Banana Milk

img_9776-1 

When I ditched dairy a few years ago, I gave up having breakfast cereal too because I didn’t always have a dairy-free milk on hand to pour on top and frankly, I didn’t always have the time or inclination to make  my own. I was trying then, and still try to limit my use of the alternative milks you can buy because most of them are loaded with additives, including oil and sugar. Nut and seed milks can also be pretty high in fat whether homemade or store-bought so they are not something I want to indulge in everyday. Rice milk and oat milk are  a bit lower in fat but they require the same amount of time to make from scratch.

So …. naturally, I jumped all over the idea of banana milk!

Banana milk is low in fat, nut-free, grain-free and it goes perfectly with cereal! It will definitely revolutionize your mornings! Who knew the banana was so versatile? Bananas don’t need to soak like nuts do and you don;t need to strain it either. It isn’t really a milk, per se but it is a great sub for one.  Just peel it and throw it in your blender with some water and flavourings and Bob’s your uncle! It’s perfect for anyone on an all-raw diet or anyone concerned about watching calories or monitoring their fat intake because it is much lower in fat than nut milks. Do you need more reasons to try it?

img_9765-1

On the subject of healthy breakfast cereals …

I grew up with parents who believed that everyone should start their day with a “good” breakfast. I have vivid memories of one or the other of my parents preparing a full sit-down hot meal on weekends, consisting of bacon, eggs, toast and sausages, and sometimes blood pudding (not my favourite). Week-day breakfasts were less elaborate – (oh, my dad tried to get my sister and I to eat something substantial but neither of us had an appetite that early). Nope, week-day breakfasts were usually a glass of orange juice and a piece of toast or a bowl of cereal with milk. There were always a few different cereal choices to satisfy a family with different tastes but my parents were generally uncompromising when it came to the less healthy, sugar-laden varieties. They weren’t completely oblivious to their children’s pleas for the sugary cereals they had seen advertised on tv or tried elsewhere though. I can remember lighting up when a box of Captain Crunch arrived home in the bags of groceries as a special treat for me and Lucky Charms for my sister. But these occasions were pretty rare and more often than not the only way to sweeten a bowl of cereal in our house was to add a handful of raisins or slices of banana to the bowl.  

Knowing what I know now, my idea of a healthy breakfast is vastly different from that of my parents, although theirs changed with the times too. And happily, I haven’t given up all  breakfast cereals either. I make my own sugar-free granola and top it with this banana milk or  a homemade alternative milk when I have the time and inclination. 

To get you thinking about healthier breakfast cereals, I am providing a link to a list of oil-free cereals you can buy, at the end of this post. The list was created by Dr. McDougall, who only recommends cereals that are natural, made from whole foods, and are oil-free. However, not all of his recommendations are sugar and gluten-free. You’ll have to check the ingredients for sugar and gluten on all of them to know for sure. But at least they’re oil-free. You can also check out my older posts for  cereal and granola, which are of course gluten-free, vegan, oil, soy and sugar free.

Banana Milk

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large banana
  • 1 – 1 ¼ cup cold, filtered water
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla, optional
  • Pinch pink Himalayan salt or Celtic sea salt

Make the banana milk just before you intend to use it. Place the banana in a high-speed blender with the half the water to start, vanilla and salt. Blend until smooth.Add the remaining water to thin the consistency. It is not necessary to strain the milk; just pour over a big bowl of cereal. Banana milk is best consumed right away. 

Notes:

For really cold milk, use a frozen banana or remove a little of the water and throw in a few ice cubes to make up the difference. 

Link to Dr. McDougall’s approved  list of cold cereals.

 

Perfect Chickpea Hummus

img_0142

Hummus is the ultimate simple health food – proof that healthy food can be quick to whip up and super tasty. Although I used dried chickpeas in this recipe, you can avoid soaking and cooking time completely by using canned chickpeas instead. This is a modified version of the recipe for ‘hummus bi tahini’ in The Complete Middle East Cookbook, by Tess Mallos. I have been making hummus this way for at least 20 years. Just haven’t found a better hummus and the family loves this stuff. 

img_0140

This hummus is thick and emulsifies really well without any oil to help that along. You won’t miss the oil. There is no compromise the taste – in fact, this hummus tastes so much fresher than the stuff you buy. It keeps for a week, refrigerated.

img_0143

To serve this in a traditional way, spread the hummus almost to the edges of a plate or shallow bowl and garnish with coarsely chopped fresh parsley, toasted pine nuts and a dash of chilli powder. Tear off pieces of freshly baked pita bread and use the bread to scoop up the hummus. Can also be served with crackers or fresh vegetables. 

FOR THE HUMMUS

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans)
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled, coarsely minced
  • 1 ½ tsp. salt

Pick through chick peas and remove any pebbles. Rinse and cover with about 3 cups of water. Soak 12 hours or overnight. Drain the soaking water, thoroughly rinse the beans and place them in a pot with 6-8 cups fresh water.

img_0139

Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat and gently simmer the beans for 45 – 60 minutes. Drain the beans, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. At this point, if you want a really authentic hummus you can place the beans in a large bowl filled with cold water and when the beans are cool enough to handle, rub them between your fingers to agitate them.  The skins should slip off fairly easily. (You can do this with canned beans too). 

This step isn’t as tedious as it sounds. The skins tend to float to the top of the bowl and the beans sink to the bottom making it pretty easy to discard the skins. It isn’t necessary to remove the skins from every single bean, but your hummus will have a silkier texture and creamier consistency if you take the time to remove the skins.

Tip: the average person won’t notice – it takes a fairly discerning palate to know whether or not the skins are removed. 

img_0132

Place chickpeas in high speed blender or food processor fitted with metal blade. Add lemon juice, minced garlic, one teaspoon of the salt and ½ cup of the reserved cooking liquid. Puree mixture a few seconds to break up the beans and then add the tahini. Continue blending until smooth and thick, adjusting the flavour with additional salt and lemon juice. Adjust the consistency by adding more reserved liquid if needed. Hummus will thicken up on standing. 

Yield: 3 cups

img_0139                                    

Jumbo Lima Beans and Mash

img_0178

I came across a classic bean dish during a 3-week tour of Turkey several years ago. The type of bean varied from place to place but the beans were always really large and cooked in a really delicate tomato sauce, seasoned with just the right amount Mediterranean spices. Regardless of the type of beans that were cooked in this dish, the textures and flavours were always incredible – so well balanced. But what I remember most, apart from the amazing flavour, was that the beans would be swimming in olive oil – and I do mean swimming! I cringe when I think about that now,  but oh, what flavour! So addictive and so satisfying.

I don’t proclaim to reproduce that classic Turkish bean dish here but I’ve come up with something similar using jumbo lima beans. And I have completely omitted the oil. Jumbo lima beans are perfect in this dish – they are buttery and creamy and I absolutely love them. If you don’t have jumbo lima beans or can’t find them, you can use the regular sized dried lima beans or cannellini beans instead. It’s funny; I hated lima beans growing up. Of all the beans my mother served me when I was a child, I liked lima beans the least and yet they are one of my favourites now. Really! 

The recipe below fills a 9X13-inch lasagna pan, which is a large amount for me but the beans keep well – 5-7 days refrigerated, so I usually make the full recipe, as I like having leftovers during the week. However, it wouldn’t be difficult to halve the recipe. 

img_0164

For practical reasons, I soak and cook the jumbo lima beans a day or so ahead and assemble the sauce ingredients when I am ready to bake. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound dried jumbo lima beans
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 ½ cups chopped onion, or one large
  • 1 cup chopped celery (approx 2-3 stalks)
  • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
  • 3 jumbo cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4-6 Roma tomatoes* coarsely chopped (about 2 cups, packed)
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme or oregano
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh mint
  • ½ tbsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
  • 3-4 cups reserved cooking water from beans

img_0173-1

DIRECTIONS

For the dried jumbo lima beans

Soak dried beans 8 hours or overnight. They will double in size. Drain and rinse. Some of the beans may have released their skins into the water during the soaking time. You can remove the skins that are floating in the water but do not purposely remove the skins from the beans before baking as you could end up with a big casserole of mushy beans. It’s the skin that helps the beans hold their shape during the long slow cooking process.

img_0118

Place soaked beans in a clean pot with 8-10 cups fresh water, bay leaf and 2 whole cloves garlic. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the beans for 40 minutes. Add a teaspoon of salt after 30 minutes of cooking. (Lima beans tend to produce more foam than other dried beans and you may have to remove the scum a few times while they simmer to prevent the pot bubbling over). Test the beans – they should be soft to bite but not mushy, and they should hold their shape. Discard the bay leaf and garlic cloves. Strain the beans, reserving 4 cups of the cooking liquid. You may not use all of it, but better to have excess than not enough. At this point the beans and cooking liquid can be refrigerated separately in covered containers for a few days until ready to complete the dish.

For the Sauce and Assembly

img_0126

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, place the chopped tomatoes, onions, celery, garlic, parsley and spices. Add 3 cups of the reserved cooking liquid and the cooked beans, gently stirring to distribute the ingredients. Pour everything into a 9 x 11-inch baking pan. The beans should be almost completely submerged in the sauce – stir in a little more of the cooking liquid or add a little extra water if necessary. Place the fresh sprigs of thyme or oregano and mint on top of the dish.

Now, you could sauté the onions, carrots, celery and garlic before adding the tomatoes, beans and reserved cooking liquid, but that’s an extra step, and I haven’t found it to be necessary. Either way, once everything is combined in your 9 x 13-inch dish, bake, uncovered, for 2 hours. Most of the liquid will be absorbed and the sauce will have thickened slightly. Allow baked beans to rest for about 15 minutes before serving.  Adjust the seasoning and spoon over mashed potatoes or serve along side a chunk of rustic crusty bread to soak up the sauce.

img_0161

NOTES:

*I have made this with canned tomatoes and did not like the flavour as much. Fresh tomatoes give the dish a much more delicate flavour, but in a pinch you could certainly substitute 1 28-0z can whole tomatoes. Chop the whole tomatoes before adding to the sauce.  

 

Queso with Black Beans and Pickled Vegetables

img_0316

Game day is coming up! For those of you not in North America, I am referring to the annual Super Bowl championship football game being played next weekend. The Super Bowl marks the end of the American professional football season and is an excuse for family and friends to get together to eat and watch the game. It’s watched by many Canadians too – did I say watched?

Does anyone actually watch the game?

Well sort of, but we also feast our way through the afternoon while engaging in playful banter over plays, players, bad calls, half-time shows and of course the final score. In fact, last year at about this time, some newspaper (can’t remember which one) stated that we eat more food on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year except Thanksgiving. 

img_0301-1

It must be true. In my experience, no one hosts a Super Bowl party without providing tons of food and no one leaves a Super Bowl party feeling hungry. Chilis and guac’s are standard Super Bowl grub but it’s a given that the spread will revolve around classic junk foods. It makes for a tough afternoon if you are dieting are trying to eat healthy.  

So, here’s where I can offer a Super Bowl menu item to help you stick to your healthy food goals and enjoy the game with family and friends at the same time. No Super Bowl spread is complete without a great queso dip as far as I am concerned and this vegan version is just the ticket when surrounded by less-healthy options. It’s pretty quick to throw together using ingredients you most likely have on hand and it’s delicious. In fact, its addictive and I know you’ll make it again and again. And why not? This won’t leave you  feeling stuffed and lethargic – even if you end up indulging a little more than you intend!

img_0279

Cheesy flavour is a must in a good vegan queso and so is a little heat from some sort of chilli.  

Queso

  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup almonds or cashews, soaked
  • ½ cup sliced pimentos (4 oz. jar, including juice)
  • 1 ½ tbsp. fortified nutritional yeast flakes*
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch or arrowroot
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1½ tsp. pink Himalayan salt, or Celtic sea salt
  • ½ tsp. onion powder
  • ¼ tsp. garlic powder

Blend the nuts with about ½ cup of the water until completely smooth. This takes about 20-30 seconds in a VitaMix, scraping down the sides once during blending. Add the remaining ingredients and puree another 15-20 seconds. Pour everything into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 2-3 minutes until cornstarch is cooked and sauce has thickened. Adjust the seasoning and keep warm.

img_0317

Load it up!  The addition of all the ingredients below take this dip to a whole new level!  

  • 1 can cooked black beans, drained and well rinsed
  • ¼ cup finely chopped red pepper
  • ½ cup chopped tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped red onion
  • 2-3 tbsp. finely chopped pickled vegetables (I used a few beans from a jar of pickled beans in my fridge but you can use any pickled vegetables you have)
  • 1 tbsp. chopped pickled jalapenos (or finely chopped fresh jalapeno)
  • 1 tsp. fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp. maple syrup
  • Sour cream (optional)

Heat an oven dish while prepping the ingredients above. Reserve a few of the beans, chopped tomatoes and cilantro for garnish. Place everything except the sour cream in the hot dish. (For those of you who like a lot of heat, add extra fresh or pickled jalapeños to kick it up a notch). 

Pour queso over top of the beans and pickled vegetables, swirl in a little of the sour cream and serve warm with corn tortilla chips, raw or lightly steamed vegetables. 

img_0254

The queso is scrumptious with or without my vegan sour cream but I prefer it with! 

img_0304

Leftover queso reheats well in the oven. Just cover the dish with foil and reheat at 350 degrees fahrenheit for 10-15 minutes, or until mixture begins bubbling. That means you can make this ahead too. Add the sour cream just before serving, if making ahead. 

img_0263

NOTES

*I use nutritional yeast rarely and sparingly because it is a controversial ingredient and frankly I am not crazy about the flavour. It does however, provide a necessary cheesy flavour in this queso recipe and I know of no other substitute for it. You can add up to another 1 1/2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast to the recipe if you want an even stronger cheesy flavour. 

Turmeric Soup with Soba Noodles

img_0211

If you love turmeric, this is a relatively quick and easy soup to kick start healthy eating habits this year. Along with anti-inflammatory properties and detoxification support, turmeric adds a distinct and delicate aroma wherever it is used. Turmeric’s peppery, slightly bitter and earthy essence imparts a depth of flavour to soups and stews that is quite unique.

This amazing, vibrantly colourful little root has been in use for thousands of years. The compounds found in turmeric are well known for their medicinal properties and researchers continue to uncover new health benefits. Recent studies suggest that turmeric has the potential to improve cognitive and kidney function, regulate blood sugar, and lessen the degree of severity associated with some forms of arthritis and digestive disorders. And, apparently you don’t need much to reap these benefits. In some studies, health benefits have been seen from as little as 50 milligrams of turmeric over a period of several months. This is less than a ½ teaspoon. It wouldn’t be difficult to add that amount of turmeric to your diet – and your body will thank you!

img_0198

Use the broth in this recipe as a guideline for the soup. To keep it simple, just add the spice paste, noodles and a few fresh herbs as I did and you’ll have a really nutritious and vibrantly colourful soup. For a bit more oomph, add a few vegetables, greens or legumes. The broth is relatively failsafe and you can easily elevate the heat by increasing the amount of chilli. Likewise, you can reduce the heat by decreasing the amount of chilli in the spice paste. 

img_0184

I use nitrile gloves when handling fresh or powdered turmeric because the orange colour stains everything. I thoroughly wash everything that comes in contact with turmeric in cold soapy water before subjecting it to hot water. Hot water seems to seal the stain and makes it harder to remove the colour from counter tops, utensils, cutting boards, fabric and containers.

Tip: Although I don’t use oil in any of the recipes on this blog, for this recipe I placed a tiny amount of coconut oil on a paper towel and rubbed every nook and cranny on the inside of my VitaMix jug to prevent the turmeric from staining the inside of my jug.

img_0206

INGREDIENTS

For the Spice Paste

  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh turmeric*
  • 1-2 chillies, birds eye, Serrano, seeded
  • ¼ cup cashew pieces
  • 1 tsp. powdered turmeric
  • 3 stalks lemongrass, tender hearts only, finely chopped
  • 1 cup peeled and sliced shallots, about 3 medium
  • 5 kaffir lime leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled

Blend all of the ingredients to a smooth paste with 50-60 ml of water in a high-speed blender or food processor. If not using paste right away, refrigerate in a covered container.

For the Broth

  • 1 litre vegetable stock, preferably homemade
  • 200 ml tamarind liquid (see directions below)
  • ¼ cup Naked Coconuts (or soy substitute)
  • 1 tbs. fresh lime juice
  • 1 tbs. maple syrup
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 tsp. salt (I used homemade broth which had very little salt to begin with)
  • Large pinch freshly ground black pepper

For the tamarind liquid, dissolve 2 tablespoons of tamarind pulp in 1 cup boiling water,. Strain the pulp and add 200 ml of liquid in the broth.

Place the remaining broth ingredients in a medium-large pot and add the spice paste. Bring everything to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and discard the kaffir lime leaves. Adjust seasonings.

img_0220

Add-ins

  • Soba noodles*
  • 1 long red chili, finely sliced
  • 2 spring onions, green part only, finely sliced
  • Handful of fresh mint,
  • Handful of fresh cilantro

To Finish

Cook the soba noodles in boiling water according to package directions. Drain and distribute evenly between 4 bowls. Ladle the broth over the noodles; sprinkle the soup generously with spring onions, fresh cilantro and mint. Top with a few slices of red chilli and serve with a wedge of lime.   

Yield: 4 generous servings

img_0221

Notes

*You can double the amount of fresh turmeric and omit the addition of powdered turmeric if you want. (I didn’t do that because fresh turmeric was really expensive when I went shopping for the ingredients in this recipe – $14.99/lb. at my local health food store!! I’ll be looking for a cheaper source in the future).

*Not all brands of soba noodles are GF. Some contain wheat so be sure to check the list of ingredients on the package if you are gluten-intolerant.

Crazy Good Granola without Oil or Sugar

img_9974

January is a significant month. It’s refreshing. It’s all about new beginnings. January is also a time to reflect on all of our accomplishments in the past year and appreciate how far we’ve come. In January we feel strongest about setting new goals, living healthier lifestyles and creating better eating habits to start the year off right. And I am definitely on board with that. I feel energized right now and I am ready to make 2017 my healthiest and strongest year ever! Is eating healthier one of your top priorities this year? If it is, one way to help you achieve that lofty goal is to define smaller measurable goals within that big one, such as reducing your intake of sugar. Or oil. It will take time to completely cut back on your intake of sugar and/or oil, but just start. It won’t be long before you begin to notice that you no longer miss them. Another healthy habit to adopt is eating a nutritious breakfast. Eating a nutritious breakfast every day is one of the best ways to energize your body and kick-start your entire day. You don’t have to eat a lot and you don’t have to eat the minute you wake up – you just have to be consistent so that your metabolism gets going early on. So, let’s aim to make 2017 “the year of being strong and healthy” by starting the day with a truly nutritious breakfast.

Ah, but is granola really a healthy breakfast, you ask?

Well, it definitely can be.

img_9968

Most store-bought granolas are much too high in sugar and fat to be considered healthy. They are also expensive when you consider that boxes of granola are usually smaller than boxes of other cereals. Homemade granola is extremely easy to make yourself and it is always cheaper and tastier. But making your own isn’t necessarily going to result in a healthier granola. If your homemade version is loaded with nuts and seeds or contains oil and sugar, it can be equally high in fat and and unhealthy sugar. In this recipe, I ditch the sugar and oil and cut back on the amount of nuts, seeds and dried fruit without compromising any of the flavour or crunch. This granola has roughly half the calories of most boxed granolas and it is completely sugar and oil free. So, to answer my own question, yes, this granola truly is healthy! The recipe can be customized to meet any dietary restrictions you have or to fancy it up as you please. Oh, did I mention that it’s crazy good? 

img_9964

On busy days, I throw a handful of this granola into a small container and take it with me wherever I go so that I have something to snack on later on in the day. I have also eaten it for dinner with my favourite almond milk. And this granola has saved my life on the occasional nights when the fridge is bare or I get home late and don’t feel like making anything. Have you ever resorted to having a bowl of cereal for dinner because you took too long trying to decide what to eat?? I have. And on those nights, I was grateful to have this in my cupboard because it saved me from grabbing something less healthy.  

I generally aim for a minimum of 4 dry ingredients for a good balance of flavor and texture. When you’re gathering your ingredients, make sure that your dry mix is made up of at least 50% oats. Cutting back on the amount of nuts and seeds lowers the overall calorie and fat content of the granola.  Ok, lets get started on my crazy good granola with no oil or sugar! 

DRY INGREDIENTS

  • 8 cups whole rolled oats (gluten free or regular)
  • 1 cup whole or chopped almonds
  • 1 cup coconut (flakes or shredded)
  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds

Rolled oats are the core of this recipe but it may be possible to substitute quinoa flakes for the oats if you can’t have oats. (Don’t use the quick cooking oats because they do not hold up as well when baked). The other dry ingredients can be swapped in or out in infinite ways.

FLAVOUR ENHANCERS

Do you want to spice it up? I prefer the granola without any additional spices, but ground cinnamon would be nice, as would cardamom and nutmeg. Add as little or as much spice as you want to your dry ingredients before you mix with the wet. You could also add lemon or orange zest or a dash of cocoa powder. 

WET INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup pitted dates, soaked 4 hours
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 ½ tsp. pink Himalayan or Celtic sea salt, scant

Process all of the wet ingredients in a high-speed blender until smooth. I like to add salt to the wet ingredients – I just feel it blends in better than it does when added to the dry or at the end once the wet and dry have been combined. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir until the everything is well coated.

img_9983

BAKING DIRECTIONS

Preheat your oven to 200°F.

Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper and spread the mixture in an even ½-inch layer. I needed 3 cookie sheets for this amount of granola. (The recipe makes a lot, but it is easy to half).

Bake for about 1 1/2-2 hours or until the granola is completely dry and lightly browned, stirring 2 or 3 times during baking to help the drying process and break up the mixture.  If your mixture is thicker than 1/2-inch, it will take longer to become really crunchy. Add another hour to the baking time but don’t increase the temperature – keeping the oven temperature low ensures that the granola doesn’t get too dark before it is completely dry and crunchy. 

A few clusters of granola are nice once it is baked so be sure to leave a few clumps undisturbed on the baking trays. Allow the granola to dry out completely in the oven. 

img_0005

ADD FRUIT

Since the fruit is already dried, I prefer to add it at the end rather than risk it becoming a bit hard or unpleasantly chewy. It doesn’t need to be baked again. Stir 1 cup of dried fruit such as cranberries, dates, raisins, currants, goji berries, cherries, figs, or apricots into the granola after it has baked. (If adding dried apricots, dice them or cut them into smaller slices).

Leave the granola to cool completely. Once cool, transfer to a large mason jar with a tight-fitting lid, or a  Ziploc bag and store in your pantry.

img_0035

Alternative nuts and seeds

  • Use walnuts, brazil nuts, pistachios, macadamias, cashews or pecans in place of the almonds
  • Use sunflower seeds, squash seeds, flax or hemp seeds instead of pumpkin seeds.
  • Alternatively you can use any combination of the above as long as you stick to a cup of nuts and a cup of seeds. 

img_0031-1

NOTES

If you would rather bake the granola overnight, set your oven to the lowest temperature it has (that’s 170°F on my oven) and leave the granola in the oven overnight. The granola will be done in the morning, without any stirring.

Amazingly Healthy Festive Dessert

img_9908

December is typically a month of festive indulgence, but this year, why not make an amazingly healthy dessert that no one has to pass up? Nor will they want to! Start with a simple sugar-free tart shell, which can be baked or eaten raw by the way, and fill it with a creamy custard that has been sweetened using whole dates. There are no added refined sugars anywhere in this ensemble. Add a few of your favourite fresh fruits and you’ve got one heck of a festive dessert! Best of all, these tarts are so scrumptious that no one will even know they are eating healthy. I promise!

Both the shells and the filling can be prepared a few days ahead which is an even bigger reason to include them on your holiday menu. I love recipes that I can make ahead at this time of year because it means that I can spend less time in the kitchen and more time with family and friends on the big day!

img_9910

INGREDIENTS

For the Tart Shells 

This recipe makes enough to fill 8, 4 1/2-inch individual tartlet pans but the quantity of ingredients for both the crust and filling can easily be doubled to fill more tart pans to feed a larger crowd. Both the tart shells and the filling can be made ahead and refrigerated for a few days. The tart shells can also be frozen. (If you decide to freeze the shells or store them for a day or so in the refrigerator, keep them in their pans to maintain the shape and protect them from breakage. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight before filling). 

  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1 cup dried coconut, shredded, raw and unsweetened
  • 8 Medjool dates, seeded, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. date syrup (homemade or store bought)
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • Seeds from a 4-inch vanilla bean, scraped
  • ¼ tsp. salt

Place nuts, coconut, salt, dates, water, date syrup and vanilla bean seeds in a food processor and process until quite fine and mixture is sticky. Divide between pans. use wet hands if you need to. At this point the tartlets can be refrigerated overnight but refrigerate for 30 minutes before baking, regardless.

Remove tart pans from refrigerator and poke a couple holes in the base with the tines of a fork to prevent the crusts form rising during baking. Bake the tartlets at 350°F for about 14-16 minutes or until crusts begin to darken around the edges and the base seems done. (In my oven, this is exactly 14 minutes). If your oven bakes a little unevenly or has hot spots, spin the baking sheet around halfway through total baking time. When done, remove from the oven and cool the shells in their pans on the baking sheet. Cover the shells in their pans with saran wrap and freeze or refrigerate. 

img_9893

For the Custard

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • ½ cup cashews or blanched almonds
  • 3 tbsp. cornstarch or arrowroot
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • Pinch salt
  • Selection of fresh fruits such as assorted berries, pomegranates, cherries, apricot, peach or peach slices, etc.
  • Pistachios or hazelnuts; roasted and coarsely chopped.

Process everything except the fruit and nuts (first 6 ingredients) in a high-powered blender until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. This should only take a few minutes. Pour the thickened custard into a clean bowl and place saran wrap or sheet of parchment cut to size directly on the surface of the filling. Refrigerate until completely cool and set. 

img_9909

ASSEMBLY

When ready to serve, place one tart shell on each of 8 plates. (If you have made the custard ahead, you will need to whisk it again before using). Spoon or pipe some of the custard into each tart shell and decoratively arrange fruits and chopped nuts on top. Serve at once. (In the photos, the tarts are topped with fresh blackberries, a couple of satsuma orange wedges, pomegranate seeds and roasted chopped pistachios)

img_9904

Want in on a secret? This is a great “switch-up” dessert – just do away with the tart shells and layer the custard, fruits and nuts in a large wine glass and you’ve got a dessert parfait! 

It’s hard to believe that this year is almost over. I wish all of my readers the happiest of holidays and a big thank you for your support this year! I can’t wait to develop a fresh new batch of great, healthy recipes for you in 2017! 

Souper Monday Vegetable Chowder

img_9645

Baby it’s cold outside!! It was souper-cold in Calgary last week and the forecast for this week is pretty darned cold too! Fortunately, my fridge is stocked with enough food for a couple more days because I really don’t feel like leaving the house to buy groceries! Here’s a really nourishing soup you can make with the vegetables you likely have on hand. This recipe is typical of the way I tend to cook these days. I simply check my fridge to see what needs to be used up and turn it onto a soup or some kind of sauté. I find this works well for me because I really don’t like wasting food and I do like one-pan meals!  

Dice as many or as few vegetables as you have, throw them all into a pot with water, a few staple spices and seasonings and voila! You don’t even need stock for this, although a nice vegetable stock would certainly nudge the flavour up a notch if you do use it. Either way, you’ll end up with a delicious and filling soup in short order! You aren’t limited to the list of ingredients below –  I constantly adapt the recipe to whatever is in my fridge on any particular day, which means that the chowder turns out different every time! Outside of the potatoes, which I would say are a must, feel free to add as many or as few of your own favourites instead. The potatoes help to thicken the soup and give it the creamy consistency of chowder.

No less tasty and satisfying than chowders containing cream or milk, this is a lusciously  thick soup – just healthier and lower in calories. And there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?

img_9628

Fresh herbs make this soup pop with flavour, so if you have them, don’t be afraid to use them. Fresh basil would be a nice addition if you have it, as would fresh a little fresh thyme. Dried spices will work too but I use fresh herbs in just about everything so I tend to  have a variety of different ones in my refrigerator at all times. Add the herbs right before serving to maximize the flavours and aromas.

Seves 4-6

INGREDIENTS

  • 1½ cups diced potatoes
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 medium stalk celery, thinly sliced
  • 3 cups frozen corn
  • 1 cup chopped cauliflower
  • 1/3 cup fennel, thinly sliced or diced
  • ½ medium red pepper, diced
  • ½ small purple topped turnip, diced
  • ½ cup red onion, diced
  • ½ small leek, diced
  • 5-6 oil-free sundried tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 2 medium-large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. chilli powder
  • 1 tsp. blackstrap molasses (could substitute maple syrup)
  • 2 ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. chipotle chilli powder
  • ½ tsp. smoked paprika
  • ¼ cup each: fresh parsley, fresh dill, fresh cilantro
  • 6 cups water

DIRECTIONS

Bring everything except fresh parsley, dill and cilantro to a boil in a large pot. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 25-30 minutes. Remove about a cup of the mixture to a blender (vegetables and liquid) and puree. Return puree to the soup pot and stir to blend.

img_9650

Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender to puree a little of the soup right in the pot. This is my preferred method so that I don’t dirty another dish or tool. Admittedly, it is a bit harder to gage the amount of soup you are pureeing this way, but if you are careful and puree the soup in small increments, blending the puree into the rest of the soup in between each go with the immersion blender, you should be able to reach the “chowder” consistency without any trouble. Ultimately, you want a soup that is fairly thick but still contains plenty of the whole vegetables for texture and visual appeal.

img_9653

Adjust seasonings and salt, garnish with fresh herbs and serve.

Notes: This chowder is quite rich and creamy as it but you can whiten the colour and make it even more rich by adding pureed cashews. Simply blend 1/4 cup of cashews with 1/4 cup of water in a high-speed blender until completely smooth. Stir into the soup at the end of cooking.  

img_9636

Mixed Greens with Grapefruit, Beets, Roasted Pistachios and Sumac

img_9706

Brilliantly vibrant with colour and taste, this salad is as refreshing and nourishing as it is beautiful! You may have to purchase sumac from a Middle eastern grocer but it can often be found with other ethnic spices in the aisles of a big box grocer such as Superstore.

You can’t go wrong with this salad. Tossed in a delicate, oil-free vinaigrette (recipe below), and sprinkled with a nut-based Parmesan,  it is loaded with wonderful contrasting textures and bold flavours! It is sophisticated enough to impress the most demanding foodie you know and simple enough to be enjoyed on busy week nights with family. 

img_9711-1

This recipe was inspired by a salad I tried at Planta in Toronto a few weeks ago when I was there visiting family and friends. I knew I wanted to replicate something similar when I got home and this recipe is the result of my efforts, though there are a few differences. The salad at Planta was adorned with a few dried cranberries and a smidgeon of nut-based krema. My version omits the cranberries and is finished off with a dusting of almond-based grated Parmesan. Both salads are delicious! 

img_9709-2

INGREDIENTS

  • Selection of mixed greens, enough for 4 servings
  • 2 small-medium sized cooked beets, one red one golden*
  • 1 pink grapefruit
  • ¼ cup shelled pistachios, oven roasted
  • 1 tsp. sumac

DIRECTIONS

Wash and spin-dry the salad greens and place in a large bowl.

Remove the peel, seeds and pith from the grapefruit and slice the flesh into bite-size pieces.

Slice the beets, separately into bite-sized pieces.

Add the golden beet, grapefruit and 1/2 the sumac to the bowl with the salad leaves and toss with a little dressing.

In a separate bowl toss the red beet with a little of the dressing and carefully add to the salad. Toss the whole salad very gently – just once or twice, to distribute the red beets. Add the roasted pistachios and serve the salad at once, sprinkled with the grated AlmondParmesan. Sprinkle the remaining sumac on top of the salad and the perimeter of the plate for effect. 

Oil-free Vinaigrette

  • ½ cup water
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/8 cup (2 tbsp.) golden (sultana) raisins
  • 1 large clove of garlic, peeled
  • 2 teaspoons ground flax or Chia seeds*
  • 1 teaspoon chickpea miso paste* (or salt to taste)
  • Fresh basil, 2 or 3 large leaves

Combine all ingredients in a blender and process on high speed until emulsified. I used a VitaMix to get the dressing completely smooth. Pour dressing into a bottle and refrigerate. Dressing will thicken a little more on standing. Shake well before using. (You won’t need all of the dressing for this amount of salad so save the rest for other salads). 

*I buy Chickpea miso paste, whole flax seeds and chia seeds at my local health food store. Using a coffee grinder, I pulse flax seeds and chia seeds individually until they reach a powdery texture. Any extra ground seeds can be stored separately, in the refrigerator in tightly sealed containers if they can be used within a few weeks. (Alternatively, they can be frozen, as can the whole seeds,  until ready to use – this helps to prolong their freshness). 

This dressing can be made with different vinegars, such as balsamic, red or white wine, and it can be sweetened with currants or dark raisins instead of sultanas. Be aware though, that using darker coloured vinegars and raisins will result in a darker dressing. You can also increase or decrease the amount of raisins for a sweeter or less sweet vinaigrette and you can use different herbs, such as fresh dill, oregano or cilantro instead of basil. There are many ways you can play around with this basic recipe to make it your own. 

img_9732-1

Almond Parmesan

  • ¼ cup almond meal
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. lemon juice

Place everything in a small nut grinder and pulse a few times until the mixture is well blended. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Notes

*To cook the beets, preheat the oven to 350°F. Wash the beets and place them in an oven-proof dish, and bake them, covered for about an hour, or until cooked. Remove the dish from the oven and allow the beets to cool for a 5-10 minutes, still covered. When cool enough to handle, remove the skins from the beets, top and tail, and store separately. I wear nitrile gloves for this. The skins should slip off easily as long as you do this while they are still fairly hot. If they cool for too long, the skins will be more difficult to remove. The beets need to be stored separately or or the colour from the red beet will bleed into the golden beet.

img_9713

Tuscan Style Kale, Bean and Tomato Soup

img_9700

I love this soup! I could live on it – especially in the winter. Chalk full of beans, fresh vegetables and grains, this soup embodies the very essence of a rustic Italian zuppe! I love that it is hearty enough to be a meal on its own and that I can make the whole thing in about 30 minutes – if my beans are cooked.  

I used dark red kidney beans in this recipe but you can use Cannellini beans if you prefer. Cannellini beans are simply white kidney beans and are often the bean of choice in Italian dishes.  You could also use great northern or navy beans, chickpeas or a combination of various beans. There are no hard rules here! When I was preparing the recipe for this post, I had a small amount of chickpeas in my refrigerator left over from something else so I added them to the soup. I tend to do things like that where I can, in an effort not to waste food. 

img_9695

Buckwheat groats are essentially ready to eat after soaking overnight. You’ll notice in the photo below that soaking doesn’t significantly increase the size of the groats; they simple go from hard little triangular kernels to soft plump kernels that you can squeeze between your fingers quite easily. The soaking water becomes slightly gelatinous – just rinse the groats thoroughly and set them aside until you need them. Buckwheat groats are gluten-free. Despite their name, they contain no wheat, nor are they part of the wheat family. If you do not have a gluten-intolerance, you could substitute barley, bulgar, freekeh or even pasta for the buckwheat groats. However, note that the cooking times for those grains will likely be longer.  

img_9682

Nourishing and delicious, If you have a big enough pot, I suggest making a large quantity of this soup and reheating as needed. It will last for several days in the refrigerator which makes it a perfect recipe for our busy lives. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup dried kidney beans, soaked over night and cooked (or use 1 can, rinsed)
  • 1/3 cup buckwheat groats, soaked at least an hour, or overnight
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas (optional)
  • 3 – 4 cloves garlic, peeled (mince all but one clove)
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 bunch of dark green curly kale (you could also use Lacinata kale)
  • 1 tsp. pink Himalayan salt
  • 1/2 tsp. Herbs de Provence (use pinch of dried thyme if you don’t have it)
  • Handful of fresh basil, torn

Grated ‘Parmesan” Cheese

  • 1/4 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Combine everything in a small nut grinder or coffee grinder and pulse until crumbly and well blended. Be careful not to over process. This can be made several days ahead and stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container. 

DIRECTIONS

If you are using canned beans, skip past the next paragraph. Just rinse and drain the beans and set aside.

Soak the dried kidney beans and buckwheat separately in plenty of cold water overnight. Drain the soaked beans and place them with the bay leaf and one clove of garlic in a saucepan large enough to hold at least 3 or 4 times the volume of water. Fill the pot with 6-8 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the beans for 40-45 minutes. (Maintain a gentle, steady boil).  Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the water after 20 minutes or so. At 40 minutes, the beans should be almost done. If they seem a little  undercooked, give them another 5 minutes but you do not want to overcook them. I find that if the beans have been soaked overnight, 40 minutes of cooking is perfect. After 40 minutes, the beans will be soft but still have a bit of a bite to them. Removing the pot from the heat right at 40 minutes and allowing the beans to cool completely in the cooking water results perfectly cooked beans. Once the beans have cooled completely, you can strain the cooking water, reserving the bay leaf and the clove of garlic. Place the reserved bay leaf and cooked garlic clove in a large soup pot and mash the garlic clove. (If you haven’t been able to soak the beans overnight, they will take longer to cook – you’ll have to check them for doneness every now and again after the 40 minute mark).

To a large pot, add the vegetable stock, crushed tomatoes, chopped carrots, celery and onion, remaining minced garlic, cooked beans and thoroughly rinsed buckwheat groats. Bring everything to a boil. While the stock is heating up, prepare the kale. Separate the leaves from the stems and cut the stems into half-inch pieces. Coarsely tear the leaves. Add the stems to the soup pot. When the soup reaches a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer gently for 15-20 minutes or until vegetables are just tender.  Add the kale leaves to the pot all at once and push them down with a wooden spoon to submerge them in the broth. Simmer the soup for about 5 minutes. Lastly, stir in the fresh basil. 

img_9701-1

The soup is now ready to eat. Slice or cut chunks of the most rustic bread you can find and lightly grill on both sides. There is a local bakery in my area that makes wonderful rustic sourdough breads and although they are not gluten free the flavour of the sourdough complements the broth extremely well. Place a piece/slice of grilled bread in the bottom of each soup bowl and ladle the soup around and over the bread. Sprinkle with the grated Parmesan cheese. Alternatively, ladle the soup into the bowls and place a slice of grilled bread on top, pushing it into the broth so that it is partially submerged. Sprinkle cheese over the bread and the broth and serve. I like serving this soup in shallow wide bowls for visual appeal.

 Serves 5 to 6 generously.

img_9698