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!

Scrambled Tofu with Portabellas


This recipe comes from my lovely mom, who conceived of and photographed the dish. When I decided to become a vegetarian at age 11, both my parents were very obliging, and the whole family started eating a lot more tofu and veggie-centered dishes. My ever-inventive mom came up with a million different ways to nourish me. Scrambled tofu was my Sunday brunch favourite, but it’s great for dinner too! I’m a big fan of portabellas, which are really the star of this dish. A little sesame tahini goes a long way in giving this scramble its unique flavour, though can make this dish sans tahini if you wish; it will still work.

Last summer, I decided to get to the bottom of the decade of mysterious stomach problems I’d been dealing with. Having known a few people with an intolerance to dairy and/or wheat, I was worried that I’d discover that the same problem was at the root of my troubles. After an extensive project that involved removing possible offenders from my diet and documenting the experiment in a food journal, I discovered that neither dairy nor wheat was giving me my stomach aches; it was tofu! I now manage to stay away from anything that includes soy protein, but I often crave my fave tofu dishes, so you’ll have to enjoy this one for me!

Ingredients:
3 tsp olive oil, divided
½ c chopped onion (or more, to taste)
½ c chopped red & green bell pepper (or more, to taste)
1 clove garlic
½ lb sliced portabella mushrooms
1/3 c sesame tahini
2½ to 3 tsp low-sodium tamari to taste (sub soy sauce if you don’t have it)
1 lb light silken or firm tofu
Salt & fresh-ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat ½ tsp oil in non-stick frying pan. Add pepper & chopped onion and sauté, adding garlic after a few minutes, until the vegetables just begin to get tender. (Don’t overcook; they should still have a slight crunch.)Remove to bowl & set aside.

2. Heat 2 tsp oil in same pan without washing, add mushrooms. Sprinkle lightly with salt and fresh-ground pepper. Sautée until tender, drizzling with a small amount of oil if necessary to keep them moist. Remove from heat & add to cooked vegetables.

3. Drain tofu, place between several layers of paper towel, and press to remove extra water.

4. Pour tahini into same pan without washing, stir in tamari. Add tofu and over medium heat, mix into tahini & tamari, chopping tofu into small pieces without mashing.

5. Add vegetables and mushrooms, turn gently with spatula until heated through. Serve at once with crusty whole grain bread and a favorite green vegetable.

Variations: try adding any lightly-cooked vegetables, chopped nuts or pine nuts– but portabellas are the key ingredient, adding a full, deep flavor that can’t be beat.

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.

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!

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!

Grandma’s Good Homemade Bread


I grew up on this fantastic recipe developed by my Grandma (that’s us in the kitchen together–if only I could still fit into that outfit.) My family always referred to this bread by its full four-part name; anything less would be sacrilege! The recipe has trickled down the Hart family line (which just happens to be infused with culinary genius;) some, like my Uncle Charlie, have managed to successfully tweak it, but I’m not brave enough to mess with something so perfect. Hell, I’m still trying to get the kneading-and-rising thing figured out.

This bread gets its nutritive qualities from the combination of whole wheat flour and wheat germ, which join forces on the fiber and protein fronts. Wheat germ is also high in vitamin E and folic acid (a B vitamin.) Sweetened with molasses and honey, this bread’s touch of sweetness is easier on your body to process than that of baked goods made with refined sugar.

Ingredients (makes one large and two regular-sized loaves; after filling two bread pans, I shape the remaining dough into a big round loaf and bake it on a baking sheet):
2 packets active dry yeast, disolved in
3 cups water, lukewarm
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup honey (or a mix of honey and molasses, depending on the contents of your pantry)
1 tsp salt
1 egg
3-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3-1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
plenty of extra flour to dust your hands and kneading surface

1. Dissolve yeast in water (temperature-test the water by pouring it over your wrist the same way you’d test a baby bottle.)
2. Sift flours with salt into a large mixing bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Mix gently but thoroughly–you don’t want any remaining flour patches.
3. Now comes the kneading. I like to do this in two parts, both because the dough is easier to deal with that way, and because measuring the elasticity of the dough I’m kneading against the unkneaded batter gives me a sense of how much more kneading I have to go. Whether you knead the dough all together or in portions, it takes about 10 minutes per batch to achieve desired elasticity. I write off the time commitment as good upper-body exercise, so throw your shoulders into it!
4. Return dough to the bowl and cover it with a towel. Allow it to rise until it has doubled in size–this will probably take between 45 minutes and an hour. Make sure the bread is not rising in a drafty area; if your kitchen is cool, you can stick the bowl in the oven to protect it from drafts. In the meantime, lightly grease the bread pans with a little butter or non-stick spray.
5. Preheat oven to 350º. When the dough has risen sufficiently, punch it down to release the big air bubbles and knead it once or twice. Transfer dough to the bread pans (and baking sheet, if you’re using my trick.) Allow the dough to rise again, ideally doubling in size again and rising to the tops of the pan centers. (
6. When the bread has finished its second rising stint, it’s finally ready to bake. This will take about 40-45 minutes; bake the loaves until they’ve turned light brown, but don’t let them dry out!

If you wrap your bread well in foil, it will keep for quite awhile without loosing moisture. You can also freeze part of your batch for later if you can’t eat it all in about a week. Ideally served fresh out of the oven or toasted and spread with a little olive oil, pumpkin butter, or jam, this bread is also great for sandwiches or as a side with soup or salad!

Sopa de Batata para Bretaña


That’s Spanish for “Sweet Potato Soup for Brittany,” y’all!

I recently discovered the surprisingly delicious combo of black beans and sweet potato, so I thought I’d experiment a bit with this beautiful (and super-nutritious) marriage. Cilantro, my friend Brittany’s favourite herb (she and I share a love of Mexican culinary delights,) had to be involved, so I chopped up plenty of this amazing-smelling greenery and put my spice collection to work in search of the perfect complementary flavours. The result of my experiment is a filling, good-for-you soup that holds its own as a satisfying meal.

This is only my second attempt at homemade soup, and I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with myself! Once you get started, it’s hard to stop throwing things into the food processor. I set out with the goal of making a vegan version, but if you’re feelin’ spunky, you might wanna experiment adding some dairy (1/2 of skim milk, perhaps?)

In an attempt to water down my very thick concoction, I got brave and threw a little wine into the mix. This would’ve been a better idea if the bottle I had in the fridge was NOT a fruity pinot grigio; if I were you, I’d use something super dry like savignon blanc. If you don’t have any wine on hand, no worries; I’m sure it’ll be great without the spiking!

Sweet potatoes pack an insanely high content of vitamin A. They’re also high in vitamin C and fiber, and contain significant amounts of of iron and calcium, which makes them an important dietary component for vegans and vegetarians. Top the soup with 1/2 cup of black beans, and you’ve got yourself a protein party! Good luck with your soup-making endeavors, I think you’ll have fun experimenting. I want to hear all about your adventures!

Ingredients (makes 4 servings–great the next day for lunch!):
6 cups peeled sweet potatoes, coursely chopped (I used almost a full bag)
1/2 cup water
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/4 cup very dry white wine
1/2 TBSP olive oil
1/4 tsp cumin
salt & pepper to taste

topping:
one can black beans, rinsed
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBSP cilantro (I like to snip mine into little pieces with scissors)
juice of 1/2 lime

optional toppings: grilled chicken strips, fat-free sour cream, hot sauce, crushed red pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400º. Peel and chop sweet potatoes. Place them on a 1″-deep baking sheet and drizzle them with 1/2 cup of water (this keeps them from drying out without the added fat of oil.) Roast the potatoes until they’re soft to the touch–20 minutes should do the trick.
2. Mince the garlic and cilantro and throw them into a bowl with the rinsed beans. Squeeze the lime over the beans and stir well.
3. When the sweet potatoes are done, throw all of the soup ingredients into your blender or food processor and give it a whirl (depending on the size and power of your machine, you might need to blend your ingredients in two batches.)
4. Dish everything up all pretty-like. Ole!

Katie’s Feel-good Applejack Quesadillas


Havin a bad day? Me too, girl. I have a whole routine dedicated to tackling this problem, and it involves a lot of Mariah Carey, an empowering inner monologue (which often becomes an outer monologue if I’m home alone) and quesadillas!

I was having a bad day for most of 2003. Luckily, my downstairs neighbor, Katie, served as a live-in shoulder to cry on and on-call snack-maker. Our routine would go a little something like this: I would let myself into Katie’s house via the back door, we’d chitchat about our day, I’d mention that I was hungry and accept her offer to make us a snack as if the idea never would have occurred to me. I’d offer the contents of my kitchen cabinet–which was usually two or three kinds of hot sauce and some celery salt–but the magic of the bad day snack cure was all in Katie’s creativity. She’s especially good at inventing new twists on the classic quesadilla, so I asked her for her favourite combo to share with y’all. Try it with a side of guilty-pleasure pop music, and your day is guaranteed to get better!

Ingredients (serves one; screw everyone else):
1 whole wheat tortilla
1/4 onion, sliced as thin as possible
1 granny smith apple, coursely chopped
1/2 a 6-oz. bag of spinach
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella or monteray jack
1 TBSP olive oil
2 tsp sugar

optional: diced chicken, light sour cream, and maybe a little guacamole? mmm!

1. Caramelize your onions. This is usually done with tons of butter and sugar, but Katie suggested using olive oil, and I found it worked well (and we all know olive oil is better for your heart.) Throw onions, oil and sugar into a pan and stir ’em up. The caramelization process takes at least 10 minutes and requires pretty frequent stirring, but you can leave ’em long enough to chop up your apple and wash your spinach.
2. When the onions have started to become translucent and the first sticky brown edges that characterize caramelization are beginning to form, throw your apples into the pan “just long enough to get them acquainted; they’re not movin’ in or nothin!” (says Katie.)
3. Set the apple-onion mixture aside and let the spinach have a turn. When it’s wilted, add it to the apple and onion mixture.
4. Lay your quesadilla in the pan, sprinkle one half with cheese, add the veggie mix and fold the top over. Fry each side to your preferred melty crispness. Keep the music playing and sing away your troubles with your mouth full of quesadilla goodness!