Think Fresh: Homemade Christmas

dried citrus slices

There are some things I really really love. My Family. My Sweet Little Girls. Pretty Things. Cooking. Christmas. (just to name a few, top of my mind tonight). This year I thought I would combine these particular loves and make Christmas a little more homemade. I have nothing against glitter and wrapping paper, and enjoy the collections of glass ornaments I’ve accumulated. But I’ve always wanted to decorate a tree with all natural, homemade things. Happily, it turned out to be exactly what I’d hoped for! Picky Princess helped me make most the decorations. What she didn’t help with, my girlfriends stopped by for fudge and popcorn stringing. I intended to make crafty little things,with natural products. It wasn’t until I decorated the tree that I realized that everything we made was…edible. I shouldn’t be surprised. I guess that’s where I’m crafty: in the kitchen. We made popcorn strings, cranberry strings, dried citrus slices, cinnamon stick ornaments, salt water taffy garland and peppermint wreaths.

Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s good to be reminded that we don’t need more. We don’t need more stuff, bigger toys, more glitter, more commercialism. We have each other. We have simple and beautiful things around us. I think this is the message of Christmas to me this year. Out of the very very ordinary, God did something utterly magical. Shepherds and sheep, simple people and a stable.  And out of OUR ordinary families, ordinary talents, ordinary lives…well tonight anyway, with my Loves in front of our tree…it felt magical.

peppermint wreaths

cranberry strings

cinnamon sticks

salt water taffy garland

Picky Princess stringing cranberries

pretty tree

Think Fresh: Cocoa

chocolate almond muffins

It’s pretty much the best news of all time, chocolate is good for you!  I’m sure you’ve read reports on the benefits of cocoa. I’m not talking Kit Kat bars, sadly, I’m talking real, cocoa powder, high quality dark chocolate. Cocoa is high in antioxidants, and surprisingly high in all sorts of important minerals: iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, copper, manganese…and it’s super high in fibre! We usually associate chocolate type things as unhealthy, and really, the way chocolate is usually used IS unhealthy. But we don’t need to shy away from using cocoa, especially if we sweeten it with natural products such as honey.

To prove my point, here is a fantastic recipe I whipped up today. Seriously, I impressed myself with this one(after a long string of lame dinners this week, perhaps it didn’t take much to impress myself). These are MUFFINS. Not cupcakes, although it’s hard to believe it. Which means that they are not super sweet like little chocolate cupcakes would be, so don’t be shocked when you bite into these healthy little treats.  This recipe is completely clean and healthy and sugar free. They are decadent and seem indulgent, without any of the guilt. These muffins will impress, so…make them!

Chocolate Almond Muffins

Makes about 12

2 cups spelt flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

3 heaping tbs cocoa powder

3/4 cup honey

1/2 cup almond butter

1 egg

1/4 cup butter, melted

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1/2 cup milk

sliced almonds to garnish

Directions:

In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together wet ingredients. Dump wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir with a spoon until JUST combined. Scoop into silicone or paper muffin cups. Garnish with sliced almonds.  Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes.  Serve warm!

Think Fresh: Broccoli

baked broccoli with feta and almonds

Quick! What’s the first vegetable you think of? Broccoli, I knew it! The broccoli floret does seem to be the North American poster child of vegetables. It kind of has a reputation as being such a despised vegetable (ewwww eat your  broccoli!) But really, most people I know, and even most kids I know, including my own, love broccoli. Too often, broccoli is steamed to death, limp and mushy. But there are so many ways to make broccoli.

SUPER high in Vitamin C, one serving of broccoli(about 1 cup chopped) contains 135% of your daily recommended amount! It is also super high in Vitamin K and a significant source of folate and fibre. So when our mothers told us to eat our broccoli, they were right!

If you are tired of plain steamed broccoli, and too health conscious to douse it in creamy cheese sauce, here are a few fresh ideas for broccoli.

Baked Broccoli (pictured above) – steam broccoli just for a couple of minutes, until just tender. Place in a baking dish and top with crumbled feta and almonds. Bake until the top is browning nicely, about 30 mins (or broil just a few at the end for a deeper golden top). I ate this yesterday as an entree with a rose sauce.

Broccoli pesto – I usually make mine with broccoli, raw and cooked, almonds, parm, garlic and lemon.  This recipe from 101 cookbooks is absolutely perfect!

Stirfry – Broccoli is perfect stir fried with some ginger, teriyaki sauce and a hot pepper. Fiery and delicious!

Grilled – grilled until crispy, broccoli has an amazing texture and nutty flavor. Dip it in a homemade tzatziki sauce for a fun and different side dish!

There you go, some broccoli ideas. Like I’ve mentioned before…Picky Princess will eat anything she considers small and cute. Cut up broccoli into the tiniest of florets and plant as a mini forest in the rice, barley, quinoa, side dish you have. Always a hit around here!

Think Fresh: Swiss Chard

I know that green stuff is good for us. And thankfully I like green stuff! But I do find that I get tired of eating the same few salads I make. I’m forever trying to get more green stuff into my body, without having to eat giant bowls of cold salad. So I thought I’d put a little effort into my favorite green of the season: Chard! It was also one of the ingredients I had some requests for recipes for.

Chard is a dark leafy green, that comes in a variety of colors. It is extremely high in almost all vitamins and minerals(as are all dark leafy greens). A one cup serving is a whopping 7 calories, and 375% of your daily recommended intake of Vitamin K. Vitamin K is important for many reasons. It has shown to have anti-cancer properties, and to prevent the hardening of arteries. It is used to prevent and treat osteoporosis because it helps your body absorb calcium. It is also a key blood clotting agent. If you get a cut, Vitamin K is used by your body to stop excessive bleeding.

I got a giant bag of Swiss Chard from the Farmers Market last week. Like a really big bag that I hadn’t even made a dent in. So yesterday I made this for dinner. It was so good that I made it again today for lunch. Comfort food at its absolute best, yet  between yesterday and today, I’m sure I’ve eaten about 6 cups of chard! Utterly delicious, total comfort food, major health benefits of leafy greens and garlic, 20 minutes including boiling pasta! Give it a try!

Linguine with Swiss Chard and Garlic

In a sauce pan, sautee 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil, 2 garlic cloves, minced and sea salt. When garlic softens and starts to brown, add 1/2 cup of white wine, and 6-8 cups of chopped chard(stems removed). Saute until they are softening, about 5 minutes, add in 1/4 cup of pine nuts. Pour on top of fresh linguine, and garnish with parmesan cheese.

Linguine with Swiss Chard and Garlic

Think Fresh: Coconut Water

 

Lots of delicious flavors

 

I have recently become addicted to…Bikram Yoga. I’ve practiced yoga somewhat regularly for the last 4 years but have always been a bit intimidated by hot yoga. But…it was time. So a few weeks ago I started and honestly, 5 minutes in, and I was HOOKED. I love it with a capital L. I feel such an overwhelming surge of energy and elation, I find myself scheming about how and when I can get back to the studio. Anyway, as is characteristic for me, when I dive in, it’s off the high platform and with full scuba gear. So when they recommend coconut water as a post yoga drink…well then I buy myself some coconut water! I brought one home, slightly skeptical, after the first class I went to and it was super yummy. Reading up on it, I found out that it is seriously, intensely good for you(me, we). Both my girls can’t get enough of it and quite frankly, that is fine with me! So we’ve stocked up. But I wanted to share the claimed health benefits with you. Consider adding it to your healthy lifestyle!

Coconut water, on top of being deliciously refreshing is also:

Low in Fat 99% Fat Free
Keeps the body cool and at the proper temperature
Contains organic compounds possessing growth promoting properties
Cures malnourishment
Effective in the treatment of kidney and urethral stones
Natural drink for feeding infants suffering from intestinal disturbances
Excellent oral re-hydration medium, an all natural isotonic for all ages
Re-hydrate naturally, free of added sugars or chemicals
Lower arterial pressure
Relieve spasms and stomach pain
Ease burns
Natural diuretic
Presence of saline and albumen makes it an excellent drink in cholera cases
Maintains the human body’s natural fluid levels
Can be injected intravenously in emergency cases
Found as a blood plasma substitute because it is sterile, does not produce heat, and does not destroy red blood cells and is readily accepted by the body
Helps in carrying nutrients and oxygen to cells
Eliminate swelling in hands and feet
Normalize the intestinal function and raise metabolism
Heal damage induced by antibiotics and toxins in the digestive tract
Boost poor circulation

It’s like a miracle drink!!! I’ve tried plain coconut water and coconut water with pineapple puree and guava puree. All equally delicious.

Let me know what you think!

Think Fresh: Cranberries

cinnamon cranberry cookies

IronSister mentioned to me the other day that apparently it has been a very good year for fresh cranberries! Who knew? Today I was out and about and saw some and thought I would buy them and put them to use somehow. I have envisioned roasted portabellos with cranberry salsa, and apple cranberry pie. Being forever weak to all things pretty, I find their jewel like quality and tart-fresh taste nearly irresistible. Fresh cranberries barely even seem related to the sweetened dried version of themselves. Fresh cranberries pack an enormous amount of vitamin C and fibre. They have flavonoids known to be anti-cancer agents and they have anti-adhesion properties, which stop bacteria from clinging to the inside of the body(most commonly used to prevent bacteria clinging to the inside of the bladder). 95% of harvested cranberries, are used for juices, dried cranberries and canned cranberries. Only 5% are sold fresh. They are healthy and pretty and make beautiful accents to a festive table, frozen, in place of ice cubes, roasted on skewers, garnishing drinks etc.

Picky Princess and I decided to do some baking to use some of our fresh cranberries. We invented this delicious cookie recipe. They are reasonably healthy, quick to make, and make the house smell like…autumn. We hope you enjoy them!

Cinnamon Cranberry Cookies

makes 3 dozen small cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/3 of a brick of cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup of raw sugar

1/3 cup of agave nectar

1 tsp vanilla

1 egg

1 tsp finely grated orange peel

1.5 cups spelt flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tbs cinnamon

1/2 cup sliced almonds

1/2 cup fresh cranberries, quartered

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350. Beat together butter, cream cheese and sugar. Beat until fluffy. Beat in agave nectar, egg, vanilla and orange peel,until well combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Stir in almonds and cranberries. Drop by teaspoons-full onto parchment lined baking sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until edges are turning golden.

Enjoy!

Think Fresh: Mini Taco Salad

In my never-ending quest to get Picky Princess to eat healthy food and think that food is fun and delicious, I made some cute and mini taco salads for lunch today. I have discovered that if the food is cute and mini, she will like it. She likes mini beets, mini carrots, mini tomatoes. I actually don’t think I’ve ever really seen her turn down eating something mini. Had I made a large taco salad, I can assure you, she would NOT have had anything to do with it. But these were a major hit. She loved them and asked for more! I can’t believe I got her to eat a “salad” for lunch! The mini cups would make great holders for lots of other things, so use your imagination! They also would be adorable grown up appetizers, so this idea is not limited to desperate-for-healthy-ideas Mommies.

Step One: Make mini taco shells. Preheat oven to 350. Cut one large tortilla shell into small round pieces. One shell made 9 small rounds.

making mini taco shells

Step Two: push mini circles into a mini muffin tin, folding edges to make them the shape of a little bowl. Fill mini bowls with pie weights or dried beans, so that they keep their shape. Bake for about 10-15 minutes or until dried and keeping their shape. Remove from mini muffin tin, and remove beans or pie weights.

mini taco bowls, filled with dried beans

Step Three: Fill the little bowls with taco salady type things! I put avocado, chopped tomatoes, fresh corn, a touch of cilantro and mozzarella cheese. Black beans would have been good or chicken cubes for a non-vegetarian option.

The little taco bowls are so easy to make and Picky Princess giggled at their cuteness for the entire lunch.

Mini Taco Salad

Give it a try!

Think Fresh: Pesto

I love, love love loooooove pesto. Maybe because I LOVE basil. It’s just one of those goes-with-everything kind of things. A traditional pesto is: basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt, processed together. It is yummy on flatbreads, instead of tomato sauce on pizza, with pasta, coated on fish or chicken, in savory scones, spread on sandwiches etc. Really you can use it as a flavorful and healthy sauce for anything. BUT I have ventured way outside of the traditional recipe this summer and tried so many delicious variations. Here is the formula you need for great and easy pesto: a vegetable + a nut or seed + some olive oil + some seasonings(garlic sea salt etc) = delicious pesto.  I love this because I try hard to eat all the produce in the fridge before it goes bad and sometimes there are just bits and pieces left. Usually they make a great pesto!

Personal favorites include these combinations: green bean pesto with sunflower seeds, carrot ginger pesto with pecans(serve with goat cheese SO good!), pea pesto with hazelnuts, and broccoli pesto.

Heidi from 101 Cookbooks, posted this recipe a while back. It turns out AMAZINGLY. I have used it in a hundred combinations and definitely recommend you give it a try. As an entree with quinoa, it is so healthy and delicious. http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/double-broccoli-quinoa-recipe.html

Just last week Deb from Smitten Kitchen posted this fabulous recipe: http://smittenkitchen.com/2010/09/linguine-with-tomato-almond-pesto/

Tomato almond pesto sounds just about too good to be true.

So there you go. Make some pesto. Add to anything. Enjoy!

Think Fresh: Zucchini

Foodie Baby Checking Out the Giant Zucchini

My sister called at 11:30pm the other night, which may have incited a tiny bit panic, to tell me that she had just been given the biggest zucchini she’d ever seen and was bringing it over! (My family knows what gets me excited!)  And as you can see… it is one BIG zucchini!!! So, I’ve got some cooking to do!

I feel like zucchini is around every corner right now. The end of summer = a plentiful harvest of mini summer squash(aka zucchini). So here are some of the ways I plan to use zucchini this week:

zucchini fritters(not healthy. So yummy.)

zucchini barley muffins with almonds and raspberries…mmm I’ll have to post this recipe.

chocolate zucchini cake (this one’s in the cookbook!)

pasta with shaved zucchini, lemon and garlic

And tonight’s supper: Baked potato and zucchini gratin. This is a super easy vegetarian side dish. Give it a try!

Directions: Slice two small potatoes and one large zucchini and one tomato super thinly. In a 8×8 baking dish layer the bottom with the potato slices and drizzle with 2 tbs of extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle shredded cheese over the potatoes(I used feta and parmesan), and some chopped basil leaves. Next layer the zucchini slices, and then the tomato slices. Add some more crumbled cheese and basil. Bake at 350 for about an hour. If the cheese browns too quickly, cover with foil. Cut into squares and serve.

Think Fresh: Kamut

Mushroom Spinach Kamut

What the heck is kamut right? Kamut is an ancient form of wheat. Similar to spelt. It pops up in ancient writings such as the Bible(rumored to be the grain Noah kept on the ark). It is high in protein, and very high in selenium. While it is not gluten free, because it is a form of wheat, it is more tolerable to people with wheat sensitivities than many other forms of wheat. It is super easy to cook and delicious! The best part is that…it’s LOCAL! Yes! Grown right here in Canada, it is an Artesian Acres product I bought at a little market in Salmon Arm, BC. So I’ve had this big bag of it for some time and have wondered what to do with it. I have baked with kamut flour before but never used the full grains which look a lot like rice. I had a very hard time finding other recipes for cooking kamut so thought I’d try to whip something up.  Kamut is so shockingly easy to make…ready for it….get a pen….Step 1. Soak grain in water.

That’s it. No step two. You soak it until it softens a bit, overnight or so. I soaked it two nights so that it sprouted. It still retains a nice kind of crunch to it, no mush at all. Once you’ve soaked it, follow this super easy recipe and you will have a delicious risotto-like entree or side dish!

Mushroom Spinach Kamut

Serves 2 entrees or 4 side dishes.

Saute one chopped sweet onion, one clove of garlic and 3 tbs of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until onions begin to soften. Add 2 cups of sliced mushrooms and saute until they also start to soften. Stir in 2 cups of soaked and sprouted kamut kernels. Add 1/4 cup of white wine and 1 cup of vegetable stock. Simmer until the liquid has evaporated and broth becomes quite thick, approx 20 mins. Stir in 1/2 cup coarsely shredded parmesan cheese and 4 cups spinach. Stir until spinach wilts, 1 minute. Serve!

Kamut is available at most health food stores. It’s so mild that I think it would turn nicely into a breakfast dish, porridge style. Let me know if you give it a try!

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