Ahhh... the holidays. Between shopping, wrapping, cooking, planning, organising, cleaning, shovelling, discovering that you've got a big hole in the toe of your boot only after you step into a puddle of slush... sometimes it begins to feels like there aren't enough hours in a day. Many people also tend to pack on the pounds at this time of year, going from one gathering to the next, stuffing their faces with greasy fried appetizers and pounding back the cocktails. If you're nodding your head at these statements, beware: the combination of stress and bad eating is sure to leave you feeling bloated, nauseated, and all-around sluggish.



Stop! Breathe. Relax. Enter simplicity. Allow me to make your entertaining a little easier and a little healthier this year, with a few ideas for homemade, nutritious hors d'oeuvres that'll wow your guests, and please everyone - from the foodies to the health-conscious.

Instructions: Start with a box of Kavli Crispy Thin, FinnCrisp Rye Crisps (or any other crispbread that you like), top with spread of choice, and finish with a sprinkle of spice & a chopped herb. Pictured above: Dill, greek yogourt & cumin crisps. Super easy, super healthy, super fast.

Why crispbread? 
Ordinary store-bought crackers are often loaded with fats, oils and contain sodium levels that are off the charts. Don't even be fooled by the 'multi-grain' variety! Multi-grain often only means that they've taken your ordinary white-flour cracker and thrown in a few flax and sesame seeds - these additions do nothing to lower the high fat, salt or carb content, and the majority of the calories are coming from refined white flour. Now, I won't deny how delicious a Ritz cracker is, but that's the danger: at nearly 1g of fat EACH, a handful of these crackers contains the same amount of fat as an entire chocolate bar, and will fill you with over 200 calories - yet they will not leave you feeling full in the least.

And then there's crispbread: these thin topable delights generally have just a few simple ingredients and contain nothing artificial. They're often made from rye flour, which is much easier to digest than wheat and significantly more nutritious. 6 Kavli crispy thins offer up 4g of dietry fibre (to keep you feeling fuller longer), contain zero grams of fat, and have only 100 calories all together. Top them with a spoonful of non-fat greek yogourt (loaded with protein), a sprinkle of cumin and some chopped fresh dill, and you've got yourself a pretty, easy, and nutritious hors d'oeuvre. These also make an excellent light lunch or dinner, or a healthy midnight snack.

Other topping ideas
  • Start by spreading one tbsp of greek yogourt on your crackers, and top with any of the following combinations of veggies, fruit & herbs...
    • shredded beets & sea salt
    • black beans & cilantro
    • corn kernels, chopped tomato & cilantro
    • sliced olives & oregano
    • cucumber slices & dill
    • apple slices, cinnamon & nutmeg
    • lemon zest & honey
    • shredded carrot, ginger & cinnamon
    • slivered almonds & agave nectar
Ahhh, December!

No, I don't ski. And no, I don't like the cold. I don't even celebrate Christmas (Well, not technically. Though the tree in my living room would beg to differ.) Typical joys of the season aside, I am personally excited by December because it means that roasting season is in full swing!

Now, many of you omnivores may be asking, well, what on earth can a silly vegetarian possibly be roasting... vegetables? You bet! But not just any stand alone boring veggies - for the sake of bored tastebuds everywhere, I like to be creative.



My inspiration for this dish came in three parts:
(A) I have a massive bunch of leftover dill in the fridge.
(B) I've been on a Greek yogourt kick obsession lately.
(C) Two weeks ago, I purchased ten pound bag of beets. My father claimed I'd never eat them all.

Challenge? Accepted.

Though the photo above has an eerie resemblance to raw meat in a dish, no animals were harmed in the making of these delectable roasted beets with yogourt and dill sauce. Simple. Pretty. Filling. Perfect dish to pair with whatever else your little roasting heart desires, or enjoy them all on their own.

Nutrition Facts: If you've never eaten beets before, don't fret! This is your chance to try them in all their glory. Much healthier than the sodium-laden pickled variety, roasted beets scream healthfood!  Not only are beets fibre rich, they are nutrient dense as well! The pigments that give beets their rich color are called betalains and are a unique phytonutrient.* They are known to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support. The consumption of beets is also known to be beneficial to the bloodstream due to their high iron content. What's more, this dish has an unexpected nutritional benefit: loads of protein from the greek yogourt - a whopping 10g per serving!

Well, what are you waiting for? Beet it!

Spice and sparkle: two things that my winter cannot be complete without. I'm not talking spice in the form of cayenne & capsicum. I'm talking cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and cloves. Whether you've got lattes-a-brewin' or cookies-a-bakin', nothing beats the cold weather comfort derived from something warm and spiced. The fragrances alone are enough to entice you to curl up under a blanket in front of a fireplace (or radiator) with your favourite person (or book) occasionally glancing outside to appreciate the aesthetics of the season. While this festive time consistently inspires twinkling lights, glittery greeting cards and sequinned attire, Winter's ultimate shine comes from that iridescent sparkle that only truly occurs for a precious few moments as the sun rises over the blanket of an overnight snowfall. 

If only I could have something that was both sparkled and spiced...


Oh! That's right. I can. These cookies. Molasses, cardamom and cinnamon come together to produce this chewy delicious magic. The sparkle comes from rolling the dough in raw sugar just before baking. As they stay soft and chewy for many days after baking, these make the perfect edible gift for that hard-to-shop for person on your list.  Or, you know, for yourself!
Juice cleanses (also known as juice fasts or juice feasts, depending on who you ask) seem to be all the rage these days. Popping up everywhere from celebrity gossip rags to health food blogs, many raw foodists, foodies, and everyday people swear by them. I've read multiple claims that a diet consisting of fresh juice will cleanse everything - from your skin, to your palate, to your colon, to your soul. While I've never been one for fad diets, this idea of a juice cleanse has intrigued me for months. A combination of my desire to hit the reset button on my eating patterns along with my absolute love of juice lead me to hop on this shiny new bandwagon for a little ride.

It lasted all of 6 hours.
Till I fell off.
And ate an entire container of hummus.
With a spoon.


So, be it! I will never be the kind of girl who can survive on juiced vegetables and supplements for weeks on end. Or even for a day. Still, those short few hours reminded me that I definitely am the kind of girl who likes to experiment with food. Finding myself in a slight cooking rut shortly after my return, I saw juicing as this fantastic opportunity to try new things. How many juice combinations could I make? So, so many. So many, that I decided to blog about it. Here, my friends, is a list of juicespirations. Oh, and a word of warning: beet juice tends to dye certain things red. Like your hands. Your clothes. Your juicer. And, well, your body waste - which can be frightening, but totally harmless. So drink it. A lot. Because it's absolutely delicious. And so good for you. So, so good.



Sometimes, the best tasting foods are the messiest ugliest most aesthetically unappealing ones. Prime example: Sloppy Joes. Visually, Sloppy Joes resemble a bread bun that's regurgitated a hamburger onto itself. And, living well up to their name, these babies will dribble down your chin, pour down your wrists, and splash all over your brand new cream coloured pants. But, there is a reason why these greasy, juicy open-face sandwiches continue to be a comfort food for North Americans - because they're absolutely delicious!

Though I do often love a beautifully presented meal, lately I've had a tendency to just slop a bunch of stuff together and dig right in. My recent meal choices have often come hand in hand with my host family making funny faces at me and often uttering the phrase "what are you eating now?!" Today was no different. I decided that I wanted to eat some leftover beans for lunch, and I felt like they'd go well with some avocado.

Fajitas perhaps? No desire to clean a frying pan.
Burritos? No tortillas.
Makeshift-whatever's-in-the-fridge-tex-mex sandwich? Done.

Super hearty. Super healthy. Super delicious.

What is the most logical thing to do after making a vow to eat healthier? Bake a zucchini cake loaf, obviously. Because, hey! Zucchini is green, and it's a vegetable, and I'm supposed to eat more green vegetables, right? Thought so. So, what inspired me to make such a loaf today? Alas, I've been living in this little town village in Australia for the past few weeks, and well, when I'm not working, there's not much to do. To give you a general idea, I've compiled a list of my daily leisure activities...

Things To Do in the Outback
eat.
read my book.
curl my hair.
go running hide indoors to avoid getting attacked by the world's most venomous snakes.
slingshot pebbles at a road sign.
eat.
take photos.
hold a flashlight while a drunk guy shoots kangaroos.
do 5 pushups
recover for a few days from those pushups.
discover that there is a bag of flour in the fridge.
BAKE.



The thing about working in exchange for food and accommodation is that the types of food and ingredients that are kept in stock are more limited than what I'm used to. As are the baking dishes. I'm learning to live with less: I've got access to a 9 x 9 pan, a roll of discount parchment paper, a few measuring cups and some mixing bowls. And as for ingredients, well there is definitely no cinnamon. Nor do they keep baking soda on hand. But, they do have self-raising flour, which by the way, is my new favourite discovery. And, there's this giant container of shredded coconut. What's more, like all good country folk, we've got 4 chickens (called chooks here!), and a whole lot of eggs. I've decided that this is plenty to work with, and that I'd make the most of it. I've decided even to be thankful for this, as I'll surely come out of this experience an extremely resourceful baker! Oh... and did I mention that the temperatures on our oven dial have been completely worn away? Disclaimer: the temp that I suggest in this recipe is an estimate based on how far I've turned the dial.


 
Now, you may still be sitting there thinking, zucchini loaf? Why would you do that? Well, you might remember my butternut squash cake, which was a hit all around. So I think you've just got to trust me on this one. But, if you're still thinking, nah, this can't be good (which is pretty much the look everyone gave me when they saw me making it), hear me out! Zucchini is 95% water. Water = moisture. Moist cakes = delicious. Also, you can play around with this recipe and throw in some add-ins to suit your taste - my suggestions are any of the following: raisins, chopped dates, dried cranberries, lemon zest, cinnamon, or chocolate chips. Oh, and it's delish with a dollop of yogourt on top (in the name of health, I chose yogourt over ice cream. But I'm sure ice cream would be even more equally as scrumptious.)

Hats off (or, if you're fair skinned like me, hats on) to my very favorite friend, Summertime. This summer, I've got my health in mind more than ever. So far, I've begun the season on a good foot. I'm on my way to achieving some fitness goals (I'm now able to run almost 2k without stopping!) Also, seeing as the (typical Montreal) bipolar weather hasn't allowed me to obtain much of a tan, I've decided to embrace my paleness and accept that it's healthier, and that I'm avoiding skin cancer. I say that as I type this in the sunshine. With SPF... 8... Moving on!

Most importantly, I've been cooking and eating healthier (minus the almost nightly trips to the ice cream shop... what? It's summer, I'm allowed. Stop judging. You're jealous.)  I've always found that eating light in the summer is easy, because of the abundance of fresh produce, and the absence of the desire to cook anything that involves a hot oven. Goodbye are the days of heavy potato stews, creamy casseroles and hefty roasts. Hello to the days of garden salads, fresh corn and fruit parfaits.


Now that I've embraced cooking for one, I actually enjoy making myself something fancy looking from time to time. For instance, on this lovely sunny afternoon, I was inspired by the basil plant growing wildly in my garden. Today is the perfect day for a basil toast, I thought to myself. While at first I had the intention of chopping the fresh basil and sprinkling it over some cold tomato sauce, I decided it would be even more 'summery' of me to chop up some fresh cherry tomatoes.
And well, toast just isn't toast without a little bit of cheese now is it?

3 minutes later, I had this masterpiece.
20 minutes later, I ate it. (Taking pictures is a process!)


Nothing says summer like a fresh, hot corn on the cob. Sitting around with friends at a cookout, rolling the cobs in butter, burning the tips of my fingers. Chomping down, sucking out each and every kernel until it's filled up all of the gaps in my teeth. Sweet sweet corn, how I've missed thee.

Though tonight, there is no cookout, there is no sunshine, and there is no BBQ. No. Tonight, I find myself alone in the kitchen, eating cereal out of a box, staring at a package of baby arugula. I reluctantly open the finnicky plastic cover, pull out a leaf, and chew on it... within 5 seconds,  I'm reaching for a glass of water, and shoveling more Shreddies into my mouth to mask the peppery bitter taste.

Why did I buy arugula? 

I've never enjoyed "spring mix" salad, and now I know why. But I have a whole conatiner of it! And I hate for good food to go to waste. I see so many blogs with roquette salads, roquette garnishes on filet mignons, arugula topped sandwiches. If I want to be a real foodie, I think, I must find a way to eat this cute little leaf.

And then it dawns on me - warm it up! I think back to the time that I ate a handful of raw rapini and thought that I had been poisoned. "IT TASTES LIKE BURNING!" I screamed. "QUICK! LOOK UP IF IT'S EDIBLE!" Oh, Dr. Google, what would I do without you?


I eventually learned that the trick to quelling the bitterness of these veggies is to cook them. (Nevertheless, I dared not touch rapini again, for fear of re-living that awful afternoon.)
That's it! I'll cook the arugula! And I'll do it in the microwave. Because, well, I'm alone, and nobody is watching. Go ahead, judge. Then try it for yourself, and apologize for judging.

Done and done.

Spring is a funny thing in Montreal - it peeks it's shy little head out after what seems like an eternal winter, usually in the form of a garden bud, or a tiny blade of grass that's managed to push it's way through the snow. And then, just when we have that little taste, our excitement climbing along with the temperatures - winter snarls, hurling it's nasty breath at us to ensure us that it is not quite done just yet. But then, suddenly, a week flashes before our eyes and summer is in full bloom. Suddenly the sun shines bright, the snow banks have completely dissipated and the telltale springtime smell of melting dog poop is quickly replaced by the smell of freshly cut grass. I was tempted to begin this post with the phrase "spring has sprung..." but I quickly realized that Spring was never really here. Montrealers don't have time to waste with in-between seasons... we are in full blown Summer Mode, and there's no going back. So lather up your sunscreen, get outdoors, soak up the rays and lighten up your menu.



While you're at it, you can pretend you're living somewhere where it's always hot - add a simple ethnic twist to your dinnertime menu. Make yourself a nice cucumber and tomato salad starter and please your palate with some delicious Moroccan style chicken, with preserved lemons, garlic and cilantro.

A friend of mine commented the other day on how my chicken is always moist, and he worried that even if I prepared everything for him, if he cooked it himself, he wouldn't be able to match what I could do. While I always enjoy a good compliment, I'm certainly not magical - but the flavours and amount of moisture in my chicken might make you think that I am. So, I've decided that it's time to share my Magical Method. Never. Eat. Dry. Chicken. Again.
Seriously.
Never.

Veggie burgers are not hamburger substitutes, I don't care what any restaurant claims. You can fire grill it, BBQ it, smother it with ketchup until you can barely taste it, but in the end, it's just not a beef patty. It's a veggie patty. Now, to my knowledge, chicken burgers do not try to be beef burgers and broccoli doesn't attempt to replace steak. So I must ask then, why do so many ground soy products strive to be "just like beef?" When I eat veggie burgers, I do so because I enjoy the burger itself. I do not eat them in order to replace a hamburger. If I wanted a hamburger, I'd eat a hamburger. A major factor that sent me on the path to vegetarianism was that I did not enjoy the taste nor the texture of meat - so why on earth would I want to eat a highly processed product that was masquerading around, pretending to be that demon that I tried so hard to avoid?



That being said, let me tell you something about veggie burgers - some of them, and I emphasize some, are really quite delicious. It's when people begin to expect that their veggie burger should taste like meat that they are disappointed, and all possibilities of enjoyment are thrown out the window. The thing that makes veggie burgers fun is that there are so many different varieties that can be prepared.  My all time favorite vegetarian burger was one made of lentils. I feasted on this fantastic creation at a trendy comfort-chic spot in Montreal - a place where you can order a 20$ hamburger alongside a glass of Dom Perignon, all off of a menu that's written on a chalkboard.
I really love this city.

Today, inspired by my "buy-nothing" week, a long and deep stare into my kitchen pantry brought me to the conclusion that I stock a lot of beans and legumes, but I rarely eat them. I decided it was time to change that. A little inspiration from the January issue of Chatelaine is allowing me to present to you, the superfantastic Pinto & Black Bean Burger! At about 150 calories each, chock full of fibre, and of course, filled with the antioxidant power of black beans, you'll wonder how on earth something that is so good for you can be so delicious!

GLUTEN FREE NOTE: You can make this gluten free by omitting the breadcrumbs and substituting a few crushed gluten-free crackers instead. 
There is one fantastical creature in the world that has blood running throughout it's body, and it is still considered to be vegetarian fare. Ah yes, the sweet, the juicy, the refreshing - blood orange. Blood oranges offer a magical pop of colour among the drab whites and greys of winter. They also offer superior antioxidant power compared to their plain orange counterparts, thanks to their anthocyanin content, which is the compound that is also responsible for their distinctive colouring. This peculiar citrus fruit is sweeter than a regular orange, and is about ten times as beautiful when you cut into it. It's mystical crimson-coloured segments make for lovely dried pot-pourri, and it's peachy marbled zest makes for an even lovelier olive oil cake!

Inspired by my one of my favorite food bloggers, and by the handful of blood oranges that I had in my fridge, I decided to have a date with my oven last night. I tried to follow the recipe as outlined on the blog that I was reading, however, I was missing one ingredient - yogourt. And, as you may recall from my previous post, I'm trying a buy-nothing week, I didn't want to have to go get it. Rummaging through my fridge, I found a substitute - which also might just have been the magical ingredient that took this cake over the top - a tropical vanilla YOP! What does the YOP change, you ask? It makes the cake batter smell and taste like a creamsicle. Yeah. That's right.
Childhood memories anyone?

Mission of the week: I am going to attempt to buy absolutely no groceries for 7 days - with the exception of a few necessities if I absolutely need them (limited to eggs, greek yogourt and one or two fresh vegetables.) I believe that by posting this here, on the internet, where millions of people can read it, my commitment to my experiment has become slightly more real. Yeah, that's right, I said millions.
High hopes, high hopes.

It's going to be a week of - what-can-I-make-with-what-I-have-lying-around?
Tonight's menu: breaded tilapia fillets with dill, capers and lemon zest, served alongside rice and green beans.



Yeah. So turns out, I don't really like tilapia.

But I do like breaded fish. And I really enjoyed the combination of lemon zest and dill. Next time, I'll stick to my favorite, tried and true fillet of sole. You can choose whichever fish you prefer - I do advise however, the thinner the fillet better. A thinner fish will yield crisper breading, and as you may already know, crispness equals deliciousness.

Many of you might recall a little jingle from childhood, you know, the one that relates beans with flatulence a certain bodily function that shall remain nameless. Well, that little ditty also suggested that beans are good for your heart - and that was smack on! While it is widely known that beans are chock full of fibre, making them your digestive track's most powerful alli, a lesser known fact is that beans are also loaded with unique phytochemicals that protect against certain cancers as well as heart disesase. Oh, and they're yummy. Especially when you make them into this deliciously refreshing salad!

Before you go on and read the recipe, I must let you know - it really is the cilantro that gives it a the perfect little kick of Mexicana, and makes it reminiscent of an authentic salsa.  So for all of you cilantro haters out there? I sympathize. I really do. I used to be one of you. Then, something changed inside of me. It began one faithful evening, while I was out with a few of my girls, dining at a local mexican resto that I'd been wanting to try.  I requested that they omit the cilantro on my dish, however, to my horror, the dish came to me brimming with the evil green leaf. The little piles seemed like mountains, mountains of cilantro that I would never be able to conquer. But, being a pushover extremely polite, I will very rarely send anything back at a restaurant. I decided at that moment that I was just going to have to bite the bullet and eat it. I told myself, hey, it's meant to be prepared this way, right? And I came here for the experience of authentic cooking afterall, right? So I'll eat it this exactly how it's supposed to be eaten! Right.

And then something really weird happened. I. Liked. Cilantro.

So go ahead, be brave, try it for yourself, because it really does make this dish what it is. Replace it with flat leaf parsely if you must, or omit it alltogether, but definitely do make this bean salad.
Your heart will thank you.


Got some stale bread? Don't toss it, toast it!

Then toast it again. Sprinkle it with some sea salt and spices, and boom - you've got yourself some fantastic croutons. I must warn you though - you may just turn into a crouton snob. Boxed croutons just won't cut it after you've had a taste of these babies. And, if you're anything like me, you'll want to use them to top just about everything off - you can spruce up a salad, turn your mac and cheese into a crispy delight or sop up some soup on a wintry day.


My favorite way to eat them? Naked. (The croutons that is!) They'll make crackers look like cardboard - and since they're such a cinch to make, you'll want to be cooking up batch after batch.

Did you ever think you'd see the day where you wished for your bread to go stale?