Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dish of the Day: Carrot Soup

Whenever I've eaten too much and need to feel clean inside again I make homemade soup. It's so easy to buy prepared soups nowadays that taste like homemade but a glance at the label tells you that they are, in fact, a processed food with lots of ingredients you don't really want or need. Like MSG, too much sodium, starches and bad oils. You don't need to slave over the stove to make a healthy homemade soup; making soup from scratch is often quick, easy and delicious.

Today I made some carrot soup which isn't especially cleansing, as a light brothy soup would be, but I was in the mood for some thick, orangey goodness. This is a very rough recipe as soups should be customised to your own preferences for seasonings and thickness.

- dice a small onion (or a half a large one) and put in a heavy pot with 2 Tbsp olive oil on medium heat; stir frequently
- take 4 or 5 large carrots and roughly chop; add them to pan once onions are transparent, about 5 min
- now add all your spices and ensure they and the carrots all get coated in the oil
** I used 1/2 tsp cumin, 1 tsp ginger, 1 tsp turmeric for colour and health properties, a pinch of salt and a shake of pepper
** you could try dried parsley, tarragon, thyme, sage, a bay leaf
- continue to saute spices for 2 minutes tobring out their flavour and then add enough boiling water to completely cover the vegetables; about 3-4 cups
- after about 20 minutes of simmering, your carrots should be cooked though
- cool for about 10 minutes before putting in the blender (or it will explode)
- if using an immersion blender, simply puree at your own pace
- soup should be thick, and this allows you to add additional liquids now for taste
- add in 1/4 cup orange juice, and 1/2 bouillon cube (veggie or chicken) now if desired
** I confess that at this point I also added in 1/4 cup of cream for added mouth-feel
- bring the soup up to simmer again on the stove and then it's ready to eat!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dish of the Day: Gingerbread House

Are you house-proud? I'm not sure I am. This house took a lot of work and if we had the time we'd be doing a lot more renovations. However, time is short, and we don't want the property to get stale. We had fun making this little cottagey home and it has given us some happy family memories. Of course, without enough bedrooms for the 4 of us, it's going to be a short-term arrangement. We're going to have to eat the losses on this one. But not 'til after Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Day After Winter Solstice

What a beautiful day this is! We have been snowed upon, here in Vancouver, for the past 36 hours and yet the sun came out today - on this very first day of longer days - to remind us that winter will not last forever. Thank goodness.

While you may not think that the sun has much to do with a food blog, let's not forget that without the sun we'd be completely lost. Sun makes plants grow, which we and animals eat, and bees buzz and oh don't get me started. As you can see from this photo, It's simply a gorgeous to day to be living in Vancouver and I'm so thankful to welcome back the sun.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Shortbread Recipe

I love Christmastime so much! It means I get to bake and eat all the cookies. This is a slightly modified Martha Shortbread shortbread recipe that incorporates some whole grain flours. At Christmas time I always make sure to eat lots of greens and healthy protein sources, so that I can pig out on cookies and not skew my diet too badly towards empty carbohydrates. Spelt flour is a great option for baking: it's usually ground quite fine and has a higher protein content.

- Preheat oven to 350F and take out 1 cup of butter from the fridge to bring it up to room temperature
- When softened, beat butter with 1/2 cup sugar (I use Rapadura, but you could use white)
- Add to this either 3 1/2 cups of white flour, or I use 1 cup white flour, 1 3/4 cup spelt flour and 3/4 cup quick cook oats (not instant). If using unsalted butter, add 1 tsp salt to the flour mixture
- You will now have a crumbly, sandy mixture which you need to be sure is fairly homogenous. These needs to be pressed into a 9" glass pie pan that has been buttered well. You can also put a circle of parchment in the bottom of the pan to ensure the bread doesn't stick. You can also bake in a square cake pan, similarly prepared if you prefer your shortbread to be cut into squares.
- Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven to score the top into triangular wedges. Put back in for 10 more minutes.
- The bread is done when golden brown around the edges. Don't let it get too brown.
- Cool for 15 minutes then cut into wedges or squares.

Yummy substitutions:
- Add 1 Tbsp maple syrup and 1 Tbsp less sugar to butter mixture
- Brown sugar
- Add 1 tsp of cardamom to flour mixture
- Add 1 tsp almond extract and press almonds into top of bread before baking

Be warned - you may want to eat this all at once so be sure you have promised some to friends in advance.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dish of the Day: Miso-based Soups

Brrrr!!!! It is unseasonably frigid here and that calls for warm hearty soups. Lazy chefs celebrate miso paste for its ease of use and delicious flavour. Miso is a Japanese fermented food and is usually made by fermenting rice and soybeans. It's important to not destroy the natural enzymes and bacteria by boiling the miso paste and this is why a tablespoon of the paste must be added to a large serving bowl of whatever broth you choose. You don't put miso in a pot and boil it or you will kill off the beneficial bacteria that are a part of the fermentation process.

Miso soup base is a great foundation for a quick and healthy soup that can include tofu, egg or fish, noodles or rice and a large variety of vegetables. You can put whatever is in your fridge into your miso soup.

The miso paste I'm using currently is brown rice and soybeans. I added 1 large Tbsp to a bowl of the water in which I boiled my kale. This was before I discovered there was a worm in the water as well, so I had extra protein in my soup :0(
I then added a soft-boiled egg, some soft tofu, a large pile of chopped, boiled kale and some spicy bamboo shoots.
Some other good miso soup combos are:
- salmon and kale/bok choy with a teaspoon each of soy sauce and maple syrup
- ramen noodles, chicken and broccoli
- tofu, baby corn, green onions
- egg, bean sprouts and sliced, boiled cabbage

For added flavour you can also add gomasio and soya or tamari sauce. However, almost all miso pastes are quite salty so watch it when adding any additional salty items.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Making Store-Bought Soup Baby-Friendly

In the winter I used to make a lot of soup but now that I have 2 small mouths to feed (one of which is very picky) I will often buy soups in a box. Or Amy's canned soups. As I've discussed before, many soups are very high in sodium. This is a real problem because our collective taste buds are being trained to equate salty with flavourful. There are a number of ways to cut back on the sodium: watering down the soups, cooking them with slices of potato which will absorb the salt, adding in extra vegetables. But when the baby and I are sharing a bowl for lunch, I find the quickest way of cutting the sodium is to add plain yogurt. The soup becomes creamier and less salty all at once. Those who know me know that I abhor low-fat anything, so I am talking about regular plain yogurt, at leas 3%, but 5% and up is even better.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dish of the Day: Potato Cauliflower Mash

Tonight I was planning on making baked salmon, mashed potatoes and cauliflower with butter for some of us, and with dip for the Picky Eater. Out of a desire to keep dirty pots to a minimum, I decided to boil the cauli with the potatoes, just putting it in 7 minutes behind the taters. When it was time to drain the vegetables and do different things with each of them I thought "what the heck, let's mash it all together!"

So our mash was made with:
- boiled Yukon Gold potatoes with a few skins left in
- half a head from a large cauliflower
- 2 large cloves garlic boiled with the veggies
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup or more of the potato water (reserved)

I whipped it up with the hand-held mixer and left things a bit chunky. It called out for fresh chives, parsley or basil but with none in the kitchen I settled on ground pepper.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Dish of the Day: Chickpea Salad

I had some friends over for dinner last night, with only 1 day's notice, so I needed to throw a meal together quickly. I also wanted to avoid a trip to the grocery store where I would undoubtedly spend too much money. We had fish and rice, but what to do about the veggies? I had almost a whole English cucumber, some grape tomatoes left over and a can of chick peas. Sounds like a salad to me!

I washed the chick peas and took off their shells in a big steel bowl. Did you know that chick peas have a skin covering them that makes them harder to digest? I have trouble with too much fibre and so I take these off even though it's a bit of a pain. In a large salad bowl I put 1 Tbsp dijon mustard, 2 Tbsps white vinegar and 2 Tbsps of a strong olive oil. Whisked with a fork and there was my salad dressing. I chopped the tomatoes, diced the cuke and then added the chick peas.

This was made the night before so the salad ingredients could really soak up the flavours of the dressing, and so I had less to do the night of the party.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dish of the Day: Spiced Roasted Cauliflower

Another dish that's a timesaver, this cauliflower requires very little prep and gets baked in the oven.

You'll need:
- 1 head of cauliflower
- 1 large shallot or a small sweet onion
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 2 TBsp honey
- 1 tsp each nutmeg and cumin seeds
- sprinkle of salt

Set the oven to 375F. Take a whole head of cauliflower, wash it and remove the stem. Roughly chop shallot. Then place florets and shallot in a baking pan and brush with olive oil. Sprinkle on nutmeg and add in cumin seeds (or ground cumin if that's all you can get your hands on). Sprinkle on salt and place in oven for 20 minutes or until florets are tender.

Remove pan from oven and add in raisins and honey. Mix together so that raisins a

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dish of the Day: Fresh Papaya

What's better than a fully-ripe exotic fruit? Not much. I've been able to find some very fresh organic papayas recently in a few places. Not very locavorous of me I know, but I blame it on the Bug, and my search for healthy foods for her that she can eat with minimal supervision and not choke. Papaya is one of those soft fruits that are simply packed with vitamins and minerals and she loves it. Me too!

When the Bug's daddy and I went to the Cook Islands on our honeymoon we tasted papaya (pau-pau) that was freshly picked each morning. It made us realise how much is lost when exotic fruits are shipped over to North America. And naturally, it demonstrates the benefits of eating fresh, local food, like our own summer peaches. But when you can get your hands of a little piece of tropical heaven: a Hawaiian pineapple, for example, or a mango from the Philippines, it's a wonderful treat. Like a mini vacation in your mouth. The Bug sure agrees.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Dish of the Day: Spinach Lasagna

I used to think that lasagna was too rich and too much work for me, but I just saw a few examples of quick methods on the old boob tube recently. That expression doesn't really work anymore does it?

Anyway, I bought some Primo whole-grain oven-ready lasagne noodles and a package of baby spinach and some mozzarella and figured I was ready to go. NOTE: Even for a small pan of lasagna you need more than one bag of spinach, and this became apparent early on. Fortunately I had a bag of Stahlbush chopped spinach in the freezer which saved the day. I was also keen to make the lasagna tasty, but to avoid using heavy cream or loads of cheese, as is the convention. A roux was the solution for making a creamy, yet not overly heavy sauce. Here's what I used to make my healthier spinach lasagna:

- box of lasagna pasta
- 2 bags of spinach
- milk, flour, butter to make a roux
- 1/2 pound (225 gm) mozzarella
- 1 tablespoon pesto
- 1 handful parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper to taste

While I wilted/boiled the spinach (1 -2 minutes for fresh, 3 minutes for frozen) I made 1 cup of roux and dammit, I just now realised it would have been a lot better with some white wine added in). Then I drained the spinach and added the spinach to the roux saucepan and removed it from the heat. Some of the spinach water went in too, and this is okay because with the oven-ready noodles you don't want things to be too dry. I placed a saucy spinach layer in the bottom of a greased 8" x 8" square glass pan, then sprinkled on all the mozza cheese. Then added a layer of noodles, then the other half of the spinach and then noodles directly on top. Then I added the parmesan cheese and covered the pan with foil, so it would all melt but not burn and to keep the moisture in.

Baked for 35 minutes at 400F and then 5-7 more minutes with the foil cover removed to all the top to brown slightly. You don't want to brown this too much unless you have really layered on the cheese because the oven-ready noodles tend towards the dry side. Voila! Quick, easy, healthy dinner.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Dish of the Day: Breakfast Porridge

Here's another timesaver for those who like warm porridge on an autumn morning. Take last night's leftover starch and cook it on the stove with some cinnamon and milk. Now that's instant hot cereal that's healthy and good.

I made quinoa for dinner last night and this morning I put about a cup of it in a saucepan with 1/2 a cup of milk and water. This simmered away for about 15 minutes to soak up most of the liquid and then I added cinnamon, raisin and cardamom and let it cook for 2 more minutes. Into the bowl it went along with a squeeze of honey, a pat of butter and a bit more milk to make it soupy. I like some crunch in the morning so I added a few pieces of walnut.

Other suggestions:
Brown rice with dried blueberries and pecans
White rice with raisins and cinnamon
Couscous with cranberries and sliced almonds

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Dish of the Day: Rice Porridge

Today at a parent drop-in I met Shirley who graciously invited me and the Bug back to her house for baby lunch. She's from mainland China and makes her daughter rice porridge every morning. She makes her own stock with beef bones and a chicken and then very slowly simmers the rice in this broth until it is very soft. Then she adds dried Chinese cabbage and chicken meat.

Shirley's porridge is absolutely delicious and I can't think of anything more nutritious for a baby, except maybe using brown rice instead of white. At first I thought "here's an example of someone from the Old World who does things the traditional way" and that made me envious and appreciative of what she's doing for her baby. But when I probed further about the ingredients of the porridge I realised that this was a true Superfood created by a discriminating cook with a true knowledge of how to nourish someone.

Shirley uses organic whole chicken bought directly from a farmer and the marrow and concentrated chicken give the stock a huge amount of vitamins and minerals. But even the addition of vegetables is a nutrient-rich decision because Shirley's cabbage is picked in China and hung upside down to dry, and then sent to Canada by her mother. When rehydrated, it still contains a decent percentage of vitamins and minerals. She spends 4 hours each day making this nutritious dish!

Shirley's baby is a lucky girl. And Shirley herself is an inspiration and a reminder of a fading tradition of homemakers who don't just feed their family but who take the time to nourish them. I wonder how much time many of us spend on tasks that are less important than nourishing ourselves, and what do we really get for our labours?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dish of the Day: Roasted Brussels Sprouts

The days of hating and fearing Brussels sprouts are officially over. Now everyone is giving them a try and that's largely because cooks have stopped the horrible practice of boiling the poor things. This cruciferous vegetable is packed with amazing phytochemicals and roasting at lower temperatures helps to preserve them. As opposed to boiling them to death so they turn that nasty shade of dead-frog green.

As a lazy cook, I now cook these exclusively by slicing these babies in half, placing them cut-side down on an oiled baking pan, basting with a bit more oil and then placing them in the oven for about 20 minutes at 375F. They don't even need to be turned over - they're so simple.

I'm using my silicone basting brush daily as it's such a good way to lightly coat foods in oil. This came in handy with the Brussels sprouts to ensure that the bottom of the glass baking pan was evenly coated with oil. I topped them with some nutmeg, salt and pepper and a drizzle of walnut oil when they came out of the oven.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dish of the Day: Sweet Potato Fries

Everybody loves fries, right? But nobody wants trans fats, so homemade oven fries are a good way to have your fries and eat them too. I only seem to make them with yams or sweet potatoes and this time of year I make them fairly often.

One large yam is enough to make side dishes for three people.
- Clean the yam with soap and water
- Using a large chef's knife, cut the yam into pinky-finger sized slices, leaving the skin on
- Generously brush your baking sheet with olive oil and throw the fries on
- Shake on your favourite spices: paprika, onion powder, rosemary, ground sage, salt, pepper
- Bake at 375F for about 12 minutes then flip over (when browned)
- 10 more minutes on the other side should do it

Seasoned properly, there's no need for sugary ketchup, as these yam fries will be very savoury and yummy. If you're giving the fries to babies, watch the salt, and cut off the skin or any crunchy parts as they may present a choking hazard. They make a great finger food for kids of all ages.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dish of the Day: Cauliflower Soup

Nothing says "Mmm mmm...cool fall weather" like a hearty homemade soup. Because I am a super lazy cook, I love to whip up cauliflower soup because it's fast, easy, creamy and good. This is also a great way to introduce members of your family who do not like cauliflower, to its subtle yumminess. As a teen, I ate cauliflower soup at home several times before I caught on that I'd been sneakily served a vegetable I despised! I soon became a convert.

- In a large saucepan, saute onions and garlic (lots of you like 'em, a handful if you're not so keen) in an olive oil/butter combo until translucent (5 minutes or more)
- Chop a whole cauliflower into 2 inch florets and place in pot
- Add milk to just cover florets
- Add in bay leaf, salt and pepper
- Cook at a low boil for 25 minutes until florets are very tender
- Remove bay leaf, then puree in blender putting in florets first and then liquid to ensure your soup has the right consistency
- Adjust seasonings to taste. I usually put in 2 more tablespoons of butter before serving. You can also add sage, cumin, thyme if you like more, or different, flavour.

Everybody in our family loves this soup, and you will too!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dish of the Day: French Toast

Some weekends we like to have a special breakfast and this morning it was french toast. Of course, I wanted the baby to be able to partake so I made her a version which included soaking whole wheat bread in egg yolk and a bit of breast milk. Then I pan-fried it in butter, just like I did with our own. I also had some frozen blueberries I wanted to use up so I boiled them for 15 minutes on the stove to make them more digestible for baby's tummy. The Bug has had no problems with berries, although some babies can find them a lot to digest.

She enjoyed her french toast and didn't even know she was missing out on maple syrup. More for us!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dish of the Day: Yogen Fruz

Even though the weather has turned cooler, we still love frozen yogurt. It's a treat that feels a bit forbidden and yet isn't such a bad thing after all. And throw in some fruit and it's got some nutrition to boot. In Canada we don't have Pinkberry or its imitators, but we have the original frozen yogurt purveyor of the 1980s, the very Canadian Yogen Fruz. They revamped their menu this year to try and compete with the Pinkberry franchise, perhaps in case they had designs on expanding into lil' ole Canada.

We went there yesterday and I got the Top It option which is fat free and has no Splenda. Children should not eat sugar substitutes, so I had to make do with a little sugar. I topped it with fresh mango. The Bug was very excited but in the end it was not to her liking. A bit too cold, although she has enjoyed fro-yo in the past. In the summer, the yogurt melts faster and I gave her the warmer, soupy parts. Maybe the fact that she just sat - terrifyingly - on Santa's knee made her feel a bit chilled. But mommy sure enjoyed her share.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Dish of the Day: Sweet Potato Risotto

What's in a name? Po-TAY-to, po-TA-to.....yam? I'm talking about Ipomoea batatas not that other sweet potato as we call the long, dry yellow potatoes here in Canada. Of course here in Canada we call "Ipomoea" a "yam", but in fact a yam is something else altogether.

Anyway, those orange sweet things, as in my photo above, are yummy treats this time of year. I decided to try out a recipe from Real Simple mag that was a traditional risotto recipe involving good old wine and cheese. This was very easy to follow and had great results. Note to parents: risotto is not a quick dish to make. You must stand at the stove and stir and stir and stir. Try it out when children are away, or sleeping, or have left home to go to college and the house is nice and quiet.

Of course, the baby made me give her most of mine. With the alcohol burned off during the cooking process, all she gets is the sweet flavour of the dry wine, without the effects. I guess we're teaching her about drinking responsibly from an early age.

My Kind of Fast Food

Forget Slow Food. I'm not slow; I'm fast. I want to get the most done in the shortest period of time so I can enjoy. My latest trick is to cook more food. Sounds like an oxymoron for someone in a hurry, but I'm talking about cooking more quantity of food to make enough for two meals or more.

I can't tell you how frustrated I get at lunchtime to realise that I have no vegetables ready to go for lunch. The lunch hour is usually a rushed time for us, especially when I'm trying to get my lunch and the baby's ready to go. I'm planning now to always make extra at dinner and save the vegetables for the next day's lunch. Last night was Brussels sprouts roasted in the oven with a bit of olive oil and chopped pecans. My sprouts will make you beg for more, believe it!

It's worth mentioning that you will lose some vitamins (B's and C) when you save food until the next day which is why it's always important to eat as much fresh food as possible. But at least I'm getting my veggies, and fast.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dish of the Day: Sauteed Zucchini with Cumin

At this time of year I get very bored with my vegetable options because I don't eat raw vegetable during cooler weather. Sometimes I find root vegetables too heavy, so fall finds me cycling through leafy green veggies and try to find different ways to serve them. But this week I spotted some perky organic zucchini squash and decided to give them another try.

I love zucchini in baking, but unless it's grilled, zucchini can be a bit too mushy for my tastes. This time I decided to sautee the squash in an olive oil/butter combination so it would brown and still stay firm. I placed the 1/3 inch rounds flat on the bottom of the pan and sprinkled them with a pinch of salt, ground pepper and two pinches of ground cumin. They cooked for 3-4 minutes per side.

When I brought the zucchini to the table for my lunch, naturally my Bug started squealing for some of my food. I fed her the vegetable turkey mix I'd prepared for her but she kept wanting my zucchini. I really doubted that she'd enjoy the cumin, but once I'd peeled a softer round for her and popped it in her mouth she was very happy. She got about four more pieces before I decided that the rest was for me.

I fear that one day, Bug is going to decide to be picky about her food, but I know that feeding her different flavours and textures now is an important experience for her. There's been very little she has refused and I look forward to seeing her enjoy so many different tastes.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Do As I Do

Now that my Bug is getting to the toddler stage, she can eat more than just mush. So the good news is that she wants to eat what I'm eating. Right off my plate. Yay! I don't have to concoct special meals for her! But also: Boo! I have to share my food. The most important thing to me, though, is ensuring she's getting very high quality food and this has caused me to take a good look at what I'm putting on my fork each night.

On the weekend we went to Whole Foods and I lazily bought some prepared food. Sesame Tofu was good but a bit too chewy for her. I had to cut off the outside bits. And hey....was it cooked in oil? Hmm. I thought I always read the ingredients on foods I purchased but I am a serious label-reader now. Also I had Broccoli Bites on our lunch menu. These are breaded broccoli and cheese nuggets. I had to admit they're a bit processed after all. And finally, my favourite Amy's Soups which I've now discovered contain tons of salt. I just thought they were naturally yummy, but before doling some out to Bug, I noticed the too-high sodium levels on the label and added water and some plain veggie puree to hers. Thankfully, today I discovered that Amy's offers low-sodium versions of some of their soups.

Having and raising a baby has forced me to be even healthier than usual but now that we are eating together I'm really challenged to walk the talk. It's a bit more work but I'm thankful for this excuse and happy to know I'm giving my little one the best foundation from which to grow. And I've resolved to eat my cheat foods in the closet, out of sight!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Chocolate-covered Bugs

Ok, this isn't about chocolate. But I've often said I'd eat anything if it was covered in chocolate. This means that a good sauce goes a long way. A good sauce can make ordinary, or unfamiliar foods taste delicious.

Recently I discovered such a sauce for greens, but you can use it on anything: rice, as a dipping sauce, even for tofu or chicken. I use it as a way to make my family more interested in eating some greens that they might find a bit too bitter or bland if eaten naked. Naked vegetables that is. Nothing is very bland when a person is naked.

"Eat More Greens" Recipe

- Take equal parts tahini and miso and mix together
- Add to this mixture, warm water, 1.5 times the amount of miso or tahini you've used (use more for a thinner sauce)
- Stir and use on anything you like, from salads to stirfrys. I like it best on steamed greens.

If by chance you tire of the sauce, you can spice it up by adding in a few drops of one of the following: soy sauce, lemon juice, Bragg's Liquid Aminos, tamari, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, hot pepper sauce. Or try your own additions.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Baby Loves Beets!

I learned a lesson today about not passing your own food issues on to your child. I hate beets but a good friend gave me a beautiful, fresh golden one from the market this weekend, so I decided to bake it up. Why waste good food? And perhaps this time I'd like them.

I peeled it, chopped it and poured a balsamic vinaigrette over the pieces. At lunch I warmed up the beets and as I began to add some herbed goat cheese to the bowl, my Baby Bug noticed what I was doing and went ga-ga over them. I had to give her some as she was kicking up a storm. Although I've been feeding her off my plate for weeks no, I never planned to offer her beets. I find they taste like dirt so why on earth would she like them? She adored them and couldn't get enough. And why not? Baked beets are sweet and have a lovely texture.

You can tell she's loving them! From now on I'll just let her try anything that's baby-appropriate without considering first how I feel about the food.