will be local and it’s nice feeling to buy from the people that actually grow it. Helps them too, they’ve probably waited a long time for the “cottagers” to drive by again.

4. Keep hydrated. Not just because it’s hot but to counteract the alcohol which is dehydrating and will pull you down quickly. Drinking water between every drink will keep you feeling good.

5. Don’t skip meals, you’ll just end up snacking more. And talking of snacks, keep some hummus and salsa on hand along with cut up peppers, celery, cucumber and cherry tomatoes. When you are craving an snack, it’s usually the crunch that will satisfy. The dip – particularly the hummus – will take care of any hunger pangs.

6. Rest up! That’s what you are there for after all and it will do you the world of good.

Happy Canada Day weekend!!

What’s Cooking? – Pizza Night

For the first time, I am editing a post – aka deleting a post. Because I realized I’ve doubled up. Not bad considering this is the first time and we are just about halfway through the year.

This post was virtually word for word from the Swiss Chard and Gruyere pizza post that I wrote a little while ago.

You can tell from this, we eat pizza a lot! But I love that it’s easy to make, involves the kids and best of all, I can pass it over to my husband if I have had enough of cooking by Friday, knowing this is one meal he makes better than me.

What I also realized is that, I have not yet shared my friends pizza dough recipe with you. Trish is a wonder at making pizza, being Italian and all, and even includes instructions to proof the dough before making it. A step I skip, being English and all.

You need a bread machine for this. It might be worth buying one for it!

Pizza Crust 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
3 cups all purpose flour 
1 and 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast 
1 cup water 
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil 

Add ingredients in order. It works out best with all purpose flour (eek, did I say that?!) But if you do use wholewheat flour, add a little more water to compensate.

New ideas tomorrow. I promise!

What’s Cooking? – Chickpea Burgers

This recipe gives an alternative to a meat dish if you are either vegan or trying to cut back on your meat intake. Replacing ground beef with crushed chickpeas will reduce saturated fats levels and consequently, calories.

These are easy to make in advance, you can even freeze them and defrost for a quick meal. Serve them with wholewheat buns (using the same condiments you would for regular burgers) and a green salad and dressing. If you have some cooked beets on hand, throw them into the salad.

Chickpea Burgers

1 can Eden Organics chickpeas
1 medium carrot, chopped
¼ cup chopped red onion
2 tbsp sunflower seeds
1/8 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/8 cup chopped coriander
1 tsp coarse sea salt 


Preheat oven to 375°F.  In a food processor, blend together the chickpeas, carrots, onion and sunflower seeds.  Add tahini and blend again until a thick paste.  Pulse in coriander and sea salt.

Lightly grease or line a baking dish with parchment paper.  Divide mixture in 8 and shape into burger.  Bake for 15 minutes, flip and bake for a further 15 minutes.

What’s Cooking? – Roasted Vegetables and Salmon

This could be a one pot meal that is easy to prepare in advance. It can usually be done using up a lot of vegetables that you aren’t sure what to do with and is just finished off with a piece of, ideally organic, wild salmon.

My favourite roasted vegetable mix includes white potatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, different coloured peppers, red onion, garlic, eggplant and leek. But that’s just me. Feel free to adjust according to your own taste. I chop them all roughly, put them in a huge bowl (because there is a lot when they are raw) and toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper and finely chopped fresh rosemary.

Then I throw them in a baking dish and roast them, covered, for about 45 minutes at 425°F. You’ll need to stir them 1-2 times during cooking.

The salmon, I wash, pat dry and place in a separate baking dish lined with olive oil, thinly sliced onion and fennel and a splash of white wine (you can use lemon instead). Sprinkle some sea salt and pepper over top of the fish. Add to the oven about 20 minutes before the vegetables are ready.

Alternatively, you can pan fry the salmon instead. For this, I would use a pre-prepared rub (like the one below) and make sure the fish is patted dry. You heat the oil (I like grapeseed) on a high heat and only when it’s hot, place the salmon skin side down. Immediately reduce the heat to medium. After a few minutes, see if it detaches easily from the pan. If it does, it’s ready to flip. If not, leave it a couple more minutes and try again. Flip and cook until you can see it’s cooked through – about 4-5 minutes.

Serve with the roasted vegetables, yum!

Spice Rub

2 tbsp coarse sea salt
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
1/8 cup each of paprika and chili powder*
2 tbsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp dried thyme leaves
1 tbsp cayenne


Mix all ingredients together and store in a glass jar for up to 6 months.

Use sparingly.

Makes about 1 cup.

* This version is quite spicy. If you are looking for a milder flavour, substitute more paprika for some or all of the chili powder.

What’s Cooking? – Spring Vegetable Pesto Pasta

It’s hard for this recipe not to be a success. The flavours are delicious and pasta is always a hit! It’s quick and easy too. You can toast the garlic and pine nuts together but watch them closely. They can burn easily.

Spring Vegetable Pesto Pasta

8 cloves garlic
1/3 cup pine nuts
340g wholewheat fusilli
I bunch asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 2″ pieces
2 cups peas, fresh or thawed from frozen, divided
170g basil, stems discarded (about 5 cups loosely packed)
8 sprigs mint, stems discarded (about 1 cup loosely packed)
1/2 cup Parmesan, grated and divided
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 300°F. Lightly brush or spray the garlic with oil. Roast the garlic with the pine nuts on a baking sheet until the nuts are golden brown and the garlic has softened, about 12 minutes.

Boil the pasta in a large pot of water. Add the asparagus 2 minutes before the pasta is finished cooking. Add 1-1/2 cups of the peas when the pasta is done. Turn off the burner, drain the pasta and vegetables and return them to the pot.

While the pasta is cooking, make the pesto. In a food processor, pulse the roasted garlic and pine nuts with the basil, mint, 1/2 cup of peas, half the parmesan and the oil until uniformly chopped. Season with the pepper and 1/2 tsp of salt. Scoop out 1/2 cup of the pasta water and stir it into the pesto.

Toss the pasta and vegetables with the pesto. Serve immediately sprinkled with the remaining 1/2 tsp of salt and the remaining parmesan.

Serves 4. Recipe taken from Nutrition Action Healthletter

What’s Cooking – Quinoa Salad

Quinoa makes a great base for a main meal salad. It’s the only grain that contains all the essential amino acids making it a complete protein. Consequently, it’s filling. It’s also gluten-free, low in fat and high in fibre.

The grain soaks up a lot of flavour so this salad is best made the day before. It’s a great dish to make at the weekend and enjoy for at least one dinner and one lunch during the week.

It’s a recipe that one of my nutrition teachers developed and I’ve used it many many times. Ricki Heller is, however, more well known for her desserts and she wrote a book called Sweet Freedom that is my bible when I’m baking for anybody with a restrictive diet. She also writes a blog which is a great resource for gluten free or vegan baking. I am also excited to see she has a new book due out in September called Naturally Sweet & Gluten Free. I can’t wait!

Quinoa, Roasted Beet and Walnut Salad

3-4 medium beets, washed and trimmed (do not peel)
1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups filtered water
½ cup walnuts, lightly roasted and cooled
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or grated
1 lemon, juice and grated rind
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp organic sugar
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Pepper, to taste 


Preheat the oven to 425°F. Wrap beets in foil and bake until extremely tender (45 minutes – 1 hour). Let cool, then slip off the skins and dice into 2 cm cubes. Set aside.

Bring water to a boil in a small heavy saucepan. Rinse quinoa well and add to water. Return to boil, reduce heat to low and cover. Allow to simmer, untouched, for 25 minutes, then remove from heat. Remove cover and allow to cool.

In a small skillet, heat oil and add garlic and lemon rind. Cook and stir for 2 minutes, then add balsamic vinegar, mustard, lemon juice and sugar. Remove from heat.

Add beets to cooled quinoa. Break walnuts into pieces and add to the bowl. Pour dressing over and toss well until quinoa becomes pink. Add cilantro and combine well. Season to taste with pepper. This salad is even better the second day, after the flavours meld.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe by Ricki Heller.