Killer Salads

Wow I have been gone a while, I do apologizes. Life really has gotten in the way of my blogging this month. How have you been? Is summer in full force were you live? It is gorgeous here in Toronto. The winters here are long and cold, but our amazing summers make up for it! I spend every moment that I can outside in an attempt to make up for all the winter months spent inside.

Here in Toronto a big part of our summer culture is patios. In fact, a lot of us refer to the warmer months as patio season. We spend lazy afternoons and evenings soaking up the heat of the sun in preparation for next winter's hibernation. Along with this comes sangria, beer, fried food and other not so healthy pub fair.  I try to fight summer weight gain by eating at home and just joining my friends for a couple patio drinks. This saves both my wallet and my waistline. This time of year at least one meal a day tends to come in the form of a salad.

Chances are you have been to a restaurant and have had an amazing salad, much better then you have ever managed to make at home. Since salads aren't cooked (or at least not usually) a lot a people get frustrated when they can't make restaurant worthy salads. So what makes a restaurant salad so good? And why is it that people will pay $15 for one on a patio when they could make it at home for a fraction of the price and enjoy it in a park on their lunch break? Well with a few simple guidelines you can make amazing salads. 

Let's start at the bottom, the base. What kind of salad are you going to make? Traditionally greens are used, which makes for a pretty healthy start. Depending on what flavor you are going for, and how long you need the salad to last, you have a huge amount of choice. Restaurants will often use mixed baby greens as the base for their green salads. These come pre-washed and ready to go at most grocery stores. As you all know I am a huge fan of kale, so I often used this as my salad base. It lasts longer than the baby greens and I find it more filling. To change things up I also like to use a mix of arugula (which is peppery) and baby spinach (which is high in iron). These are only a few options though, there are tons of different varieties of greens out there; Boston, iceberg, romaine, bib, and butter lettuce are just a few. You can also think outside the box as well, I have made great salads using broccoli or cabbage as a base.   

Now that you have the biggest part taken care of let's talk about the dressing. Make it from scratch. Salad dressings are super easy to make at home and will easily last for a week in your fridge, they are way more tasty then store bought versions and are cheaper. You can make your dressings creamy or thin, and in any flavor that you can imagine. I often will make a simple vinaigrette with herbs for a more basic salad (like this one), or a honey mustard dressing for a salad with fruit.

Since I eat salads as a meal and not just a side dish I like to add protein. Most of the time this isn't meat for me, but this is definitely an option is you aren't vegetarian. Growing up my mom would often add chopped ham, but these days I lean towards legumes, eggs and cheese. Canned beans are an easy way to make a salad more filling. A good example would be a salad with black beans, tomatoes, cheddar and a cilantro lime vinaigrette. I like adding chickpeas to my Greek salads to make them a bit heartier. Cheese is another protein to add. I put cheese into almost every salad that I make; Havarti with apples and spinach, Feta with tomatoes and cucumber, Gouda with pears and arugula... the list goes on and on.

It is important to balance the other flavors in your salads. There should be elements of sweet, sour, bitter and salty in you bowl. Often the greens will impart the bitterness, but the other ingredients need to balance out the rest. Some salad dressings will give the sour note, and fruit is a great way to add sweetness. Think outside the box here, salads don't have to be all vegetables. Briny olives or capers can add saltiness. Consider the size of what you add to the bowl here as well. Everything needs to be bite sized, you should never need a knife for a well made salad.

Texture is key to keeping your salad interesting, this is why so many places add croutons to their offerings. Personally I shy away from croutons and I try to get my crunch through other more flavorful means. My favorite way to add crunch to salads is with nuts and seeds; when toasted they add a great hit of flavor. I'll add creamy elements to my bowl with avocado or goat's cheese. Every bite should be a blend of textures and flavors to keep you interested down to the last forkful. 

Once you have all the basics down, go ahead and experiment. I enjoy using different blends of greens, or throwing an unexpected vegetable in the mix. If all else fails and I'm short on time I'll throw in a handful of broccoli slaw for a hit of flavor and nutrition. 

Here are some examples of salads you might not normally think of:

Arugula, pear, fennel, Havarti in a mustard vinaigrette

Celery, apple, raisins and walnuts with canned tuna in a mayonnaise based dressing 

Spinach, mandarin oranges and bacon 

Black beans, tomato, and roasted corn with a cumin dressing

Enjoy,

Alexandra

Brown Sugared Pineapples and Pears

So this past weekend I had a bit of a pineapple situation. I was excited to cut into what I expected to be a delicious, perfectly ripe and juicy treat, however I was deeply disappointed when I found that it wasn't ripe at all. Has this happened to you before? It really is a bit infuriating when it happens. You don't want to snack on unripe fruit, but at the same time you are at a loss as to what to do. In general unripe fruit leads itself to being cooked. Normally I would make muffins or upside cake (like this one) however I was low an flour and way too lazy to make a trip in the rain to the grocery store. I thought of a few options; fried rice, stuffed baked pineapple, or sweet and sour shrimp. However, in all honesty I didn't have the needed ingredients on hand to make what I was envisioning so I had to go back to the drawing board.  

This week's recipe is a a take on last week's compote. I think that it really shows how versatile fruit can be. It's good hot or cold, cooked or raw. Sometimes, like in the case of this week's recipe, odd combinations can come together to make a surprisingly delicious outcome. There really isn't much to change or substitute this week. You can use apples instead of pears if you'd like. Maybe add a couple other warm spices like all-spice. There really are so few ingredients that it will be more about what you'd like to add as opposed to what you'd like to change. I prefer this served warm. It makes a great topping for oatmeal, waffles or for pound cake. It cooks up quickly and freezes well.

Brown Sugared Pineapple

1 TBSP Butter

1 Pineapple, Peeled, Cored and Diced

4 Pears, Cored and Diced

1 TSP Cinnamon

0.5 TSP Ground Ginger

0.25 Cup Brown Sugar

 

Melt butter

Add in pineapple, sugar and spices

Cook for about 5-10 minutes until pineapple softens a little

Add in pears and cook for another 5 minutes

Serve warm

Enjoy

 

Alexandra

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

Sorry I have been MIA yet again. I really have no excuse except last week my creative juices just weren't flowing and I didn't end up making anything new or exciting. The things that I like to post need to be a cut above your typical throw in the microwave meal, and some weeks the meals that I make just aren't good enough for you. I still eat healthy, but often my meals are simple salads or things that I have already posted. 

This week I'm excited about the recipe that I am posting. Spring has sprung and so has fresh produce; strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus are all at their best this time of year. I eat my fill of them now knowing that they'll go up in price as the year progresses. This past weekend I was lucky enough to get the first crop of my mom's rhubarb. There is something about homegrown produce that is just out of this world. Garden fresh food has much more flavor than what you get on grocery store shelves. I wish I lived in a place where I could eat homegrown food year round, but alas the cold Canadian winter prevents that treat. 

Bright red and bursting with flavor this compote is perfect for spring. 

Bright red and bursting with flavor this compote is perfect for spring. 

Most of the time people associate rhubarb with pie, so I wanted to do something a little different for you, a super easy compote. Compote is a word that you often see on fancy menus, but really it's just stewed fruit. You wouldn't order "stewed fruit" at a restaurant because it doesn't sound remotely appealing, so restaurateurs had to come up with a better word. Compote is delicious and super easy to make at home. This recipe only has 4 ingredients and is bursting with spring flavor. I like to use this as a topping for yogurt and granola, but it's equally delicious on vanilla ice cream, waffles   or just straight up with a spoon!

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

2 Cups Chopped Rhubarb

2 Cups Strawberries, hulled and halved

.3 Cup Mild Honey

2 Thick Strips Lemon Zest

 

Add all ingredients to a thick bottomed pot and sir well

Bring to a boil, stirring often

Reduce to a simmer (leave pot uncovered)

Cook until fruit is soft and juices are thick (about 10-15 minutes)

Stir often or mixture will stick to the bottom of the pan

Enjoy hot or chilled

Alexandra

Cheesy Mexican Pasta Bake

Hi all! How's spring going for you? Life here has finally settled down a bit and I am getting to spend more time cooking. Rainy spring afternoons make me want to run into my kitchen and experiment with whatever I happen to have on hand. I can great pretty creative on grey days if it means avoiding going out in the rain and getting soggy. I have made some pretty interesting changes to recipes in the name of staying comfy and dry; we aren't taking about something as simple as swapping spinach for kale it's more like completely changing a dish and hoping for the best. Do you take culinary risks in the name of laziness?

Cheese + Pasta = Best Friends Forever

Cheese + Pasta = Best Friends Forever

This week's recipe seems a little "out there" but I promise that everything works together. I have been on a pasta kick lately, and have been taking several risks with my ingredients. So far, much to my surprise, my experiments have been working out rather well. Unfortunately sometimes I just get really into what I am doing and I forget to write anything down. I did learn from my mistakes and luckily I wrote down the ingredients for this casserole which was based off of my Mexican Lasagna

 

This recipe is super versatile and is easy to whip up. I made the dish the day before I wanted to eat it then just popped it into the oven to bake right before dinner. In terms of substitutions you have a lot of wiggle room with this recipe. If you eat meat then throw some cubed chicken breast or ground beef in. Feel free to swap out black beans for kidney or pinto beans if you have those on hand. Add in some corn, spinach or chopped jalapeno instead of the zucchini. I used cheddar cheese, but jalapeno jack would be a good addition. If you have neither than marble or Colby would also work. I personally think that cavatappi is a fun pasta shape because it's a spiral, but if you can't find it any short tube shaped pasta will work just as well. You can use gluten-free pasta here if needed. 

Cheesy Mexican Pasta Bake

Serves 6

4 Cups Cavatappi Pasta

1.5 Cups Tomato Sauce

1.5 Cups Salsa 

1 Red/Yellow/Orange Bell Pepper, Diced

1 Can (540mL) Black Beans, Rinsed and Drained

0.5 Bunch Cilantro, Washed and Chopped

1 Tsp Cumin

1 Cup Grated Zucchini, Drained

1.5 Cups Grated Cheddar Cheese

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cook pasta according to package directions, set aside

Mix salsa, tomato sauce and cumin

Add in peppers, zucchini, beans and cilantro 

Combine sauce, half the cheese and pasta, stir well

Grease a casserole dish

Add in pasta mixture

Top with the remaining cheese

Cover and bake for 20 minutes

Uncover and bake for another 5 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and gooey

 

Enjoy

Alexandra

Alexandra

Spinach

How are things going with you? Things here are still busy but are settling down a bit. How did you like last week's post? Did you try any ideas from the list? I actually really enjoyed the challenge of providing a list of ideas instead of just one recipe, so I am going to continue along the same vein this week.

As you know I pre-plan and prepare my meals on the weekend so that I am all ready for the work week. Unfortunately sometimes I buy too much or make too little and I need to readjust my menu. This week I found myself with a wayward bag of spinach, which in all honesty isn't all that unusual. I normally will have a bag in my fridge because it is so versatile. This week's post will touch on just a few of the many things that I do with this easy to prepare vegetable.

1) Grab some eggs and whip up a spinach and cheddar omelette. If you have left over broccoli, mushrooms or peppers they make a great addition.

2) Toss some into a Buddha Bowl for a healthy dinner.

3) I often will substitute spinach for kale in this amazing quinoa dish from the New York Times.

4) Spinach salad is a classic lunchtime option. This Greek version is a staple in my lunchbox.

5) Spinach makes a great addition to stir-fries. For a fast dinner cook up some rice and grab a frozen Asian veggie blend from your local grocery store. Toss together with some spinach, tofu and you favorite sauce for a healthy weeknight meal.

6) I love putting spinach in my chana masala

7) For an easy side dish I like to saute some garlic, onions and spinach together with a little grainy mustard.

8) Make a pasta salad with spinach, pesto, feta and shrimp. If you are not planning on eating it right away leave the spinach on the side and toss in just before serving.

9) Add a boost of iron to your tacos by using spinach instead of lettuce.

10) Spruce up weekend breakfasts by serving eggs Florentine; English muffins with spinach, poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce.  If the idea of making Hollandaise is intimidating, just skip it altogether and add goat cheese instead. 

11) Add some green to pasta nights by throwing some spinach into your spaghetti and meatballs or tuna noodle casserole

12) Make a chicken Caesar wrap for lunch using spinach instead of Romaine lettuce. 

This list really could go on and on. Spinach can be substituted for other greens in most recipes. It's also really easy to add a handful into most soups, stews and pasta dishes. If you have low iron or are vegetarian using spinach is a really easy way to bump up the iron in your diet.

What's your favorite way to use spinach?

Alexandra

Pasta for Busy Nights

Welcome to May! Mother nature has pressed the reset button; the trees are in bloom and there are flowers lining the streets. Even though the skies are a bit grey, it's hard not to like spring, especially after the long, cold Canadian winter. It's just so nice to see the world alive, after months of cold days and people hiding in their homes.

Before I go on, I should apologize for not getting a post out last week. My world has been a bit crazy lately and there have been some extra drains on my time. It's hard to juggle everything some weeks, I'm sure that you understand. 

My busy schedule did give me this week's post idea though, quick meals. These days I'm noticing more and more people seem to be in the same boat as me, too much to do and too little time to do it in. The lunchroom at my office has an increased number of people buying their lunches because they "just don't have time" to cook. Although takeout is tempting, it can be hard on your wallet and your waistline if you  get it everyday. So that brings us to the heart of the matter, what can you cook when you have no time? Pasta of course!

I'm not actually going to give you a new recipe this week, instead I'm going to give you some links and ideas then you can take it from there. To cut down on prep time buy frozen veggies or pre-washed greens. It can be a bit more expense so watch for sales and coupons and stock up when you can. Jarred sauces can be high in salt and sugar, so make sure to read labels when you are shopping. Also consider alternative sauces like pesto, baba ghanoush and hummus. 

1) If you are short on time, buy some baba ghanoush and make a pasta salad.

2) Grab some canned pumpkin and whip up some pumpkin spaghetti.

3) Tuna noodle casserole makes a great weeknight meal.

4) Cook up your favorite pasta, throw in some cooked shrimp, baby spinach and some pesto. I like making this one in bulk when I have time and freezing it. However if you are in a rush pre-made will do just fine.

5) If you want a Thai feeling, cook up these noodles with a coconut milk based sauce.

6) Buy some cheese tortellini and a frozen Mediterranean vegetable blend, cook and toss together for a no prep meal. 

7) A frozen Asian vegetable blend, bottled peanut sauce and soba noodles make for a quick stir-fry on busy nights. 

8) Grape tomatoes, bell peppers, feta and cucumbers tossed with bottled Greek dressing and penne makes a yummy pasta salad. Add some black olives and tuna to kick it up a notch.

9) Pasta, black beans, salsa, frozen corn, and fresh bell peppers work great for a Tex-Mex inspired packed lunch. Don't forget to add some cheddar to finish it off. 

Enjoy!

Alexandra

 

Zucchini Spice Muffins

Are you the type of person who handles stress well? I usually hold it all together pretty well, and then on occassion I don't and it usually takes something silly to make me realize that I need to relax a bit. I have been under a decent amount of stress lately and I thought that I was doing well; still packing healthy lunches, going to yoga 3 to 4 times a week, making sure that I was touching base with friends and family. Good right? Ya, I thought so too. Then one morning on my way to work I had a meltdown in the elevator (in front of strangers), not for any good reason, just because my work tote bag wouldn't close. It's funny how stress manifests and we come to realize that maybe we aren't as okay as we thought. When we do come to terms with that fact that we are a big ball of stress, it can be really hard to relax. Personally when I need to manage stress I will increase how many times a week I do yoga, or I'll go for a massage or get a pedicure, but sometimes that's not enough. Sometimes you need comfort food as well. If you are like me, comfort means carbs, and lots of them!

zucchini spice muffins.JPG

I find that there is a fine line between eating just enough comfort food to be satisfied and eating too much. It's so easy for me to start a cookie (or three) a day habit. When you live and work in a big city there are coffee shops and cafes every block, and they all have delicious carbs on offer. A walk to reduce stress can easily end up being a cookie/danish/muffin walk. The walk gives you a reason to leave your desk, the treat makes you happy for a little while and it tastes amazing. However, not only can these treats add up in terms of cost, they are also (more often than not) pretty unhealthy. That's where this week's recipe comes in, zucchini spice muffins.

These muffins are satisfying when you need a mid-morning snack and an apple just won't do the trick. Most muffin recipes use butter or vegetable oil as a fat, these ones use a healthier mix of coconut oil and avocado. The spices give these a punch of flavor, you would never guess that there are vegetables hiding in them! To reduce calories you could use an artificial sweetener in place of the white sugar. If you wanted to make these healthier and less of a treat you could use half whole wheat flour and half all-purpose flour, I didn't happen to have any on hand this week. These freeze really well just in case you want to make a double batch to have treats on hand for carb needing emergencies. 

 

Zucchini Spice Muffins

0.5 Cup Brown Sugar

0.5 Cup White Sugar

0.5 Hass Avocado 

0.25 Cup Coconut Oil

2 Eggs

1 TSP Vanilla

1.5 Cups All Purpose Flour

0.5 TSP Cinnamon

0.5 TSP Cardamom

0.25 TSP Allspice

0.5 TSP Baking Powder

0.5 TSP Baking Soda

0.5 TSP Salt

1 Cup Zucchini, Grated

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Mix together sugars

Using a mixer or egg beaters blend in oil and avocado, continue until mixture is totally smooth

Add in eggs, vanilla and zucchini

In a separate bowl blend together all the remaining dry ingredients

Mix dry into the wet, stirring until just incorporated 

Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until done

Best enjoyed warm

 

Alexandra

Thai Coconut Carrot Soup

I can't believe that it's Easter weekend already! My disbelief might have something to do with the grey skies and lack of flowers that we have in Toronto at the moment. It doesn't really look or feel like spring, but as they say April showers bring May flowers, so I'm sure nicer days are around the corner. I considered doing a brunch dish for you, or some fancy chocolate desert, but true to my typical style I decided to go off the beaten track a little bit. When I think of Easter I think of bunnies, and when I think of bunnies I think of carrots. I also happened to have a ton of carrots in my freezer, so it made sense to make a recipe this week that made use of them. 

This rich soup is far from rabbit food.

This rich soup is far from rabbit food.

I mentioned last week about my growing sense of wanderlust, this week's recipes plays right into that. I can't seem to shake the impulse to travel, so I have decided to to explore the flavors of the world while I plan my next trip. Last week's spice combination took us to Morocco, this week's coconut soup will have us jetting off to Thailand. If you enjoyed the Thai flavors in the red and green curries that I posted before, then this soup is for you. I have no idea what I'd like to do for next week, do you have a favorite cuisine? 

 

This soup is flavorful, filling and healthy. It'd be a nice lunch option with some summer rolls and a fresh mango salad. It's easy to make and freezes very well. In terms of substitutions you could use chicken stock instead of vegetable if you didn't want this to be vegetarian. If you had sweet potatoes or butternut squash they could be added instead of or in combination with the carrots. If you have a nut allergy, I would suggest using soy "nut" butter instead of peanut butter, sunflower seed butter might work as well but I haven't tried it. Don't leave out or substitute the red curry paste though, it needs to be there. Red curry paste is different than the yellow curry powder that you use in Indian style dishes. You can find Thai curry pastes at most major grocery stores. 

Thai Coconut Carrot Soup

1 TBSP Coconut Oil

1 Small Onion, Diced

4 Cups Carrots, Diced

1.25 Cups Red Lentils, Rinsed

1.5 Cans Coconut Milk

4 Cups Vegetable Stock

1 TBSP Thai Red Curry Paste

1 TBSP Fresh Ginger, Grated

4 TBSP Peanut Butter

0.5 TBSP Cumin

0.25 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Chopped

 

Melt coconut oil in a soup pot

Saute onion until translucent

Add in carrots, lentils, cumin and ginger, mix well

Pour in coconut milk and stock

Whisk in peanut butter and curry paste

Bring mixture to a boil then reduce to a gentle simmer

Cook with a lid on for about 20 minutes or until the carrots are soft

Take off heat and puree

Add in cilantro and adjust seasoning as needed. 

 

Enjoy

 

Alexandra

 

 

 

 

Moroccan Butternut Squash Stew

So life has been a little hectic lately. Some days I feel like I'm juggling and there are just way too many balls in the air. I know that life gets this way for all of us at one point or another. It's the worst when the outcome of everything is out of your hands as well. It really just makes me want to reach for pizza and donuts and be as physically lazy as possible so that I can conserve energy for thinking and planning ahead. Naturally I know that this isn't the answer to my problems and that I need to eat healthy and go to yoga, but donuts taste so good! I actually just finished a double chocolate glazed (someone bought it for me, it'd be rude not to accept  :P) Now that I'm off my elimination diet I can indulge from time to time. The first bite tasted so good...

Dreaming of exotic locations with this warming vegetarian stew

Dreaming of exotic locations with this warming vegetarian stew

With all the chaos surrounding me, I find myself dreaming of a vacation. I'll go away somewhere this year, I just have no idea where. Morocco has been on my radar for a couple of years, so maybe that will happen. Or maybe it'll be Greece, I have always wanted to go. Or Jamaica, or maybe South America, or Jordan, or Iceland. There are so many amazing things in the world to see it's really hard to pick a spot. Do you have a favorite travel destination? I'd love recommendations so that I can shorten my super long list. 

 

This week's recipe is inspired by dreams of travel. It's warming spices and bright color bring to mind exotic destinations with open air markets. It's super healthy, vegetarian and full of flavor. I know the peanut butter seems out of place, but please trust me that it needs to be there. It rounds out the flavor and adds a creamy depth while not actually tasting like you expect. Give it a try, you won't be disappointed. In terms of prep work I cheated this week and used frozen cubed squash, you can use fresh if you have it around, the cooking time will just be a little bit longer. The dried cranberries can be swapped with raisins if you prefer, the red onion with a yellow or white one. All the spices do need to be added, you can reduce the chili powder if you prefer milder dishes, but add a tiny pinch at the very least. I serve this over couscous and parsley, but quinoa would work if gluten is an issue. This works very well as a vegetarian main, but also can be served as a side with a spiced or grilled meat dish. 

Moroccan Butternut Squash Stew

750 G Frozen Butternut Squash, Thawed and Drained

1 Red Onion, Diced

1 TBSP Oil

1 TBSP Minced Garlic

0.25 TSP Chili Powder

0.12 TSP Cinnamon

0.12 TSP Nutmeg

1 TSP Cumin

1 Can Diced Tomatoes (24 Ounces)

0.3 Cup Dried Cranberries

1 Can Chickpeas, Drained and Rinsed

0.25 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter

Salt and Pepper To Taste 

 

Heat oil in a large pot

Saute onion until soft

Add in garlic and spices, stir well

Stir in all other ingredients aside from the peanut butter

Bring the stew to a boil then reduce to a simmer

Cover and gently simmer for 15 minutes, or until squash is tender

Turn off heat and stir in peanut butter

Taste and adjust salt, pepper and chili powder to your preference

Serve hot over couscous

 

Enjoy

Alexandra

White Quesadillas

Nickels and Noodles is officially 1! Thanks for following along this past year. I love hearing about when you make my recipes or seeing your pictures so please keep them coming. If you don't already follow Nickels and Noodles on Facebook and Instagram (@nickels_and_noodles) you are missing out. Tag, comment and share; I love it when you get involved. Otherwise I feel like I'm just writing to myself, and that's kind of weird.

I was going to make a cake this week but sadly I'm still off of sugar, and a sugar free cake didn't appeal. I toyed around with baking one using dates as sweetener, but I didn't think that you would be likely to make it at home so I abandoned the idea. Happily I get to have dairy and wheat again; that first bite of bread tasted so good!! Naturally this week I decided to share a recipe that had both wheat and dairy in it. However, it is easily made wheat-free or vegan just in case you can't enjoy all forms of deliciousness. 

You all know how much I love quesadillas from my previous post on fish quesadillas. I was really happy to work on a vegetarian version this week, it was chilly here in Toronto and these were comforting and just hit the spot. Grilled cheese is my ultimate comfort food, so the combo of wheat tortillas and feta in these just struck a cord. There is something about gooey cheese and wheat that just makes my soul happy; quesadillas, mac & cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches (I could go on but I won't). I'm not sure how vegans do it, I have so much respect for their willpower in living a life with no (real) cheese. I was without it for six weeks and felt as though my world was going to end. Do you have a food that you couldn't live without?

I call these white quesadillas, but I know that they aren't white. The name comes from the pale ingredients that are in them; there are no tomatoes, bright peppers or black beans. Pasty or pale quesadillas just didn't have the same ring to it so I decided to take some liberties with the name. I have decided to use whole wheat tortillas, but you can use gluten-free or corn ones if you need to. I used on pinto beans as a fun change from typical black beans, you can substitute with what you happen to have in the cupboard (maybe black eyed peas or white beans). The roasted sweet potatoes and corn both add a necessary sweetness, it would be hard to replace them, but you could leave out the corn if you really wanted. If you are dairy-free swap the feta for some sliced olives. It won't be the same but the saltiness works well with the sweetness of the corn and sweet potatoes. I have used store bought ranchero sauce, however if you have the time to make your own that would be a wonderful addition. These come together very quickly once the sweet potatoes are roasted. If you are organized then bake them up ahead of time so that the quesadillas become a quick weeknight meal to put together. Naturally these should be served with your favorite guacamole on the side. 

 

White Quesadillas

Refried Beans

1 TSP Lemon Juice

0.5 TSP Salt

1 Can Pinto Beans, Drained and Rinsed

1 TBSP Garlic

0.5 Cup Water

1 TSP Cumin

0.5 TSP Chili Powder

 

Sweet Potatoes

1 Large Sweet Potato, Diced

1 TSP Oil

1 TSP Ancho Chili Powder

 

4 Whole Wheat Tortillas

1 Yellow Pepper, sliced

1 TSP Oil

0.5 Cup Corn

0.5 Cup Crumbled Feta

0.25 Cup Ranchero Sauce

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Toss sweet potatoes, oil and chili powder together

Bake for 30 minutes or until tender, set aside

Meanwhile, in a small pot, combine all the ingredients together for the refried beans

Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer

Cook until all the liquid is gone, mash and set aside

Heat 1 TSP of oil in a pan

Add pepper and saute until just cooked, set aside

To assemble, spread ranchero sauce on the half a tortilla

Spread refried beans on to the reminder up the upward facing tortilla

Top with feta, corn, peppers and sweet potatoes

Fold in half and place on a baking sheet

Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, flipping half way through

Serve hot with your favorite guacamole

 

Enjoy!

Alexandra

 

 

 

Quick Coconut Sweet Chili Noodles

Raise your hand if you think that cooking during the week is a huge hassle. Ya, me too. I try to do all my meal prep on Sundays to cut down on weekday cooking, but alas I'm human and sometimes I misjudge how much food I need. I have a few go-to recipes for when this happens, but really I can only make them so many times before I'm totally sick of them. Do you have recipes that you always reach for? I think for  lots of people it's probably spaghetti, I normally do a noodle stir-fry, or sometimes I'll do a quinoa bowl like this one with kimchi.  

This week's recipe is made for those nights when you need something that is quick to whip up. There is very little prep involved here because after a full day at work who wants to spend an hour chopping things? Not me that's for sure. The reason why I reach for stir-fries so often is how easy they are to make, plus they are super versatile. Mid-week I'll often find myself reaching for frozen veggies to cut down on the effort it takes to put a meal on the table, or I'll use up produce that I already have in the fridge. I say produce and not veggies because if you think outside the box that wayward orange can be juiced to go into a glaze, or those mangoes could work great in a honey sauce. Being creative can save you a trip to the grocery store. 

Like always this recipe is super adaptable. Use lime juice if you don't have lemon juice around. No crab? Use shrimp, tofu, or chicken. Rice noodles can be replaced with the noodle of your choice. If you have a nut allergy omit the crushed peanuts and add some crushed unsalted sunflower seeds instead. I use broccoli slaw in this because I love it, but really most veggies could work here. Omit the chili flakes if you want a milder dish, add more in for some extra kick. If you have cilantro around it would make a great addition. 

Quick Coconut Sweet Chili Noodles

0.5 Can Coconut Milk

0.25 Cup Sweet Chili Sauce

2 TBSP Soy Sauce

1 TBSP Lemon Juice

1 TBSP Dried Basil

0.5-1 TSP Chili Flakes

1 Package Artificial Crab (227 grams)

1 Package Broccoli Slaw (12 oz.)

0.5 Package Rice Noodles (0.5 Lb)

0.25 Cup Unsalted Peanuts, Crushed

1 TSP  Sesame Oil

Ad the first 6 ingredients together to make the sauce, shake well and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil

Cook noodles according to package directions, drain and set aside.

Heat sesame oil in a wok or large pan

Quickly saute broccoli slaw

Add in crab, noodles, and sauce

Toss until everything is incorporated 

Top with peanuts and serve hot

 

Enjoy

Alexandra

 

 

 

 

Blissful Basil's Vanilla Chai Chia Pudding

Wow, can you believe how far we already are into March? The weather here in Toronto is completely unpredictable, one day it's warm and sunny, the next it's freezing and snowing. It's frustrating,  you never know what to wear or if you want to pack stew or a salad for lunch. The fact that I'm still limited in my food choices due to my elimination diet doesn't help the situation. Tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich is perfect no matter what the weather, but alas I'm not on wheat or dairy yet. As a result I have been making a ton of grain bowls which can be eaten hot or at room temperature; luckily bowls have unlimited options in terms of flavor combinations.

Believe it or not, my snacks have been more difficult to figure out than my meals. In the cooler months I love to have healthy muffins or oat squares as my morning treat. In the summer I am more likely to reach for a piece of fruit or yogurt. I can't have wheat, dairy or added sugar these days so I have had to think outside the box in terms of delicious and healthy snacks that I'll want no matter what the weather is. I went to buy coconut yogurt in the store only to find that it was loaded with sugar and was a totally unreasonable price, so that option was removed quickly. Lately there have been a lot of recipes on my favorite food blogs about chia seed pudding so I thought that I'd give it a try. 

If you are of my generation or are older you will remember the Chia Pet commercial, ch-ch-ch-chia! Turns out that the same seeds that were used to grow "hair" on a ceramic figure as house pant also are edible and are packed with good for you stuff. These little seeds are full of protein and fiber and have very little taste. They expand when they are exposed to liquid making them a good choice to create puddings that resemble tapioca or even as a thinking agent for refrigerator jams. I have added chia seeds to my oatmeal for ages now, but I didn't branch into the world of chia seed pudding until I was on this diet and couldn't reach for my normal yogurt. 

I have tried a number of recipes over the past few weeks and this was by far my favorite. It's so good in fact that the only change that I made was adding a handful of raisins to it. Chopped dates or even dried cranberries work just as well, I know because I have tried both over the past couple weeks. This recipe is both vegan and gluten free, so it works great so almost everyone! I liked to be decedent and use creamy canned coconut milk, which makes this taste like even more of a treat!

http://www.blissfulbasil.com/vanilla-chai-chia-pudding-vegan-gluten-free

 

 

 

Meal Planning

Okay guys, I'm officially on my last full week of this crazy elimination diet and I can't wait to start reincorporating foods! If you have ever had to follow a super restrictive diet you will understand the pure joy of being able to add one more food item to your weekly repertoire. For the past month I have been without some of my favorite things; no wheat, dairy, tofu, refined sugar, chocolate and tomatoes (among other things that I don't miss as much). The whole list is actually quit long, it's just these things that I really miss. I have a ton of respect for vegans and gluten-free folks, I don't know how you all do it! 

Instead of posting a weekly recipe like I usually do I thought I'd share some tips on meal planning. How many of you have had problems "staying on track" in one way or another? Maybe you made a new year's resolution to loose weight but can't manage to stay on plan, or perhaps you promised yourself that you would pack your lunch everyday to save for your dream vacation but just can't find the time to do it? We have all been there. Planning is the key to success in terms of meeting your food goals, be it eating healthier, staying or a diet (elimination or otherwise) or lunch packing. The difference with an elimination diet, as opposed to some of the other situations, is that you don't really have a choice about sicking to it. Elimination diets suck, so people don't do them for fun. If you end up in the situation where you are on one, chances are you have a health issue or two that you want to go away and it's been a process to get to this point. Cheating while you are on one of these is definitely frowned upon, and you don't want to start all over again so you need to do it right the first time. The only way to do this is to plan! 

Let's start at the very beginning, what can't you eat? Are you making a dietary change for weight loss or maybe health reasons like allergies, high cholesterol or diabetes? Do some research into what you new plan will entail. For example if you are looking to lower your sugar intake you might what to look into what foods have high natural sugar as well as what foods are high in added sugars. Become a label reader and learn all the names for the foods that you need to avoid; a lot of packaged foods have ingredients listed under names that you might not recognize. A good example of this is sugar, that stuff is hidden everywhere! Maltose, dextrose, sucrose and barley malt are all other names for sugar.

Now that you know what you can't have, open your mind to everything you can eat! I know you feel like your choices are really limited right now, but try to think outside the box. If you can't have wheat you can still have rice, barley, oats and corn. Breakfast without "normal" toast might be weird for a while, but you could buy wheat-free granola, or have a big bowl of oats instead. You do have options (lots of them actually), but you do need to break your habits. Instead of pasta reach for rice or soba noodles, or even use spaghetti squash. Look for inspiration online, you are not the only one that has to make these changes. Start creating a folder of recipes that you want to try out,  also include old ones that will work within your plan. 

Get the family on board. Support is so important when you are going through a period of change. Chances are you are eating differently in order to achieve a positive outcome. Let those close to you understand why you are doing this, they will probably understand. Also let them know that they are in no way obligated to make the same changes. If you are the main cook in your household you can choose meals that are easily adapted to be more palatable to your family, like taco nights where everyone builds their own. You can also choose meals that don't need the ingredients that you aren't allowed. If you are newly lactose intolerant reach for recipes that don't need dairy like Thai, Japanese or Chinese inspired dishes. They will taste great and no one will miss the cheese. 

Now the tough part begins, actually making your meal plan. Set time aside every week to sit down and look through flyers. See what is on sale and work from there, the last thing you want is your grocery bill skyrocketing! Pick some items that really appeal and start building your meals for the week. Go through your folder and find recipes that use this week's sale items. It can be useful to stock up on dry or bulk items when they are on sale or when coupons are available. Try to very recipes as much as you can so that you don't become bored.

After choosing your recipes you need to shop and cook. Set aside time every week to do this, and don't reschedule or rush things. If you put off shopping then you'll cut into your cooking time, which means you might not cook as much, which leads to disaster! Take the time to go shopping, and prep everything that you need for several days. I will often shop Saturday and then cook enough food on Sunday to last the work week. If I know that I'll need to cook midweek then I will make sure that it's an easy recipe and that I have everything already cut up and ready to go. Give yourself more time than you think that you will need. If you have a new allergy you'll need to read packages in the grocery store. If you are cooking in bulk you will need to give yourself extra time to prepare produce because there will be more of it than usual. 

Understand that eating out will be a challenge. Sometimes eating out can be a huge, stress inducing thing that causes a mini melt down. If you can try to be the one who chooses the restaurant. Look online as far in advance as you can to make sure that you have a couple choices on the menu. If you are newly vegetarian a steakhouse probably isn't a great choice. If you just learned that you are gluten sensitive then maybe avoid Italian. I found on my diet that Thai was a great option and sushi was a close second. I also avoided going out for brunch since most menus around me were wheat based. Have a couple restaurants in mind close to your home and office just in case something spontaneous pops up. There are some good apps out there to help you find restaurants that can accommodate your needs. Do some research so that you aren't caught off guard. 

Have your pantry properly set up for snacking. I found this out the hard way on my first day of my diet. I didn't plan on needing to snack outside of my normal meals so I had no healthy on-plan snacks in my house. Every week I plan in-between meal snacks for my workday, like chia seed pudding or trail mix bites, but what I realized is that you also non-perishable snacks for unplanned hunger. I stocked up on fruit and nut bars with no refined sugar, chocolate free trail mix, dried fruit, unsweetened apple sauce and gluten-free crackers. I have a stockpile of snacks at work, and if I go out I make sure that I have a bar in my bag in case I get a snack attack.

I know that you probably feel overwhelmed at this stage, but know that you can do this. Give yourself lots of extra time to plan, shop and cook so that you are setting yourself up for success. 

 

Alexandra

 

 

Salmon Frittata

I am now officially starting week three of my elimination diet. Believe it or not I am feeling better, it's weird because I can't even necessarily describe why exactly, other than being less tired and some minor symptoms going away. It never fails to amazing me how much the food that we eat effects us. It can make us feel sick, happy or healthy. How many times over the course of a week do you just eat for the sake of eating? You grab something because it's there as opposed to the nutritional value of it, or even because you really, really want to it it? I think we all are guilty of doing that at some time or another. Having a restricted diet makes you realize how often you take what you eat for granted. It's the worst when you are actually hungry but don't have your pantry and fridge set up for easy and healthy snacking within your diet's parameters. 

This past week I actually come close to having a mini meltdown; it was over meal planning for this week. Over the past few weeks I have had tons of super healthy grain bowls, I've made a whole roasted chicken and have even delved into the world of gluten-free pasta (which was kind of a disaster). I wanted something new this week, something that was totally different than what I have been eating. It was actually my mom who suggested making a quiche, however after last week's gluten-free spaghetti episode I decided to go for a frittata instead. I just didn't have it in me to handle another epic failure. Unfortunately like so many things on this diet, even planning the frittata filling was a challenge. I can't have milk, or cow's cheese, spinach, or tomatoes, all my normal choices for quiche. I decided to splurge and go for salmon and goat's milk cheddar, using kale as a green vegetable to help bulk it up a bit. I know that I rarely post recipes that aren't vegetarian or that use more expensive ingredients when I can use cheaper alternatives, but honestly I felt as though my brain was going to explode so I was pleased to come up with this. Normally I love meal planning. I like flipping through flyers and browsing recipes online; however now things are different. My old fail-safe back-ups aren't there anymore. I can't just whip up a tofu stir-fry the way I used to, I can't have tofu. It can make the process a bit more challenging when you don't have an old faithful just in case you can't think of something new and exciting to make. 

Perfect for weekend brunches or weekday packed lunchs. 

Perfect for weekend brunches or weekday packed lunchs. 

Now in saying all of this, of course I have chosen something that you can modify to suit your needs. After all you don't have to follow my diet. Any milk or unsweetened milk alternative will work equally well. If you don't have canned salmon around, you could use equal amounts of cooked fresh salmon or crab (fresh, canned or frozen). Mild cow's milk cheddar would be a cheaper alternative to the goat's milk cheese. Sheep's milk cheddar would work just as well if your grocery store has it. If you aren't a fan a kale, then broccoli would be a great substitution. You could also use spinach if you avoid cruciferous veggies. The recipe below makes a giant frittata. If your cast iron pan or pie plate is normal sized you will be left with extra filling. If this is the case make mini versions in individual pie plates or muffin tins. In all cases make sure that whatever you use is very well greased before you begin. 

Salmon Frittata

2 TBSP Coconut Oil

8 Eggs

1 Cup Coconut Milk

2 Cans Salmon, Drained

1 Cup Grated Goat's Milk Cheddar

1 Cup Kale, Washed and Torn

1 Onion, Diced

2 TSP Dried Dill

1 TSP Salt

 

Heat your oven to 350 degrees

Use 1 TBSP of coconut oil to grease your pan, set aside

Use the remaining oil to lightly saute the onion, set aside

In a large bowl whisk together eggs and milk

Remove skin and bones from the salmon, and break it into small pieces

Beat salmon into egg mixture

Add in cheese, onions, salt and dill

Mix well and set aside

Arrange kale evenly in the pie plate

Pour egg mixture over top of the kale, rearranging as necessary so none pokes out too much

Bake for 45 minutes or until egg mixture is completely set. If your dish is more shallow it won't take as long so check after 30 minutes or so. 

Enjoy hot or at room temperature. Leftovers freeze well, but reheat best in the oven.

 

Alexandra

 

 

Kombucha

How is your week going? Mine has been interesting. I'm still on the elimination diet that I was telling you about last week. I have three more weeks to go, and I am looking forward to things going back to normal! The cravings that I had for the first few days were really surprising. I thought that I'd want chocolate and cookies, but instead I was craving tuna melts. I didn't eat them very often before all of this so it's odd that they were the one thing that I was repeatedly wanting. About 4 days in the cravings stopped but the headaches and grumpiness set in. Nobody warns you about this kind of thing when they are telling you about elimination diets. You hear about cleared up skin conditions and better digestion, but not about how challenging the first few weeks really are. There is also the mental component as well. Once you have been told that you can't have something you all of a sudden desperately want it. I do think that this will get easier as the weeks progress, it's just really a matter of getting through the first bit of it.

The one good thing about all of this is that the diet has me eating really clean. I was a healthy eater before, but now I am even better. One drink that I have really gotten into this winter is kombucha. Have you had it before? Kombucha is a tart fermented tea beverage that is known for its many health benefits. It's sold in stores for $3-$4 a bottle, but with some time and patience it's really easy to make at home. Fermented foods like kombucha are a good source of probiotics, so it is important to have them in our diet. If you have to avoid dairy like I do then kombucha is an alternative to yogurt for a daily dose of good bacteria.  

Kombucha looks very intimidating to make, but is really very easy. If you can make a pot of tea then you can make kombucha. Before you can start home brewing (yes brewing just like beer) you need a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast, otherwise known as a SCOBY. A SCOBY is a rubbery plug of bacteria and yeast that turns tea into delicious kombucha. My SCOBY reminds me of a jellyfish, in both appearance and texture. They do look odd, but don't worry you don't eat your SCOBY, you just use it for fermentation. If you are lucky then you know someone like me who brews at home and can give you a SCOBY and some starter; I got mine from a friend in my book club. If your immediate circles aren't as cool as mine then you can either purchase a SCOBY kit or grow your own. I haven't had to do either, but here are some instructions on how to grow a SCOBY. 

My SCOBY fermenting a 3 liter pitcher of kombucha. 

My SCOBY fermenting a 3 liter pitcher of kombucha. 

Once you have your SCOBY then you are ready to start! I find the whole process a little addictive. I love playing with new flavor combinations or trying different brewing times. The great thing about making your own kombucha is that you are in total control of the process. Like with all other kitchen related things, please use common sense and put safety first. Please make sure that everything you use in brewing (including your hands) is very clean. I wash everything and then rinse with white vinegar right before I use it. If you SCOBY develops mold then toss it and start from scratch. As long as you use common sense you can brew kombucha safely and easily. 

The SCOBY might float, sink or move around, it`s all normal. Mine is on an angle here.

The SCOBY might float, sink or move around, it`s all normal. Mine is on an angle here.

The top part of the recipe below is for basic kombucha. Once you have gone through the process of making this you can do a second fermentation and add in flavors. Please don't try to use flavored tea in the first fermentation, the oils can harm or even kill your SCOBY. It is also important to avoid using metal containers, tea balls and spoons for the same reason. 

Second fermentation with fresh strawberries. The white bubbles at the top are totally normal. 

Second fermentation with fresh strawberries. The white bubbles at the top are totally normal. 

Kombucha  

3 Liters Water

2 Black Tea Bags

2 Green Tea Bags

.75 Cups White Sugar

1 SCOBY

1 Cup Starter (kombucha from last batch or from growing your SCOBY)

 

Optional Flavors

2 inches Ginger 

2-6 Earl Grey Tea Bags

2-6 Herbal Tea Bags

2-6 TBSP Jam

2-6 TBSP White Sugar 

 

Bring water to a boil

Remove from heat and add tea 

Add sugar and stir until completely dissolved

Let tea steep until desired strength, remove bags

Let brewed tea cool to room temperature

Rinse out a clean 3.5 Liter glass container with white vinegar 

Pour in your sweetened tea and add your SCOBY and at least one cup of starter 

Cover container with a clean, lint free tea towel and secure with an elastic band or string 

Place your kombucha in a place that is out of direct sunlight where it won't be disturbed too often. 

Leave it be for a week. You might see brown bits floating around, that's totally normal

After a week taste test your kombucha. If you would like a strong flavor let it brew longer. If you like it milder then it might be good to go.

Once you like the flavor or your kombucha, remove your SCOBY and at least one cup of kombucha (now your starter). Put this aside to start your next batch.

Take the remaining kombucha and get creative! You can refrigerate and drink it at this point, but I really like to do a second fermentation for flavor. 

If you want extra flavor add in 2 flavored tea bags of your choice for each liter of kombucha that you have. Alternatively add 1 to 2 inches of sliced ginger or 2 TBSP of jam for each liter. 

If you would like some additional carbonation add in a minimum of 2 tbsp of sugar for each liter of kombucha that you have. The more sugar you add the fizzier it will become.  

Seal your container (I prefer 1 liter Mason jars) and leave on your counter for 24 to 48 hours.

Once the level of flavor and carbonation are to your liking then refrigerate to stop fermentation.

Enjoy!

Alexandra

 

 

 

 

Overnight Oats

So things are going to be a little different here for the next little while. For the next month I'm on a dairy and wheat free diet, and as a result I'll be posting recipes that fall along that vein. Have you ever been on a restricted or elimination diet? I am expecting that this month will be a challenge, even with cooking as much as I do. I already follow a semi-vegetarian diet, so I will be very restricted in terms of what I eat for the next little while. I'm planning on a lot of grain bowls and stir-fries to get me through. I am hoping to use this experience to try some new grains that I haven't had before. There are tons of wheat free options out there, I just tend to rely on the same ones. Luckily I don't have to follow a gluten free diet, which is much stricter. I still have the option of eating things like oats and barely, as well as foods like rice pasta that could be processed in the same facility as wheat. 

Breakfast is the easiest meal for me on my new regime because I eat the same thing every weekday morning in the winter, overnight oats. As I have mentioned in previous posts, as a kid I hated oats, but now I love them! There is nothing like a steaming bowl of steel cut oats on a chilly winter morning. They are healthy, filling and warm you from the inside out.  A big bonus for me is that they are also wheat free! One important thing to note is that they aren't always gluten free, so if you are sensitive make sure to double check the label. The other cool thing about oats is their amazing texture and light flavor. This makes them the perfect vehicle for a variety of different toppings and mix ins like fruit, nuts and spices. 

The lighting is bad, but unfortunately it's dark outside when I eat breakfast. Longer days (and better pictures) are coming soon. 

The lighting is bad, but unfortunately it's dark outside when I eat breakfast. Longer days (and better pictures) are coming soon. 

If you are like me, you want as much extra sleep as you can get in the morning. There is no way that I am going to stand in front of the stove for 30 minutes stirring a pot of oats. With overnight oats you  have to do prep the day before, but in the morning you just need to pop them in the microwave and you are good to go. This recipe uses steel cut oats, other varieties won't work out as well. If you want to learn more about oats check out this previous post. For the recipes below, make the base then pick one set of mix ins. Refrigerate overnight and then you are ready to go in the morning.

Overnight Oats

Serves one

Base

0.25 Cup Steel Cut Oats

1 Cup Water

 

Mix-In Options:

Peanut Butter Oats

1 TBSP Peanut Butter

1 TBSP Raisins 

 

Banana Bread

0.5 Banana, Peeled and Sliced

0.25 TSP Cinnamon

Pinch Allspice 

1 TSP Chia Seeds

 

Apple

0.5 Apple, Diced

0.25 TSP Ground Cinnamon and Cloves

1 TBSP Dried Cranberries

1 TSP Chia Seeds

1 TSP Slivered Almonds

 

Mix your base and you toppings together.

Cover and refrigerate overnight

Microwave for approximately 6 minutes in a deep bowl

Serve hot

 

Enjoy!

Alexandra

Buddha Bowls

I have a full on obsession with Buddha bowls. I am always trying to think up new ideas or will be searching on various food blogs to try and find inspiration. Grain bowls are my go-to lunch, they are super versatile, can be eaten hot or cold, and are easy to make ahead of time. It's kind of weird but eating them actually makes me feel healthier, it's probably all in my mind, but hey I'll take it. Having the ingredients separately doesn't do it for me, they have to be combined for me to really appreciate the health properties that they all have. It's odd how my brain works. The fact that these bowls make me feel healthy is one of the reasons why I keep on making them. It's nice when your food makes you feel good about eating it. Do you have any dishes or foods that do that for you?

I have already posted a few recipes for Buddha bowls; like the curried one last month or the cilantro lentil version I made in the spring. This week I thought that I would give you all the information that you need to come up with your own versions. The possibilities are endless once you start experimenting and expanding your horizons. 

In case you didn't know, Buddha bowls are grain based bowls layered with protein, veggies, and some kind of sauce. They can be inspired from just about any cuisine and the only rule is that there are no rules. Mix and match ingredients that appeal to you; make them complex or simple, have tons of veggies or just one. They are completely customizable based on your preferences. 

To begin you need to decide what type of grain you would like to use. Quinoa and rice are my favorites, but there are so many more options. Buckwheat, bulgur, couscous, barley, millet, and steel cut oats are all good choices. You also can combine more than one type to mix up flavors and textures. Personally I do this when I have a little bit of something random in my cupboard. You can add some flavor to your grains while you are cooking them if you know the direction that your bowl is going in. For Greek inspired bowls I'll add garlic and dried oregano. Turmeric in couscous works well for bowls that will be used with curry. This is totally optional, it just adds a little bit of extra flavor.  

The next step is protein. Normally my bowls are vegetarian, however yours don't need to be. My favorite protein toppings are chickpeas, lentils, eggs and black beans. If you are eating your bowl right after you make it a poached egg makes a great topping. If they need to be transported then boiled eggs can be used. If you are a meat eater shredded chicken, beef or cubed ham are great choices. There is also the option of flavoring your toppings. I like to cook my beans in spices like chili or curry powder. This adds depth of flavor to your dish and brings it up a level. 

Now that you have chosen your grain and protein it is time to move on to the veggies. I like to use more than one in my bowls, usually I'll have a leafy green and then a second option or two. Some combos will work better than others; for example parsnips and squash are a great match for winter bowls that will be served hot. Raw carrots and cabbage have a nice crunch for bowls that will be served cold. Decide if your bowl will be warm or not and then go from there. Remember just because you won't be eating your bowl hot doesn't mean you can't cook your veggies. Roasted beets and sweet potatoes are great examples of cooked veggies that you can enjoy at room temperature. If you are roasting your veggies you can add additional seasoning. I like to sprinkle chili powder on my yams for Mexican style bowls for example. 

The sauce really can make your bowl into something that is restaurant quality. You have tons of options here. Consider if your dish will be warm or cold, then think about what you have added so far. Do you need something rich and creamy? Added freshness? Acidity? I like to use a yogurt sauce with fresh herbs on top of roasted vegetables. Tahini dressings with roasted garlic goes well on top of just about everything. Soy ginger ones work great on rice with raw red peppers and edamame. Also think outside the box, maybe a red wine vinaigrette is what your bowl needs. Or how about salsa on your chicken bowl? Think about the flavors that you already have in your bowl and what you tend to have along side them, or what is classically put with them. Chances are that it will work.

I would be remiss not to talk about the extras. If you have ever eaten a Buddha bowl in a trendy restaurant you'll notice these in your dish. These are the little things that take something simple and really brings it up a level. Ingredients like nuts, seeds, fruit and cheese make a huge difference. You can also add fermented or pickled foods like kimchi or olives at this step. I like to make a room temperature bowl of quinoa, spinach, goat's cheese and apple with a mustard vinaigrette. This week I added pumpkin seeds to my bowl with roasted root vegetables. Olives and feta go great with cucumber and tomatoes. Use your imagination, you'd be surprised at what will work well in your dish.

Enjoy!

Alexandra

Soba

Hello again. I'm sorry that I didn't get a post out last week, I have been crazy sick with this horrible bronchial virus. There has been no real cooking going on in my house for over a week. How have you been? Have you caught a cold or the flu yet? I am one of those unlucky people who seems to get sick several times a winter. I am very envious of those of you who somehow manage to make it through the chilly weather unscathed. 

Given that the road to recovery has been slower than I had hoped, I have been leaning towards easy to make meals. At the end of the day I don't have very much energy to make complicated meals that require a lot of effort. I am only now starting to actually get back into my kitchen and do something beyond making grilled cheese sandwiches or heating up soup. I tend to get tired of soup really quickly, so lately I have been on a mission to cook anything but soup! Luckily I always have soba in my cupboard, which is easy to make and healthy.  

If you haven't had soba yet you are missing out. Soba is a type of Japanese noodle made out of buckwheat. They are roughly the thickness of spaghetti and can be served hot or cold. They don't have an overly powerful taste, which is surprising as soba noodles are quite dark in color. You can find soba at most health food stores, Asian markets, bulk stores or even well stocked grocery stores. 

Simple Soba

Simple Soba

Soba noodles can actually be used instead of regular pasta if you are trying to avoid wheat. However, use caution if you are on a gluten free diet as other flours may be added to the buckwheat. The noodles lend themselves well to creamy peanut or sesame sauces, although vinaigrette dressings work very well for chilled dishes.  Here are three recipes that I recommend that you try out:

http://cookieandkate.com/2015/broccoli-rabe-peanut-soba-noodles/

http://iwillnoteatoysters.com/soba-noodle-bowl/

http://www.yogajournal.com/recipe/recipes/sesame-soba/

 

 

Potato & Leek Soup

There is something quite soothing and addictive about cleaning out one's home. Not normal cleaning, I don't like doing that, actually full on purging where bags of items get sold or donated. Throughout adulthood I have been good about cleaning out my wardrobe but these days I want to clean out everything! I look around my house and it just seems to be so cluttered. I feel like I have a lot of things that I don't actually need or use.

Maybe it's the pace of everyday city life, or the fact that I am always in front of a screen that is doing something, but these days I am striving for a simpler life. This goes for everything from my home to my morning beauty routine. Have you ever gotten to that place where you just want to pare down on everything? It's not that my life is all the complicated, it really isn't. I think that it has more to do with wanting to make space and time; streamlining things. This trend has effected my cooking as well because this week's recipe is as simple as it comes, potato and leek soup.

I love this soup, it really is one of the classics. If you go to a fancy French restaurant this soup will be listed on the menu as vichyssoise. When I went to culinary school it was one of the first soups we learned to make. It also was on the menu of every restaurant I worked at in Scotland. It's easy to make, and easy to serve. I love this with crusty bread for lunch on a chilly, damp day. It makes a great packed lunch for work, and is classy enough to serve to guests. The amazing thing is that is also cheap to make. This recipe is a good one to add to your repertoire. As lovely as this soup is, the flavor is very subtle. This isn't a dish to make if you are craving something spicy or bold.    

A simple picture for a simple soup.

A simple picture for a simple soup.

As always there are a bunch of changes that you can make to this recipe. You can use vegetable stock instead of turkey stock to make this vegetarian. I have used milk, but you can use cream if you are feeling luxurious.  You can switch up the herbs based on what you have in the cupboard. I haven't tried it yet, but I think that adding a bit of curry powder to this would be delicious. If you give it a go, please let me know how it turns out!

 

Potato & Leek Soup

2.5-3 Lbs Potatoes, peeled and diced

3 Medium Leeks, White Parts Only, Washed and Sliced

3 Stalks Celery, Washed and Diced

1 Large Onion, Diced

9 Cups Low Sodium Turkey/Chicken Stock

0.5 Cup 2% Milk

2 TBSP Butter

1 TSP Chopped Garlic

1 TSP Salt

0.25 TSP Pepper

1 TBSP Dried Parsley

1 TSP Ground Fennel

1 TSP Italian Seasoning

 

Melt butter in a large pot

Saute onions, leeks, celery and garlic

Add in stock and potatoes

Bring to a boil and turn down to simmer

Cook for 20-30 minutes, until potatoes are tender

Turn off heat; add herbs, seasonings and milk

Blend with an immersion blender

Taste and re-season if necessary. 

If the soup is too thick add a little more milk

Enjoy

Alexandra

 

Creamy Tuna With Green Pasta

How's your January going? Are you chest-deep in piles of blankets on the couch watching Netflix? I don't blame you if you are. In general January is hard for most people in the northern hemisphere. It's cold and dark and travel is difficult because of snow and ice. The third Monday in January is considered to be the most depressing day of the whole year; Christmas credit card bills are in, New Year's resolutions have been pushed aside and there are still months of cold weather ahead. Known as Blue Monday, it puts a damper on the motivation to actually do anything besides be a couch potato. 

Icky weather and long evenings will often lead to ordering in. After all you don't want to actually go outside, and who wants to cook after a miserable commute home? I am hoping that this week's recipe helps to cure your January blues and stops you from the extra calories of take-out; creamy tuna with green pasta. I know that it doesn't sound appealing (green pasta?!?) but trust me on this one. This easy to make dish is actually a healthier take on the classic comfort food, tuna noodle casserole. It is quick to whip-up on a weeknight while being super warm and comforting. I have altered the recipe so it is lower in fat and calories than the original, after all I want to help you keep your New Year's resolutions. 

As with most of my recipes there are a number of changes that you can make. Anything that is low-fat can be replaced with full-fat options if you'd like. The spinach pasta can be switched for normal, whole wheat or even gluten free. The spinach can be substituted with any other cooking green that you have in your fridge. Broccoli makes a great alternative to green beans. Lastly, you could also use cream of broccoli soup instead of mushroom if that is what you have in the cupboard. If you prefer your pasta dishes a bit less saucy you can top this with some breadcrumbs and extra cheese and bake it at 350 degrees until the cheese is brown and bubbly. 

 

 

 

Creamy Tuna With Green Beans

300g Spinach Rotini

2 Cans Water-Packed Tuna, Drained

1 Small Yellow Onion, Diced

1 Cup Frozen Green Beans

1 Cup Fresh Spinach, Washed and Torn

1 Can Low-Fat Cream of Mushroom Soup

0.5 Cup Skim Milk

1 Cup Low-Fat Sharp Cheddar, Grated

0.5 Cup Low Fat Mayonnaise

0.25 TSP Black Pepper

1 Tsp Oil

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Heat oil in a pot

Saute onion until translucent 

Mix in soup, milk, mayonnaise and tuna.

Add cheese and pepper. Stir until cheese has melted

Add vegetables.

Pour sauce mixture over drained pasta. Stir well. 

Serve hot.

 

Enjoy!

Alexandra