Latest Obsession: Almond Cheese


Cheese is my biggest weakness. We all know that in moderation, it’s great for you–full of calcium and protein. But the fat content and tummy-clogging properties means, sadly but truly: mo’ cheese, mo’ problems.

Last week when I was making the rounds at Wholefoods, something caught my eye in the dairy aisle. You guessed it: almond cheese. I’ve been wondering if a product like this exists; I’m always interested in dairy alternatives, but soy is too hard for me to digest, and that pretty much only leaves rice products (I’m not generally a fan, but rice milk ice cream and chocolate bars are surprisingly yummy!) So when I discovered that almond cheese is soy-free, very low-fat, and just as high in protein and calcium as regular cheese–and processed minimally without preservatives(!)–I had to give it a try! This “cheese” comes in two flavours: cheddar-style and mozzarella-style; I’m partial to the cheddar, which I added to an open-faced hummus and avocado sandwich–delicious!
The almond cheese I found is made by Lisanatti–a company that makes dairy-alternative cheeses–and is gluten-free, though it DOES contain casein, a milk protein that makes the product unfriendly for vegans and those on a dairy-free diet. Though the package doesn’t lie about this cheese being shreddable and tasting great (ok, “pretty good” might be a better description) I take issue with the claim that it melts–when I tried to make cheese toast, I ended up with a weird plasticy substance that stuck to the backs of my teeth.

Almond cheese has a somewhat different texture and flavour than cow’s cheese, of course. As long as you don’t expect a perfect imitation, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Adding a couple slices to a sandwich or sprinkling some cubes over a salad is the best way to go.

Healthy Girl’s First Interview!

My friend Ashley Stephenson, a talented photographer based in Raleigh, NC had a few questions for me about Healthy Girl Cooking. Talking with Ashley about Healthy Girl’s mission and my plans for the future was fun! Read our interview (and check out Ashley and her husband David’s fabulous work!) on their company’s blog. While you’re at it, check out Story Photographer’s website as well!

Frozen Grapes


I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “I have neither the time nor the culinary prowess to put grapes in the freezer.” But girl, I believe in you!

This is one of my favourite warm-weather treats. It ain’t no chocolate ice cream, but frozen grapes make for a delightfully sweet-tart munchie. Purple, green–they’re both delicious. Just make sure you buy seedless grapes and wash ’em well. Pop ’em in the freezer and go about your biz while they freeze. My favourite way to enjoy these lil guys is when they’re mostly frozen but just a tad soft–otherwise they can be a little hard on the ol’ teeth.

Tummy Taming Ginger Soda


When we were little, my brother and I were only allowed to drink soda to settle our stomachs when we were sick. Godless child that I was, my first prayer, circa age 4, went like this (direct quote, overheard by my mother): “Dear God, please let me throw up thirteen times in the night so I can drink Coke.”

Nowadays, having recovered from my childhood deprivation of soda (and white bread, fruit roll-ups, processed peanut butter and cereal with more than 8 grams of sugar) I’ve returned to my roots and only drink soda to settle an upset tummy. Though my mom claims that carbonation helps soothe a stomachache, it’s my opinion that sodas that do not contain real ginger are pretty useless in the tummy-settling department. This afternoon, feeling a little yucky and not up for a natural soda hunt, I decided to experiment with what I already had in my kitchen.

I always keep a little fresh ginger around; it’s great for Asian-inspired dishes (like Vegetable Fried Bulgar,) Creamsicle juice, and baking projects, among other things. To make this soda, I simply grated a one-inch piece of ginger (use a little less if you want a weaker flavor) into a glass and added a 500ml-bottle of sparkling mineral water. The orange slice I used as a garnish got me thinkin’, so I added the juice of one half of the orange for a nice vitamin C boost! You don’t have to consume all the ginger for it to have a soothing effect; the infusion will help on its own.

As a warm alternative to this fresh, cooling drink, try simmering a one-inch piece of ginger in 1 cup water for about five minutes, then drink as a tea.

Easy-Peasy Pesto Shrimp Pizza


I have been on a major pesto kick lately, and I’ve been brainstorming new ways to get my fix. I made this tortilla-based pizza for lunch today, using some multi-purpose staples I like to keep around: mushrooms, tomatoes, a whole grain tortilla, parmesan cheese (strong enough to add flavour in small, low-fat doses) and frozen pre-cooked shrimp (you can buy a bag for about $6, thaw ’em in 5 minutes flat and throw them into salads, soups, pasta dishes, quesadillas, omelets–anything, really!–for a big boost of lean protein.)

This pizza is satisfying without being too filling, thanks to the nice balance of protein from the shrimp and fiber from the tortilla (make sure you use whole wheat or whole grain to avoid filling up on nutritionally useless simple carbs.) Tomatoes are high in vitamins A, C and K; they’re also a good source of lycopene, a cancer-fighter that the body absorbs best along with a little fat (like the olive oil and nutty pesto in this dish.) Mushrooms are densely packed with minerals like selenium, riboflavin, copper and niacin. Add a salad of fresh spinach and mandarin oranges to this already well-rounded meal, and you’ll be feelin’ great all day long!

Ingredients (makes one single-serving pizza):

1 whole grain tortilla
1-2 TBSP pesto
1 vine-ripe tomato, thinly sliced
about 8 button mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 TBSP parmesan cheese
a handful of medium frozen shrimp, thawed

optional:
1/2 cup frozen spinach for an extra veggie kick (make sure you drain it well!); crushed red pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Place shrimp in a colander and run cold water over them to thaw while you slice your tomato and mushroom.
2. Throw the mushrooms into a non-stick pan and cook until semi-soft. You can drizzle them with a tiny bit of olive oil if you like, but it’s not necessary.
3. Place tortilla on a baking sheet and spread it with pesto. You need very little to give it that yummy herb-garlic flavour, but if you’re a pesto nut like me, load it up!
4. Add tomato, mushroom, and shrimp, and sprinkle your pizza with a little parmesan. Bake for 15-20 minutes until melty and crisp!

Note: juices from the tomato and mushrooms (and shrimp too, if they’re not drained super-well) might collect a bit in the corner of your pizza like they did on mine. Just dab them up with a napkin–or leave ’em be if you don’t mind getting a little messy!

Presto! Pesto

Everything’s better with pesto, y’all. In 5 minutes flat, you can make a big batch that will add pizzazz to your cooking all week. Or you can take a tip from the fabulous Amy Sedaris and freeze individual portions in an ice cube tray for later use.

Pesto is traditionally made with pine nuts, but if I don’t have any in my pantry, I throw in whatever kind of nuts I DO have rather than spending an extra six bucks at the store. Experimenting is fun–walnuts are my favourite, and almonds are good too. Next on my list to try is cashews! Your pesto will have a slightly different taste depending on the type of nut you use.

Depending on the size of the basil bunches sold at your grocery store, you may need to tweak the amount of the other ingredients listed below to obtain the flavour and consistency you want. Most recipes call for a lot of olive oil, but I use only a drizzle, which makes my pesto super thick and chunky. Pesto-making is not an exact science, so go crazy with the taste tests and come up with your own custom concoction. If you don’t eat dairy, you can omit the parmesan; it will still be delish sans cheese!

Stay tuned for a variety of pestoy meal ideas…in the mean time, try your fresh pesto in my latest addiction, Zoe & Zane’s Spinach Brownies…MMM!

Ingredients (makes about 1 cup of pesto):
2 large bunches fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, etc.
1-1/2 to 2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1/2 shredded parmesan cheese
4 cloves garlic, minced
sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Wash & dry the basil leaves. Throw everything into the food processor and give it a whirl!

Spinach-Artichoke Dip


What in life is better than warm, creamy spinach-artichoke dip? Not much, that’s for damn sure. Gooey, cheesy, mayonnaisey–yes, you heard me; I, President of the Mayonnaise-Haters club, can get over my burning revulsion for this treat! I’m all for indulging in the traditional version of this dip now and then, but I had a powerful craving the other day that I knew couldn’t be satisfied by a 2-tablespoon serving size (!) From this craving, a healthified (albeit less cheesy) version of spinach-artichoke dip was born, and I ate a whole bowlful without feeling yucky afterwards! Not only is this dip super low-fat, it’s packed with vitamins A and C from the abundance of veggies and protein and calcium from the greek yogurt, so you can actually feel good about eating it!

This dip don’t quit, so don’t limit its serving power to hors d’oeuvres hour. Spread it on a warm whole wheat roll and add grilled chicken breast, a slice of provolone and some vine-ripened tomato for an ecstatic sandwich experience. Add a dollop to scrambled eggs and serve with whole grain toast. Toss it with whole wheat pasta, leftover chicken and olives for a super quick dinner. If you’re enjoying it in dip form, make your own healthy and delish dipping devices using my recipes for Pita Chips or Mami Nature’s Corn Chips!

Ingredients (makes a big ol’ batch for multiple serving purposes):
2 16-oz. bags frozen spinach, thawed
2 cans artichoke hearts in water, drained and chopped
1 cup fat-free greek yogurt (you can alter the quantity to obtain the consistency you want)
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
1/2 cup shredded parmesan, plus a little extra to sprinkle on top
1/2 white onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
additions: chopped tomatoes, crushed red pepper and paprika to garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Thaw spinach in the microwave or by running water over the bag. Drain & chop artichoke hearts.
2. Throw minced garlic & chopped onions into a big pot with the olive oil and cook sautee over medium heat until the onions become translucent. Turn off heat.
3. Add the rest of your ingredients to the pot and stir well. Taste-test for flavor, and add more yogurt if you want a creamier (and proteinier!) dip.
4. Spread dip into a pie pan and bake. I used a glass pan, which requires a longer baking period, so it took about 45 minutes for mine to warm through. I recommend testing the center after about 30 minutes; if it’s nice and warm, it’s ready to eat!

Satan in Sandwich Form

I just came across this article on The 8 Worst Sandwiches in America, and I had to share it with y’all (check out the all-time winner, which packs FOUR DAYS’ worth of fat!)

I love that restaurants are now required to make their nutrition facts available, but I’m usually not prepared for the results. Recently, my go-to lunch when I don’t have time to pack has been Au Bon Pain’s hummus wrap; I recently discovered that this seemingly healthy sammy (hummus, lettuce, feta, olives, cucumbers, and sundried tomatoes) has 600 calories and…are you ready? 30 grams of fat! Turns out it’s actually one of the most fattening things on their menu; looks can be deceiving, eh? The lesson here is to do your homework and, perhaps most importantly, pay attention to portion size! I’m a food fanatic who finds it impossible NOT to clean my plate regardless of how full I am, so I’m working on not overloading it in the first place.

One of my favourite things to do is create healthier, do-it-myself versions of the not-so-healthy things I like to eat. My Greek Goddess Wrap is lower-fat, veggified version of my Au Bon Pain nemesis. What’s your favourite sandwich? Does it need a healthy makeover too? If so, lay it on me!

Vegetable Fried Bulgar


Hello gorgeous, I’m bulgar. Have we met? No? Oh honey, are YOU in for a treat! I may be wholesome, but I’m also known for my exotic streak (like when I strut my stuff Lebanese-style in tabouli.) I’m adventurous, and I’ll try anything once…

Listen, I know you’re tired of plain old rice; besides, she hasn’t got half the protein and fiber I have! Couscous? Puh-lease, why would you waste your time (she’s not even a whole grain, you know–she’s a PASTA!) And sure, my sister quinoa is my nutritional rival, but she’s old news! Why don’t you put a little bulgar in your bowl, and I’ll show you what it’s all about. Winkie face!

Ok, I see you’re being shy; why don’t we get to know each other a little bit? Call me if you’re in the mood for a little stir-fry, and I’ll show you a good time!

Ingredients:

1 cup bulgar, dry*
1 zucchini
1 summer squash
1 head broccoli
1 red, yellow or orange bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1″ piece fresh ginger, finely grated (or 1/8 tsp. dried ground ginger)
1 tsp. olive oil
soy sauce & siracha (Asian hot sauce) to taste
optional: sliced grilled or pan-fried chicken, tofu or tempeh

*Using two parts water for each part bulgar, fill a pan with both and bring water to a boil. Reduce heat and cover, cooking until bulgar has absorbed water and has a soft texture with a hint of crunch.

1. Cook bulgar; this takes 20 minutes or less depending on the quantity. I recommend making a big batch; you can set some bulgar aside to use in salads, soups and other recipes all week long!
2. Chop up your veggies and throw them in a large frying pan with a little water. Cover and steam (this is my favourite way to cook veggies on the stove top–it’s a super quick and fat-free method!)
3. Mince the garlic and grate the ginger. When veggies are soft, pour them into a colander and give the garlic & ginger a turn in the pan, sauteeing them with the olive oil until they become aromatic.
4. Return the veggies to the frying pan and add bulgar. Mix well, adding soy and hot sauce. Throw in some chicken or soy protein if you wish. Voila, y’all!

Zoe & Zane’s Spinach Brownies


This recipe comes from Carol, the mother of two fabulous kids I used to babysit. Carol’s delicious invention was a hit with Zane when he was a toddler (I think he gets his adventurous streak from his big sister Zoe!) This yummy snack’s spinach base provides a healthy dose of vitamins A & C, and the combination of spinach and cheese makes for a calcium-rific treat.

Pesto is fun and easy to make, so if you have a little extra time, I suggest making a big batch to use in this recipe and save for future culinary endeavors. Take a tip from my girl Amy Sedaris and freeze pre-portioned servings of pesto in an ice cube tray; for a quick weeknight meal, boil some whole wheat spaghetti, add one cube of melted pesto for each serving of pasta, and throw in whatever veggies you have in your fridge.

Pesto usually involves pine nuts, but you can use whatever nuts you have in your pantry for a slight twist on the classic. Walnuts are my favourite pesto base; they’re full of omega-3‘s and they make for a strong, delicious flavour!

Walnut Pesto (makes a little over 1/2 cup):

1-1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/4 cup walnuts
2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1/4 shredded parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Throw everything in your blender or food processor and give it a whirl!

Brownies:
1 bag of frozen chopped spinach
1/4 cup pesto (buy pre-made or use my recipe)
1/2 cup good parmesan cheese
1/2 cup mozzarella
2 eggs
2 TBSP whole wheat flour
Pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 325º. Cook and drain your spinach. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add pesto, cheese, egg, flour, and pepper.
2. Spray a bread pan with a little non-stick spray, or rub with a teaspoon of butter to prevent brownies from sticking. Pour batter into pan.
3. Bake your brownies for about 30 minutes. Cut into squares. These brownies are fantastic warm or cool. Bring a plate to your next event–you’ll be the toast of the PTA!