Whole Wheat Cranberry-Walnut Couscous

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This is a super-quick side dish that adds fiber, protein and omega-3‘s to any savory meal. Have a small serving for a filling afternoon snack to keep you going through those hours that drag. Look for whole wheat couscous at any store, or find it at Trader Joe’s on the cheap! Couscous is actually a pasta, not a grain, which it’s sometimes mistaken for, but the whole wheat kind can pack even more fiber and protein than quinoa!

For each serving, mix:

1/3 cup whole wheat couscous

1/4 dried cranberries*

2 TBSP chopped walnuts

1 teaspoon olive oil

sprinkle of cinnamon

1. Prepare couscous according to package (this takes 5-10 minutes). Add oil, walnuts and cranberries and stir. Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve!

*Always read the labels on dried fruits. While it’s difficult to find unsweetened dried cranberries, it’s easy to avoid buying brands that throw in extras like hydrogenated oil!

Two-Minute Berry Banana Smoothie


If I was a lady who embroiders, I would make a plaque to hang in my kitchen that says “Smoothies are made from angel’s kisses and god’s love.”There are plenty of imposters out there masquerading as your best smoothie friend; if you read between the lines at any smoothie joint, you’ll realize that the primary ingredient in these jokers is sugar, and synthetic ingredients often make a guest appearance. Making your own smoothie at home is so simple, and you can control exactly what goes into the mix. This is one of my favourite combos. It’s great with fresh berries, but I like to use frozen because they’re so easy to keep around and they make my smoothie nice and cold.

This is my go-to breakfast or post-workout snack when I’m in a hurry. I’m always running late no matter how much time I leave myself, so having this smoothie ready to go is a big help. I like to fill the blender with the ingredients and leave it in the fridge–you can even do this the night before–that way, all I need to do is give it a whirl, and I have something sustaining to sip on while I get ready!

Protein powders have become a popular smoothie addition since I was a kid, but I’m wary of them; the ingredient list is too long and complicated for my comfort level. Besides, unless you’re training to be Miss Muscles USA, you don’t need to eat 100 grams of protein a day; 50-60 is just fine for most people (check with your doctor to confirm your personal nutritional needs.) One of these giant smoothies, which packs two servings of fruit, also contains about 20 grams of protein from the yogurt and milk–natural sources that I feel confident feeding my body!

One final note: when choosing yogurt, always check the sugar content. An unassuming, single serving container can pack as many as 30 GRAMS! I always use fat-free plain or Greek yogurt, which contain the lowest amount of sugar; if these are too bitter for you, try adding a squeeze of honey!

Ingredients (one giant smoothie):
1 banana
3/4 cup fresh or frozen berries*
1 cup fat-free plain yogurt
1/2 cup skim milk

*If you’re using fresh berries, you may want to start off this recipe by crushing some ice cubes in the blender to make your smoothie nice and cold!

Combine all ingredients and blend. Voila!

Avocado Toast with Nutritional Yeast


If you don’t have a stash of nutritional yeast in your pantry, run to your local health food store and stock up on these flakes of gold. Nutritional yeast is a vegan’s dream, but non-vegans should know about its all-around loveliness too. It’s packed with protein– and has an interesting, slightly nutty flavour that goes a long way. When I was little, we’d sprinkle a couple of tablespoons on popcorn for a healthy alternative to butter.

For a yummy snack that’s high in protein, fiber and heart-healthy fats (healthy girl’s secret recipe for satiation,) sprinkle a tablespoon of yeast on whole-grain toast and add slices of 1/3 of an avocado. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and kosher salt. You’ll be in heaven!

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.

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.

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!

Mami Nature’s Corn Chips


I love savory dipping devices, but I cringe when I read the labels of my favourite crunchy snacks. Health-minded brands may omit most of the yucky preservatives and trans fats, but even when you’re browsing the natural foods section, it’s difficult to find a low-fat treat that’s worth eating.

When I decided to substitute corn chips for pita bread for a new spin on my Pita Chip recipe, I was surprised by how difficult it is to find healthy corn tortillas. I was on my third grocery store before I found tortillas that contained–hallelujah!–nothing but corn, water and lime (thank you, Trader Joe’s.) This recipe takes less than 5 minutes to prepare (plus about 20 minutes to bake) and you can make a big batch to eat all week. Try them with Dilly Cottage Cheese Dip or your favourite salsa. I can’t wait for avocados to be in season again so that I can try them with homemade guacamole!

Ingredients (serves 4):
8 natural corn tortillas (with about a 5-1/2″ diameter)
1 TBSP olive oil
a sprinklin’ of garlic powder, salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Slice tortillas into quarters and lay them on a baking sheet. Brush each side with just a smidge of olive oil–you can really make 1 Tablespoon go a long way! Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder (you can try different spice variations if you wish.)
3. Bake chips for about 20 minutes, taste-testing them for crunchiness (don’t burn your tongue!) You may want to check on them after 10 minutes or so, flipping them over if they’re getting too dark on top.

Snack Like a Bunny


I know, I know, you’re probably thinking that brussels sprouts & sweet potatoes sound like a terrible idea for a snack, but I have news for you, ladies & gentlemen: you’re wrong, and I’m right–they’re delish, especially together! This combo became my snack of choice last summer, when I was babysitting for a couple of families and spending alot of time at the Brooklyn zoo. Snacktime by the sea lions’ pool became a regular routine, and I’m proud to say I actually got a couple of discerning two-year-olds to try a weird new vegetable! If you’re transporting them, I must warn you that cooked brussels sprouts smell a little…unpleasant after they’ve been confined to a baggie or a tupperware container. I found this out the hard way when I got some nasty looks on the subway.

Ingredients:
about 8 brussles sprouts
3 small, or 1 large sweet potato
1 TBSP olive oil
salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper if you like

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice veggies into whatever shape and size you prefer (I cut the brussels sprouts in half and the sweet potatoes into rounds or sticks,) and rub them with a little olive oil. Place them on a baking sheet and grind salt & pepper over the pieces. Sprinkle with a little crushed red pepper if you’re feelin’ feisty. Roast for about 20 minutes (this will vary depending on your oven; you want to cook them until the potatoes are a little soft and the sprouts begin to brown just a bit.)

Banana-Walnut Cinnamon Toast


The idea for this came from a muffin recipe I found in Women’s Health magazine awhile ago. I’ve made it a couple times, and was craving those muffins this morning, but who has time to make muffins on a Wednesday morning, fah crahin aht lawhd? So I took all my favourite muffin innerds and threw ’em on some toast! Voila, no-bake banana bread! To be honest, I totally impressed myself, cause this is definitely the most bangin’ cinnamon toast I’ve ever tasted. And although I’m usually famished in the morning, and my desire to enjoy chewing consistently wins out over satiation in the stomach region, I actually couldn’t finish both pieces of toast along with my yogurt (pictured above, for a nice round meal) so I saved the second piece for a mid-morning snack!

Something to note: Women’s Health boasts that the combo of walnuts’ magnesium, bananas’ potassium (to sooth muscles,) and the vitamin D & calcium found in yogurt (supposedly “mood stabilizing,” though as far as I know, the effects of the latter have only been observed in patients with severe mood disorders, not just cranky PMSers) are sure to relieve the backlash of Auntie Flo’s lil’ visit. Let me know if it works for you…mad props for the muffins, Women’s Health, but I think the blaring BEEP BEEP BEEP of my bullshit radar actually GAVE me cramps.

Ingredients:
2 slices whole-wheat or multi-grain toast
1 medium or large banana
2 TBSP walnut pieces (crush them up for optimal spreadage)
a drizzle of honey or agave
a sprinklin’ of cinnamon
a side of yogurt if you like, for a calcium & protein boost!

I think this one’s pretty self-explanatory…toast bread (you can make one super-stacked slice if you’d like,) slice banana over toast; sprinkle with walnuts & cinnamon and add a drizzle of honey. You won’t believe how delish this is, i promise!

You Decided to Dip, and Now You Wanna Trip


For those of you who are NOT Beyonce fans: you may refer to this dish by its alternate name, “Dilly Cottage Cheese Dip” (but you should also note: we’re not friends anymore.) 

I remember the first time I ever tasted this dip. Here’s how it went down: It was a dark and stormy night. I was in 5th grade. I really, REALLY didn’t want to take a shower before I went to bed, so my mom promised me that when I got out of the shower, I could have a special snack. Obviously, that changed everything, and I made a mad dash for the bathroom. To my grave dismay, however, THIS DIP was waiting from me when I got out. Hello, are you crazy?? Cottage cheese? Thanks, mom, but I’m in 5th grade; I’d rather die than stand here in my towel eating cottage cheese. See you.
Anyway, I remembered this creative creation when I was at the store a few days ago. I picked up a tub of cottage cheese (normally, I’m all for the fat-free dairy, but in the case of cottage cheese, I recommend 2%) and a package of fresh dill, and decided I’d experiment when I got home. Lo and behold, all I had to do was combine the herbs and cottage cheese, sprinkle a little s&p and paprika on top, and I finally understood what my mom was thinking when she tried to serve cottage cheese to her 10-year-old. Mmmm, folks.
Ingredients:
1 16-oz. container 2% cottage cheese (fat-free is too yucky)
1/2 cup fresh dill, minced
salt & pepper
your favourite spice(s) for a personal touch
Dice up the dill and toss it into the cottage cheese. Season to taste. Dip homemade pita chips, carrot sticks, or slices of your favourite veggie into this fab dip.

UPDATE: this post has been edited, and offensive language has been removed, following a dual scolding by my parents via text & email. guess not much has changed since 5th grade.