New Traditions

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TGIF! Short weeks are the best- waking up on a Friday realizing you don’t have an alarm awakening you, lingering in your PJ’s slightly longer than you consider to be a normal amount of time, and sipping your morning bevvie so long that you need to reheat it.

So now you know how my mornings unfolded ūüôā and why this post is getting to you a little bit later than I had anticipated. I hope you have had your own bliss this morning.

As promised, I have put together a collection of recipes for a vegetarian holiday meal. We have all been to numerous dinners or hosted our own gatherings over the years and understand they can be over-whelming sometimes…even as a bystander. Perhaps adding a new twist into your family tradition is needed, since it can turn into an all day event that requires too much time in the kitchen and not enough time with our family and friends. The “twist” might just be to simplify. ¬†I have learned over the past few years from the dinners I have hosted, that simplicity really is the key! There is no need to make 10 dishes and lay out a buffet-style spread that would have a cruise line buffet envious. Nobody wants (or needs) to leave feeling overfed and stuffed to the brim. I have found that putting together a plate for my guests works best. Sure, no everyone loves everything but source out the allergies or bonefided dislikes and then serve a beautifully laid out plate that you can be proud of.

Disclaimer: I have found this only works up to about 10-12 people, after that it gets too much for one person to do so disregard if you are in charge of feeding a small army this weekend.

Aside from the “main” dish at most holiday dinners, the rest is typically a gorgeous variety of vegetables and grains. So going vegetarian is really not that much different. Replacing the bird or roast can be quiet simple if you have the right recipe…and the added bonus is that it frees up alot of oven time! Putting together a menu should not be just about using seasonal vegetables but more importantly (for the chef) a collection of dishes that do not overlap in the oven or on the stovetop. Being able to prep ahead of time can make a huge difference on the day of your event.

Some of these recipes I have put together and a few I have found from others sources and have proven to be “fool-proof”.

In combination to this spread you can include your own appetizers and desserts. I like to ask one of my guests to bring dessert (since I am not a baker…and my oven is occupied) and generally people invited to a dinner party love to help out in some way, so delegating is a win-win!

Whatever your plan is this weekend, I hope you relish in the amazing and delicious vegetables that we have this time of year…asparagus, Brussels sprouts, peas. And when you are not inhaling your food, I hope you are able to take a moment to inhale gratitude. Gratitude for your loved ones joining you at your holiday dinner, gratitude for the changing seasons and maybe even gratitude for a new holiday tradition!

Maple Glazed Sweet Potatoes

Serves 8

1 cup pure maple syrup

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

2 cinnamon sticks

3lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

2 tbsp shelled roasted unsalted sunflower seeds

  • Preheat oven to 425. Combine maple syrup, vinegar, 1/2 cup water, oil salt and cinnamon sticks in 13 X 9-inch baking dish. Add sweet potatoes and stir to coat.
  • Cover dish with a glass lid or baking sheet and bake 15 minutes. Uncover and bake 30-40 minutes more, basting potatoes every 15 minutes with maple mixture, until maple mixture thickens and potatoes glisten and begin to brown. Remove from oven, season with salt and pepper and stir in sunflower seeds.

* I have found that prepping the sweet potatoes early in the morning and allowing them to marinate in the maple mixture adds flavour and saves time before dinner prep

Roasted Cauliflower, Spinach and Pecan Torte

Serves 6-8 people

Both the cauliflower puree and the spinach mixture can be made the day before and placed in the fridge until you are ready to assemble the torte on the day of the dinner. Do not forget to read the instructions on the phyllo pastry for the amount of time needed to thaw.

1 large head of cauliflower, broken into small florets

2tbsp Olive Oil

2 leeks (white part only), chopped

1 head of garlic

2tbsp Earth Balance (or your butter of choice)

1tbsp coconut oil

2 medium yellow onions, chopped

1 1/2 cups white button mushrooms (approx. 15-20), chopped

4 cups baby spinach

3/4 cup raw unsalted pecans, coarsely chopped

2 tbsp nutritional yeast

1/4 cup white wine

2tsp thyme

4tbsp olive oil for brushing phyllo pastry

1 box (1lb, 454g) phyllo pastry sheets, thawed

  • Preheat oven to 425. Toss cauliflower florets, and leeks in olive oil and 1 tsp salt. Spread of large baking sheet. Cut off tops of garlic heads and drizzle with olive oil. Wrapped garlic head in¬†parchment paper to create an enclosed pouch. Place garlic pouch and cauliflower-loaded baking sheet in oven and roast 35-45 minutes, stirring cauliflower occasionally until cauliflower and leeks are browned and garlic feels soft.

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  • While garlic is still warm, squeeze garlic pulp from each clove into bowl of food processor. Add cauliflower mixture and Earth Balance and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside or in fridge over night.
  • Sautee onions in heated coconut oil until translucent (approx. 7-10 minutes). Add chopped mushrooms and contiunue to cook down for another 7-10 minutes. Add spinach and and sautee for 2 minutes. Pour in white wine to deglaze the pan. Add in the nutritional yeast, thyme and chopped pecans. Remove from heat and set aside or in¬†fridge overnight.
  • For assembly of this torte¬†start by greasing a pie pan with olive oil and gently laying 2 sheets of phyllo pastry on the bottom. Using a pastry brush, brush on a layer of olive oil to the pastry. Add another 2 sheets of phyllo pastry and another layer of olive oil. Repeat two more times for a total of 10 pastry sheets, alternating the corners of the pastry to overlap.

Press in the roasted cauliflower puree

Add the spinach mixture

Add the spinach mixture

Fold over the phyllo pastry adding a generous coating of olive oil to the top layer

Fold over the phyllo pastry adding a generous coating of olive oil to the top layer

  • Bake in preheated 425 degree oven for approx 25 minutes or until pastry is golden brown.

Quinoa Salad with Pine nuts

Serves 6-8

2 cups quinoa, cooked according to packaging, let cool

1/4 cup Olive Oil

2 tbsp pomegranate molasses

1 tbsp Herbamare (or salt)

juice of 1 lemon

1/2 tsp chili flakes

1 dry pint grape tomatoes, quartered

1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped

1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

4-6 green onions, chopped

  • Combine oil, molasses, Herbamare, lemon juice and chili flakes into a medium bowl and whisk to¬†incorporate.
  • Add quinoa and remaining ingredients into bowl and toss together. Refrigerate for at least an hour but overnight works best.

Kale Salad with Sesame Dressing

1tbsp white sesame seeds, lightly toasted

1 pound of kale, stemmed and thinly sliced

1/2 tsp sea salt

1 tbsp olive oil

5 large Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise

1 clove garlic, minced

1 1/2tbsp rice vinegar

1tbsp soy sauce

2tbsp toasted sesame oil

crushed red pepper flakes, for garnish

1 scallion, thinly sliced, for garnish

  • In a large bowl, toss kale with salt and 1 tbsp oil and rub into kale to soften. Add Brussels sprouts and toss well.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together garlic, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil and remaining oil. Pour dressing over greens, add sesame seeds and toss well. Garnish with red pepper flakes and scallions and serve.

Holiday Fare

This week I am trying to find the rhythm of my days with the kids not being in school, the beautiful Spring weather begging us to be outside and a rekindled motivation to workout more. So far so good.

With the holiday weekend fast approaching the family meal plan is never far from my mind. It got me thinking…perhaps there are some of you out there looking for alternatives for a traditionally meat-based event. Maybe you are having a vegetarian relative joining for dinner this year or you have a desire to simply try something different. I remember the first holiday dinner that I hosted for my extended family since becoming a vegetarian and it was nerve racking. Luckily for me, I have incredibly openminded in-laws and they welcomed my adventures in kitchen without complaint (well at least none that I heard about ūüėČ ). Since that first dinner, I have experimented with a few different main dishes and all of them have satiated even the most hungry of my guests.

I will be posting a full dinner menu this Friday to allow you enough time to stock up on supplies. There will be a few delicious side dishes that I have found over the years to be not only scrumptious but simple with lots of steps that can be made ahead of time. As well as the “star” of the show, my Roasted Cauliflower, Spinach and Pecan Torte.

Hope you are enjoying a shorter work week and the hint of Spring in the air!

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Emily

Chickpea of the Sea

Hello Foodies!

I just want to take a minute to check-in and express my gratitude for all of you out there that have stuck with me thus far. ¬†I have “officially” been at this for 10 weeks now and I could not have even imagined how much joy and passion it has sparked in me. ¬†I genuinely look forward to selecting, prepping and photographing each week’s recipe. ¬†It has literally turned into a part-time job for me ūüôā I have also learned quiet a bit about myself in these past weeks. I have learned that I use ALOT of beans in my cooking! Until now I hadn’t really thought much about it. A big surprise for me is how my blog has rekindled my love of writing. But probably the biggest lesson that I have taken away from this experience is that even though each blog is like my “baby”, I need to send them out into cyberspace and allow them to fall where it may. Remembering that some recipes with be more popular than others. This lesson has proven more of a challenge for me.

Having said that, I really encourage you to ask me any questions going forward about ingredients or cooking methods. Your comments help me to stay connected to what is happening on the other end of my blogs and I appreciate your interest. As I said, I spend a fair amount of time each week making sure the recipes are exactly right. ¬†I am a free spirited cook, which means I generally throw things together without any structure or recipe per se. This is not a habit that is easily broken. If I have missed anything in a recipe or didn’t explain something properly, let me know (remember¬†you¬†are my recipe testers for my highly successful future cookbook!!!)

So onward and upward.

This week’s recipe is by far my most favourite lunch right now. Yes, I also have a few lunch recipes! Did you think I only prepared dinners?

I make this salad at least twice a week and keep it in the fridge for a quick snack. This should sound (and taste) very familiar to most of you. The only difference from its original form is the main ingredient. Instead of using canned tuna, I use chick peas.

For the most part, when I am in a situation where I explain to someone that I don’t eat meat the response is pretty good. People are becoming more aware of the health risks of eating animals that are pumped full of antibiotics, farmed at rapid speeds and slaughtered in inhuman ways. However, it still surprises people when I say that I also do not eat fish. Fish? Why would you not eat fish? They are lean, high in Omega’s and a good source of protein!!! I always find it harder to explain because, for me, it’s more of an environmental issue and it varies from fish to fish. So if you are interested in hearing what I have to say about tuna then read on. If you are tired of my “ranting” then skip ahead to the most delicious plant-based, deli-style sandwich you have ever had!

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Going, going, gone…

Tuna species are amongst the most commercially valuable fish on Earth. Critically, many tuna stocks are fully exploited or overfished. The WWF (World Wildlife Foundation) has made it their mission to transform the global tuna market and to improve the way tuna fisheries are managed. They have focused there efforts to the 7 most vulnerable species of tuna : the Atlantic, Southern and Pacific bluefin, Bigeye, Yellowfin, Albacore and Skipjack (which is the main supply of canned/processed tuna). According to the WWF the world tuna catches, for just canned tuna, have increased by almost 1 million tonnes (yes that’s right ONE MILLION tonnes) over the last 30 years. With a global total of all legally fished tuna coming in at approximately 9.5 tonnes per year. ¬†The advanced technologies in fishing gear has played an important role in the increased tuna fishing. Even the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), who to-date have been extremely conservative about implementing any tuna bans, acknowledges their concern on their website as it relates to tuna fisheries stating “With the fully and over-exploited status of most stocks of tuna, more concerns related to tuna conservation and fisheries management are likely to arise in the future.¬†” So while the WWF and FAO are doing their part to ensure our oceans and fish are protected and restored, the fisheries are only responding to the demand and if we lower the demand then we have the control to reverse this situation.

The bottom line is that the ocean is a delicate and amazing ecosystem that requires everything to be in balance. ¬†This substantial increase in the fishing of tuna inevitably affects that balance and it is not far fetched to say that some species of tuna may become completely extinct in the near future. ¬†The ocean is a vital component of our Earth’s well being and that directly affects you and your children and their children, etc. We are creatures of habit but we are also intelligent and free thinking. It’s in our best interest to explore new foods and moderate the foods that we consume too much of.

Chick peas, as I have said in previous blogs, are amazing little beans that are packed full of nutritional vitamins and minerals. One cup of cooked chick peas contain 19g of protein, 12g of dietary fibre and have zero cholesterol.

So if you are a lover of tuna salad sandwiches then I am asking you to explore something new with this recipe. I would encourage you to make your ¬†“Chickpea of the Sea” sandwich the way you would normally make a tuna salad. After mashing the chickpeas, the palette is open for creativitiy. ¬†Some like to add crunch with pickles, onions and celery (like I do), while others might prefer a simpler variation with only mayo, salt and pepper. But do not skip out on the sea vegetables for this dish, the are an important part of the flavour. ¬†You may be surprised to know that this creamy, crunchy and “fishy” salad tastes almost exactly like a tuna salad…and you can enjoy it with a clear conscious!

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Spread this liberally on your favourite whole grain bread, use it as a dip for rice crackers, or to make it gluten-free and scoop it onto a fresh, crispy Gala apple slice to satisfy your 3pm hunger. It also tastes incredible as a grilled sandwich (aka Tuna Melt).

Enjoy.

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“Chickpea of the Sea” Salad

Prep Time: 15 mins

1 can (14oz) Chickpeas, drained and rinsed…or if you are cooking from dried then use 1 cup of dried chickpeas, soak, cook and let cool (if you have forgotten or would like to try it out, checkout my “Garbanzo for Apples” recipe to see detailed instructions on how to use dried chickpeas)

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

1/2 small red onion, chopped,

2 large dill pickles, finely chopped

2 tbsp of pickle juice (you know that delicious stuff that your pickles are chillin’ in)

2 tbsp ground sea vegetables- I use the Nori and Dulse combo again for this one (refer back to the “Pantry Curried Lentils” recipe for this concoction)

1 tsp Dijon mustard

juice 1/2 a lemon

3 tbsp Veganniase (or your mayo of choice)

1 tsp dried dill

salt and pepper to taste

  • Place chickpeas in medium size mixing bowl and use a potato masher to mash the chickpeas until about 80% mashed. Large chucks are okay.
  • Throw all remaining ingredients into bowl and mix thoroughly. Ideally you want to put this in the fridge for about an hour to incorporate all of the flavours into the chickpeas.
  • If you are going for the “Tuna Melt” then add your favourite dairy or non-dairy cheese between 2 pieces of bread and grilled like you would a grilled cheese. Deeeee-lish!

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Cheesy Double-Baked Sweet Potatoes

I have become completely addicted to the wonderful world of Pinterest! (I know, I am a little slow on the uptake with these type of things). It’s like Martha Stewart, MacGyver and Rachel Zoe had a love child ūüėČ The ideas that people come up send my fingers into a “pinning” frenzy.

But, of course, the one area that I look at the most is the food ideas. Not even the vegetarian/vegan recipes. I get an adrenaline rush out of being able to take a recipe that has animal products and experimenting with my own non-animal ingredients.  I found this recipe a few weeks ago and was initially attracted to how appetizing it looked. Then quickly realized how few ingredients there were and how simple the execution was. My version is definitely alot cleaner and healthier than the original recipe.  I have been making this sweet potatoes many times over the last two weeks and no one is complaining. My family loves it. Actually, the first time I made it they thought that I had suddenly gone crazy and cooked lobster tail. Seriously, they thought it was the tail of a lobster!

Mental note: the size and shape of the sweet potato allows you to mess with your vulnerable & hunger loved ones.

The longest part of this recipe is baking the sweet potatoes. The size of the potato makes a relatively big difference in the cooking time. The long and skinny sweet potatoes take 5-10 mins less cooking time but are a bit more finicky when scrapping the potato out and re-stocking it. The larger and rounder sweet potatoes take longer in the oven but are easier to work with. Something to keep in mind when you are selecting your potatoes at the grocery store. Whatever you choose, do your best to be consistent so that you do not end up with some cooked and some not cooked.

You may have noticed in a few recipes that I tend to use a product called “Daiya” to replace dairy cheese. This product is readily available and is a tapioca-based cheese (not soy) that melts beautifully. For those of you that are lactose-intolerant (or just simply prefer to stay away from dairy for personal reasons), this product is a godsend. The flavour is amazing and it leaves you feeling satisfied with its creamy texture. Needless to say, you can always switch out the Daiya for a dairy cheese…but stick with an organic cheese to avoid all those antibiotics and unnecessary additives.

I prefer to serve this dish with rice since the cooking time of the potato and the cooking time of the rice is almost exactly the same. It’s also a nice mix of textures. To “spice” up the rice and mesh with the Mexican flavours of the sweet potato, I added the juice of 1 lime to the cooking water and then grated the zest of 1 lime to the finished rice (based on 4 cups of water & 2 cups of uncooked brown rice). Plus always remember to use a stock, preferably vegetable stick, to enhance your rice. And voila! Zesty Lime Rice…

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This is a hearty winter dish for this blistery winter weather that is seems to be lingering in my part of the country. But whatever your weather is we still have a few more days of winter so get in your kitchen and enjoy the longer days.¬†Now that The Bachelor is over (that’s right, I said it) I get a few hours of life my life back each week…ummmm, maybe I will go checkout what’s happening on Pinterest…

Happy Pinning!

ps. Don’t forget to “Pin” this recipe at the bottom if you like it ūüôā

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Cheesy Double-Baked Sweet Potatoes

Cooking Time: 45-50 mins

Active Time: 25 mins

Serves 4

Ingredients

4 sweet potatoes (I use 1 potato per person but if you have kids you may need less..however, its a great leftover!)

1 cup frozen corn

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tbsp coconut oil

1 med yellow onion, chopped

1 can (398ml) black beans, drained and rinsed

A bunch of cilantro

2 tbsp Earth Balance, or ¬†your “butter” of choice

1 cup of  Daiya Pepperjack cheese

  • Bake your¬†sweet potatoes in a parchment paper pouch in a 350 degree oven for approx. 45 mins (depending on your size of potato)

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  • Meanwhile add corn to a pan on medium-high heat. Do not use any oils for this step. To get a golden brown color to the corn avoid stirring for approx. 5 mins. Then stir pan and brown the other side. When corn is nicely charred, add the paprika and stir. Remove from pan and set aside in small bowl.

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  • Using the same pan heat up the coconut oil and add your chopped onions. Saut√© until almost caramelized. About 10-12 mins. Remove from the heat and set aside.

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  • Remove sweet potatoes from oven (do not turn off the oven) when cooked through & cut in half length-wise. Allow to cool for 5 mins. in order to handle with your bare hands.
  • Scoop out the potato into a large mixing bowl, leaving a little bit on the edges of the skin so that it holds its shape

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  • Mash sweet potato with butter and salt to taste
  • Combine onions, corn, beans and cilantro into the mashed potato mixture and stir

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  • Scoop this mixture back into the hollowed out skins and top with cheese.
  • Place back into oven and bake for another 10-15 mins to melt cheese.
  • Remove from oven and serve on top on Zesty Lime Rice

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My “Rap” on Aluminum

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Part of the education I received in Holistic Nutrition was to think about the contributing factors outside of just food itself (which is probably the biggest difference between an RHN and a dietitian). I believe that both genetics and environmental factors play a roll in your overall health. I now understand that living a clean life not only includes the food you consume but also the products that we utilize everyday.

So, while prepping this week’s recipe (which will involve sweet potatoes and other yumminess) it has brought up an important topic that I would like to address…aluminum products. Most times when you read recipe that involves baking potatoes, fish, or casserole dishes it asks the reader to wrap their delicious foods in aluminum foil or place them in an aluminum tray!

This blows my mind.

Although aluminum is abundant in the Earth and in the sea, it is present in only small amounts in human and plant tissues.Therefore it is only necessary to consume in small amounts. However, it is commonly ingested in foods, medicines and in cosmetics. For most people, the greatest aluminum intake comes from food additives. It is present in processed cheeses (used as an emulsifier), white flour (used to whiten) and particularly regular table salt (used to help it run freely and not cake).

When using aluminum pots,pans and aluminum foil, some of the aluminum leaches into the food, especially with acidic foods such as tomatoes or rhubarb. Soft drinks are also typically acidic and when packaged in aluminum cans the aluminum leaches into the liquid which you consume.

One thing that should be a cause of concern for everyone is the aluminum salts used in anti-perspirants. This is a primary contaminant for most people, as it is used everyday. Anti-perspirants are designed to stop perspiration in the underarms and not only does it coat the outer skin, it is also absorbed into the ducts which blocks perspiration. Regular use of aluminum-containing deodorants may contribute to the clogging of underarm lymphatics and then to breast problems, such as cystic disease. A¬†simple internet search on deodorant (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deodorant)¬†pulls up various not-so-positive information about anti-perspirants. For example, the FDA classifies deodorant as a cosmetic and anti-perspirants as a drug. Interesting. ¬†Since approximately 2002, research has “suggested” that there may be links between antiperspirants and breast cancer. ¬†At the very least, this should create more questions about what this commonly used product is doing to our bodies.

So why else should you avoid aluminum?

It is not clear how aluminum functions or interferes with activities in the human body. Dr. E. Haas, MD believes it has to do with how it interacts in magnesium function, in that, it may reduce vitamin levels or bind to DNA, and it has been correlated with weakened tissue of the gastrointestinal tract.  Oral aluminum, as obtained from our aluminum wrapped foods or antacids, binds pepsin which weakens protein digestion.

Aluminum toxicity is now widely excepted has been implicated in brain-aging disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, both of which have become more prevalent as the incidence of aluminum toxicity has increased. ¬†In Alzheimer’s disease, studies have shown there are increased aluminum levels in the brain tissue.

You will not find research that will point the finger to one particular product or that will directly link aluminum with cancer or mental health issues. It is not that usual, when it comes to these topics, to find information that is inconclusive. There are too many variables (and not enough funding) that contribute to this area of research. However, there is always common threads of information, that over time, point in an obvious direction. We do know how much aluminum our bodies need to function properly and so therefore too much of it will disrupt the body’s natural balance. And for me that is enough. Enough to question ingredients and make small changes to what I buy and how I prepare my food. ¬†Small, simple choices that are preventative.

Tips for prevention of aluminum exposure

  • Avoid common table salt and switch to sea salt (which come from evaporated seawater and contain numerous nutrients)
  • Replace your aluminum-containing antiperspirant with a deodorant that is aluminum-free (there are several products available nowadays)…it is not¬†natural¬†to block your sweat pores! If there is a problem in this area then address your diet, stress levels and/or cleansing routine. “Kiss my Face” is one of my favorite brands and is widely available at Shopper’s Drug Mart or Superstore

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  • Instead of wrapping your food in aluminum foil you can make a “pouch” from parchment paper (this is fantastic for potatoes & fish) or use glassware with a glass lid in the oven…or sometimes if I am using a casserole dish that does not have a lid, I use a stainless steel baking sheet to cover it. And whenever possible, avoid eating your food out of an aluminum foil tray!

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I truly believe most people want to make to the best choices for themselves and their children in hopes that they live a long and healthy life. And for that information is key. It is important to understand that sometimes products get introduced to us simply for convenience or cost reduction. Convenience + cost reduction rarely (if ever) = optimal health.

So lets keep aluminum where it belongs, in the Earth, our cars and in tractor trailers. Not our bodies!

This concludes my rap. Feel free to share your opinions or questions.

Here’s a peak at what I am working on for this week…Creamy, smoky, double-baked sweet potatoes with zesty lime rice…Yum!

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Artichoke Paella

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Hola Amiga! When it comes to countries, I am slightly obsessed with one in particular, Spain. I love the architecture, the people and of course, their food. I love that in many parts of the country they still live off their land and use family recipes that have been around since food was invented. This country really loves its food. However probably not the convenient, processed foods that have infiltrated our country. In fact, I would venture to guess that word “organic” does not enter their vocabulary very often…because it’s just what is! You would think that I have been to this country! Not yet…we have a long distance relationship until I get an apartment in Paris and a summer villa in Bilbao :-). Until then I am content to study their culture and “steal” their recipes (or at least interpret them). ¬†I have a small arsenal of authentic Spanish ingredients that I use even in non-traditional Spanish dishes, but it fills my heart with joy when I can pull them out for my most favourite dish, paella. These ingredients are not always available at your local grocery store but require a special trip to a store that takes pride in genuine Spanish and/or Italian grocery items. Paella should be made with lots of patience and a little bit of love…or is it the other way around?

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Now in the spirit of sharing, I have another small obsession in the “people” category and that is Mrs. Gwyneth Paltrow. If you are a fan of food, travel, fashion, gardening or any other perk of life, then you must checkout her site www.goop.com. She is just so darn likeable and everything she touches seems to be perfection. The reason I bring her into the conversation is because my original Paella recipe came from her amazing cookbook¬†My Father’s Daughter. This is one of my favorite cookbooks (and I have ALOT of cookbooks). It is not a meatless cookbook but has numerous veg options as well as vegetarian recipes. As I mentioned, my original version of this recipe came from this book but has evolved into a slightly different version. I like my paella a little “wetter” than Mrs. Paltrow’s version.

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It is important for the well being of our planet and our bodies to use ingredients that are seasonal. Lucky for us it’s March and that means artichoke season as begun! You may have noticed them popping up in your grocery store recently and it’s our responsibility to use them to the best of our abilities. Artichokes are considered to be a vegetable flower (not to be confused with flowering vegetables) along with broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Vegetable flowers are actually the early part of the potential flower of the plant, picked and eaten before they progress into a “real” flower. Artichokes are the flower of a thistle plant that is beautiful when left to fully flower. They are a good source of fiber, low in calories (if not drenched in butter or mayonnaise) and pretty well endowed with folic acid and potassium. Artichokes are also considered to be useful in detoxifying the body. Explanation:¬†Making bile is one of the liver’s main ways of eliminating toxins. For this reason, increasing bile flow is helpful in detoxifying. Artichoke leaves help increase bile flow therefore making them liver cleansers that can be instrumental in detoxifying.

Here is a small instructional tip that I found recently that I thought might help any “artichoke-impaired” chefs out there;

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So dig out your favourite artichoke recipe or treat your yourself to this amazing Mediterranean dish chalked full of delicious vegetables. This dish is fantastic for entertaining for a couple of reasons; it looks amazing and  you can prep alot of steps ahead of time and simply pop it into the oven when your guests arrive (and the time in between allows you to clean up your kitchen and yourself !)

If you do it properly then you should be able to smell and see (close your eyes!) Spain’s rolling hills and the salty ocean air.

Hasta la proxima!

(Until next time!)

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Artichoke Paella

Serves 6-8 people

Total Time: 1.5 hours

Ingredients:

4 1/2 cups vegetable stock

6-8 pieces dried mushrooms (ie. porcini or shiitake)

2 pieces dried Wakame

6 cloves of garlic, chopped finely

Large pinch of saffron

2 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 yellow onion, diced

2 sm. or 1 lrg. zucchini, diced

1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced

1 can (398ml) crushed tomatoes

2 cups Bomba rice (if you cannot find Bomba rice then short-grain white rice will work too)

3 artichokes, trimmed & steamed for 20 mins, cut in quarters

1 1/2 cups frozen peas

2-3 lemons, cut into wedges

Paprika Aioli (prep by mixing 3/4 cup of Veganaise, or your choice of mayonnaise, with 1 tsp smoked paprika, plus salt to taste)

*Begin with the broth. Combine vegetable stock, dried mushrooms, dried wakame, garlic, saffron and paprika in a medium sized pot.

Bring to a boil, then reduce to med-low and simmer until broth is needed (about 20-25 mins).

Tip#1: The broth is the heart and soul of this dish so taste it throughout cooking and ensure that it has a vibrant and salty flavour for the rice to soak up.

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*Start your paella pan by heating the olive oil and add the chopped onions (if you do not have a traditional paella pan, then a large heavy-bottom frying pan will work great). Sauté onions until golden brown. Depending on your pan this could take up to 15 mins, paella pans tend to cook quicker.

Tip#2: I once took a Paella cooking class and the instructor emphasized that cooking the onions¬†sufficiently is crucial to a great paella to bring out their natural sweetness…so don’t rush this step.

* While you are waiting for the onions, start trimming and steaming your artichokes…or if you are using canned/jarred artichokes then just remove the lid ūüėČ and set aside.

*When onions look well cooked, toss in zucchinni and sauté for 5 mins. Then add bell peppers and cook for 2-3 mins more. Pour in tomatoes and heat through.

Tip#3: If you are hosting a dinner party then you can stop after this step and set everything aside until you are ready to place in the oven. But allow a longer cooking time in the oven because ingredients will have cooled down.

*Pour on the Bomba rice in two straight lines (this is a technique that I was taught by Master Paella chef Mario Batali as well as Mrs. Paltrow. There does not seem to be any culinary purpose of this step¬†however, it pleases the paella “gods” and I am in no position to mess with their blessings)

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* To finish, incorporate the rice into tomato mixture thoroughly and add your warmed broth (remove any large bits of wakame before adding to pan). Turn off the heat. Toss peas on top and nicely organize the artichokes in a circle around the outside of the pan. Do not stir.

*Place pan in preheated oven for approx. 20-25 mins. or until all liquid has been absorbed and rice is soft.

* Serve in individual dishes with a dollop of paprika aioli or serve it the traditional way, which is to eat it directly from the pan.

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