Saturday, May 26, 2012

Beans, beans, good for the heart...

Beans and lentils (legumes) are so good for you that I don't even know where to start.  Besides being inexpensive, they are full of nutrition in the form of protein, calcium and other vitamins and minerals.  They are low glycemic which makes them diabetic and metabolic syndrome  friendly and are believed to protect us from heart disease, obesity and cancer. 

I especially love lentils - high in folate, magnesium, and iron they are packed with protein (26% of the calories), and fiber, and are known to lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar.  Pair with a grain and you have a complete protein for a vegetarian diet.   Just add veggies.  I like to use sprouted lentils sold by the ShaSha Co.   Sprouted grains and legumes have about 3 times the nutrients of unsprouted.  These ones are organic and have been sprouted and dehydrated - all you do is soak them for half an hour and then cook them for 20-30 minutes.   ShaSha also makes a nice sprouted short-grain brown rice.

My favorite go-to recipe for lentils is a lemony salad made with bulgur and finely chopped vegetables.  I can eat this salad 5 days in a row and I often do! 

*Lemony Lentil Tabouleh*

1 cup dry green lentils  (you can use 2 cups canned lentils,drained, but trust me they aren't as good)
2-3 cloves of garlic, gently crushed
2-3 bay leaf
      Bring lentils, garlic, bay leaf and 3 cups water to boil; simmer for 20-25 minutes or until soft but still holding their shape.  Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again discarding bay leaf and garlic.  Omit this step if using canned lentils.

1 cup bulgur
1 cup boiling water
1/2 teaspoon salt
    Mix bulgur,salt and boiling water; cover and soak for about 1/2 hour.

1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1/2 green pepper, finely chopped
1/2 red pepper, finely chopped
1/3 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
     In large bowl mix drained lentils, bulgur, vegetables and feta.  I have to confess that I don't really measure the fresh herbs so feel free to use more if you enjoy the flavors!


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice (approx. juice of one lemon)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
     Whisk till well blended and thick; pour on salad and mix well.  Best if refrigerated an hour or two before serving.  Makes 4-5 servings.  I sometimes add a few halved cherry tomatoes when serving.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Making your own yogurt is easier than you think

This weekend is a long weekend here in Canada known as Victoria Day weekend, with Monday being a holiday.  It's going to be sunny with temps in the high 20's C (85 F) all weekend.  Perfect weather for a ride on the city bike trails!  I hope we can find time to go out again tomorrow.  We have some lovely bike trails that stretch the length of the city and we try to take advantage of them as much as we can.

Weekends I have more time for cooking and one thing I like to do is make my own yogurt.  It really is quite easy if you have a yogurt maker.  I love the one I have!  It's a Miracle Milk Carton Yogurt Maker.   There are ways to make yogurt without a yogurt maker using the oven, slow cooker or a cooler but I have never tried them.

The only yogurt I eat is  plain and unsweetened (preferably organic) pro-biotic yogurt.  It's really tangy and can be an acquired taste.   I eat it an average of 5 days a week for breakfast with some fresh fruit and a sprinkle of granola for added crunch and sweetness.  Yum!  Besides being a complete protein  yogurt with active cultures promotes good gut health (by creating balanced microflora in the intestines) and bowel regularity.  It may also help to prevent osteoporosis, cancer, and high blood pressure. 

The equipment:  2 quart saucepan, stainless steel whisk, candy thermometer, yogurt maker

The ingredients:  one quart of organic whole milk, 1/4 cup organic pro-biotic yogurt, 1/4 cup powdered milk

You can use 2%, 1%, or skim milk but it will be thinner.  I use whole milk because it's less processed than milk with the fat removed.  Be sure to use a plain, unsweetened yogurt with active bacteria cultures, and make sure it does not have gelatin or other thickeners in it.   There are many good quality organic  yogurts available so pick one that you like the taste of to start your colony.   It's not necessary to add the powdered milk, but the addition of these milk solids helps to make it thicker.

I have never found it necessary to sterilize the equipment/utensils used in making yogurt but you will want to make sure they are clean and free of anything that would contaminate or interrupt the fermentation process.  Heat the milk over med-high to a temperature of 180 F stirring frequently to prevent a skin from forming. Remove from heat and allow to cool to 115F.  Once cooled, mix about a cup of the cooled milk together with the yogurt starter and the powdered milk if using, and then mix it back into the rest of the milk.  It's now ready to put into your yogurt maker following manufacturers instructions.  With my yogurt maker I just have to pour it back into the milk carton, stand it in the machine and leave it for 8-12 hours.

The finished product:

Sorry about the poor quality of the photo, but you can see that it did turn out quite thick.

With bananas and granola.  Breakfast is served!

Monday, May 14, 2012


Yesterday was Mother's Day here in North America and my oldest daughter made me a lovely cake for the occasion.  It was a scratch cake flavored with strawberry puree and it was delicious!  I had a piece and saved a piece and sent the rest home with my visitors.  I think I may freeze my second piece for a later date - it can be my emergency piece of cake!   I have a sweet tooth so I try not to keep cakes and pastries in the house to tempt me except on desert day.  I have designated Sunday as desert day.  My mother, ever watchful of her figure, only served desert once a week, on Sunday.  It gave us something to look forward to.

We have to allow ourselves some not-so-good-for-us treats once in awhile or we end up feeling deprived, which can lead to binging (in for a penny, in for a pound), which leads to guilt, etc.   Allowing a scheduled treat gives us more control I think.  Now that I've had my cake for the week I can relax in the comfort of knowing desert day will come again!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Process This

The more I learn about processed foods the less I want to buy and consume them.  I thought I was doing good by avoiding those fast food establishments, but then I took a good look at what I was eating at home and it wasn't much better.  It wasn't that I didn't know better -I just didn't think about it.  I was just so busy and tired and they were so convenient.

Not all processed foods are "bad" for you though some extremists will argue that point.  Take frozen fruits and vegetables - they maintain a lot of their nutrients and have no additives.  At the other end of the scale we have the pizza-type pocket's, which are more or less a processed food product that is made with processed food products.  How much of it is real food?  Do we even know what we're eating anymore?

I strongly believe it's processed food that's making us unhealthy and overweight, and with little energy.  High in unhealthy fats, salt and sugars, there is really little nutrition - just empty calories. If we are what we eat, we need to make sure we're eating whole natural foods and not processed unnatural ones.  Even some so called healthy foods like yogurt can be high in sugar - always check your labels.  (IMO yogurt should contain two ingredients:  milk and  live bacterial cultures).  When you do have to use processed foods look for brands with the fewest ingredients and ingredients that you can easily pronounce!

There are so many processed dinner products out there that one  doesn't have to do any real cooking any more - just pop everything in the oven or microwave from the freezer.  It worries me that the art of actual cooking is becoming lost to future generations and I hope that's not the case.

Every couple weeks I make myself some fresh granola - I like to eat it as a topping on yogurt and fruit, or as a little power snack when I want something sweet and crunchy.   Dried fruit may be added after cooling.  Remember that granola is calorie-dense so keep portions small!


Preheat oven to 275 and spray large roasting pan or 2 - 13 x 10 metal pans with cooking spray.

In large bowl mix together:

4 cups large flake or old fashioned rolled oats ( I like to use 3 c. oats and 1 c. rolled spelt flakes)
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup whole almonds, coarsely chopped
1 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup raw sesame seeds
4 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

In small saucepan bring to a simmer:

1/2 cup maple syrup
6 tablespoons virgin coconut oil (may use canola oil)
2 tablespoons water

Pour the syrup/oil mixture over the oat mixture and stir to coat well.   Pour into prepared pan(s) and with clean hands squeeze to form some clumps.  Bake in center of oven for 30 minutes; stir and bake an additional 30 minutes, or until lightly browned and crisp.  Store in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Go With The Grain

I just love love love whole grains!  Bulgur, oats, wheat berries, brown rice, spelt flakes, barley....I am into it.  As you can see, I'm also a fan of Bob's Red Mill products, especially their organic grains.  I like to store my grains in air-tight glass mason jars to keep them fresh and dry.  (I peel the labels off and stick them on the jar so I know what's what!)  

Canada's Food Guide says we should have 5-7 servings of grain products a day depending on age and gender with at least half of them whole grain.  Always check labels to make sure "whole" precedes grain because there is a difference... for example, whole wheat flour and wheat flour.   (White flour is wheat flour)  Grains are so good for you because they are high in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals, and have been shown to reduce our risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.  They keep you full longer and are low glycemic.  They can also be quite tasty!

I can remember the first time I gave my instant-rice-loving man brown rice - he didn't care for it much and thought it too "chewy".  I started sneaking it into his food though (think cabbage rolls, stuffed peppers, etc) and  gradually he's become accustomed to it.  Now I can actually get him to eat brown basmati as a side dish without complaint!

Whole grains aren't just for breakfast (although they do make excellent breakfasts!) or hot dishes.  They can be made into some very tasty salads and side dishes for any meal of the day.  One of my favorite take-to-work lunches is a fruity wheat berry salad made with apples, pecans and dried cranberries:

*Fruited Wheat Berry Salad*

2 cups cooked wheat berries
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 large Pink Lady or Fuji apple, cored and chopped, skin on
1/4 cup dried cranberries soaked for 1/2 hour in 1/4 cup orange, cranberry, pomegranate, or apple juice
1/4 cup pecans, chopped and toasted
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons raspberry or pear infused balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Toast pecans on baking pan in preheated oven at 350F for 7 minutes.  Cool.

Drain cranberries reserving juice for dressing.  Mix  with cooked wheat berries, celery, apple, and pecans in a bowel.  Whisk reserved juice, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and pour over salad.  Mix gently and refrigerate for at least half an hour before serving.  Makes 4 servings.

I sometimes will use dried sour cherries or pomegranate flavored cranberries - it's all good!

How to cook hard wheat berries:

Rinse and soak for 1 hour; drain.  Put in medium sauce pan  and cover with water by at least 1 inch.  Bring to boil and simmer for about 45 minutes, until tender.  Drain and rinse with cold water; drain well.  I usually use my rice cooker to cook them and I will cook 2-3 cups at a time.  Then I freeze what I don't use in handy 2-cup portions in freezers bags to use at another time.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Yoga of Eating

 It's pretty safe to assume that most people have heard of yoga.   Yoga is not just a form of exercise but a philosophy and lifestyle.  Part of the philosophy is the practice of non-violence, or do no harm, not in word, action, thought etc.  Think vegetarianism.  I'm not saying you should give up meat if you enjoy it but less is better, both for you and the planet.  I would like to suggest that you research on the internet the facts about modern or "factory" meat farming.  A plant based diet is probably the healthiest if it can be done correctly.  I don't feel I know enough yet to do it correctly but am working towards that.

One practice you're going to see me push is to buy organic whenever it's available.  I'm fortunate in that where I live there is a vast range of organic products available at reasonable prices.  I understand that this may not be the case for some people.   In the long run I have not found it to be any more expensive - when you pay more you waste less, and that's a good thing.   It costs more to produce organic because it is not mass produced with the help of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and God knows what else,  like a lot of the produce we get shipped here by the transport truck load from warmer climes. Have you ever considered how much of that produce is wasted before it even hits the grocery shelves and then by consumers who in turn buy too much and throw half away because it's so cheap and plentiful?   There are people starving in Mexico and we are shipping food out of their country and wasting it like it's nothing.   There is nothing yoga about that.  Organic is much better for your health and the earth.

When you're eating your food take time to think about what you are eating, appreciating the flavor and texture and how it nourishes you.  Be thankful.   Chew it slowly and thoroughly.  When our mothers cautioned us to chew our food  26 times they probably didn't know the science of it.  Your saliva has a purpose beside lubricating your food and it is to help digest that food.   When your food is broken down you absorb more of the nutrients and it's easier to digest.  Besides this, you burn more energy and it slows you down so you eat less!

Do you live to eat or eat to live?  I admit that when it comes to the once-a-year  new years eve all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet I am living to eat!  Most other times though,  I am eating to live and I hope you all will too!