Vegan Baking: Q & A with Expert Baker Jacqui Okum

If you live in Ottawa you’ve undoubtedly heard of Strawberry Blonde Bakery. Known primarily for delicious desserts, savoury snacks, and breads, behind the scenes Strawberry Blonde has been blazing the trails in plant-based and allergy free baking. A designated nut free, dairy free, gluten free bakery, Strawberry Blonde has become a fixture for those with food allergies or dietary restrictions, but since they also produce delicious baked goods, they are a unanimous favourite throughout the city.

 Jacqui Okum, outside of her bakery, Strawberry Blonde, in Ottawa.

Jacqui Okum, outside of her bakery, Strawberry Blonde, in Ottawa.

Jacqui Okum is the mastermind behind this award winning bakery. She has years of experience with baking and is a pro when it comes to swapping and substituting ingredients. She has been successful in “veganizing” pretty much every classic recipe. Since the holidays are synonymous with baking (baking, and more baking!) and many of you are likely planning to adapt classic recipes to make them plant-based, I hope to ease this process by learning from one of the best bakers around. Below Jacqui shares her story about starting a vegan bakery, gives us insider tips, tricks and swaps for plant-based baking, and also shares her recipe for Magic Cookie Bars. Yum! Scroll down to learn more.

Amy: Strawberry Blonde is one of Ottawa's most beloved bakeries. Were you always into baking?
Jacqui:
I was definitely always into eating baked goods! Haha! I originally went to University for Film Production and worked in the TV industry for a number of years. I eventually decided it wasn't the right work environment for me and around the same time I went vegan. The transition to being vegan was easy, but boy oh boy did I miss pastries and sweets. Vegan pastries were hard to find then (about 12 years ago now) so I just ended up baking all the time for myself. I found I really liked it. And although I knew I didn't want to work in Film/TV, I didn't know what else I wanted to do. I did know that I wanted to be my own boss. One day my boyfriend made an offhand comment about how I should open up my own vegan bakery since I was just baking all the time anyway, and when he said that, it was like a lightbulb went off in my head. I decided that if I was going to do it, I wanted to do it right so I enrolled in George Brown College's Baking & Pastry Arts Program, where I learned all the tips and tricks of the trade and applied them at home to vegan baking.

Amy: When did you open the bakery?  And what inspired you to offer vegan, gluten free, & nut free baked goods? 
Jacqui:
The storefront on Grange Ave opened just over 5 years ago now. But we were baking for wholesale customers (Rainbow Foods on Richmond Road and Herb & Spice on Bank street) for a number of months before that. And before that even I was selling my baked goods at the Lansdowne Farmer's Market. My treats were always vegan, but it was my experience at the market that made me decide to switch to doing everything gluten free and nut free. I really listened to my customers and the majority of them were asking for gluten free or nut free on top of it being from from dairy and eggs. For allergy concerns, I thought it would be best to just eliminate these ingredients completely, to avoid risk of cross contamination. But also, being vegan, I really sympathized with them, knowing how disappointing it can be to not be able to enjoy a pastry or a treat. I quickly became determined to create a space where vegans, or those with allergies, could go and feel normal and have the ability to get excited the way most people do when treating themselves. 

Amy: Many of my readers are interested in transitioning to a plant-based diet and looking for tips, swaps and alternatives for baked goods. Can you share a list of swaps/alternatives that you use in creating your famous desserts?
Jacqui:
Okay, here are some of the most common swaps…
Butter:
-I find Earth Balance to be the best and most consistent brand for replacing butter. It can easily be used as a 1:1 ratio when subbing in any recipe.
-There is a soy-free brand of butter replacement called Melt that is good for some things, but it is more expensive than Earth Balance and the ratio needs to be played with a little bit. But if you're looking for soy free, this is a good alternative, especially for making icings.
-Coconut oil can sometimes work, but be careful as it melts quickly so it won't cream as well as traditional butter would (especially important when making cookies!)

Milk:
-There are so many milk alternatives out there and they all work fairly well with a 1:1 ratio. I find soy milk to be the creamiest and works best in most situations. Coconut milk is also good, but the fat content is higher so it sometimes separates or makes products a little greasier.
-For butter milk, simply add 1 tsp of vinegar or lemon juice per cup of milk and whisk. Let it sit for a couple minutes then it's turned into buttermilk.

Eggs:
This really depends on what it is you're baking. There are lots of options! These are the ones we use at the bakery:
-Flax seeds
-Chia seeds
-Apple sauce
-Silken tofu
-Ener-g brand egg replacer

Cream Cheese:
-The tofutti brand is by far the best for baking!

Amy: Finally, we're getting into the holiday season. Would you mind sharing one of your favourite seasonal recipes? 
Jacqui:
Sure thing! The Strawberry Blonde Magic Cookie Bars are a serious Christmas favourite for both our customers and staff alike!

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MAGIC COOKIE BARS

*Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Ingredients:

Base:
3 cups vegan graham cracker crumbs
3/4 cup Earth Balance Buttery Spread
3 tablespoons sugar

Filling:

For the condensed coconut milk:
1.5 cans coconut milk
1 cup brown sugar

Other:
2 cups chocolate chips
3 cups shredded, unsweetened coconut
3/4 cup pumpkin seeds

Directions:

Base:

Line a 9"x 13" pan with parchment paper.

Melt the Earth Balance and combine with graham cracker crumbs and sugar.

Press firmly and evenly into pan.

Filling:

To make condensed coconut milk: Combine canned coconut milk and brown sugar in a pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Let simmer for 8-10 minutes, ensuring all the sugar has dissolved and mixture has thickened slightly

Pour chocolate chips evenly over base, making sure to cover the corners.

Pour hot coconut milk/sugar mixture evenly over the top of chocolate chips, followed by an even layer of coconut and pumpkin seeds.

Press ingredients down with your hands or a spatula.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until set and top browns slightly.

Let cool completely, then put in fridge for at least 2 hours to make cutting easier. Enjoy!

For more information about Strawberry Blonde Bakery, visit their website,  Facebook page, or Instagram account.

Butter Chickpeas & Cauliflower [Recipe]

I love fall! Mainly for the hearty warming meals and abundance of one-pot-wonders. You know, the kind of recipe where you literally throw a bunch of veggies, plant-based proteins, herbs, and spices into a pot and you find yourself with the most magically delicious feast. That’s what I’m talking about!

If you’ve been following me for a while you’d know I often trial my recipes at cooking lessons and with my nutrition clients. This Butter Chickpeas & Cauliflower recipe has been a unanimous hit, which means it’s destined for the blog. As I was saying above, this is one of those one-pot meals that is fairly simple to prepare and is rich in flavour and nutrients. You can eat it on its own, or pair it with a grain of your choice and you will have lunches for the week. In the photo below it’s paired with brown rice, but you could try quinoa, millet, wild rice, or whatever you fancy.

Scroll down for the full recipe and please let me know if you try it out. I love getting your feedback on my recipes!

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BUTTER CHICKPEAS & CAULIFLOWER

Yields 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, finely minced
2 tablespoons curry powder (I love Cha’s Curry Masala)
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, optional
1 can (14 oz/398 ml) chickpeas, drained & rinsed, or 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas
1 can (14.5 oz/411 g) of diced tomatoes
1 can (14 oz/398 ml) full fat or lite coconut milk
1 small head of cauliflower, chopped into bite sized pieces
1 bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped, for garnish
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions:

In a medium or large pot warm the oil on medium head. Add the onions and a pinch of salt, and sauté for 5 minutes, or until the onions become slightly translucent. Add the red bell pepper and sauté for a few minutes, until softened a bit.

Next add the garlic, ginger and spices and stir for a minute allowing the spice to become fragrant.  Then add the chickpeas, tomatoes, coconut milk, and cauliflower. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer, stirring every so often, until the cauliflower has softened (about 8 - 10 minutes).

Once the cauliflower has softened, taste and then season the dish with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with a hefty helping of cilantro. Option enjoy on its own or to serve with a grain of your choice. 

Will keep in the fridge for 5 days, or frozen for an upward of 2 months.

If you enjoyed the recipe I shared above be sure to check out my Plant-Based Breakthrough program, which is a 4 week online crash course in health, nutrition, and meal planning.  For details on when the next program starts click here. You can also join my Plant-Based Breakthrough Community on Facebook where I share recipes, inspiration, and information on plant-based nutrition.

Photography by Ana Tavares.

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Tofu Feta Salad [Recipe]

I’ve always been a little bit obsessed with cheese, so when I went dairy-free many years ago I had to find new ways to indulge in my favourite food. Cashews tend to be the superstar when it comes to making cheesy alternatives, but you’d be surprised how tofu can magically morph into feta if you’ve got the right ingredients.

In my version of tofu feta, I use two ingredients that help infuse a cheese-like flavour into the tofu. Firstly, there’s nutritional yeast, which is a deactivated yeast and bi-product of molasses making. Nutritional yeast or “nooch”, as it’s often called, is a staple in dairy-free cuisine because of its versatility and sharp, cheesy taste. I also used miso paste, which is fermented bean (generally soy or chickpea), that is mostly found in Japanese cuisine and offers a strong and pleasant salty fermented taste reminiscent of parmesan (but it works with perfectly with my faux feta). I use both in my recipe, however, you could get away with one or the other. That said, if you’re delving into the world of dairy-free cooking, they are handy and highly recommended pantry staples.

If you have questions about any of the ingredients in this recipe, don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section below. If you’re looking to learn more about dairy-free cuisine, I’ve written a few blogs on the topic. Find them HERE and HERE.

A final tip about tofu feta: you can definitely serve it with salad as instructed below, but it can also be crumbled onto vegan pizza or eaten as an appetizer with tomatoes and fresh basil.

This recipe has been very popular at my cooking lessons and I’m super excited to share it here on my blog for you to try as well. Without further ado, scroll down for all the details. Please do report back if you try this recipe!

TOFU FETA SALAD

Makes 4 - 6 servings

Ingredients:

Tofu Feta Ingredients:
1 package extra firm organic tofu
1 tablespoon white or chickpea miso
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Dijon Dressing:
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Salad Ingredients:
8 cups leafy greens of your choice, chopped to bite sized pieces
1/2 pint of grape tomatoes or two large tomatoes, chopped
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, chopped in to bite sized pieces
1 15 ounce can of white beans or chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped

Directions:

For the tofu feta:

Drain and press the tofu for at least 30 minutes. You can wrap the tofu in a dish towel and place a heavy object on top (I often use a cast iron pan with a big jug of vinegar, but you can use any heave object in your kitchen) or use a tofu press.

While the tofu is pressing, whisk together the miso, extra virgin olive oil, water, nutritional yeast, oregano, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

Cut the tofu into small cubes and toss with the marinade. Place in the fridge and marinade for an hour, preferably longer. If you have time, leave it to marinate overnight.

To make the dijon dressing:

Whisk together the dijon mustard, garlic clove and lemon juice until combined.

Slowly whisk in the olive oil until combined. Season with salt and pepper.

Assemble your salad: 

Divide the salad ingredients evenly in bowls. Top with tofu feta and drizzle on dressing. Serve immediately.

If you want to prep ahead of time, wait until just before serving to add the dressing. 

Notes from the kitchen: I used a locally made navy bean miso (as seen in the photo above), but you'll be more likely to find a white miso or chickpea miso in a store near you. 

If you enjoyed the recipe I shared above be sure to check out my Plant-Based Breakthrough program, which is a 4 week online crash course in health, nutrition, and meal planning.  For details on when the next program starts click here. You can also join my Plant-Based Breakthrough Community on Facebook where I share recipes, inspiration, and information on plant-based nutrition.

Photography by Ana Tavares.

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Chickpea Salad Wrap [Recipe]

It's been a long time coming and I'm happy to finally be posting my chickpea salad recipe!  I've made it for cooking lessons, yoga retreats, and shared with many of my clients, always with such positive feedback. It's truly one of my favourites and I was so excited to learned that Ana Tavares, my friend & photographer extraordinaire (she shot the photos below),  makes this recipe often for her son's lunches.  Given that I've received so many requests for easy back-to-school/kid friendly recipes lately, the timing couldn't be more perfect! 

This recipe is nut, dairy, egg, and gluten free, and offers tons of plant-based protein and fibre. It's also a versatile recipe that can be eaten on its own, in wraps, sandwiches, with crackers or on a bed of leafy greens. For this blog post, I opted to serve it in a wrap because it made for fun food styling. 

You'll notice this recipe calls for dulse or kelp flakes. These are both varieties of dried seaweed ground into flakes, which can generally be purchased at health food stores or online. Although I've listed these ingredients as optional I highly recommended adding seaweed since it's such a nutritious food and gives the chickpea salad a nice boost of flavour (reminiscent of tuna ...but less fishy). 

Scroll down for the recipe and please let me know if you have any questions or feedback. I love hearing from you! 

CHICKPEA SALAD WRAP

Makes 6 - 8  servings

Ingredients: 

2 15 oz. cans chickpeas, drained & rinsed, or ~ 3 cups cooked
1/3 cup vegan mayonnaise  (store bought or homemade)
1/3 cup celery (about 1 or 2 ribs of celery), minced
3 green onions, chopped
3 tablespoons minced dill pickle (about 1 large dill pickle)
1 - 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon tamari
2 teaspoons kelp or dulse (seaweed) powder or flakes, optional  
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Fresh lemon juice, to taste
1 large handful, fresh dill, roughly chopped

Directions: 

In a medium bowl, mash the chickpeas coarsely with a fork or potato masher. Mix in the remaining ingredients (except the dill). Once evenly combined, sprinkle in the dill and mix again. Enjoy in sandwiches, wraps, on crackers, or on a bed of salad greens.  

Keeps in the fridge for one week. 

If you enjoyed the recipe I shared above be sure to check out my Plant-Based Breakthrough program, which is a 4 week online crash course in health, nutrition, and meal planning.  For details on when the next program starts click here. You can also join my Plant-Based Breakthrough Community on Facebook where I share recipes, inspiration, and information on plant-based nutrition.

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A Decluttered Space Is Good For Your Health: Q & A with Kelsey Marion

Since starting my business I've been forced to learn (and unlearn) so many things and create new habits to help manage my ever-changing schedule.  I've never been an organized person, in fact, I was probably the opposite of organized, and starting a business was a big wake-up call for me.  

Somebody once told me that a cluttered space creates a cluttered mind. That really stuck with me.  Over the last couple years I've slowly been working towards tidying up in various aspects of my life. Like anyone on the quest for less clutter I've read Marie Kondo's book The Life- Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (I highly recommend it, by the way) and I've been applying her principles.  Most recently, I even won a contest which included a session with home organizer Kelsey Marion. Kelsey is an easy-going, yet professional and completely non-judgemental lover of all things organization. She runs the business Get Sorted. Organizing is a pain point for me, but for Kelsey it's a passion. Since our initial visit she's been to my house several times and whenever she leaves I feel lighter, less stressed and definitely more in comfortable in my living space. 

I truly believe that living and working in an environment that feels good is important for physical, mental,  spiritual wellbeing, not to mention creativity, productivity, and so on. That doesn't necessarily mean a tidy, decluttered space is the answer for everyone, but for me personally, I felt overwhelmed by my surroundings and that's why meeting Kelsey was so serendipidous. Kelsey and I have spoken at length about organization and tidiness, and she has also taken some time to share her insights for my blog. Read on to learn more about Kelsey, the connection between decluttering and health, dealing with clutter related stress and quick tips for organization. 

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Amy: What drew you to organizing and ultimately starting your business?
Kelsey: 
I used to be a disorganized person - across the spectrum; in school, financially, socially, work. I collected many items that were not serving a purpose in my life. I didn't recognize how my disorganized behaviors were negatively affecting my life until I was in University. I really became frustrated with myself and knew I needed to unlearn my behaviors/habits. After years of self reflection and research of decluttering and realistic organizing techniques that would benefit me I felt a huge weight lifted. After feeling this great I knew others would feel amazing too. Get sorted was formed out of the desire to help others reach their organizing goals and it's been a rewarding experience ever since!

Amy: Is there a connection with an organized and decluttered space and a healthy mind & body?
Kelsey: Yes!!! When we are living in clutter we cannot focus at our fullest potential. By reducing the clutter to items that actually make sense for your life we have the space to make positive changes and/or form routines in our lives. We are not wasting time digging through clutter to find items. By decluttering and being more organized we reduce feeling overwhelmed by the mess (less mess = less stress). I find when a kitchen is more organized it is more inviting to cook in. Overall, it enhances the chances to feel less stressed or guilty, and more room to function and motivated to make healthier choices.

Amy: Clutter and mess can feel overwhelming. Do you have tips for getting over the initial stress of tidying? 
Kelsey: Do not try to do everything at once! For example, "I want to organize my entire home today". This will only make you feel overwhelmed and discouraged. Take it one cabinet/ dresser/ closet at a time. Create realistic goals for yourself, especially if you are doing this on your own. If you're at the point of complete overwhelm, I highly recommend hiring a professional organizer to book a consultation to explore your options. 

Amy: Can you share a few organizing tips that my readers could practice on a daily, weekly or monthly basis that'll make it easier to keep their space organized?
Kelsey: Definitely, I recommend trying the "one-minute rule";
• instead of placing your plate in the sink - place it in dishwasher (or better yet, clean it!)
• hang your coat on the rack or hang up instead of throwing on floor. 
• empty your kid(s) lunch bag after school/ camp instead of leaving dirty containers and wrappers overnight.
Little actions like this help maintain order in your life. You don't need to have a "show-room" space 24/7; I tell my clients you want realistic goals. As long as the home feels functional to maintain that is the ultimate win! 

Want to connect with Kelsey? Visit her website or find her on Instagram and Facebook

Raw Taco Salad Bowl [Recipe]

This summer heat just won't quit. We've got another hot week ahead here in Ottawa, which means I'm avoiding my stove, my oven, or anything that'll heat up my house.  If you're looking for a no-cooking-required simple summer recipe, you're in luck.  

You may have seen a raw taco bowl on my blog before, but it's making a comeback. I've simplified the recipe and collaborated with my friend Ana Tavares to shot some beautiful photos.  This recipe has been on high rotation at my cooking lessons this summer and is also a favourite in my household. Ana told me her family also loved the bowls as they were the lucky recipients of the leftovers following the photoshoot.  Scroll down to get the full recipe. Please let me know if you've tried it out. I'd love your feedback! 

RAW TACO SALAD BOWL

Makes 4 servings 

Ingredients: 

Walnut Meat: 

1 cup walnuts
1/2 packed cup sun-dried tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes in oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
Pinch of chili flakes or cayenne pepper, optional (for those who like it spicy!) 

Tahini Sour Cream: 

1/2 cup tahini
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (2 to 3 limes)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoon olive oil or avocado oil
1 small clove garlic clove, roughly chopped

Salad Components: 

Approximately 8 cups leafy greens of your choice (arugula or finely chopped kale are my favourites)
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 of a small red onion, small dice
3 - 4 green onions roughly chopped
1/4 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped, for garnish

Directions:

If you're using sun-dried tomatoes in oil skip this step.  If using sun-dried tomatoes (just dried tomatoes and salt, no oil), add them to a bowl and cover them in water and leave them to soak for 1 - 2 hours to soften them. Drain.

Process all of the Walnut Meat ingredients in a food processor until well combined, but still chunky and crumbly (with a meaty texture).

Combine all of the Tahini Sour Cream ingredients in the blender and process until smooth.  If it's too thick, add some water to loosen. 

To assemble your salad: place about 2 cups of leafy greens in a bowl. Top the salad with the fresh tomatoes, a sprinkling of red onions and green onions.  Then add the walnut meat and drizzle about 1/4 cup of dressing on your salad. Garnish with cilantro and enjoy! 

If you enjoyed the recipe I shared above be sure to check out my Plant-Based Breakthrough Program, which is a 4 week online course focussed on health, nutrition, meal planning, and cooking.  For details on when the next program starts click here. You can also join my Plant-Based Breakthrough Community on Facebook where I share recipes, inspiration, and information on plant-based nutrition. 

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Cherry Chocolate Nice-Cream [Recipe]

It's turning out to be a hot, hot, hot summer, and if you're looking to beat the heat, I’ve got just the recipe to cool you down.  Cherry Chocolate Nice-Cream. Need I say more? Well, perhaps I should clarify for those of you who are new to the term "nice-cream", which is a quick DIY dairy-free banana-based ice-cream.  It's essentially the easiest, tastiest and possibly healthiest way to make ice-cream at home. 

I’m super excited to share this recipe for a couple reasons. Firstly, I’ve been making this one a lot at my cooking lessons and sharing photos on my Instagram stories. Needless to say, I had lots of requests and it's about time I share this with those of you who haven't been able to attend the lessons. 

Secondly,  this is the first of many upcoming projects that I'll be doing with my friend Ana Tavares. You might remember seeing her as a guest blogger, or perhaps you’ve stumbled upon her Instagram where she posts stunning food photography. If you speak Portuguese you may have discovered her vegetarian food blog or cookbook (which has been hugely successful in Brazil).  Ana took the photos for this post and we plan to collaborate in the coming months to create more great culinary content in both English and Portuguese.

Scroll down to learn how to make Cherry Chocolate Nice-Cream and stay tuned as we’ll be sharing another recipe collab next week.

CHERRY CHOCOLATE NICE-CREAM

Makes 3 - 4 servings

Ingredients: 

4 overripe bananas
1/3 cup cocoa powder or raw cocao powder
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Non-dairy milk of your choice, optional
1/4 - 1/3 cup frozen dark sweet cherries or sour cherries depending on your taste
Optional topping: unsweetened coconut flakes

Directions: 

Chop the bananas into small rounds and freeze them overnight on parchment lined baking tray.

Add all ingredients - except cherries and coconut flakes - to a food processor or high-speed blender.   Process until completely smooth (similar to a soft serve consistency). If you find your blender isn’t strong enough to handle the frozen banana you may need to let them thaw a bit and/or add a bit of non-dairy milk to get things going. 

Once you've reached a nice, smooth texture, add the cherries, then pulse for a minute or so or until the cherries are evenly distributed, but still a bit chunky. 

For the best texture you’ll want to enjoy your nice-cream immediately, but you can  freeze leftovers and thaw again before serving.  When serving, top your nice-cream with whole frozen cherries and unsweetened coconut flakes. 

If you enjoyed the recipe I shared above be sure to check out my Plant-Based Breakthrough program, which is a 4 week online crash course in health, nutrition, and meal planning.  For details on when the next program starts click here. You can also join my Plant-Based Breakthrough Community on Facebook where I share recipes, inspiration, and information on plant-based nutrition.

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Green Power Bowls [Recipe]

I've been making tons of Green Power Bowls these days. These have been very well received by my private clients and at cooking lessons.  I have been posting photos of these bowls a lot in my Instagram stories and I figured it was finally time to share the recipe on my blog. 

Although it may seem elaborate, these kinds of bowls are actually quite easy to make.  It requires a little prep, chopping and sautéing of the veggies, putting together the dressing, and making the noodles.  If you are a soba noodle newbie you'll want to pay attention to a few things. Pure buckwheat noodles are gluten free, but you may come across some varieties of soba noodles that are a mix of buckwheat and wheat. The blended variety is much less expensive. If you are celiac or gluten intolerant make sure you seek out the 100% buckwheat noodles. When using buckwheat noodles of any kind, I always cook them according to the package directions (usually for about 5 - 8 minutes on a simmer). When they are fully cooked I transfer them to a colander immediately and give them a very good rinse under cold water. This will remove any excess starch.   By the way, if you don't have soba noodles on hand or if you don't want to use them, you can also swap out the soba noodles for rice noodles, quinoa, or any other grain or noodle of your choice. 

I also wanted to mention that this recipe is really a guideline.  As I said above, you don't need to use soba noodles, you can use something else. Also, feel free to swap in kale for spinach, or maybe some bok choy. You may also decide to add in chickpeas or tofu instead of the edamame.  The sauce is the pièce de résistance and no matter what you put in your bowl, it'll taste good as long as you're using the sauce. 

Scroll down to get the full recipe and if you make it, please tag me on social media. I love seeing your photos! 

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GREEN POWER BOWLS WITH SOBA NOODLES

Yields 4 to 6  servings

Sauce: 

1/4 cup natural peanut butter, tahini, or sunflower seed butter
2 tablespoons tamari
2 tablespoons lime juice or apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger minced
1 - 2 teaspoons maple syrup
1/4  - 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup water, or more, if needed to loosen the sauce

Noodles:

16 oz soba (buckwheat) noodles
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Vegetables:

1 teaspoon sesame oil
6 green onions, sliced on the diagonal
6 - 8 cups assorted vegetables: cauliflower, broccoli, & spinach
1 small bunch basil
2 cups shelled edamame, thawed

Toppings (optional): 

Hemp hearts & sliced green onions

Directions:

Wash and chop cauliflower & broccoli (approximately 6 - 8 cups in total) into bite sized pieces. Wash spinach and pat to dry or use salad spinner. Pick basil leaves off the stems (discard stems), wash leaves, and gently pat to dry.  Set aside. 

In large measuring cup or medium sized mixing bowl, combine all the sauce ingredients, except the water. Stir until well combined (you could also use a blender if you're looking for a very smooth sauce) and add enough water to thin the sauce down so that it’s pourable.  Set aside. 

Cook noodles according to the package. Drain, rinse, and toss with sesame oil. Set aside.

Warm the sesame oil in a wok or skillet over medium heat. Add the green onions and cook for a couple minutes, just until they start to soften. Add the heartier vegetables - cauliflower & broccoli - cook until tender. Add the edamame and warm for a minute or two. Add the spinach and basil towards the end of cooking and allow them to wilt (about 2 minutes). 

To create your bowls: add a portion of soba noodles and a big scoop cooked vegetables to a bowl.  Top your bowl with a drizzle the sauce. Alternatively, you can add the sauce to the pan with the vegetables to heat the sauce. Before serving, top with a sprinkling of hemp hearts and any remaining green onions. These bowls can be eaten warm or cold.  

If you enjoyed the recipe I shared above be sure to check out my Plant-Based Breakthrough Program, which is a 4 week online course focussed on health, nutrition, meal planning, and cooking.  For details on when the next program starts click here. You can also join my Plant-Based Breakthrough Community on Facebook where I share recipes, inspiration, and information on plant-based nutrition

Five Powerhouse Plant-Based Foods You Should Be Eating

As you may already know, I'm a huge proponent of plant-based foods. Plants offer a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, macronutrients and phytochemicals, all of which support a multitude functions within the body.  So eat plants, and eat lots of 'em. Your body will thank you! The list below includes my top five foods (or groups of foods) and I truly make an effort to consume all of them regularly. Not always every day, but it would be rare for a week to pass without these foods turning up in my meal planning.  I hope you’ll be inspired and add these items to your next grocery list.

HEMP HEARTS. These are, pardon the pun, very dear to my heart. I really do love them! A true Canadian super food, hemp hearts are grown and cultivated in Canada.  They are an excellent source of protein containing all 9 essential amino acids and essential fatty acids (omega-3 and -6).  Fun fact: the varieties of hemp that are grown for food purposes naturally help to suppress weeds, meaning that no pesticides or herbicides are required to grow hemp successfully. How to use them? I like to sprinkle hemp on my morning oats, on top of avocado toast and soups. I add them to smoothies and add into salads, including my Superfood Kale Salad

PULSES.  So technically pulses would be considered a grouping of foods but I just love them so much that I had to include the whole family. The term pulses refers to a category of dried edible seeds under the legume umbrella and includes chickpeas, split peas, lentils and beans.  Pulses are very high in protein and fibre, and are low in fat.  Pulses provide substantial amounts of vitamins and minerals including iron, magnesium and zinc and are abundant in B vitamins.  A great way to start playing around with pulses is to use them in my Middle Eastern Lentils & Rice with Caramelized OnionsButternut Squash & Red Lentil Soup or Beet Hummus

LEAFY GREENS.  I’m the queen of leafy greens. They are my life blood.  When I first realized I was allergic to cow’s milk and stopped eating all dairy products, I was surprised to learn that leafy greens — like kale, spinach, and collards greens — are a great source of calcium. Who woulda thought?  If you are new to eating leafy greens, I recommend trying out different varieties and cooking methods. For example, some people prefer baby kale over full grown kale which tends to be very fibrous and bitter. Also, cooking leafy greens can soften them up nicely and make them more palatable, especially if you’re not used to eating bitter foods. To get you started, I recommend trying out my Sautéed Garlicky Greens recipe

SEAWEED.  Now, I realize seaweed is not for everyone. However,  if prepared properly even biggest seaweed skeptic may grow to love 'weed! Trust me, I’ve been successful in turning seaweed haters into seaweed super fans with my recipes.  What I love about seaweed is that it's a very sustainable crop. Think about it, seaweed doesn't requires land, water or fertilizers to grow.  On top of that, seaweed is a very, very nutritious food. Seaweeds are rich in iron, vitamin C, and iodine and are also an excellent source of dietary fibre.  My personal favourite variety of seaweed is dulse, but I’m also a huge fan of kelp, nori (aka. sushi seaweed) and hana tsunomata. If you want to dive deeper into seaweed I’ve written a more detailed blog post on the topic. As for recipes, I recommend my Dulse, Sunflower Seed & Walnut Pâte.

FLAX SEEDS.   Grown here in Canada, flax seeds are an amazing source of fibre and anti-inflammatory omega 3's. They are great for weight management, heart health, reducing inflammation, and much more!  To take advantage of the anti-inflammatory benefits, you'll want to consume ground flax seeds. You can buy the flax seeds ground or whole. If you buy them whole you can grind them yourself in a high-powered blender or spice grinder.  Add ground flax to your morning oats, in smoothies, or as a topper for my Buddha Bowls. If you've never had flax before,  you should start with small amounts (about a teaspoon).  Because of its high fibre content, a little flax goes a long way! 💩 Quick storage tip for you: I recommend storing both whole and ground flax in your fridge or freezer to maintain freshness and the integrity of the omega 3 fatty acids. 

If you enjoyed the information I shared above be sure to check out my Plant-Based Breakthrough Program, which is a 4 week online course focussed on health, nutrition, meal planning, and cooking.  For details on when the next program starts click here. You can also join my Plant-Based Breakthrough Community on Facebook where I share recipes, inspiration, and information on plant-based nutrition. 

Seaweed: A Sustainable Superfood + Miso Soup Recipe

Seaweed has become more and more popular these days. It has been featured in prominent and well respected blogs, magazines, and media outlets as a top food trend, and chefs around the world are finding new and exciting ways to incorporate seaweed into their menus. It's also been touted for its many health benefits and is a rising star in the world of sustainable foods. 

What exactly is seaweed?   

Seaweed is an umbrella term for an entire group of macroalgae and microalgae that live in salt water, brackish water, or fresh water.

There are three main varieties of seaweed: Green algae, such sea lettuce. Brown algae which includes kombu/kelp, wakame, arame, and hijiki. Red algae includes well-known varieties such as nori, dulse, and hana tusnomata just to name a few. 

Cultivation

Depending on the variety of seaweed, it may be harvested wild or using various cultivation systems (seaweed farming). Cultivation can occur onshore using large tanks, inshore (close to land), or offshore (in deeper waters). In some cases it may be handpicked, collected using nets, or harvested mechanically.  

When it's harvested seaweed is processed immediately to avoid spoilage. Generally seaweed is rinsed with clean salt water (fresh water is damaging to seaweed) and dried in the sun or using drying equipment or facilities. Once dried, seaweed is vacuum sealed to prolong freshness and quality. 

Cultivating sea vegetables in the oceans may offer the environment healthy benefits through reducing ocean acidification and purifying the water around them. Cultivation is also sustainable as it reduces the risk of over-harvesting wild species, and it is a food source that does not require feed, fertilizer, or land to grow.
 

 Taylor Widrig, owner of  Mermaid Fare , harvesting kombu in Nova Scotia.

Taylor Widrig, owner of Mermaid Fare, harvesting kombu in Nova Scotia.

Nutrient Profile

Seaweed is an extremely nutritious food. It's rich in vitamins and minerals that are easily absorbed by the body. It also contains antioxidants, is anti-inflammatory and contains essential fatty acids and essential amino acids.

Macronutrients:
Depending on the variety, seaweed can contain anywhere from 5 to 45 % protein.  It also contains a significant amount of dietary fibre (anywhere from 30 to 60 % when dry) and omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.

Micronutrients:
Seaweed contains vitamins including A, B1, B3, B6, C, and E. It also contains minerals and trace elements including calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, sodium, potassium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, molybdenum, chromium, fluoride, and iodine. 

Health Benefits

Potential health benefits of seaweed: maintaining healthy cholesterol levels; may reduce risk of cardiovascular disease; weight management; supporting thyroid function;  may be protective against some forms of cancer; and more!

How much should you eat to maximize the health benefits? Since seaweed is extremely nutrient dense, you only need to consume small quantities to reap the benefits.  For the average adult the recommended daily intake is 0.2 to 0.35 oz or 5 to 10 g of dried seaweed. If you plan on using seaweed therapeutically, please consult with a medical professional. 

Choosing & Sourcing Seaweed

Although it may be tempting, do not harvest wild seaweed yourself. Proper harvesting techniques are essential in maintaining the health of the plant and its surrounding environment.  

You can purchase seaweed in most natural food stores, Asian grocers, and sometimes even in well stocked grocery chains. If possible, choose sustainably sourced and traceable seaweed. 

Culinary Uses

Seaweeds are know for their salty, briny and distinctive umami flavour.  Depending on the variety, it can be enjoyed dried or fresh, roasted, cooked, stir-fried, marinated, used in teas, soup stocks or bouillons,  dips and spreads, used as garnish or salt replacement, and as a thickening agent. It's highly uncommon to find fresh seaweed in North America. Depending on the type of seaweed you're cooking with you may need to rehydrate it by submerging it in water before use. 

Although the options are endless, here are a few ways you can incorporate seaweed into your diet: wakame in miso soup; kombu in dashi or when cooking beans or grains (to increase digestibility & add nutrients); nori for sushi or toasted to make a crispy snack; agar agar (a gelatinous substance derived from algae) to make jams and jellies; or dulse sprinkled in salads soups, stews or pan fried to create a plant-based alternative to bacon; etc.

Note: dried seaweed expands significantly when rehydrated, with an increase of 8 - 10 times in weight depending on the variety.

If you're looking to add more seaweed to your diet, I have a few recipes on my blog that may be of interest to you. Check out my Dulse Sunflower Seed & Walnut PâtéSuperfood Kale Salad, and Kaiso Seaweed Salad (featuring hana tsunomata).  You can also scroll down for my quick and easy miso mug recipe. This is one of my favourite snacks and I hope you'll enjoy it too!  

MISO MUG WITH DULSE

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Makes 1 serving. 

Ingredients:

1.5 cups of water
1 - 2 teaspoons miso paste, to taste
Mermaid Fare dulse
Optional add-ins: sliced green onions, grated carrot, sesame seeds, little cubes of tofu or shelled edamame, dried or fresh mushrooms, or tiny pieces of a delicate leafy green (like spinach or arugula)

Directions:

Bring water to a boil in a pot or a kettle. Transfer hot water, plus miso paste, to a mug or small bowl. Stir until the miso is dissolved. Then add in crumbled or small pieces of dulse and choose any of the add-ins listed above. Enjoy immediately!  It makes a great mid-afternoon pick-me-up, or even a light meal with the addition of tofu. 

In the photo, I've added dulse, green onions, tofu, and mushrooms, and served the soup with a side of pretzel bites from Ottawa's zero waste grocery store Nu Grocery.

References:
Ocean Greens: Explore the World of Edible Seaweed & Sea Vegetables, by Lisette Kreisher & Marcel Schuttelaar

Pure Kitchen Collab: Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes [Recipes]

Last month I joined forces with my pals at Pure Kitchen, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant here in Ottawa, to create a delicious dish that would showcase their grab-n-go ranch dressing. I received tons of great feedback from people who've tried the recipe and I'm excited to share it with you! Scroll down to get the full scoop. 

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TWICE BAKED SWEET POTATOES

Yields 3 - 4 servings

Ingredients: 

3 small to medium sized sweet potatoes
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 bunch swiss chard (red, green, or rainbow), stems & leaves remove, finely chopped
1 red onion, small dice
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/3 cup hemp hearts
1 cup black beans (or other canned/cooked bean of choice)
Sea salt & black pepper
Lacto-fermented sauerkraut, for garnish
Micro greens of your choice, for garnish
Pure Kitchen's Ranch Dressing or store bought or homemade dressing of your choice  (if you will be DIY'ing, I recommend my Buddha Bowl tahini dressing)

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 400 F. On a baking sheet, bake the sweet potatoes, whole, for about 30 minutes, or until soft enough to easily pierce the flesh with a fork. Cut the potatoes in half, length-wise, and let  them cool slightly. 

Warm the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet.  Add the onions, chard stems and a big pinch of sea salt and sauté for a few minutes. When the onions are translucent, stir in the garlic and cook for a minute, then add the chard leaves. Cook for a minute or two, stirring frequently, until the chard is just softened, but not browned. Set aside in a bowl.

Using a spoon, scoop the flesh of the potatoes, leaving enough for the skin to hold its boat shape. Put the scooped flesh into the bowl with the chard. Add the hemp hearts and mix thoroughly, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Refill the sweet potato skins with the chard mixture. Bake for another 20 minutes, or until lightly browned on top.

To serve: Add two sweet potato halves to a plate, sprinkle with approximately 1/3 cup beans, and garnish with sauerkraut and micro greens.  Add a big drizzle of either the Pure Kitchen ranch dressing or a dressing of your choice. Enjoy! 

CBC Radio "D is for Dinner" Interview + Dulse Pâté Recipe

Yesterday I was invited to be part of CBC Radio show "D is for Dinner" here in Ottawa. I was asked to talk about seaweed, the health benefits, and bring along recipe.   During the show, the host Alan Neal tried dulse (seaweed) on its own and he also tried a Dulse, Sunflower Seed & Walnut Pâté that I made — and he loved both! CLICK HERE to listen to the full recording of the show, or scroll down for the Pâté recipe. 

By the way, if you're in Ottawa, you can buy Mermaid Fare dulse at all Kardish Health Food Centre locations, The Table Vegetarian Restaurant, and NU Grocery. If you're outside of Ottawa, please visit the Mermaid Fare website to order online or find a retail location near you! 

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DULSE, SUNFLOWER SEED, WALNUT PÂTÉ

Ingredients: 

1 cup walnuts
1.5 cups cup raw sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/3 cup red onion, minced
1/3 cup whole leaf dulse
1/3 cup celery, minced
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/3 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoon freshly chopped dill or 2 tbsp dried dill
Salt and pepper to taste
Water, if needed, during processing

Directions: 

Start off by soaking the walnuts and sunflower seeds together in warm water for at least 30 minutes.

Dice the red onion very small, about ¼ inch dice, and add to small bowl. Then pour over the red wine vinegar. Set aside.

To prepare the dulse, quickly warm it in a cast iron pan for about 1 minute – do not let it burn! Remove from the heat, let it cool, and crush it into flakes. 

Dice the celery the same size as the onion, and roughly chop parsley, dill, and mix together with the onions, lemon juice,  and dulse flakes in a medium sized bowl. 

Drain and rinse the walnuts and sunflower seeds. Using a food processor or high powered blender, blend the walnuts and sunflower seeds together until the oil starts to show on the bowl and it becomes similar to nut butter consistency; about 2-3 minutes. If the mixture is too dry, add a bit of water, and mix again. 

Combine the walnut and sunflower seed mixture with the rest of the ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Enjoy immediately in lettuce wraps or tortillas, with crackers, in sandwiches, or in a salad with vegetables and a dressing of your choice.

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Amy's Superfood Kale Salad [Recipe]

This is one of  my top salads of all time and I couldn't be more excited to share it with you. Since so many of you have tried it and have asked me for the recipe, I figured it was time to share it with the masses.  

Before we get into the recipe, I'm going to address the elephant in the room. I know there's lots of controversy around the word "superfood". Isn't it just hyperbole or marketing used to sell products? Yes, but also no.  Let's take a quick look at the definition...

superfood/ˈsuːpəfuːd/ : A nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.
— Oxford Dictionaries Online

Based on that definition, it's safe to say that most whole plant foods could be considered superfoods! You don't need to travel to remote plains or depths of a tropical rainforest to find the healthiest of health foods. If you're looking to find superfoods, simply head on over to your nearest grocery store and b-line it to the produce section where pretty much everything could qualify as a "nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being"! Simply put, readily available grocery store items like vegetables, fruits, and even nuts, seeds, beans, chickpeas, lentils and so on are, by definition, "superfoods".  How exciting is that?

With that in mind, I created a salad featuring some of the most nutrient-rich foods (both land and sea) that we can find here in Canada, put them together, and topped them with a delicious dressing. If you break it down this salad is just bursting with nutritious properties like antioxidants, phytochemicals, fibre, probiotics, fatty acids, plant protein, and much much more. Plus, it's also super flavourful!

By the way, if you're a newbie to seaweeds, don't be intimidated. Hana tsunomata is a mild seaweed that can easily be added into any dish. It's not overpowering and doesn't have a strong sea taste or smell like some other varieties. If you're in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, or Ottawa (Ontario), you can find hana tsnuomata in retail locations. However, if you're outside of these areas you'll need to order it online from Mermaid Fare.  If you don't have seaweed and you'd like to make this salad right away, you can either swap out the hana tsnunomata for other varieties of seaweeds (rehydrated wakame or sliced nori sheets would work), or you can simply omit it altogether and it'll still be tasty.

Ok, let's get this salad party started. Scroll down for the full recipe. 

AMY'S SUPERFOOD KALE SALAD

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Salad Ingredients: 

1 bunch of kale, leaves removed and finely sliced, stems discarded
1/2 of a small red cabbage, finely sliced (by hand or using a food processor) 
1 large carrot, grated (by hand or using a food processor) 
1/4 cup hemp hearts
5 grams dried hana tsunomata (seaweed), rehydrated & dried off (optional)
Sauerkraut (raw/unpasteurized)
+ olive oil, apple cider vinegar & sea salt to massage the kale

Dressing Ingredients: 

5 Tablespoons, extra virgin olive oil
4 Tablespoons, apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons, dijon mustard
2 teaspoons, maple syrup
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions: 

For the salad: Add the sliced kale to a large bowl and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil, add a splash of apple cider vinegar, and a pinch of sea salt. Using your hands, squeeze and massage the kale leaves. You’ll do this for 2 or 3 minutes until the leaves start to soften. This will make the kale easier to chew and more palatable.  Once the kale is soft, add the cabbage, and carrot to the bowl. 

To make the dressing: Using a fork or a whisk, combine apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard, and maple syrup in a bowl or medium sized measuring cup.  Slowly pour in 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and whisk, or stir, until thoroughly emulsified, then mix in sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste.

To assemble the salad: Drizzle the dressing over the kale, cabbage, carrot and hana tsunomata (if using). Mix the salad well to ensure that the vegetables are evenly coated. Add the hemp hearts and toss again. Serve immediately and top with as much sauerkraut as you'd like. 

Middle Eastern Lentils & Rice with Caramelized Onions [Recipe]

It's been my intention for ages and I'm finally getting around to sharing one of my favourite Middle Eastern recipes with you. For the uninitiated, Mujadara is a hearty, protein rich plant-based meal that is known for its humble and simple ingredients, yet is bold and rich in flavours. As the title of this blog post suggests, the base ingredients are lentils, rice, caramelized onions and spices. It's well known throughout the Middle East, and many families have their own version or special family recipe. If you search the web, you'll come across countless versions. 

It was my husband that first introduced me to this dish many years ago. He used to order Mujadara from the Lebanese restaurant in the cafeteria at his office. It became one of his favourite meals at work. Eventually he learned how to make it himself, and then I started making it too. For us, it's become a wintertime staple and below is our take on the recipe. I hope you enjoy it!

 Photo by  Caroline Yung . 

Photo by Caroline Yung

MUJADARA with CASHEW CREAM

Makes 6 servings. 

Ingredients: 

1 cup brown or green lentils (not red lentils), sorted and picked through for little rocks or other debris
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
3 medium red onions, thinly sliced
Sea salt
3/4 cup brown rice or brown basmati rice
3 1/4 cups of water
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or 1 (1-inch) cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (add more if you want it to be spicy) 
Lemon wedges
Pine nuts or hemp seeds, optional, for garnish
Cashew Cream  (from my 4-Layer Dip recipe)

Directions:

Add the lentils to  medium saucepan and cover them by about an inch with cold water, and bring it to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and allow the lentils to cook until they are tender, but not mushy (about 20 minutes).  Drain and set aside.

While the lentils are cooking, warm the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the skill has warmed up, add the whole cumin seeds and cracked peppercorns . Cook the spices and stir them a bit until you start to smell the aromas as the spices "bloom" and start to darken a bit.

Then, add the onions and a few big pinches of salt and cook until they begin to caramelize . Over time the onions will begin to caramelize and they'll start tasting sweeter. If the onions start sticking to the bottom of the pan,  add a little water.  Once the onions are sweet and a bit crispy you'll know they are done.  This will take an upward of 15 minutes. 

Remove about half of the onions to a dish and set them aside to be used later as a garnish. Then mix in the ground cumin, the cinnamon or cinnamon stick and cayenne.

Next up, mix in the rice and toast the rice in the pan for a few minutes. Add the cooked lentils, 3 1/4 cups of water and 1 teaspoons of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer. Then cover the saucepan and cook 30 minutes. You’ll know it’s done cooking once the water is completely evaporated and the rice is tender.

Turn off the heat, keep the lid on, and allow the rice to steam undisturbed for about 5 minutes.

Taste the rice for seasoning and adjust the flavour with extra salt, pepper or spices if needed. Serve with the reserved caramelized onions, pine nuts or hemp, cashew cream, and a little squeeze of fresh lemon and a side of roasted or sautéed vegetables or salad.  

This recipe is modified from the original recipe by Aarti Sequeira featured on the Food Network blog.

Sautéed Garlicky Greens [Recipe]

I love leafy greens! If you've been reading my blog, or attending any of my cooking lessons, you probably know this by now. Usually I talk about incorporating greens into soups, smoothies, stews and stir fry, but to be honest, most days I keep it really simple and I'm happy to eat a big ol' bowl of sautéed kale or collards. Is that weird? Maybe. Either way, I've been meaning to share this "recipe" with you for a while. It's very simple and can be used with whatever greens you have on hand. 

Just so you know, the term "greens" generally refers to a broad category of leafy vegetables, including collard greens, mustard greens, swiss chard, beet greens, arugula, kale, spinach, etc.  Although most of these are readily available and packed with nutrients, they tend to be overlooked. Given the excellent nutritional profile of leafy greens, I encourage you to seek them out and try different varieties.  You can use the recipe below as a starting point. 

I  enjoy sautéed greens as a snack topped with hemp hearts, as a side dish, in a Buddha Bowl, or served with Quinoa Pilaf and chickpeas or beans. My personal favourite is to make open faced sandwiches topped with Hummus  and sautéed greens. It does get a bit messy, so a fork and knife are necessary.

Scroll past the photo of sautéed beet greens and you'll find my simple formula for Sautéed Garlicky Greens. Enjoy! 

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SAUTÉED GARLICKY GREENS  

Ingredients:

  • 1 large bunch greens of your choice (kale, spinach, collards, arugula, chard, beet greens, mustard greens, etc.)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons, extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil
  • 3 to 4 cloves, garlic, minced
  • Fresh lemon juice or vinegar of your choice, to taste
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper


Directions: 

To prepare the greens, give them a thorough wash, and then chop or rip the leaves into bite sized pieces.  If you are using kale, collards or chard, cut away the stems first. You can use the stems in your sauté as well, just be sure to slice them into small pieces. For less hearty greens like arugula or spinach, there’s no need to separate the stems. 

Heat the oil in a large skillet or stir-fry pan on medium. Add garlic and sauté for a few minutes, until slightly golden. (If you’re using the stems, add them to the pan at the same time as the garlic.)

Add the greens and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. Add a splash of water or vegetable broth, if needed, to keep the pan moist. 

For hearty greens, like kale or collards, cook them until they are tender, but still green in colour — this can take about 5 to 7 minutes.  For softer, more delicate greens, like spinach or arugula, cook until they are wilted — this may only take a minute or two. 

Finally, add a big squeeze of lemon juice or a few splashes of vinegar to your greens. I personally love apple cider vinegar, but use whatever you like!  Season with salt and pepper and then serve immediately. 

A Balancing Act: Avoiding Blood Sugar Highs & Woes 

Have you ever noticed that your mood takes a turn for the worse if you skip a meal? Do you ever feel tired, lethargic or just plain cranky in the afternoon? If you've experienced this, you'll know that it's not enjoyable for you or for those around you. A good way to avoid these unpleasant situations is to fuel up on foods that keep your blood sugar balanced. Making smart choices will not only improve your health, but also your mood, energy levels, creativity, and memory. Below I’ll tell you about how our food choices can impact our blood sugar balance and how to avoid the dreaded highs and lows. 

Our brains require glucose to function properly. When blood sugar (blood glucose) drops too low you'll notice changes in cognition and mood. You may experience impaired memory, irritability, slowed thinking, or even feelings of depression. For example, if you consume a lot sugary foods your blood sugar levels will spike. When this happens, your pancreas pumps out insulin to help regulate and store any excess glucose found in your blood. In this situation, the body often produces more insulin than needed and, all of a sudden, you've gone from very high blood sugar to very low blood sugar. What happens next? Lethargy, fatigue and cravings for sugary, sweet foods. At this point, you’ll reach for something sugary and sweet, and the cycle continues on.

To prevent this emotional, psychological, and physiological roller coaster, focus your diet on healthy, whole proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.  Your meals should include lots fresh produce (particularly vegetables; extra points for leafy greens), whole grains, pulses (chickpeas, split peas, lentils and beans), and some fats like nuts, seeds, olives and avocado. Why? Because these foods will nourish and satiate you by providing a balanced mix of vital micro and macronutrients. You'll feel full longer, you’ll be more energetic, and you’ll keep your blood sugar stable. 

Having the right kind of snacks can also help balance blood sugar. Having a little bite to eat both mid-morning and mid-afternoon will provide that little top up your body needs to continue functioning at full capacity until your next meal. Some healthy snack options include a handful of trail mix, an apple, rice cakes with almond or peanut butter, hummus with raw veggies or a seaweed snacks (I love dulse these days).  I also regularly remind my clients about the importance of drinking water throughout the day as the onset of dehydration can tigger mental and physical highs and lows. 

You’ll want to limit sugar, alcohol, and processed foods.  Every now and then most of these things are fairly harmless, but be aware that they can trigger blood sugar irregularities. These products are very low in nutrients and high in calories, offering little to no health benefit, and leading to an instant spike in blood sugar. It’s okay to indulge from time to time, but balance is key. If you consume mostly healthy, whole plant-based foods your diet will contain more mood-boosting nutrients.  You’ll also be healthier and happier, with balanced blood sugar to boot.

Guest Blogger + Gingerbread Cookie Dough Bites [Recipe]

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Just over a year ago I stumbled upon the eye-catching Instagram account of an Ottawa-based blogger called "Pequena Vegetariana". The Instagram account and blog focusses on colourful, vibrant vegetarian recipes in Portuguese and English. A few months later, I had the chance to meet the blogger behind the blog when Ana Tavares attended one of my cooking classes.   Ana has been such a positive influence and has always been so supportive. I've gotten to know her better over the last year as she has since attended many of my cooking lessons and even participated in my group nutrition program.

Ana was born in Brazil and now lives and works here in Ottawa.  Although she works full time as a public servant, she also has several exciting endeavours underway that she showcases on her new website.  While Ana has lived in Canada since her teens, she still has strong ties to Brazil.  This past summer she worked with Brazilian publishing houses Belas Letras and Imaginarium to create her first cookbook, "Comidinhas do bem", which launched in November 2017 in 235 stores across the country.  It features 45 exclusive recipes created by Ana, daily positive living tips, beautiful photographs and graphics. I also played a very small role in the creation of this cookbook as I provided nutritional content for foods based on their colour.  It was truly a full circle moment to be able to offer my support to Ana in creating this gorgeous cookbook.  The cookbook is only available in Portuguese at the moment, but it has opened the door for some fun future collaborations between Ana and me. Stay tuned! 

Recently Ana shared one of her new recipe with me and I'm thrilled to be able to pass it along to all of you. She's come up with simple and delicious Gingerbread Cookie Dough Bites that are sure to satisfy your sweet tooth this holiday season.   I love that this recipe features whole foods and is free of  refined sugars and flours.  This recipe is definitely #AmyApproved, but I'm told it was also a big hit with Ana's 2-year-old son Ethan.  Try them out and let us know what you think! 

If you're in the Ottawa area and would like to learn more about vegan baking from Ana, she has a holiday baking class coming up this Saturday, December 16.   For more information or to register, please visit her website.  

Without further ado, please scroll down for the full recipe. 

GINGERBREAD COOKIE DOUGH BITES

Ingredients: 

1 1/2 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon ground ginger or finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons almond butter
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup almond flour

Directions: 

Line a baking pan with parchment paper.

In a blender mix together the oats, ginger, cinnamon and ground cloves until it resembles a flour like texture.

In a large bowl, whisk together the coconut oil, almond butter, maple syrup, molasses and vanilla extract until well combined. 

Slowly add in the blender mixture and finally, add in the almond flour. By the end, you may need to use your hands cause it’ll get a little sticky.

Generously fill a tablespoon sized measuring spoon with the cookie dough mixture, roll into balls and place in the freezer. You should be able to make between 18 to 24 balls.

Freeze for at least an hour, and serve cold directly from the freezer.

Once the balls have frozen, you can move them over into an enclosed container and keep them in the fridge for all your holiday cookie cravings!

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