Sunday, 6 December 2015

Homemade Chocolate Syrup






The other day, we ran out of chocolate syrup. Yes, I still buy the chemical laden chocolate flavoured poison. It's not my fault though! The last time I tried to make my own syrup, it did not go so well. My family mutinied and refused to use it. The syrup was too thick and it didn't mix well with the milk, so eventually it got pitched. Cook's error, me thinks! I think that was 5 years ago. If I recall correctly, my husband snuck out and purchased a bottle of the Nesquick. 

Now that my family is getting used to the idea that many of the store bought products are being made in-house by me, I decided that I would try my hand at chocolate syrup again. Perhaps it will be an easier sell. Also, because I do have strong feelings about protecting the environment, I would be quite happy to strike yet another Nestlé product off my shopping list given this company's  stronghold on the bottled water industry; an industry that I think has horrific ramifications on our planet. Stepping off my soapbox now...  And back to yummy chocolate syrup. 

The store bought chocolate syrups have chemicals put in them to enhance flavours and extend shelf life. Most certainly, these are things I would prefer not to ingest. In case you were wondering, the ingredients list on, hopefully the last, bottle of Nesquick is as follows: sugar, water, maltodextrin, cocoa, colour, salt, citric acid, potassium sorbate, artificial flavour, and ferric phosphate. Between you, me and the fencepost, matodextrin, potassium sorbate, artificial colour and flavour, and ferric phosphate sound SO tasty... NOT! True, chocolate syrup is super high in sugar, but if we are going to indulge in a sweet treat like chocolate milk, every now and again, I would certainly prefer to do it without the chemicals. 


Yesterday, I made some chocolate syrup and stored it in a mason jar. This morning, I checked the syrup and was pleased to find that it had thickened just slightly AND was still pourable. I transferred it to a squeeze bottle for easy use. The syrup itself tastes pretty darn good too; so far, so good! I even made myself a little chocolate milk today and I thought it was excellent. All that's left is the family taste test! Cross your fingers... 

Chocolate Syrup UPDATES 1 and 2

It's been a few days since I made the chocolate syrup. My husband gave it a try the other night and said it was pretty good - much better than my last attempt, especially since it "poured properly" and mixed easily with the milk. Two thumbs up. The kid tried it and said - "Nah - it's too chocolatey". Next time I make her a chocolate milk, I will use less syrup and see how it goes. As an aside, I know when I tried the syrup plain, I found that it certainly packed a chocolatey punch, so it stands to reason that a little will go a long way in a glass of your choice of milk. I'm hoping that by the time this batch of syrup is gone, my family's tastebuds will have forgotten how the Nesquick tastes so we can all enjoy chemical free chocolate syrup.

It's been over 2 weeks now and I have since made a SECOND batch of syrup. The kid has not tried it again, but my husband is quite happy to use it. I would also like to report that this chocolate syrup is excellent with almond milk and it is yummy on a bowl of vanilla ice cream with bananas and walnuts.

Chocolate Syrup

3/4 cup sugar 
1/2 cup cocoa***
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup water
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tbsp vanilla

Whisk the cocoa, sugar, and salt together in a medium/large pot. 




Whisk in the water until well combined and smooth. 




Over medium heat, cook the mixture stirring constantly until it comes to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes until the syrup has thickened slightly and coats the back of a spoon. Add the maple syrup, stir well and bring back to a simmer. Take off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Let the syrup cool to room temperature.  

Once cool, pour into a glass mason jar (I like the wide mouth ones so it is easy to scrape out every last bit of syrup) or your favourite squeeze bottle. 
 


Store in the refrigerator. The syrup should keep for 1 to 2 months, if it lasts that long.
 


If you find that the syrup is too thick after refrigerating for a day, simply pour back into a bowl and thin with some water. Add a teaspoon at a time, whisking well between additions until the desired consistency has been achieved. Pour it back into the jar or squeeze bottle, and you are ready to go!

 


***NOTE
I have done a little research about cocoa. I discovered that the cocoa I have in my pantry is Dutch processed cocoa which is a little different than natural cocoa. Check this out to learn more about cocoa here!  From my reading, Dutched cocoa is made from cocoa beans that have been washed with a potassium solution before roasting and grinding. This neutralizes their acidity and results in a darker and less intense flavoured cocoa. The natural cocoa is just roasted and ground cocoa beans, but because the cocoa beans are naturally acidic, the flavour is sharper and and more "fruity" and colour is more reddish. Perhaps, if I used the natural cocoa, the flavour might be more appealing to the kid?  I will let you know how it goes when I give it a try!

***UPDATE***
I really liked the taste of the natural cocoa versus the Dutch processed. Given that the natural has less processing, I think it will be my go to choice for cocoa from here on in!

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Thanksgiving 2015 Pre-amble and Dessert

I have our traditional Thanksgiving feast all planned and ready to go! Pasture raised turkey ordered; CHECK. Menu sorted out with all dietary needs sorted out; CHECK! Grocery shopping done; CHECK. Pumpkin puree from farm fresh pie pumpkins made and waiting to be turned into pumpkin pies. I plan on making my regular, tried and true pie which is always a family favourite. In addition to my traditional pumpkin pie, I also plan to try my hand at a dairy free version using coconut milk instead of evaporated milk. If this goes well, then, next time, I will try a gluten free crust.  Cross your fingers for me! So that I can accommodate my dairy and gluten free requirements, I am making my apple crisp which I have tested thoroughly with great success and TWO thumbs up from my omnivorous family.

Yesterday, I was at the apple orchard again.  I was there a few weeks ago to pick a bushel of MacIntosh apples for the apple sauce I can every year. Normally, I pick half a bushel of Cortlands for pies, crisps and salads at the same time. Sadly, they were not ready when I was there so I had to make another trip. 

After picking my apples,  I found some of the most adorable pie pumpkins available for sale. I decided I would try my hand at making my own pumpkin puree for the pumpkin pies this year. This gives me another opportunity to support a local farmer and another way to skip the factory kitchens PLUS no BPA infused cans touching my food. A Win/Win/Win scenario me thinks! FYI: a rule of thumb is 1 pie pumpkin = 1 pie. 

Isn't this the cutest little pumpkin ever?

First of all, you need to take a really sharp knife and cut the stem off close to the pumpkin. Then, cut the pumpkin in half. Remove the seeds and the stringy bits. 


Place the pumpkin halves face down on a parchment lined roasting pan. Roast in a 350° F oven for 35-50 minutes until a fork or a knife is easily inserted isn't the skin and flesh of the pumpkins.  Roasting time will vary depending on the size of your pumpkins.


Let the pumpkins cool so you can handle them. Then, with a spoon, scoop out all the pumpkin. Place the pumpkin into a food processor and purée till smooth. Today, I used my Vitamix to blend, but next time I will use mynfood processor because it is hard to get every last bit of pumpkin out of the blender. Once the pumpkin is puréed, gently pout into a fine mesh strainer so that the excess moisture drains. It will take a few hours. For my 2 pumpkins, I got 1 1/4 cups of water.  For pumpkin pie, it is important to remove the excess moisture so that the pies set. I would think you can skip this step if you are making a pumpkin quick bread liaf or muffins. 


Since I prepared this today and will be making my pies on Sunday morning, I stored the purée in mason jars and refrigerated till pie making day. 

Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours! ❤️❤️





Friday, 18 September 2015

New To Me Products and Pita Veggie Pizzas


I am over the moon! I have discovered 2 new to me brands of "made for me products". I know that much of my blog is about making your own things, but sometimes a busy person needs a little help. When you can find a company that makes its products with the same love you do in your own kitchen and without the use of chemicals, then go for it.  Your tummy will thank you!

The first is a bread company called Silver Hills Bakery. This bakery makes wonderful sprouted whole grain breads and bagels. Their products are non-gmo, vegan, dairy-free, and use organic ingredients. To find out more about this Canadian company, click here! I like their breads for sandwiches and toast, not to mention, I find their breads a little lighter in texture so I think this bread will appease even a white bread only person. There is a variety of breads and bagels and you can even get hamburger and hot dog buns too. 

I absolutely love their bread toasted with a spoonful (or 2) of my homemade chia seed jam! Below are pictures of my Strawberry and Blueberry Chia Seed Jam and my Blueberry Vanilla Chia Seed Jam by Oh She Glows. 


The second brand is the Ozery Pita Break Bakery; another Canadian find. This bakery makes a variety of pita products - some savoury and some sweeter, perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. There are no chemicals, preservatives or additives; when they use all purpose flour, it is the unbleached variety AND they are particular about the quality of all their ingredients. To find out more about this company, click here

Today I want to share with you my Pita Pizzas. For this recipe I used the Pita Break Multi Grain large pitas, but you could certainly use their One Buns for a snack size pita pizza too. The regular size pita's make a perfect base for a single serve pizza, so if you are pressed for time, or just don't fancy making your own dough, these large pita's have you covered when you want to have homemade personal pizzas. If you are super hungry, 2 will fit the bill! 

If I don't have any of my homemade marinara for pizza sauce, I will flavour a cup and a half of pasata with some sautéed minced garlic and some oregano and basil, dried is best, and cook it down till the sauce is thick and mounds on a spoon. If I have some leftover marinara, I usually reduce it a little more too.

My favourite pizza as of late is a veggie pizza. I like to play around with various veggie combinations. Some great choices are:

  • sauteed mushrooms
  • sauteed onions
  • sliced green onion
  • sauteed kale
  • wilted spinach (excess moisture squeezed out)
  • sauteed, diced zucchini
  • diced red or yellow bell pepper
  • tomatoes
  • Kalamata olives, sliced
When I feel like a little meat on my pizza I cook up my favourite Italian sausage and slice it or dice it finely. The classic pepperoni would work too, but I have been opting to avoid deli meats as of late. 

Finally, a little mozzarella cheese, grated or crumbled.  If my cheese has been frozen, (I freeze cheese when it goes on sale) I find that it doesn't always grate well so I have opted to crumble it over the pizza. Also, I have been using a lot less cheese in my foods lately because I prefer to eat it as a "sometimes" food. 

Pizza Sauce
1/3 bottle Pasata, a little more than 3/4 of a cup
1 large garlic clove (a heaped teaspoon of garlic granules works too)
1 tbsp dry oregano (not powdered)
1/2 tsp pink Himalayan salt
several grinds of black pepper
Place all ingredients into a small saucepan, stir well to combine. Simmer over a medium heat for 20-30 minutes until the sauce has reduced by about a third and the sauce "mounds" on a spoon. 


This makes enough sauce for 8 pita pizzas, about 2/3 cup.  If you are only making 4 pita pizzas, you can freeze the remainder in a 250 ml jar for another day. 

Ozery Pita Break Whole Grain Pitas (4 per pack)
1/3 cup pizza sauce
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
4 oz sliced cremini mushrooms
1 cup kale cut crosswise into 1/4" ribbons (stem removed)
1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 1/2 roma tomatoes, sliced thinly OR 8 or so cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced 

In a heavy fry pan, saute the mushroom slices in about a teaspoon or so of your favourite oil, over a medium heat. I tend to use olive or grapeseed oil. Once the mushroom slices are golden brown and have released their moisture, remove from the pan and set aside in a bowl or plate. Using the same pan, sautee the kale ribbons over a medium heat with about a teaspoon of oil. Stir regularly and cook the kale until slightly wilted and soft. Set aside in a bowl or plate. 

Dice the red peppers and slice the tomatoes. 

Preheat your oven to 425° F and make sure your rack is at the halfway mark. Place the 4 pitas on a large baking sheet. Spread about about 2 scant tablespoons of sauce on each pita. Evenly distribute your mushroom slices over the sauce. Then evenly distribute the kale. Sprinkle the red peppers and then the cheese. finally, top with the tomatoes.  Place the baking tray in the oven and bake pizzas for about 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. 

Remove the pan from the oven. Let stand for a few minutes and then transfer, one at a time, to a cutting board. Using a good 6" chef's knife or pizza wheel, cut the pizza into quarters.  Serve with a mixed green salad and your favourite homemade dressing. YUM!





Friday, 28 August 2015

Erika’s Sweet 16 Birthday Cake

 


 
For those of you who have been hanging out with me, you know that my focus has been to share ways of eating better; my favourite family strategy of “hidden healthy” and to experiment with new to me plant based ingredients and recipes. SPOILER ALERT!! There are absolutely no veggies in this post and ALOT refined white sugar too! But since this is a post about birthday cake, I personally think its ok to indulge once and awhile… after all, it IS a celebration and we don’t eat cake every day!
 
It has been my tradition as a mom to make a special cake for both my daughters’ birthdays. Sadly this little tradition ended early for my oldest because she decided that she didn’t like cake. We changed to homemade ice cream cakes NOT made with cheap ice cream and fancied up with crumb crusts, fancy flavoursand add-ins like gummy bears, candy coated chocolate candies, chocolate chips, and candied fruit peelsNo DQ ice cream cakes in this house (had one once and I’m not a fan)My youngest, now turning 16 still LOVES cake and has decided that she is still not too old for a theme birthday cake. The tradition lives on!
 
Almost every year, I have made a different cake for her. When she was younger, I created a surprise theme cake for her parties including a bunny caketrain cake, and pool cake. Now, she tests my talents with her own requests.  2 years ago, she wanted a happy face cake; last year she asked for a frog cake; and this year, she asked for a cat cake with pink fur and blue spots if I can manage it.
 
 
 

 
Early on, in my mom career, I used to buy made at the store cakes and I used cake mixes too because I didn’t trust my baking abilities. I even used frosting out of a can... shhhhhhAs I learned more about my food supply and the factory kitchens, I adopted the credo, “if I can’t pronounce it, I don’t eat it” which is probably the reason that I try very hard to minimize my consumption of prepared foods. Gradually, year after year, I dropped a few more made for me products from my shopping list, opting to make them myself. One of the first items to get dropped was cake, and low and behold, I found out that with a good recipe and wholesome ingredients, cake, in any flavour, wasn’t so scary after all!  Nothing beats real ingredients when making food for your family!
 
If you want, you can always improve your homemade cake by selecting premium ingredients such as unbleached flour (organic if you can find it) to further reduce your chemical intake or Fair Trade ingredients to give your cake a social conscience. You can even give your cake a humane spin by using eggs, butter, and milk from pasture raised chickens and cows. However you want to improve your cake, the choice is yours.  Just remember, the most important thing you can do for yourself, and those that you love, is to make the cake yourself with real ingredients and whole lot of love!
 
White Vanilla Cake (a Work in Progress, inspired by Canadian Living)
 
Ingredients
 
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar (try 1 1/2 cups next time; VERY sweet)
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup orange juice concentrate, thawed
1 tbsp orange zest
1 tbsp. vanilla
4 cups sifted cake-and-pastry flour
5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt 
                                

 
Directions
 
Measure the sifted flour into a medium bowl. Add the baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine.
 
Pour the milk, orange juice concentrate, and vanilla into a 2 cup measuring cup, whisk to combine.
 
In a large bowl, cream butter thoroughly; by hand, or with a hand mixer or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment
 
Add the sugar, and beat until light and fluffy.
 
Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat thoroughly between additions.
 
Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, continue to beat. Add 1/2 the milk mixture and beat till mixed in. Add another 1/3 of the flour mixture, beat to combine and then repeat with the milk and the remaining flour mixtures.
 
Fill your baking pan or pans no more than two thirds full, otherwise the cake batter will spill over the sides of the pan. If you have extra batter, quickly grease a few custard ramekins to make mini cakes. Again, do not feel more than two thirds full!
 
This will fill a 13 x 9 cake pan, OR TWO 9" round pans OR (probably) THREE 8" round pans. Make sure you don't fill more than 2/3 full otherwise the cake batter will overflow.
 
Today I used TWO 9" round pans and had extra batter so I filled 2 Medium ramekins and 2 small ramekins. My small ramekins overflowed because they were too full. Live and learn!
 
Bake the 13 x 9 cake for about 40 minutes, until golden, a cake tester comes out clean, and the cake springs back when touched. 
 
Bake 9 inch rounds for about 30 minutes; bake 8" foot about 25-30 minutes; bake mini ramekin mini cakes for about 20 minutes
 
Cool for 20 minutes in the baking pan, on a cooling rack. Remove from pan and completely cool on rack.
 
Continue with cake preparation or wrap thoroughly and freeze for up to 2 weeks.


 
Frosting Recipe 

My go to easy buttercream frosting recipe is by Canadian Living.  It is rather sweet but it spreads nicely and is super easy.  http://www.canadianliving.com/food/vanilla_buttercream_icing.php
 
For my pink cat, I decided to try my hand at chemical free food colouring, one that is made from real food; nothing artificial. I have seen posts using cooked blueberry for purple, cooked beets for pinks; turmeric for yellows and matcha tea for greens. Today, I used raspberries that I cooked down and pressed through a jelly bag to remove the seeds and excess pulp, and then reduced a little more by simmering gently till slightly thickened. I was left with the most gorgeous red syrup.
 
 

I made my recipe according to the recipe and then set aside about 3/4 cup of frosting to keep white.  I added the raspberry syrup to the remaining frosting. to maintain the consistency, I added a few spoonful's of sifted icing sugar. The frosting picked up a subtle pink hue. Sadly, not as pink as I would have liked for my cake, so I ended up using a teensy bit of store bought food colouring gel to deepen the pink colour. Ah well! The frosting did change colour and it had a hint of raspberry flavour too which was quite lovely. If I had been making a regular layer cake and not one for a theme cake, the natural frosting would have been perfect. Next time, I will see if increasing the volume of raspberry syrup and thickening it a bit with cornstarch while cooking it will allow me to add more colour without diluting my frosting. I will keep you posted.


 

Making the Cat Cake

 
What You Need:

Pink Frosting for entire cake and ears
White frosting for cheeks, chine, eyes and whiskers (I set aside about 1 cup of white frosting before tintin
Licorice shoe string snipped super short for whisker dots, eye dots, and mouth
TWO round green wine gums, sliced thinly
3 Ice cream sandwich wafers (Bulk Barn) or large graham crackers, cut into triangles with a serrated knife - 2 large and 2 small for the contrast
ONE black wine gum or black jelly candy sliced thinly and cut into a small triangle for the nose

What To Do:

Ice your cake like you would for any layer cake with the pink frosting. Put short slits into the cake where you want the ears to go. Spread a little frosting on the bottom of the triangles and gently press into the slits you made.  Frost the ears, front and back. 

With the back of a spoon or an offset spatula, pat the icing all over to make the icing look "fluffy".


With a large piping tip, pipe 2 large cheeks, a chin, and 2 eyes.

Place nose above cheeks, insert the licorice mouth, and pipe the whiskers. Carefully place the whisker dots on the cheeks.

Gently press the green eyes on the piped eyes, and then then place the eye dots on.

Take the smaller triangles and gently press onto the ears for the contrast.


 
I hope you try your hand at making your own cake and frosting. With a little practice, you can accomplish anything, you just need the right ingredients, the right tools and a good recipe. The occasional treat, even high in refined sugar is SO much better for you than the chemical laden ones from Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Fruit On The Bottom Yogurt




My family has always enjoyed yogurt, particularly, the fruit on the bottom kind. For the past year or so, I have made a conscious choice to buy organic (would love to find grass fed too, but that is not to be). Sadly, the organic yogurt carried at my grocery store offers only a few flavours, of which, only one is liked by my daughter and it is the already stirred kind.  In order to stop the yogurt flavour boredom from which my family is suffering, I decided to try my hand at my own fruit on the bottom yogurt, and I must say, I am pleased with the results.

So why should I make my own fruit on the bottom yogurt?
  • I can serve organic yogurt
  • I can guarantee that the fruit on the bottom is more fruit than fruit flavoured "gel"
  • I can eliminate the refined sugar 
  • I can control the amount of sugar
  • I can prepare the flavours that my family loves, so nothing goes to waste 
  • I can minimize the single serving waste because I use 125 ml canning jars and reusable lids.

I think this is a win-win especially since it is easy to do and doesn't take much time.

When I started thinking about how to make this, I knew I didn't want to use the refined white sugar to sweeten the fruit or the yogurt. This meant, I would have to use honey or maple syrup resulting in a thinned down the yogurt. In the past, I have made a cornstarch or arrowroot thickened fruit sauces and sweetened with a little maple syrup which was excellent on pancakes or spread on toast.  Sadly, the starch method would not be an option to thicken the yogurt. Hmmm! Thinking cap back on and then the AHA moment!

Drumroll please... Enter my favourite plant based thickener... Chia seeds - weird, wonderful, are amazing!  They thicken milk for chia seed pudding; when mixed with water, they can be substituted for eggs in baking; they can thicken fruits to create chia seed jams. With all this thickening power, I decided they would be a perfect ingredient; and let's not forget the nutritional punch chia seeds bring to the party.  Yes, we have chia seeds for the win!

So far I have made 2 flavours: blueberry and mixed fruit.  For my blueberry flavour, I used fresh blueberries because we had just been picking. For the mixed berry version, I used frozen berries that came in a raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, and blueberry mix from the grocery store. I also varied the preparation of the fruit jams to see how they would perform with the yogurt. My blueberry jam was cooked and my mixed fruit jam was a raw chia seed jam.  Spoiler alert... BOTH methods worked perfectly!

Today I am going to share my blueberry flavour. I will post the mixed fruit recipe next time!

For the blueberry jam, I used an excellent recipe for Magical Blueberry Vanilla Chia Seed Jam by Oh She Glows. I mentioned that I used fresh berries this time, but I've made this before using frozen ones. The jam turns out beautifully both ways. I let the jam sit overnight because I actually made the jam to have on hand for toast. It was serendipitous that I had it in the fridge when I got the brainstorm to use it in my fruit on the bottom yogurt!



1 recipe  Magical Blueberry Vanilla Chia Seed Jam (save the leftovers for toast or pancakes!)

Yogurt
2 cups plain organic yogurt, I prefer a 2.5% fat content for creaminess. 
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tsp chia seeds** 

Mix the plain yogurt with the maple syrup and chia seeds well.

Put 1 tablespoon of the blueberry jam  in the bottom of the jar.  I used 6 each 125 ml canning jam jars (1/2 cup) with the canning lids and screw bands. Spread it to cover the bottom evenly.  If you like a little more fruit filling, you can add a little more. Cover the fruit with the prepared yogurt and put the canning lids on and store in the fridge for at least 2 hours so that the yogurt thickens up.

**NOTE:  If you use more maple syrup in your yogurt, you may need to add a few more chia seeds.

These are the perfect size for a packed lunch or snack. The containers are reusable and inexpensive to buy. I like to make a bunch up on the weekend for the upcoming week. Please let me know what you think. If blueberry isn't your thing, watch for my next post to get the mixed fruit recipe!  


Monday, 13 July 2015

Green Smoothies - Breakfast of Champions!




Last year I did a post about breakfast cookies and green smoothies. I was happy to tell everyone that breakfast could be easy and quite portable if necessary. I still adore the breakfast cookies, but I have to say green smoothies have been my go to weekday breakfast since I took a temporary full time job. They are fast and easy to make. They pack an excellent nutritional punch and can be consumed right away or taken to go. Win - Win - Win I say!

I am not big on breakfast first thing in the morning and certainly not at 7 AM. Instead, I try to start my day with a warm lemon water which has great health benefits. Half of a fresh squeezed lemon, a 1-1/2 cups filtered water and topped with 1/2 cup boiled water provides me with a good start to achieving my daily requirements of vitamin C, helps to promote a healthy digestion system, and is a tasty way (once your taste buds get used to it!) to get some water into the bod after 8 hours of sleep! As a side note, lemons are acidic and can be hard on tooth enamel so I usually drink my lemon water out of a straw... just in case. While I am drinking my lemon water, I make our lunches for the day and blend a green smoothie for 2 to tuck into our lunch bags (my favourite way to transport is in a 500 ml mason jar with the canning lids). Later in the morning, around 9:30/10:00 am my tummy is ready to welcome the green smoothie breakfast I packed in my lunch bag. My husband quite enjoys his as a mid morning snack since he likes his cereal first thing.




Over the past several months, I have perfected my version of the green smoothie. I think it has the perfect amount of sweetness. When my daughter was home for a visit, I got a two thumbs up too. This smoothie recipe can be made in a regular blender but it reached new heights of healthy decadence in my Vita-mix!

When I started blending smoothies, green or fruity, I had a heck of a time not ending up with a blend full of smoothie big enough to feed a small army. Finding the right quantities  and proportions for the ingredients was key, after all, there is only so much smoothie one can drink at one time. Sometimes my smoothie was so thick that I had to thin it down with more liquids or the too thin so I would add more fruit/greens. Before you knew it, my blender jar was overflowing.  Not a good thing! Now after several years of smoothie making, I have managed to eyeball the fruit/greens ratio to liquids so I can consistently make a smoothie for 1, 2, or 3.

My recipe for my favourite green smoothie is pretty consistent in yielding essentially two 500 ml mason jars, the perfect size for breakfast or a mid morning/afternoon snack. This recipe is based on my blender jar which is 64 ounces when I measure out the spinach. If your blender jar is smaller, you may want to add a handful or 2 more greens once you've reached the 1/3 mark. You can also use a little more or less maple syrup too, depending on your taste. I find that if my pineapple is nice and sweet and my banana is quite ripe, I need only 2 tablespoons of the maple syrup.

 



Ingredients

Fill your blender jar about 1/3 full of baby spinach, organic please, and gently packed
1 slice 3/4" or 1" thick pineapple ring, fresh or fresh frozen; not canned
2 Tbsp hemp hearts
1 medium/large banana, preferably with many brown spots (I keep a stash in my freezer)
1 medium avocado
2-3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 to 1 1/2 cups milk of your choice (dairy or non), a little more depending on personal preference.

Method

Add the ingredients to you blender in the order given.  Start with 1 cup of the milk.

Blend on high, stopping if necessary to scrape down the sides and make sure the ingredients blend.

Add the remainder of the milk as necessary. Continue to blend on high until your smoothie is smooth. You may wish to add a little more milk at this point if you prefer your smoothies less thick.

Pour into drinking vessels of choice. I like using the 500 ml wide mouth mason jars with the canning lids if I am taking my smoothie to go!

Substitutions and Options

Hemp seed can be substituted for 2 heaping tablespoons of almond butter or peanut butter 

Spinach can be mixed with some kale, for my tastes, I would only switch out about a handful because kale has a strong flavour. Typically, I use more spinach than kale, but if you like the "extra green flavour", add more kale than spinach.

Maple syrup can be subbed with a good quality raw honey, local if you can get it.

No milk, no problem - cold filtered water or cold green tea will work too!

Tips

When fresh cored and peeled pineapple is on sale, I buy a bunch and then slice it. I then lay the slices on a cookie sheet lined with a silpat sheet and freeze the rings. Once frozen, I transfer them to a freezer bag.

As Kermit the Frog says... "it's not easy being green"! This green smoothie is creamy, tasty and an excellent start to your day OR as my husband can attest, it is also a great mid morning snack. This is truly a guilt free pleasure any time of day!












Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Burrito Bowls: Two or Three Ways!



On my recent food  journey, I found one of the largest stumbling blocks to eating more plant based and less refined sugar has been my family's resistance to embrace this healthier lifestyle. It has been a tricky juggling act but I have found that my favourite techniques have been "hidden healthy", learning just how much I can hide without getting caught and working diligently to modify my traditional recipes to closely replicate the originals while improving on the nutritional value. Some days, I've even resorted to cooking 2 separate meals which is a total pain in the you know where! So, when I come across a meal that requires very little finagling to provide a meal that makes both me AND my family happy, I can truly do the Happy Dance.

While I was "away", my daughter introduced me to burrito bowls, which we could also call "deconstructed burritos" in the foodie world... ooooo how fancy! This is such a simple meal and easy to customize based on what you have on hand. You can make it completely plant based and without much effort, provide the meat eaters in your family with the meat they want. Yes, you can satisfy the vegans, vegetarians and the  omnivores without cooking 3 completely different meals! Wahoo! 

The hardest part about the Burrito Bowl is the prep work, and certainly if you have a knife, a box grater, a blender, a pot and 2 fry pans, you've got this covered.




Basic Burrito Bowl Components (some or all of the veggies ROCK)
  • Brown Rice
  • Refried beans
  • Kale, mixed greens, or romaine lettuce, sliced finely into ribbons
  • Carrot, grated
  • Zucchini, grated
  • Bell peppers, yellow, red or orange, OR a combination finely diced
  • Green onions, finely chopped
  • Tomatoes, finely diced/chopped
  • Seasoned ground meat - beef, chicken, or pork (pasture raised and organic if possible)
  • Sour cream or dairy free sour cream (scroll down the page to find the recipe) or organic plain yogurt.
  • Old cheddar cheese, grated
  • Fresh limes
Seasoned Ground Meat
2 tablespoons oregano
1 tablespoon chile powder
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoon garlic powder (or 2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced)
2 teaspoons onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 lb ground beef, chicken or pork - pasture raised if possible

Mix all ingredients together.
Brown ground meat until well done.
Add 1/2 cup of water and seasonings and let simmer until liquid is absorbed.
Add additional salt if necessary. 

Refried Beans
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 tsp chilli powder
2 cups black turtle beans or one 19 oz can, drained and rinsed 
2/3 cup chicken or veggie broth, plus more if needed (veggie broth for vegan or vegetarian)
Salt and pepper 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves 

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender.
Stir in the garlic and chili powder and cook for a few minutes.
Stir in the beans and slowly add broth, cooking until the beans are warmed through, about 5-6 minutes.
Mash the beans coarsely with the back of a wooden spoon (I used a potato masher first), adding more broth to moisten, if needed. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. 
Stir in the cilantro** at the very end.

**Note:  If you don't have any fresh cilantro and IF you happen to have some cilantro pest cubes in the freezer, you can toss 2-3 thawed cubes in to the mix instead.


Assembly
In a large shallow bowl, I like to use a pasta bowl, put a scoop or two of  rice, meat (if using), refried beans, carrots, zucchini, greens, bell peppers, and tomatoes. Squeeze some fresh lime over the whole works; add a big dollop of sour cream, regular or non dairy and a sprinkle of cheese (if desired). 

There you have it... a meal for omnivores, vegans and vegetarians alike with not a lot of extra effort. For the vegans, HOLD all animal products. For the vegetarians, HOLD the meat, and for the omnivores, EVERYTHING into the bowl! This is the perfect meal to satisfy a variety of tastes - at the same time. I know I will need more of these kinds of meals to make meal preparation easier for me when I would prefer a plant based meal but my family would not. I will have to put my thinking cap on for that!

BUDGET TIP
Sometimes I mix a spoonful of mayonnaise in with about a 1/2 cup of yogurt to round out the flavour. It is almost a dead ringer for sour cream. Since I always have plain yogurt and mayo on hand, this is a great option because I don't always use sour cream in large quantities so the rest of the container usually spoils before I do. No tossing money in the green bin for this girl!



Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Back After A Year Long Hiatus

Today is my first day back at blogging.  I haven't written for well over a year and it isn't because I don't enjoy doing it.  Sadly, life got busy, I took on a temporary job, I struggled with some difficulties and, in a nutshell, I just couldn't find the time. Today I have some time, or rather, I have decided take some to blog despite the fact that my house is upside down and there are a number of things I really should be doing. So, today I am sitting at my keyboard and making an attempt to write, proof, and post something worth sharing.  Wish me luck!

Just to catch you up, I have been busy practicing my passions... cooking and eating.  I have been working on my "eat more plant based journey" and have dabbled in a variety of food choices including "raw", "dairy free", and gluten free".  I have embraced the green smoothie as an almost daily breakfast of champions; I have been buying fewer made for me products like salad dressings, granola, and jams, opting to make them in my own kitchen from scratch (or as close to scratch) as possible.  I have tried a variety of meatless dishes that have incorporated more lentils and beans and have been met with a less than thrilled family... <sigh> BUT on a happier note, I have managed to re-create much healthier versions of my "traditional" desserts using less conventional/traditional ingredients (shhhhhhhh) with great success and cutting down on our refined sugar intake!  I am still working on my ever present task of "hidden healthy" to help my family eat better, even if unknowing.  I am also lucky to have sourced out cleaner and more ethically raised chicken, turkey and pork.  Hopefully soon, I will be able to find some grass fed beef and then I can feel better about eating meat when that is on our family meal menus.

I have spent much time perusing other wonderful food blogs such as Oh She Glows, Joyous Health, Pure Ella, The First Mess, and My New Roots, just to name a few.  I have spent a great deal of time reading about these ladies and have been busily getting to know them through the stories, food and recipes they share; not to mention salivating over the gorgeous pictures they post. YUM-YUM-YUM!  Food blogs like these provide me with great inspiration and help me to learn about a whole new way of cooking and eating.

I still regularly visit the more traditional food web sites like Canadian Living and Chef Michael when I am looking for particular recipe. Sometimes I make the recipes as written, while other times, I tinker with them subbing out some ingredients for healthier options or because of dietary requirements... just to practice. As a side note, I do find it interesting that even the more traditional cooking sites like Canadian Living and Chef Michael are providing recipes using less typical ingredients and even providing wonderful food for those with specialized dietary requirements (gluten free, dairy free, vegan, etcetera). At the end of the day, I do find one common thread within the pages of all that I have been reading and that is to use REAL food, fewer or no "made for you" ingredients, and to enjoy whatever it is you create.  With that said, I would like to share a few of my successes in the year of my hiatus.

Vegetarian Pizza

My vegetarian pizza made with a homemade whole wheat crust, my marinara sauce lovingly topped with diced bell peppers (organic only please), sliced mushrooms and zucchini, kale, sliced tomatoes and a few handfuls of mozzarella cheese. This pizza is perfect for our Friday pizza and a movie family night!




Beet Borcht

My beet borcht by Canadian Living.  A hot and hearty soup for dinner.  Topped with a healthy dollop of organic yogurt for a vegetarian option OR how about some Vegan Sour Cream by Oh She Glows?  Who could not love this soup with it's gorgeous crimson colour and the sweet and tart flavours? 






Macaroni & Cheese

Who would have thought to add butternut squash mac 'n cheese? Canadian Living, that's who! I was inspired by their recipe and decided to give my Mom's classic recipe an update and apply some hidden healthy. I opted to play with my Mom's recipe because it used real cheddar cheese instead of a cheese product. You can blitz the sauce with your immersion or regular blender and you will end up with a gorgeous cheese sauce and not a single sign of a vegetable. Can you see any squash? My family couldn't either. this mac & cheese was cheesy, comforting and creamy... just like my mom's traditional recip! I am still tweaking this recipe and will share it once it is perfected! 




Going forward, I hope to continue with some regular blogging. I miss the creative outlet! So until I come back, please check out some of my favourite foodie sites. Do try some of their recipes, but most importantly, cook for you and your family. Eat REAL food, lovingly prepared by YOU and feel better!