About freshsheetnutrition

Registered Dietitians, Locavores, Food Lovers and Creative Cooks.

Chili Spiced Chocolate Cake

chocolate ancho cake resizedI love celebrating my birthday. The gathering of friends and family around a big dinner table to enjoy the meal of my choice and a delicious dessert of birthday cake with candles and singing. Oh it’s so much fun!

chocolate ancho cake - from top resized

My birthday cake of choice is an angel food cake with berries and whipped cream. I’ve picked it every year since I was a kid. But this year, I decided to change it up. I was craving a rich decadent chocolate cake. This cake in particular is made without flour to create a dense fudgy cake that fulfills any chocolate craving. It also pairs bitter chocolate harmoniously with the sweet fruity notes in spicy ancho chili pepper to create a perfectly deep chocolatey treat. Garnished with a dollop of citrusy lime whipped cream, this Chili Spiced Chocolate Cake is the perfect dessert to impress guests or a special birthday person.

Indulge and enjoy!

chocolate ancho cake - piece resized

Chili Spiced Chocolate Cake
Makes an 8 inch cake

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped                                                                      1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes                                                                            3/4 cup granulated sugar                                                                                                   3 large eggs                                                                                                                    1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder                                                                                  1-1/2 Tbsp ancho chili powder - no need to be nervous about the amount of ancho chili powder added, the rich chocolate will mellow out its spicy flavour

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Butter an 8 inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the buttered pan with parchment paper and grease with butter.

In a double boiler or heatproof bowl set over simmering water, melt chocolate with butter until smooth. Whisk in sugar. Add eggs and whisk well.

Sift cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and sprinkle with ancho chili powder. Whisk until just combined. Pour into prepared cake pan.

Bake for 25 minutes or until the top of the cake has formed a crust.

Transfer to a cooling rack and cool for 5-10 minutes. Invert cake onto a serving plate and let cool completely. Sprinkle with cocoa powder. Serve each slice of decadent cake with a dollop or two of lime whipped cream.

Lime Whipped Cream

1 cup whipping cream                                                                                                   Zest from 1 lime                                                                                                                   1 Tbsp icing sugar

Using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk together the whipping cream, lime zest and icing sugar until light and fluffy.

The Fresh Sheet…Grapefruit

DSC_4363

For many of us, January is NOT the time when we think of anything being fresh and in season. But after the holiday festivities, fresh is exactly what I am craving. Luckily, while many parts of Canada and the US are under a few feet of snow, it’s citrus season under sunnier skies.

Luscious red grapefruit are a much sweeter, friendlier variety than their paler cousins and they just what the New Year ordered. Ruby hued grapefruit is full of the skin-loving phytochemical lycopene, along with a dose of vitamin C to help fend off cold and flu season.

When choosing grapefruit, look for fruit that are quite heavy for their size which means that they will be juicy and delicious! They will do fine on the counter but I love my grapefruit chilled.

Grapefruit are lovely on their own as a snack, broiled with a bit of brown sugar and chili flakes or in a smoothie but they also make a lovely addition to salads. No matter how cold it is outside, I am a salad girl. In the colder months, I tend to gravitate towards chewier leaves like parsley and kale. Stick-to-your-ribs kind of greens…if you can call greens stick-to-your-ribs.

If you are on the healthier path this month and looking for a dense, hearty salad to begin the year with a clean slate, we have just the thing. This salad will actually fill you up with plenty of heart-healthy fats and even has a bit of ginger to help settle an over-indulged tummy. Did I mention the scent of grapefruit helps to quell appetite?

Eat well. Heather and I wish you all the best for the year ahead!

Grapefruit and Avocado Salad with Ginger Lemon Dressing

Serves 4-6

1 large bunch of your favourite kale, de-stemmed, leaves torn into bite sized pieces (about 8 packed cups of leaves)
1 large red grapefruit, peel and pith removed and sliced into bite sized pieces
1 ripe avocado, chopped
1/2 cup raw almonds, whole or slivered

2 tbsp avocado oil or other lightly flavoured oil like almond or grapeseed
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 tsp honey
pinch of salt

Wash and spin kale leaves so they are nice and dry and place in a large salad bowl. Save the stems and mince them for use when making a soup or stir fry. Don’t waste good food!

Mix dressing ingredients together and then pour over kale. Using fingers, massage dressing into kale leaves until they wilt and shrink by about 50% in volume. Magic!

To make the grapefruit seem juicier, use a knife to slice off a 1 cm (1/2 in) piece from top and bottom. Then use a knife to cut off all of the peel and pith so you are left with just juicy fruit. Cut the fruit into pieces, placing your cuts so you don’t get any of the skin on the outside of the slices to reign in all that juicy goodness.

Toss grapefruit, avocado and almond with kale and serve.

Tip: to make this a complete meal, serve with shredded leftover chicken or some pan-fried tofu, cut into “croutons”

The Fresh Sheet…Eggplant

 

 

Eggplants.Desiree Nielsen RD

Eggplants are one of those vegetables that feel like summer to me but I am often at a loss for preparation ideas because my husband has an utter disdain for them! Serving gorgeous slabs of grilled eggplant won’t do unless I am willing to eat them all myself. A staple in mediterranean cuisine, eggplants have yet to really seduce us here in North America. But it’s worth giving eggplant another shot for its versatility and nutrition. With fall right around the corner, bringing these jewel-like beauties home will help extend the feeling of those long sun-drenched days (even if the only sunshine around is the artificial kind).

Eggplant.Peppers.DesireeNielsenRD

Preparation is key to enjoying eggplant’s charms – salting and resting the flesh will help to remove any bitterness that some might find unpleasant. It is also best to enjoy eggplant while they are fresh and in season…which is right now! Eggplant doesn’t just look pretty, it comes with plenty of nutrition to spare: eggplant is a source of soluble fibre to help stabilize blood sugars, lower cholesterol and soothe the digestive tract. It is also rich in manganese, an energizing mineral; potassium and magnesium protect the heart and potent antioxidant pigments give its skin that glossy dark purple colour.

When these little gems hit the farmers’ market, I too often give them a pass. So I was determined to find a recipe that would convince even an eggplant hater and I think we might have found it. This caponata pairs eggplants with their cousins, bell peppers and tomatoes for a savoury match made in heaven.

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Eggplant Caponata
Makes about one litre

Caponata is an Italian antipasti that is sweet, savoury and delicious – it takes time to make but will last through the week in the refrigerator to perk up any meal. It has a myriad of uses: try it as a sandwich spread, a pasta sauce, a topping for Bruschetta, layered in a casserole or as a sauce for proteins. We have paired it with grilled tofu in the photo but it would also be delicious with chicken or white fish.

3 cups cubed eggplant (about 2-3 small)
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 1/2 cups chopped bell peppers
1 tbsp minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
1- 28 oz can of plum tomatoes
3/4 tsp oregano
3/4 tsp basil
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped Kalamata olives
1 tbsp Red wine vinegar
1/4 – 1/2 cup Italian (flat leaf) parsley leaves

Place cubed eggplant in a bowl and generously salt, tossing to coat the eggplant. Let sit for 30 minutes and then rinse and pat dry.

In a large saute pan, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat, then add onion and bell peppers; sauté until glossy and soft, about 10 minutes. Add eggplant and sauté for 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is soft and golden brown.

Deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup of the juice from the plum tomatoes and then crush the plum tomatoes into the pan by hand, reserving the juice for adjusting the moisture of the dish later. Add the herbs, 1 tsp freshly ground pepper and garlic, stir and reduce to simmer for about 40 minutes. Stir occasionally and if the mixture sticks or gets too dry, deglaze with a bit of the reserved tomato juice. Stir in the red wine vinegar, olives and parsley before serving.

One litre of caponata will make a large volume of appetizers or will comfortably serve 8 people as a pasta sauce or side dish for proteins.

The Fresh Sheet…Peaches

Summer is ridiculously abundant. The fruit literally falls off the trees – juicy, sweet and a bit messy. Kind of like how life should be. Just a few weeks ago, as I was diving into my first peach of the summer, I couldn’t help but remark at what a pure, unadulterated pleasure summer eating is. All of this produce from practically just down the road; so ripe, flavourful and perfect on its own. So perfect, in fact, you wish that feeling could last all year. We can help with that!

peaches in brown basket2 - resizedAnd peaches aren’t just a tasty treat; they are actually incredibly delicious medicine. Peaches are rich in vitamins A and C for healthy skin (good protection when the sun is shining!) and strengthening the immune system, they provide fibre to help keep everything moving smoothly and phyto-chemicals such as phenols that help fight inflammation. So much for thinking that healthy food doesn’t taste good. In fact, it’s crazy delicious.

Since peaches are but a blip in the annual harvest, it is a good idea to preserve some as soon as you get your greedy little fingers all over them. The local peaches won’t last much longer, so buy large! This recipe will make quick work of 5 pounds of deliciousness, which means you could buy 5 pounds for eating now and 5 for eating later. Moderation doesn’t apply to precious in season and highly perishable fruit. And peaches are so easy to preserve that even a newbie can do it. The bourbon was my idea; Heather isn’t much for boozy fruit. I am up for eating just-about-anything boozy. In moderation, of course! Here, moderation applies…

Bourbon and Vanilla Soaked Peaches
Fills 12, 250mL jars
If you have never canned before, read twice before canning once. It is far easier than you might expect but a few key tips will keep you on the safe side. This is a helpful guide to help get you started.

5 pounds ripe peaches, washed (should be fragrant and luscious but not mushy)
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 whole vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise, seeds scraped and pod cut into 12 pieces
Optional: 1tbsp bourbon per jar

Prepare canning jars and lids as directed by canning manufacturer and keep them simmering hot in the canning pot until ready to fill. You will need a jar lifter or slip proof tongs to handle the hot jars.

In a large pasta pot, boil water for blanching peaches. Prepare a very large bowl or another pasta pot with cold water and add the juice of a lemon for holding the peaches.

In a medium pot, bring water to a boil and add sugar. Stir and simmer gently until sugar is totally dissolved. Add vanilla bean scrapings, stir and turn heat to low to keep warm.

Score the bottom of each peach with a knife and carefully lower into boiling water. Blanch for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, just enough to loosen skin. Place into lemon water with a slotted spoon until cool enough to handle. Repeat with all peaches – you can do them in batches.

Peel peaches and slice into hot canning jars. Add one piece of vanilla bean pod to each jar and add 1 tbsp bourbon if desired. Pour hot syrup over peaches, leaving 1/4-1/2 inch of headroom in jars. Use a wooden skewer or chopstick to remove any air bubbles from the jars. Tighten lids on jars (not too tight!) and place back in canner. Process, as per manufacturer’s directions, for 30 minutes. Remove to the counter and let rest undisturbed for 1 day. Seriously. Don’t touch them!

You will know they canned properly if the lid doesn’t give way; if it didn’t work, give peaches to all of your friends as they are totally safe to eat within a week or so (keep them in the fridge).

A Better Breakfast: Stick to Your Ribs Granola

granola jar - cropped

Eat your oatmeal. It sticks to your ribs.” That’s what my grandma used to tell us. And she wasn’t that far off. Oats are full of soluble fibre called beta-glucan that literally “sticks” around in your intestines to give you a feeling of fullness until lunch time and a good dose of long lasting energy to fuel your morning.

Besides being amazingly nutritious, a bowl of oatmeal is a blank slate for endless flavour opportunities. First, you’ve got the many oat varieties: instant, rolled, steel-cut (also known as Irish and Scottish oatmeal) and groats. Steel-cut offers the most beta-glucan and is my favourite for its chewy texture and hearty flavour. You can stir in fresh, dried or frozen fruit, crunchy nuts and seeds, even peanut or almond butter, warm spices like cinnamon, star anise and nutmeg and a touch of sweetness from brown sugar or maple syrup. You’ve got a new oatmeal flavour for every day of the winter and for every taste preference.

Chilly winter mornings are easily warmed by a steamy bowl of oats. Come spring, I crave a cooler breakfast but one that still offers so much flavour and enough energy to fuel my day. Knowing that fresh berries will be in season in just a few months, I look forward to layers of tart yogurt, sweet seasonal fruit and crunchy granola. The most delicious locally grown fruit deserves the best granola. And there’s nothing like your own homemade granola! It has a fresh, richer flavour and chewier texture that can’t be beat with any store-bought variety. Homemade versions easily trump store-bought varieties on flavour and with much less added sugar and fat. Whip up a batch on the weekend and you’ve got a healthy breakfast that you can feel good about and your tastebuds (and your family) will thank you for your efforts.

This recipe can easily be adjusted to suit your flavour cravings and whatever ingredients you have in your pantry. I usually make a batch of this granola in anticipation of the start of the summer farmer’s market, even though I know summer-fresh fruit is a still a month or two away.

granola in blue bowl with blue mat

Yummy Granola
Makes 7 cups

3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup hemp hearts
1/2 cup buckwheat groats
1/3 cup almond butter
1/4 cup honey
1 Tbsp olive oil or other vegetable oil
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon or cardamom
1/2 cup whole almonds
1/4 cup hazelnuts
3/4 cup dried fruit: I like to use a combination of 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots, 1/4 cup chopped dried cherries and 1/4 cup chopped dates
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 325°F.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, hemp hearts and buckwheat.
In a small saucepan, combine the almond butter, honey, oil and cinnamon or cardamom. Warm over medium heat, stirring often, until ingredients are well blended. Drizzle over the oat mixture and fold to thoroughly coat all the oats, hemp and buckwheat. Spread onto a large baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown, turning every 7-10 minutes. Place on a rack to cool completely.
Toast almonds and hazelnuts in preheated oven for 8-10 minutes. Cool slightly and chop coarsely.
Once cool, combine baked oat mixture, toasted nuts and dried fruit in a large bowl. Sprinkle with vanilla and toss to coat well. Transfer to an airtight container and enjoy within 2-3 weeks.
Serve this yummy granola with layers of yogurt and fresh fruit or with milk, soy, coconut or almond beverage. Even though this granola already has a little dried fruit, it’s scrumptious with fresh fruit as well.

granola crumble up close

granola crumble up close

The Fresh Sheet…Cilantro

cilantro chutney - cilantro sprig

I love cilantro. I find its earthy and slightly tart citrus flavour to be refreshing, with a hint of peppery finish. But it seems that people either have a love or hate relationship with cilantro. Take my sister for example, she thinks cilantro tastes like soap and can detect even the tiniest bit of cilantro in any dish she tries. This love-hate relationship is so facinating that scientists have conducted research to understand the strong aversion to cilantro! There seems to be a few genetic traits that are linked to our sense of smell. These genetic factors may make us more sensitive to the aldehyde chemicals that give cilantro it’s unique smell and flavour and may change our perception to dislike them.

But did you know you can change your tastebuds to enjoy new flavours that you once disliked? Adults are just like kids who need to be exposed to foods numerous times and in numerous different dishes before we will accept them. The more often we expose our smell and tastebuds to the same foods and a variety of different ones, the more we can change our perception of new and unique smells and flavours. So, perhaps give cilantro another try. A Japanese study suggests that crushing cilantro leaves allows the enzymes in the leaves to convert the aldehyde chemicals into other substances that do not have that unique aroma you might dislike. I recommend crushing cilantro leaves into a vibrantly coloured and delicious Cilantro Chutney.

cilantro chutney with limes 2

Richly coloured, Cilantro Chutney is a tasty way to brighten up party snacks or a pre-dinner nibble. It makes a flavourful dip for veggies, tortilla chips or toasted naan bread. I also enjoy it as a cooling condiment for spicy dishes, roasted vegetables, baked fries and as a dressing for salads. Try it instead of pesto tossed with pasta or roasted potatoes. For a savoury snack, I will often stir cilantro chutney into plain yogurt.

cilantro chutney with chips 2

Cilantro Chutney
This recipe comes from a fellow dietitian, Gerry Kasten, who loves food and cooking and is an inspiration to our profession.

Makes 1-1/2 cups

3 cups lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves, about 1 bunch
6 green onions, coarsely chopped
1 inch of fresh gingerroot, peeled and sliced
1 jalapeno, seeded and sliced into quarters
2 tsp granulated sugar
1-1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust the sugar and salt as needed. Cover and refrigerate or enjoy right away. Chutney will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days but is best enjoyed within a day or two.

cilantro chutney - empty bowls

From the Root Cellar: Carrot Apple Slaw

carrot apple salad

Getting ready for summer means eating up the winter fruit and vegetables you have in storage. I seem to have gone through all my frozen blueberries, blackberries and all my preserves. However, there always seems to be a carrot or two and the odd apple hanging around in my pantry – it’s not really surprising since both are widely available throughout the year. There are those days that I find myself gawking at those simple carrots and apples wondering what the heck do I do with them. The spring sunshine demands a fresh departure from the hearty, savoury dishes of months past; I need that burst of summer flavour that will inspire the rain clouds of April to disappear into the sunny days of the coming summer.

Slaws are a very traditional side dish and we usually remember them as creamy and rich and laden with cabbage. However, any combination of fruit and veggies works in a slaw form and a light vinaigrette is the perfect match for the energizing freshness of spring.

This recipe can easily add colour and flavour to dinner or fit into your lunchbox. I also enjoy it for an afternoon snack when the rain is pouring down and I’m trying to convince myself to get out for a walk. It’s natural sweetness makes it a hit with the kiddies too.

carrot and apple salad - close up

Carrot Slaw
Makes 4 servings

2 medium carrots, peeled and grated (about 2 cups)
1 apple, unpeeled and grated (about 1 cup)
squeeze of lemon juice
2 tbsp orange juice
1 tsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh mint or parsley, chopped

Toss grated apple with a squeeze of lemon juice to prevent browning. In a bowl, toss grated carrot and apple together. Cover tightly with plastic wrap to prevent further browning if not serving right away.
In a small bowl, combine orange juice and red wine vinegar. Slowly whisk in oil until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Drizzle over carrots and apple and toss until well mixed. Add parsley or mint and toss to combine.
This sweet slaw is perfect for lunches, an afternoon snack or with dinner. If life is extra busy, simple toss grated carrot and apple with freshly squeezed orange juice and some chopped fresh mint for a super quick slaw.

The Fresh Sheet…Birch Syrup

birch syrup with spoon

The celebration of a cold Canadian winter is never complete without tire d’érable, aka maple taffy on the snow at the Cabane à Sucre festival. Sweet maple syrup is boiled down into maple taffy and a steaming strip is poured over a bed of snow and then rolled up onto a stick for sweet licking. I like to call this delicious treat the true Canadian lollipop. I have fond memories of celebrating this tradition with our French Canadian friends in Kamloops.

A couple of years ago, we learned that some folks up in Quesnel were tapping birch trees and boiling the sap down into birch syrup. Not quite as sweet as maple syrup but the birch trees still dripped a scrumptious sap that is worth the hard work to boil it down into a sugary treat. Hiking in the forest behind our cabin we discovered a peaceful grove of birch trees. It sparked our interest to try making our own birch syrup. So, we packed up a backpack full of empty containers, a drill and some taps and headed out on our adventure.

As you can imagine, we didn’t really strike syrupy gold the first time we tapped the trees. It took a few tries and some learnings before we got a tasty batch we were proud to showoff. We quickly learned that you need to extract a lot of sap to make a small jar of birch syrup. You need about 80 to 100 litres of birch sap to make just 1 litre of birch syrup (maple syrup is about a forty to one ratio). Even so, it made for a fun adventure hiking up to the birch grove each day over a long weekend to empty our buckets and revel in how much sap dripped out of the trees.

birch sap

Straight from the tree, birch sap looks just like water. I enjoyed taking a couple of gulps right from the tree spout. It was refreshing like water with a hint of sweetness. We couldn’t wait to boil it down into sweet syrup. Three days of harvesting the sap and a few more boiling it down in our backyard to a gorgeous amber colour, birch syrup has a unique caramel-like flavour. We’ve enjoyed a quick sip of birch syrup when we crave a sweet treat or a few more spoonfuls drizzled on ice cream. We do look forward to cooking a few of our favourite recipes with our homemade birch syrup.

birch syrup in jars

You can find Sweet Tree Ventures Birch Syrup at Edible Canada on Granville Island or from the Sweet Tree Ventures website.

A Bite of Spring: Mini Lemon Curd Cheesecakes

lemon curd 2
It’s finally starting to feel like spring. The sun does more than just peek through the clouds. You enjoy and curse the birds churping way too early in the morning. You dress in layers to stay warm in the chilly shade, yet take off the coat to soak up the warmth of the sunny afternoon. It’s time to come out of hibernation. Spring has this amazing ability to get our engines revving and inspire renewed fervor to tackle life.

Being food lovers, Desiree and I were chatting the other day about how spring also has this ability to tantalize our tastebuds to shift from the comforts of hearty winter to  colourful and lighter fare. We desire the fresh flavours of sunshine and start dreaming of home grown delights from the garden. While we’re still a ways away from enjoying the rich flavours of locally grown produce, we like to indulge in seasonal fare from afar, mainly citrus fruits. At this time of year, we love to whip up a batch of lemon curd to fill in the gap until we can enjoy local berries. It’s fresh, fruity and so delicious. We like it stirred into plain yogurt, drizzled on granola or just eaten by the spoonful. It’s also scrumptious with frozen berries, spread on freshly baked scones and paired with cheese and bread. There are so many delicious ways to enjoy lemon curd.

For a treat during an evening with my girlfriends, I decided to swirl lemon curd into mini cheesecakes. It received an A+ and many requests for the recipe. I’ve made a few batches since and they seem to disappear more quickly than I can make them. Mini cheesecakes are quicker and easier to make than a full cheesecake and make bite-size treats perfect for any party, holiday celebration or tea with friends. Even lemon curd is super easy to make. I like to use another Heather’s (if it’s made by a Heather, it’s gotta be good!) lemon curd recipe from Missing Goat Farm. You can even make it in the microwave in under 5 minutes. Yes, that’s right: the microwave! Here’s the recipe from My Baking Addiction.

lemons in green bowl (juiced) 2

lemon curd cheesecake - no muffin liner

Mini Lemon Curd Cheesecakes
Makes 12 mini cheesecakes

crust
3/4 cup almonds
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
1-1/2 Tbsp melted butter

filling
8 oz/225 g cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup lemon curd

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a regular muffin tin with muffin liners.
Place almonds in a food processor and pulse until almonds are mostly ground. If you prefer, you can substitute 1 cup of almond meal in place of grinding your own whole almonds. I like to grind the whole natural almonds for the coarser crumb and for the extra flavour from their skin. Transfer ground almonds to a bowl and stir in sugar and ground ginger. Stir in the melted butter until the ground almond mixture is moist.
Place a spoonful of the almond mixture into each of the muffin liners. Use your fingers or the back of a spoon to pack down the crust. Pop them in the oven for 5-6 minutes to bake the crust.
In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the cream cheese with the sugar until well combined and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Divide cheesecake filling among the muffin cups. Add a dollop of lemon curd and use a knife to swirl the lemon curd into the cheesecake filling.
Bake for 15-18 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Refrigerate until ready to enjoy. Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving to allow cheesecakes to come to room temperature. (They taste even more delicious this way.) You can serve the cheesecakes with additional lemon curd if you like.

lemon curd cheesecake - lemons

Gluten Free? Be Grain Aware: Buckwheat Crackers (Plus a Contest!)

buckwheat crackers - close up

It’s no surprise that the most common question we’ve been asked this month is all about the gluten-free diet: “Is it healthy?” “Should I start following a gluten-free diet?” “Is wheat really that unhealthy for me?”

Let’s start from the beginning. One of the key principles of a healthy diet is enjoying a wide variety of different foods – we can’t get all of the nutrients we need from a single food or food group. From a safety standpoint, eating just a single food from any food group may also pose harm and, when it comes to your taste buds, enjoying a variety of healthy foods beats boredom. So, yes eating mostly wheat 6 times a day – especially in its most processed form – is not considered healthy.

In the North American diet, we might eat wheat cereal or a wheat muffin for breakfast; munch a wheat bread sandwich for lunch; wheat crackers for a snack and wheat pasta for dinner with wheat garlic toast. Wow! I’d say that’s a lot of wheat. And that’s just the obvious wheat sources. What you might not know is that many common pre-made and packaged products, everything from salad dressings to flavoured rice dishes, also have wheat added. When you add it all up, there’s almost no variety in our grain choices.

To add insult to injury, we almost always choose the most processed form of wheat: white pasta, white bread, white goodies, white baked goods, etc. I’m sure you’ve heard the rumours: white just doesn’t cut it when it comes to nutrition and health. White grains have had their nutritious bran and germ removed from the whole grain kernel, also removing essential vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytochemicals. You’re missing out on a whole lot when you choose white over whole grain.

What about our typical portion sizes of these nutritional zeros? They’re huge! It’s just too much white flour for our bodies to deal with.

Unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance (perhaps 10% of us, according to some recent data), there’s no need to follow a strict gluten-free diet.

However, for good health, it is essential to:
1. Upgrade to truly whole grain wheat (think wheat berries, sprouted grain bread, 100% whole grain pasta etc.).
2. Eat a variety of different grains including gluten-free grains, so you’re not eating wheat 6 times a day. Hello barley, rye and buckwheat!
3. Be aware of your portion sizes. This isn’t your last meal ever! If you are hungry later, you can have more.

Our collective taste buds are accustomed to the mild flavour of white wheat. Rather than making major changes overnight, give your taste buds a little time to adjust to the richer flavour of whole grains. Start with half white and half whole grain if you need to. Upgrading slowly will give your taste buds some time to adjust to the new flavour of whole grains and make it easier for you to make changes that lead to longterm habits. This works well with homemade baked goods like muffins, pasta, 60% whole wheat bread, light rye bread or a combo of white and wild rice. You can also combine a few different grains like quinoa, rice, millet, barley and buckwheat to create a tasty alternative to rice. Grain mixes like this are also more readily available at the grocery store.

We’ve created a nutty whole grain cracker that uses the whole buckwheat groat or kernel. Buckwheat, despite the name, has nothing to do with wheat and is actually a seed – not a grain. These crackers are fairly easy to make and perfect for everyday eating or to wow your guests at a party. It’s naturally gluten-free but versatile, so you can make it with half all-purpose wheat flour and half buckwheat flour if you’re just starting to get to know whole grains.

buckwheat crackers - rosemary

Rosemary Buckwheat Crackers

1 cup buckwheat groats
1/2 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 Tbsp fresh rosemary, finely minced
3/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp water

buckwheat crackers - asiago

Asiago Buckwheat Crackers

1 cup buckwheat groats
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/4 cup Asiago cheese, finely grated
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp water

Preheat oven to 375°F.
In a food processor, grind buckwheat groats to a fine texture. Some coarse pieces in the flour are fine. One cup of buckwheat groats will make 1 cup + 2 Tbsp of flour. Measure 1 cup of flour for the crackers and save the remaining 2 Tbsp for dusting and rolling.

Place 1 cup of the ground buckwheat groats in a large bowl. Stir in baking powder, salt and spices to mix well. Stir in cheese if making the Asiago crackers.

Pour in the oil and stir until well combined. Add water and stir until the dough comes together. The dough will be moist.

Flour hands, rolling-pin and counter. Split dough in two pieces. Pat down one piece of dough using your hands into a square shape. Roll to 1/4 inch thickness using a rolling-pin. Cut dough into 2 inch squares or rectangle shapes using a ravioli cutter, knife or bench scraper. Transfer crackers to a parchment lined baking sheet using a spatula or bench scraper. Repeat with remaining piece of dough.

Bake for 12-14 minutes or until just starting to brown on the edges. Store in an airtight container or cookie jar for 2 weeks….if they last that long!

Both recipes will make about 30 crackers.

Our First Contest of 2013!

To help ring in the New Year, we want to connect with you on our Facebook Page! It’s the easy way to stay connected to everything we are doing on the blog. We have a whole grains gift basket to give away (within North America only) to everyone who likes our Facebook page by February 1st.

Thanks to the Healthy Grains Institute for providing some goodies for the gift basket. The Healthy Grains Institute did not compensate us for this post or have input into the content…they just generously provided some treats for you!