30 Good Things Before 30: #17 – Burnt Broccoli

30-good-things-before-30You know how to tell if you’ve found a really good thing? If it stands the test of time and still has a place in your life years down the road.

That’s what I’ll be talking about tonight with #17 on my list of 30 Good Things Before 30:


Burnt Broccoli

I was turned onto this little beauty of a cooking method by a friend back on my west coast days. It was about five and a half years ago.

I know this because I was so totally in love with this method that I wrote a blog about it.

Five and a half years later and I’m still very much in love.

The Method:

  1. Cut up a bunch of broccoli.

    Tiny green trees

    Tiny green trees

  2. Throw 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a covered pot and heat on high just until it starts to smoke.
  3. Quickly — very quickly — throw all the broccoli in, cover, and leave for 2 minutes.
  4. Add 1-2 tablespoons of butter and salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pot and give it a shake. Put back on burner for another 2 minutes.

    Don't be afraid if it gets real smoky in there. That's what you want. It's burning in all the deliciousness.

    Don’t be afraid if it gets real smoky in there. That’s what you want. It’s burning in all the deliciousness. (Also don’t mind my stovetop: I’m a messy cook. I’ll clean it up when I’m done…)

  5. If broccoli aren’t at desired tenderness, put on the cover, give another shake and put back on the burner for 2 more minutes.

That’s it.

Easy.

Scorched little green trees

Scorched little green trees

And delicious.

I had these tonight alongside a Mexican ground “beef” wrap. It was inspired by runger and, more specifically, by running past Mexicali Rosa’s in the last few hundred metres of my 13 km run.

Came home. Made this.

runger

The runger is real

Delicious.

By the way, you can also do burnt broccoli in the oven. It’s every bit as easy but requires more forethought since it takes them quite a bit longer to burn just right. Not the kind of thing you’ll come home and do when the runger is this real. A good recipe for that method is over here.

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

Ok, I admit mid-June is kind of a weird time to break out a belly-warming recipe like Shepherd’s Pie, but give this a try and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be making it year-round.

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie. Humble. Delicious.

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie. Humble. Delicious. (Pin this)

Like the vast majority of my recipes, this one was inspired by stuff in my fridge/cupboards that was about to go bad: specifically, a package of Yves Original Veggie Ground Round fast-approaching its expiration date and some potatoes threatening to go to seed. I searched the depths of the interweb for a Shepherd’s Pie recipe that featured a packaged veggie ground to no avail.

So, I made up my own. Well, to be perfectly clear, I took this recipe by Alton Brown and adapted it for my needs.

The end result? A pretty tasty vegetarian alternative that, if the opinions of my meat-loving husband count for anything, stands up pretty well next to the meaty original. As an added bonus, it’s way less muss and fuss to throw together.

Plate it up with a salad and you're golden

Plate it up with a salad and you’re golden

So without further ado, here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

For the potatoes

  • 3/4 pounds russet potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons milk (or milk alternative)
  • 1 ounce butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • salt and pepper, to taste

For the “meat” filling

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced small
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 package (340 g) Yves Original Veggie Ground Round
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup reduce-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon freshly chopped rosemary leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme leaves
  • 1/4 cup canned or frozen corn kernels
  • 1/4 cup canned or frozen peas

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Dice peeled potatoes into 1/2-inch pieces, place in a pot, and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower heat and keep at a simmer, cooking until potatoes are soft enough to easily pierce with a fork (around 10-15 mintues).
  3. Drain potatoes and then place them in a bowl, along with milk, butter, salt and pepper. Mash or blend with a mixer until smooth. Add yolk and stir until well combined.
  4. While potatoes are cooking, heat oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and carrots, sauteing until onion begins to turn golden (around 3-4 minutes). Stir in garlic.
  5. Add the veggie ground, salt and pepper, and saute until heated through.
  6. Stir in tomato paste, veggie broth, rosemary and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, then cover and simmer slowly until sauce thickens.
  7. Add corn and peas to the meat mixture.

    Carrots and corn and peas, oh my!

    Carrots and corn and peas, oh my!

  8. Spread evenly in a 7×9-inch glass baking dish and then top with potatoes.
  9. Bake on the middle oven rack for approximately 25 minutes, until potatoes start to brown.

    Brown 'em up real nice

    Brown ’em up real nice

Who says vegetarians can’t have a nice, hearty stick-to-your-ribs Shepherd’s Pie?

Enjoy!

5-minute Vegetarian Chili

Every cook has their specialty: that one crowd-pleaser they can whip up with their eyes closed. Gather round, kids, ’cause this one’s mine.

5-minute Vegetarian Chili (You don't need to use this much sour cream and cheese, by the way.  That's my husband's doing. His love for dairy knows no bounds.)

5-minute Vegetarian Chili (You don’t need to use this much sour cream and cheese, by the way.
That’s my husband’s doing. His love for dairy knows no bounds.)

It’s nothing fancy and if you’re a chili afficianado, you might balk at this being called a chili at all, but it’s a favourite of mine. In particular, there are four reasons I love this recipe:

  1. It’s foolproof – If you have the culinary skills to open a can and chop an onion, you’re golden.
  2. It’s quick – I’m notorious for underestimating the amount of time it’ll take me to put dinner on the table. With this one, when I say it’ll be ready in 5 minutes, I’m actually telling the truth.
  3. It’s balanced – Protein, veg, dairy. Serve it up with some wholegrain garlic toast and a side salad and you’re killing it, nutrition-wise.
  4. It’s tasty – I’ve served this to everyone, including many a meat-eater. While I don’t claim it compares to the traditional chilis that are born of eight hours on a hot stove, the critics agree: this one’s a keeper.

My recipe is adapted slightly from this one over here at Kraft.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • crushed red pepper, to taste
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • Louisiana hot sauce, dash
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed
  • 1 can corn, drained
  • cheddar cheese, shredded
  • sour cream

Instructions

  1. Heat your oil over medium-high heat in a large frying pan. Add onions and crushed red pepper (I usually use a couple good-sized pinches for a little bit of kick but not a burn-your-face-off kind of heat) and cook until onions become transluscent.

    Pro tip: Easy way to make your house smell delicious? Fry up some onions.

    Pro tip: Easy way to make your house smell delicious? Fry up some onions.

  2. Add diced tomatoes, Louisiana hot sauce, black beans and corn. Mix it all up, reduce heat, and cook until heated through. If you have time, you can let it simmer over low-heat until the liquid reduces.

    All the pretty colours.

    All the pretty colours.

  3. Serve topped with cheddar cheese and sour cream, to taste.

And that’s it! I always keep these ingredients on hand so that I can turn to this as an easy weeknight meal. Been making it for 7 years now and no complaints yet.

Enjoy!

Tofu and a vegetarianism-related rant

So I just chowed down on the results of Mini-Resolution #13: Get Acquainted with Soy and I’m pleased to report it was deemed a success by both myself and the carnivore I live with.

In Week 2 of his 8 Weeks to Optimal Health program, Dr. Weil asks that we familiarize ourselves with some of the soy products out there. He thinks the world would be a much better place if we all cut way down on the amount of animal protein we consume — he eats no meat, only fish — and I think he may be right.

It’s something I’ve been mulling over for more than a year now. I think PETA started it. I watched a video on their website called Meet Your Meat. I should have looked away and continued my life in happy oblivion. I didn’t. This was a mistake. Alec Baldwin narrates it. That should have been my first clue.

I’m embedding the video in this post with a word of caution: it’s extremely graphic and difficult to watch.

The video explores factory farming, going through the whole slaughter process for poultry, cattle and pigs in these confinement facilities which, above all else, aim to produce the most meat, milk or eggs at the lowest possible cost.

It’s disturbing and shocking which is — I think we can all agree on this — what PETA does best. But the thing that struck me most was that I could barely stand to watch these animals be killed. It took all my will not to look away from the screen. Then I started to think what it must be like to work in one of these places and how I wouldn’t last five minutes.

Which led me to the following: if I can’t even bear to watch how this meat is produced, if I can’t even stomach the thought of seeing this process, let alone being a part of it, do I really have a right to eat the products of it?

That’s an ethical dilemma I haven’t yet reconciled.

Now I certainly acknowledge that this isn’t representative of all meat production. Both my parents grew up on farms and I know for a fact the cruelty that’s shown in this video wouldn’t have been tolerated on their family farms or likely on any small-scale farms today.

Of course that’s not the only issues with being a meat-eater, though. There’s also the environmental issue:

According to a 2006 United Nations initiative, the livestock industry is one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation worldwide, and modern practices of raising animals for food contributes on a “massive scale” to deforestation[2], air and water pollution, land degradation, loss of topsoil, climate change[3], the overuse of resources including oil and water, and loss of biodiversity.

And, of course, our primary concern in this forum, there’s also the health benefits of forgoing meat to consider. Vegetarians tend to have:

  • Reduced risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, renal disease and Alzheimer’s
  • Lower body mass index (BMI), cholesterol and blood pressure than non-vegetarians

Which, I believe, is the kinda thing Dr. Weil digs. This brings me back to the original point of my post: becoming better acquainted with soy. I originally wanted to try something really out of the ordinary for me: something like tempeh or TVP.

Alas, I couldn’t find either at my local grocery store.

(This may or may not be related to the fact that I was looking for these soy products on the same shopping trip I spent 20-ish minutes foraging for Quinoa and Kasha. You can only circle the store so many times before you start to look suspicious.)

I did, however, find pressed tofu which Dr. Weil also mentioned in his Week 2 tirade about the world of soy.

Pressed tofu is the meat-lover’s tofu as it has a more sturdy texture than the regular variety. It’s essentially just regular tofu that has been pressed to get rid of excess liquid and firm it up.

It’s also sold in flavoured varieties. I bought the “savoury” kind. This didn’t seem to amount to much, other than it was brown on the outside. It still tasted like tofu. Which is to say it tasted like whatever it was cooked with.

And on this happy occasion, it was cooked with red and green peppers and onion for a very healthy and delicious Tofu Fajita. The recipe is (again) courtesy of Dr. Weil. Check it out here.

We omitted the hot pepper because we’re spice-intolerant; some day I hope to live dangerously and incorporate a Serrano pepper. For now, I’m content with the kick of a medium salsa tossed in as a topping.

The recipe was super easy and quick. It definitely trumps chicken fajitas in that it doesn’t require the foresight to take some chicken out of the freezer a day before you want to eat them.

Nutrition-wise, you’re looking at about 30o calories per fajita with 10.5 g of fat, a whopping 23 g of protein and 8 g of fibre. In summary: pretty awesome.

Overall verdict: friggin’ delicious. I’d make these over chicken fajitas any day and — more importantly — my carnivore fiancé would be happy to eat them.

Now that’s a win-win.

And that means it’s tally time!

Days to go: 338

Mini-resolutions to go: 248

Also, I know I’m supposed to start Week 3 of Dr. Weil’s program tomorrow. That won’t be happening. For the record I have completed all the mini-resolutions related to Week 2 (can I get a “Hell, yeah!”) but want to get them in writing before I embark on some new ones. And that’s not going to happen tonight. Because it’s 10:30. And that’s past my bedtime, children.

Until tomorrow.

Burning up my broccoli

You know what’s really awesome?

When a recipe tells you to scorch food.

You know why that’s so awesome?

Because you can’t screw it up.

I speak of my latest adventure with broccoli. It began with the advice of a dear friend. She’s stranded on that God-forsaken rock called Newfoundland with very little fresh produce to speak of but has managed — on occasion — to hunt down a head or two of broccoli. And when she brings home this precious green gold, she’s got the perfect cooking method which she was gracious enough to share with me.

And now I will share it with you:

Apparently, this method originated with Heston Blumenthal.  Don’t know who he is? That’s okay. I didn’t either and I call myself a foodie. I Googled him and realized my face should be burning with shame for not recognizing his name. Suffice to say he’s the owner and chef of The Fat Duck — just a little three-Michelin-starred establishment in Berkshire, England.

In other words, he’s probably a guy you could take a cooking tip or two from.

His broccoli cooking method is described here. Basically you just heat up some olive oil over high heat until it starts to smoke, then throw in your broccoli, cover it and leave it on the high heat. Then salt it, pepper it, toss in a bit of butter, shake it up, cover it again and leave it for another two to four minutes.

When it’s done it should be scorched in some spots and green in others. That’s right. I said scorched.

But don’t let that freak you out. It’s fantastic. I guess the idea is that the high heat concentrates the broccoli’s flavour. Or something. I don’t know. Ask Heston.

All I can tell you with authority is that it was quick, foolproof and delicious. Also, that I will be making it again.

Thanks, Jamie!

Confessions of a flower-killa

Want to hear something ridiculous? I still have my Christmas tree up.

Today, I finally took the red holiday bow off my apartment door. At least the neighbours won’t know what a slacker I am.

Well, a slacker in terms of Christmas decorations, that is. You know what I’m not a slacker about? Broccoli.

(You know what else? I still haven’t learned to spell broccoli. I have to use the spell-checker every time. In fact, I just noticed I spelled in wrong in my original Mini-Resolution.  Maybe I should make a Mini-Resolution to get that straightened out.)

If you’ll recall, sometime ago I made Mini-Resolution #4: Find and prepare two tasty broccoli recipes between Saturday, Jan. 9 and Friday, Jan. 15.

This stemmed from Dr. Weil’s simple request that I eat broccoli twice during the week. I (like a fool)  decided to up the ante and not only eat broccoli twice this week but attempt to cook it in two new tasty ways. And to judge the tastiness (or lack thereof)? My carnivore of a fiancé.

Broccoli

The only survivor of this week's broccoli binge.

As a result, I bought more fresh broccoli in the past week than any other week before. Maybe more than all weeks before added together.

It’s not that I don’t like broccoli. It’s that I don’t like preparing it. I got that from my mother. She only buys frozen broccoli so she doesn’t have to deal with the actual preparation. And I don’t blame her.

I also learned this week that you’re supposed to peel broccoli. As if it wasn’t enough of a pain in the ass already. This was shocking to me. I mean, I’m no gourmet chef but I spend a pretty significant amount of time in the kitchen and still somehow missed the memo on this one.

Maybe that’s because most broccoli I’ve met in my life has come from the frozen food section. Who knows.

I tested out two recipes this week: Garlic-Spiked Broccoli and Mushrooms with Rosemary and Oven-Roasted Broccoli with Panko and Parmesan.

The first one kinda sucked. I think maybe I’m not a huge rosemary fan. I also think I undercooked it. Nonetheless, I’m counting it because my fiancé claimed it was in fact “tasty” and proceeded to eat the leftovers the next day of his own volition.

The second one was super good. Of course, I’m of the mindset that you could put Panko crumbs on just about anything and have it taste fan-frickin’-tastic.

Health-wise, you really can’t go wrong with either of these recipes. The second one is higher in calories and fat. About 108 calories per serving (the recipe says it makes four servings but I’d say it’s actually closer to six so that’s what I’m calculating with) versus 56 for the first one, and 7 g of fat versus 2.7 g for the first one. Both clock in with 2-3 g of fibre, around 4 g of protein and more than 100% of your daily recommended intake of Vitamin C.

Of course, I’m not done with the whole broccoli fiasco just yet. As I embark on Week 2, Dr. Weil is insisting I keep on eating the stuff. That gives me plenty of time to test out the cooking methods recommended by a couple of my readers. Thanks again, my lovelies!

And now, because I don’t eat right 100% of the time (take last night, for example, when supper consisted of tortilla chips and salsa and some left-over holiday fruitcake), there is my Mini-Resolution #6: Begin taking Dr. Weil’s Antioxidant Formula.

Supplements

My slew of supplements

In addition to my regular multivitamin and calcium supplement, I am now taking selenium (200 mcg), Vitamin E (400 IU), Vitamin C (250mg) and, to meet Dr. Weil’s mixed carotenoid requirement (in addition to the beta-carotene that’s in my multivitamin), lycopene (10 mg) and lutein (50 mg).

Now I should mention that I’m not blindly following everything Dr. Weil has said. I have done some research into the pros and cons of the supplements I’m taking. Here’s the quick and dirty:

Selenium

  • Pros:  Supports a strong immune system, regulates thyroid function, may help reduce the risk of some cancers and play a role preventing cataracts and heart disease
  • Cons: May increase the risk of Type II diabetes. High intakes (over 400 mcg per day) can cause selenosis (symptoms of which include gastrointestinal upsets, hair loss, fatigue and irritability)

Vitamin E:

  • Pros: May prevent or delay coronary heart disease, reduce incidence of breast and prostate cancer, prevent cataracts or age-related macular degeneration and slow cognitive decline (i.e. delay the progression of diseases like Alzheimer’s)
  • Cons: In very high doses, it can interfere with the body’s ability to clot blood meaning it’s probably a no-no for people taking blood thinners.

Vitamin C:

  • Pros: May prevent most types of cancer, reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration and may successfully treat and/or prevent the common cold
  • Cons: At high doses, can cause nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and other gastrointestinal disturbances. Possibly associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease mortality for postmenopausal women with diabetes.

Lycopene:

  • Pros: May help to prevent macular degeneration, cataracts, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Also appears to reduce incidences of preeclampsia in pregnant women. May also help fight gingivitis. May reduce exercise-induced asthma
  • Cons: Dangerous for people allergic to tomatoes. That is all. (So far, at least. Give science some time; they’ll come up with something)

Lutein:

  • Pros: May reduce the risk of macular deterioration, skin diseases and cataracts.
  • Cons: In a very low percentage of cases, causes slight headache when taken in supplement form. May increase risk of lung cancer.

So there. What does it all mean? At the very least, I shouldn’t get cataracts.  *thumbs up*

I’m taking it all with a grain of salt. It seems everything we ingest comes with a lot of benefits and risks and sometimes both sides seem to carry equal weight. I mean my birth control could kill me (increases risk of blood clots, stroke, heart attack and breast cancer), but it also has benefits (decreases PMS, acne, pelvic inflammatory disease and endometrial and ovarian cancer).

I’ve committed to trying out Dr. Weil’s formula for eight weeks. After that? Well, we’ll see where I’m at.

In the mean time, let’s all just take a nice deep breath and talk about Mini-Resolution #7: Practice breath observation, five minutes a day from Saturday, Jan. 9 to Friday, Jan. 15.

This ended up being more of a pain than anything else. My plan was to get in my five minutes before I fell asleep at night. Unfortunately, breath observation has a tendency to put me to sleep. Come to think of it, it’s basically been my lifelong method of falling sleep: just relaxing, clearing my mind and focusing on my breath.

So this didn’t do much for me. Occasionally, when I was still awake enough at the end of my five minutes to take notice, I did feel more relaxed, my heart rate slowed down a bit and I seemed to have gained a little distance from the things that had stressed me out most of the day.

This week I have to continue my breath observation, with an added breath-related activity that I’ll get into later. But I’m going to try to mix things up and do it first thing in the morning. Hopefully, I’ll be a bit more attentive then. We’ll see.

Finally, there’s Mini-Resolution #8: Buy flowers.

Dr. Weil seems convinced that simply being in the presence of flowers improves a person’s well-being exponentially. So do a lot of other people.

I’m reading a book by Bill Strickland, founder and CEO of the Manchester Craftmens’ Guild — an innovative non-profit agency in Pittsburgh which uses the arts to inspire success in inner-city teenagers. Mr. Strickland describes being so moved by an orchid that he spent years plotting and scheming to find funding to create a greenhouse at his Pittsburgh organization. That’s how passionately he felt that good things would come for him and the people he worked with just by being around these flowers.

I’m also working my way through Eckhart Tolle‘s book A New Earth in which he credits flowers with playing an essential part in the development of human consciousness since they were among the first things human beings came to value which served no utilitarian purpose.

Maybe I’m lacking something every other human seems to have.

Here’s my dilemma: I feel like buying flowers is wasteful. They only last for a few days and then die and it’s always kind of broken my heart to dump a vase of dead flowers in the garbage.

That leaves me with buying potted flowering plants to fulfill Dr. Weil’s recommendation. And the problem with that? I kill every potted plant I touch. Every last one of them. Guaranteed.

They freak me out. During the holidays, my boss brought in a lovely poinsettia for my office. It scared the bejesus out of me. Left in my incapable hands, a plant doesn’t stand a chance of lasting more than a week.

Orchid

The orchid I bought for Nicholas which, I swear, shakes in horror every time I come within five feet of it.

Luckily, my fiancé has something of a green thumb. And luckily, he shares Bill Strickland’s fascination with orchids so I bought him one.

The orchid now sits on the desk in our living room so I am able to enjoy its splendour from a safe distance.

Although, I’ve got to admit I don’t feel particularly inspired by it. But Nicholas adores it and I adore him so I guess that adds to my overall sense of well-being after all, right?

And now, tally time!

Days to go: 340

Mini-resolutions to go: 251

Today, I begin Week 2 of Dr. Weil’s 8 Weeks to Optimal Health. I’ve got some new mini-resolutions to post which I’ll get to later today, I hope.

First, lunch.

Then… maybe taking down that damn tree?

Wish me luck.

Ali’s Super Healthy Granola Bar recipe

So one of my readers (that’s right, I have readers now — and I’m very excited about it even if they do consist only of my wedding party and my mom — love you guys!) asked for my granola bar recipe, and I’m more than happy to oblige.

Unfortunately, I can’t really claim it as my own. I actually found this recipe about a year ago. I had just started baking my own bread and was excited about limiting my intake of packaged foods and all the weird, unnatural and unpronounceable additives they contain.

The natural progression was to tackle granola bars and I was lucky enough to come across this recipe. It’s a personal favourite.

A couple quick notes:

  • This isn’t like your typical grocery store granola bar. It’s got kind of a different texture; more solid, kind of like a really healthy square or cookie or… something. You just have to try it to know. But I promise it’s good.
  • I use all-natural peanut butter instead of oil because it’s delicious and it adds some protein instead of just fat. This does mean you’ll need some extra applesauce to moisten up the recipe though.
  • Don’t forget about the additions: I like to throw in some raisins, sunflower seeds and walnut pieces, but you’ve got tons of options.

Enjoy!

Super Healthy Granola Bar recipe