My style of food-shopping and cooking is very much focused on whole ingredients…that makes for healthy homemade dishes that taste delicious.
My mother-in-law, Jean, was an excellent cook, especially when it came to roast meals accompanied by relishes and chutneys. The best sandwich I ever had was the first time I tried a “cheese and pickle” sandwich made by Jean in her English kitchen with Welsh cheddar and some of her homemade apple and ginger chutney. It was a divine combination of aged cheddar with sweet yet sharp and gingery chutney, and I just had to have the recipe. Jean wrote it out for me, and I’ve been making the chutney each fall during Ontario apple season for almost 20 years now (you can see by the photo further down how worn the page is, and with my own measurement translations scrawled on it).
I usually use Cortlands, but have also made this with Macintosh apples and it works well–any crips, somewhat tart apple will do. This chutney is not only great in a cheese sandwich but is amazing with roast chicken, pork or lamb, and especially as an accompaniment to curries.
Crisp Cortland apple from Ontario
Adding the rest of the ingredients to the softened apples and onion.
- 3 lbs. cooking apples, cored, peeled and chopped
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup apricots, diced
- 1 cup dates, diced
- 1/4 cup fresh ginger, minced
- 1 1/2 cups demerara or turbinado sugar
- 3 cups white vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon salt
- A sprinkle of chili powder and ground cloves
Boil the apples and onion in the vinegar in a large saucepan until soft. Add all of the other ingredients; stir well. Simmer on low heat, covered, for about an hour, stirring occasionally. When chutney is thick and brown, spoon into mason jars.
My mother-in-law’s tried and true recipe.
I am addicted to this miso-based dressing. It goes with everything, and I always keep a jar of this ready for salads. The photo shows a salad I made by tossing the dressing with red cabbage, orange peppers, microgreen mix and grilled chicken.
Combine the following ingredients in a bowl with an electric hand blender:
- 4 Tablespoons mellow white miso
- 2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 large clove minced garlic
- 2 Tablespoons honey (or 1 Tablespoon honey and a few drops stevia)
I’ve been experimenting with low-carb, low-sugar baking, a challenge when most baking recipes call for sugar. But these muffins turned out really moist and delicious…and were a great way to use the last of summer’s wild blueberries.
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup sugar-free vanilla syrup (I buy mine by the bottle at Starbucks)
1/2 cup melted butter
Zest of one orange or lemon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup almond meal
1/4 cup wheat bran
1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup ground flaxmeal
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup baking Stevia (I used “Stevia In The Raw” brand)
1 cup wild blueberries
Combine wet ingredients (except blueberries) in one bowl, and dry ingredients in another. Stir the wet into the dry, then carefully fold in the blueberries. Spoon into greased and floured 12-muffin pan. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 17-20 minutes, until a wood toothpick comes out clean. Cool and enjoy.
Nothing says summer is almost here better than the appearance of local strawberries and rhubarb on the green-grocer’s shelves. My husband’s favourite combo is strawberries and rhubarb so I made him this treat. It’s on the tart side, so if you prefer sweeter, use 1 1/3 cups sugar.
Combine 2 cups flour with 1/4 teaspoon salt, then cut in 2/3 cups shortening until the mixture resembles small peas. Add 6-7 Tablespoons of ice water, one at a time, tossing with a fork until crust is slightly moist. Don’t knead too much but press dough into a lump and cut into two pieces, one larger than the other. (The larger piece will be the bottom crust.) Roll out the larger lump of dough, and line your pie dish with it. Roll out the other and score in half-inch strips. Set aside.
- 4 cups diced rhubarb (about 1/2 inch dice)
- 2 cups strawberries, halved
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 Tablespoon orange zest
Combine these ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Pour mixture into your lined pie dish. Top with strips of dough, alternating to create a lattice weave (I watched a YouTube video to learn how–super easy). Protect edges of the crust with foil, and bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees. Then, lower oven to 375 degrees, and bake for one hour, removing the foil after 30 minutes. (TIP: Make sure you put a large piece of foil or a baking sheet under the rack the pie is sitting on, to catch sugary drips.) Let pie cool on a cooling rack almost an hour, and enjoy while it’s still warm.
Potato Herb Salad–or, in Italian, Insalata de patate ed erbe. (Photo by Michael Rao)
It’s back: Comfort-food season. How about a flavour-packed potato salad–hold the mayo? One of my former magazine colleagues, Fina Scroppo, has turned her hand to writing a cookbook, and I wanted to share another recipe from her excellent “The Healthy Italian–Cooking for the Love of Food and Family.” (It’s published by Danvid and Company Inc., and the photography is by Michael Rao.)
In this lively and easy-to-follow cookbook, there are 150 recipes that are authentically Italian, yet still healthy. “This cookbook is personal passion of mine,” says Scroppo. “Growing up Italian, food has always been at the epicentre of my life. But the challenge has been to cook Italian healthfully without compromising taste, fit it into my day and feel good about serving those meals to my family.”
Scroppo feels it’s never been easier to cook healthy meals, thanks in part to grocery stores stocking more nutritious options that can also be convenient–an aspect she pays close attention to, without losing focus on taste. “My family wouldn’t have it any other way!”
This super-easy potato salad works as either a make-ahead side dish for dinner, or something you can take to a potluck dinner. It’s also packable for school lunches. Bonus: This salad is high in fibre and potassium.
- 1.5 pounds mini red, white or yellow potatoes, skin on
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1 cup thinly sliced fennel bulb
- 3 Tbsp chopped red onions
- 2 Tbsp each of chopped parsley, basil and mint
- 2 Tbsp green olive slices
- 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 Tbsp reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
- 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
- 1/4 tsp dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Place potatoes and rosemary sprigs in a pot of water and bring to a boil. Cook until tender, about 18 to 20 minutes. Run them under cold water for about 30 seconds, let drain and cool for about 10 minutes. Discard rosemary stems and cut potatoes in half.
- In the meantime, add fennel, red onions, fresh herbs and olives to a large bowl. Toss with the cooked potatoes.
- Whisk together all dressing ingredients in a small bowl or measuring cup. Pour dressing over potato-herb mixture and toss gently to evenly coat. Let stand for at least 20 to 30 minutes to absorb flavours before serving. Toss again before serving.
Note: To make ahead, boil the potatoes the day before and refrigerate until they’re ready to be dressed.
I’ve started doing some book editing for Robert Rose publishing, and as a bonus got a chance to try out one of their many excellent cookbooks, Preservation Society Home Preserves, by Camilla Wynne. Peaches are at the top of my list of favourite fruits (along with strawberries), and with peach season in full swing, I wanted to go beyond making the good old peach jam I do every year. So I tried this book’s Peach Melba recipe, on page 86.
How divine is a combination of raspberries and vanilla in syrup, poured over fresh peach halves? You can enjoy Peach Melba through the winter months as dessert, or use it right now in this hot late-summer weather: I have some in my freezer as I write this, and will blend it up for some frozen Bellinis for a dinner party this weekend.
Here’s a shortened version of the recipe:
Combine 3 cups of sugar, 3 1/2 cups of water and one vanilla bean in a large pot. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add 5 cups of fresh raspberries and simmer at lower heat for about 10 minutes; berries will break down. Strain this mixture well, keeping the syrup. (Tip: I used the solids in yogurt smoothies for the next few days…delicious!)
Halve about 16 small peaches, either peeled or not (I left the peel on), and simmer them in the syrup until warm. Transfer them into your hot prepared canning jars, packing them gently but leaving about 1/2 inch of space at the top. Pour the hot syrup overtop to cover peaches, filling jars but still leaving that space at the top. Remove air bubbles, wipe rims and screw on lids. Process jars in a boiling water canner for 25 minutes.
Note: I purposely didn’t include specific processing instructions here, because I think the Preservation Society can do that best–and you can find instructions for safe preserving online. Better yet, grab Camilla Wynne’s book. It’s full of other fresh ideas for preserving–Jalapeno Jam or Caramel-Crabapple Butter, anyone?
Summer fresh meal
Just LOOK at that. I was inspired to make this Caprese Salad when we dropped into a shop in the hamlet of Coe Hill, a little bit south of Bancroft, Ont., the other day. It’s new, and it’s called The Barn Chef. The couple who owns it, Sara and Luca (who is Italian), have been chefs all over the world, and have settled in lovely Coe Hill. They make almost everything they sell, including cured meats, jams, breads and cheeses, using local ingredients. One thing they don’t make in-house is the buffalo mozzarella; Sara told me it’s made in the Montreal area by “an old Italian guy,” using, of course, buffalo milk. I can’t resist buffalo mozzarella, so brought it home (along with their homemade focaccia bread) and made this fantastic salad.
Nothing could be easier; throw some washed leaves on a plate (I used romaine and spinach). Top with fresh local tomatoes–the greenhouse kind are available from Ontario right now and they’re pretty good–shaved fennel, sliced cucumber, etc. Just use what you have in the fridge; I had some Kalamata olives to throw on. Then, top with the sliced mozzarella and fresh basil leaves. Drizzle on some good olive oil and the juice from half a lemon, add salt and pepper–and get your fresh focaccia ready for mopping it all up.
This dish is packed with protein. That’s because I used Skinny Pasta linguine, a frozen pasta by Gabriella’s Kitchen, which is Toronto-based, and that takes just a minute to cook in boiling water. There’s a whopping 13 grams of protein per serving (1/4 of a package), thanks to the soy protein isolate in the pasta, and just 120 calories. I made the dish with half the package, though, meaning those protein grams and calories are doubled. (Hey, protein is a good thing! Adults should get about 25 grams a day. And doubling this still means just 240 calories, not counting the ingredients I added…I did some pretty intense Pilates today!)
I used was antibiotic-free organic chicken breast that I marinated in a mixture of balsamic vinegar, herbes de provence and olive oil. I sautéed it, and this reduces the balsamic vinegar to a sweet-zesty delicious stickiness. (Mmmm.) The dish takes less than three minutes to make if the pasta water is boiling and you have pre-cooked the chicken. (Time-saving Tip: Sautee 4 chicken breasts at once and store it in the fridge or freezer for a variety of recipes.)
Here’s my recipe:
- 1/2 package Skinny Pasta linguine
- 1/2 breast of cooked balsamic chicken (To make: Marinate chicken in balsamic vinegar, dried herbs of your choice and olive oil for about an hour. Saute in a lightly oiled hot skillet until no longer pink inside, and slice.)
- 3 handfuls baby spinach and/or baby kale
- 1 medium tomato, chopped
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
Bring the pasta water to a boil. Meanwhile, chop the tomato and saute it in the olive oil in a skillet. Add the spinach and/or kale, and the chicken slices. Drop the Skinny Pasta into the boiling water. One minute later, drain pasta–but first reserve a few spoonfuls of pasta cooking water–and add pasta and reserved water to the mixture in the skillet. Toss ingredients lightly, and transfer to pasta plate. Add salt and pepper, and hot chili flakes if desired, and enjoy.
I suggest you top your oatmeal with Love Crunch, Dark Chocolate & Peanut Butter flavour. Trust me.
Granola is a go-to for me. I put it in little bags to snack on while cycling, sprinkle it on fruit and yogurt, and top cooked oatmeal with it. I often make my own granola, but love to try new products. My latest dabble is a decidedly decadent treat, and doesn’t try to hide that fact: It’s called Love Crunch, by Nature’s Path (you know, the Vancouver-based company that makes a wide variety of cereals and granolas). The one I tried is Dark Chocolate and Peanut Butter, and let’s just say that my morning oatmeal has never been the same since. Bonus: A serving has 7 grams of protein.
I also got to try a new cereal this week, also by Nature’s Path. The timing was good: Recently, my husband and I spent the weekend with my sister and her family. At breakfast the subject of cereal came up, and I said to my sister: “I bet I know your favourite: Shreddies.” I was right. To my husband: “Weetabix.” Right again. But they couldn’t name mine.
That’s because I’ve never had one top choice. I’m a cereal surfer. The only thing I know I don’t like are those with lots of sugar, or that are too refined. You know where this is going: I’ve found my favourite.
Nature’s Path cereal called Qi’a Superflakes is made with just 7 ingredients: organic sprouted sorghum flour, whole grain corn, whole chia seeds, coconut palm sugar, Fair Trade dried coconut flakes, coconut flavour and sea salt. It’s non-GMO and organic. It has 35 grams of whole grains and 7 grams of fibre and 5 grams of protein. But besides all of that, it’s so full of healthy taste, and natural crunch, that you just know it’s good for you.
Tangy, Rich Lemon Squares
They’re one of my favourite decadent treats–chocolate eclairs and creme brûlée being two others. But while those are a bit time-consuming and fiddly to make, I recently discovered that, to the delight of my family and friends, Lemon Squares are very simple–just 5 ingredients! Enjoy this recipe.
- 3/4 cup butter, softened
- 2 cups white sugar
- 2 + 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 eggs
- Juice of 2 lemons
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and 2 cups of the flour until texture resembles fine bread crumbs. Press this into the bottom of an ungreased 9″ x 13″ baking pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until edges are just starting to become lightly golden.
Meantime, stir together the rest of the sugar and flour; whisk in the 4 eggs and the lemon juice. Pour mixture over the baked crust, and return the pan to the over for another 20 minutes. Allow to cool, and cut into squares.