Quinoa Recipe – Greek Quinoa Salad

gluten free greek salad

Quinoa is a very “in” food at the moment.  Everywhere I look, I see quinoa.  I see quinoa recipes all over the net.  I see it on the dinner plate of friends and family.  It is even present at the salad bar in my building’s cafeteria.  Quinoa has definitely hit the mainstream.

As part of my goal to eat more whole grains and a greater variety of whole grains, this winter I decided it was time to give quinoa a try.  My favorite result so far is this Greek Quinoa Salad.

Although quinoa is new to me, it is in fact a very ancient food.  It was domesticated in the South American Andes 3,000 to 4,000 years ago and became a staple in the diet of people of that region.

ancient grains quinoa

Quinoa is treated as a grain and is often ground into flour.  Despite this, it is a seed, not a grain.  The quinoa plant is closely related to beets, spinach and Swiss chard.

One of quinoa’s most interesting nutritional values is its protein content.  Quinoa is higher in protein than most cereals, although not as high as beans and legumes.  Unlike most cereals, quinoa has complete protein, as it contains all essential amino acids.  It is also a source of iron and of several B vitamins.

So far I’ve been using quinoa in salads.  I’ve been trying out different types of grain salads and legume salads to include in our lunches.  At work Greg does not have access to a refrigerator or a microwave.  What he brings needs to be safe for consumption if only cooled with a small ice pack. It must also taste good eaten cool or at room temperature.  This Greek quinoa salad fits the bill, and tastes great too.

As a bonus, this salad is gluten-free.  Neither Greg nor I have issues with gluten, but my sister and her two children are both gluten intolerant.  This Greek quinoa salad can make an appearance at family gatherings (we always share the responsibility of bringing food) and everyone can partake.  It’s also a great substitute for a Greek pasta salad to bring to potlucks, especially if you don’t know what food sensitivities others might have.

Greek Vinaigrette

vinaigrette recipe lemon garlic

I love the fresh flavours of Greek vinaigrette.  It feeds my obsession with fresh herbs and garlic, and the lemon brightens the flavour.  Greg also enjoys Greek salad, so this is a win-win.

Greek Quinoa Salad rceipe with vinaigrette

I’ve also discovered a new product recently that I love in this vinaigrette.  It’s part of the President’s Choice (PC) Black Label collection.  It’s a grape condiment that I am using in the place of red wine vinegar. It is called Lambrusco Grape Condiment. I find it smoother and sweeter than red wine vinegar.  If you are able to find this product, I recommend that you give it a try.  If you don’t have access to this product, red wine vinegar absolutely works too.

 

Recipe:  Greek Quinoa Salad

Greek Vinaigrette – makes about ½ cup

recipe greek quinoa salad

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons PC Lambrusco grape condiment or red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 large clove garlic (or 2 small cloves), chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped (or ½ teaspoon dried)
  • ½ tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped (or ½ teaspoon dried)
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste

Directions

  • Put all ingredients in small bowl and whisk well.

 

Greek Quinoa Salad – makes 2 meal or 4 side servings

kalamata olives feta cheese sundried tomatoes quinoa

Ingredients

  • ½ cup quinoa, uncooked
  • 1 cup water
  • Greek vinaigrette to taste (recipe above)
  • 1/3 cup sliced Kalamata olives
  • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • ¼ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes (I prefer the taste of those packed in oil)
  • 2” piece English cucumber, chopped

Directions

  • Place quinoa in fine mesh strainer and rinse under cool water, rubbing quinoa together. This is to remove any remaining saponins in the quinoa, which creates a bitter taste.
  • Bring one cup water to a boil in a pot with a lid. Add quinoa to water and return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand for 15 minutes, keeping pot covered.
  • Fluff quinoa and add it to a medium size bowl. Add Greek vinaigrette and stir to coat quinoa.
  • Add Kalamata olives, feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and cucumber. Toss salad to mix ingredients.
  • Refrigerate to 30 to 45 minutes. Serve and enjoy.

 

Have you discovered quinoa?  If so, what is your favorite quinoa dish?

 

This recipe is sharing some love at these parties:  Create & Share, Let’s Get Real

7 Reasons I Workout

Reasons I workoutMost of my life I have been an active person.  I love to hike and kayak, I have taken martial arts classes, and for several years I walked or biked to work about six months of the year.  In 2005 Greg and I moved to a small town and I stopped doing many of these activities.  At one point, I definitely turned into a couch potato.

Several years ago, when I had my annual physical, I had some disturbing results.  My blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels were all great, as expected.  But one thing was very out of whack.  I had done a lung capacity test, and the results were not good.  Even though I was in my late thirties, my results indicated that my lung age was 51. What? I’ve never been a smoker, how could this be?

This news was particularly upsetting because my father has lung disease.  Not only was he a heavy smoker for 35 years, but he was frequently exposed to asbestos in his workplace back in the fifties.  Seeing my dad suffer with his much diminished lung capacity has been difficult. He is not able to do small things, like bring the recycling bin to the end of the driveway, without laboured breathing and breaking out into a sweat.

My doctor told me that inactivity was the main cause for my poor lung capacity.  He recommended that I exercise regularly. You would think that would be the kick in the pants I needed to start living an active lifestyle again.  In reality, life was pretty challenging for me at that time and I couldn’t find the energy to do it.  This is ironic as the lack of energy would never be solved by remaining a couch potato.  I did what I could, small things like taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator (my office is on the sixth floor) and going for walks a couple of times a week.

workout strength trainingGreg tried unsuccessfully to motivate me to take an exercise class or join a gym.   He was working out regularly, participating in several sports and going to the gym.

A couple of years ago I finally made the decision to join a gym.  I joined because I wanted to feel better.  I opted to participate in group exercise classes rather than workout with the machines.  I wasn’t very good about going regularly, but going once a week was better than not going at all.

A couple of months ago, I finally made the commitment to myself to go three times a week.  For the most part I’ve been able to do this and I feel pretty good about it.

fitness class

Photo by Ed Yourton via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence

Why do I work out regularly?

  1. For my health. Despite the fact that I’m skinny, thin, petite, being a couch potato is just not good for me. My lung capacity test results certainly demonstrated that being thin does not necessarily mean being healthy. Regular exercise helps combat several diseases, including heart disease and arthritis. My mother has arthritis. Seeing her suffering, arthritis is a disease I want to avoid. My father also has heart disease, which increases my risk, making it even more important for me to reduce the risk factors that are within my control, such as regular exercise.

     

  2. To have more energy. It can seem counterintuitive, but expending all that energy doing vigorous exercise actually improves my overall energy level. Even though I’m spending more time at the gym than I was last year, I’m actually able to get more done at home each week. This is due to my increased energy level.

     

  3. As an outlet for stress. My life is stressful. Heck, whose isn’t? Regular workouts help relieve my stress. It helps with the tension that I carry in my neck, shoulders and back (pretty common among those who work at a computer all day). It also helps mentally as there is something very satisfying about giving it your all during a 60 minute class and testing your limits.

     

  4. To feel stronger. Yes, I know that being able to do planks or push-ups from my toes doesn’t have a real world application. But feeling stronger makes me more confident. Having confidence is always a good thing.

     

  5. So that my muscles hurt less. When I was working out only once a week, the recovery time for my muscles was two to three days. I hated being sore for days after each workout. It decreased my motivation to workout. Working out three times a week has improved that. My muscles hurt a lot less after each workout.

     

    health and fitness exercise

    Photo by Jasmine Kaloudis by CC BY-ND 2.0 licence

  6. It gives me a reason to focus on me. During a workout, the focus is all me. I pay attention to my movements, to how my muscles feel and I focus on my breathing. While working out, I never think about my to-do list or to the challenges at work. It’s all about me for those 60 minutes.

     

  7. It makes me feel good. I’ve discovered that exercise can be fun. It also puts me in a good mood. At the end of a class, I feel really good and ready to take on a variety of challenges.

 

I workout for me.  For how it makes me feel.  For how it makes me healthier.  For how it makes my life better.  The bonus?  If my life is better, it’s better for the people around me.  So everyone wins.  But I do it for myself.  I can’t do it for anyone else.

Why do you workout?

Vegetable Recipe: Garlic Rosemary Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Garlic Rosemary Sweet Potatoes

I hated potatoes for a long time. I know, you think hate is pretty strong for innocuous potatoes. I hated them because I grew up eating boiled potatoes for dinner. every.single.day. If you’ve had boiled potatoes, you understand. If you haven’t, don’t do it. Why were we eating boiled potatoes? For reasons I still do not understand, my father loves them. So do several of his siblings. As a result, my sisters and several of my cousins have had a lifelong hate-affair with potatoes.

My hatred of potatoes meant that for the first 10 years or so of my adulthood, I never bought potatoes. Ever. Eventually I discovered that potatoes can be good if prepared differently. Pretty much any way other than boiled.

vegetable recipe roasted sweet potatoesRoasted potatoes are my favorite, and I often prepare them that way. A few years ago, I decided to add sweet potatoes to the mix. I washed and peeled them, cubed them up and added them to my regular potatoes for roasting. It was a hit. I like the sweet potatoes even more than regular potatoes. Sweet potatoes have more nutrients in them too, with lots of beta-carotene, so that’s a bonus. They even count as an orange vegetable according to the Canada Food Guide, which recommends eating at least one orange and one dark green vegetable each day.

If sweet potatoes are new to you, treat them like you would regular potatoes. They can be roasted, mashed or baked. They have more flavour than regular potatoes, and are much sweeter. They do live up to their name. They are sometimes even used to make pie.

vegetable sweet potatoI love garlic and rosemary so I add some to the sweet potatoes when roasting to enhance the wonderful flavour of this vegetable. Sweet potatoes will not become as crispy as regular potatoes when roasted. They will brown and caramelize a little, bringing out even more natural flavour.

If the skin on the sweet potatoes is relatively thin, I don’t peel them. I only peel them when the skin is thick and tough and sort of resembles bark.

 

Recipe: Garlic Rosemary Roasted Sweet Potatoes

veggies side dish

Ingredients

  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1.5 pounds (675 g) sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 ½” cubes (about 3 sweet potatoes)

Directions

  • Pre-heat oven to 425 F if using regular oven (390 F if using convection oven)
  • Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Add chopped garlic, rosemary and salt to a large mixing bowl. Add olive oil. Mix well.
  • Add sweet potatoes and stir to coat evenly in olive oil mixture.
  • Spread sweet potatoes on baking sheet, ensuring they are in a single layer. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, turning the potatoes once half way through cooking time.

 

This recipe is sharing some love at Show Stopper Saturday, Saturday Night Fever, Saturday Show-licious, Sweet and Savory Sundays, Marvelous Mondays, Create and Share and Wake Up Wednesdays.

The Spice Route: Ginger

spices whole gingerGinger is a relatively new addition to my panty. I was first introduced to cooking with fresh ginger about 12 years ago, with this Teriyaki Pork Tenderloin recipe from my sister. I liked the bold flavour of the ginger but I didn’t have other recipes that called for it. It’s only in the past three years, as I started to truly cook from scratch that ginger has become a staple in my kitchen.

History of Ginger

Zingiber officinale Ginger is the bulbous root of the plant Zingiber officinale . Although new to me, ginger has been used in cooking for millennia. It has been used for so long, in fact, that the origins of the plant, while believed to be in Southeast Asia where it is a staple, are not truly known.

Ginger was first introduced to Europe by Romans about 2000 years ago. Its popularity grew, and in the 13th and 14th century, only pepper was more commonly used. This despite ginger’s high cost. In 16th century England, a pound of ginger was worth as much as one sheep. I love ginger, but I wouldn’t pay that much for it!

Ginger was first grown in the West in Jamaica, starting in 1585. It was introduced by Spanish explorers. Today ginger is grown in many tropical and sub-tropical locations around the world. India is currently the world’s largest producer, with about 30% of global production.

Cooking with Ginger

One of the great things about ginger is its versatility. This spice works in both savory and sweet dishes. Southeast Asian dishes typically exploit the savory side of ginger, using it in stir-fries, curries and more. It plays on the sweet side in Western cuisine like in traditional gingerbread and ginger ale. I like both.

This pasta sauce and these pork kebabs just wouldn’t be the same without the spiciness of ginger. The flavours in these orange zucchini muffins with chocolate chips perk up nicely thanks to the fresh ginger. And these orange-blueberry muffins? I was right. One tablespoon of minced fresh ginger makes them even better than my original version.

Selecting and Storing Ginger

Ginger is available in several forms: fresh, candied, ground, dried and pickled.

powdered ginger, fresh ginger, candied ginger

Different forms of ginger - left, ground ginger; back, fresh ginger; right, crystalised or candied ginger

I most often use fresh ginger. It is widely available in mainstream supermarkets. Most of the fresh ginger we use is mature ginger, which requires peeling.

When selecting fresh ginger, make sure it is firm, smooth and has no mold. Place it in a ziploc bag and store it in the vegetable crisper in your fridge. It should last a couple of months. Alternately, you can store it in the freezer for about six months.

Benefits of Ginger

Ginger doesn’t just taste good, it seems to have some helpful medicinal properties too. Ginger helps calm upset stomachs, and helps with motion sickness and nausea. So I guess Mom was right when she gave me flat ginger ale to help with an upset stomach when I was a kid. There are less sugary ways to get those benefits from ginger, but Mom used what she had on hand.

Have you discovered the bold, spicy flavour of fresh ginger?

Vegetable Recipe: Roasted Green Beans with Goat Cheese

vegetables I spent years disliking hating green beans.  I didn’t like anything about them; not the texture, not the taste. A few years ago, I started roasting vegetables, and made a discovery. Roasted green beans are fabulous! Roasting them changes the flavour, making it mellower and a bit sweeter.

So, what is better than roasted green beans? Roasted green beans with goat cheese. I admit it, I love goat cheese. The tanginess and creaminess of goat cheese makes everything better, including green beans. I’ve also added a bit of balsamic vinegar for some acidity and some toasted pine nuts, which add a bit of crunch. The pine nuts are buttery and creamy and work really well with everything else, creating a perfect vegetable side dish.

Vegetable recipe roasted green beans with goat cheese

These roasted green beans with goat cheese now make a regular appearance on our dinner plate. I even planted green beans in my garden last year, so that I could have ultra-fresh beans to make this.

If you aren’t a big fan of green beans, try roasting them: the result might change your opinion. If you like green beans and haven’t had them roasted, you must try. It will make you love green beans even more.

Recipe: Roasted Green Beans with Goat Cheese

Makes 4 servings

Roasted Green Beans with Goat Cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 lb (454 g) green beans, trimmed
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) olive oil
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) balsamic vinegar
  • 1.5 ounces (45 g) goat cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) toasted pine nuts (see toasting instructions below)

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 425 F.
  • Place green beans in a single layer on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Drizzle the beans with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat.
  • Roast beans in the centre of the oven for 14 to 18 minutes, or until tender, turning them once.
  • Place roasted beans in a large serving bowl and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Add goat cheese and pine nuts. Serve and enjoy.

 

Toasting Pine Nuts

  • Preheat oven to 350 F.
  • Spread pine nuts on a rimmed tray, in a single layer.
  • Place in centre of oven for 5 minutes. Turn them once and toast for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden, making sure not to burn them.

 

This recipe is sharing some love at Show Stopper Saturday.

Healthy Eating: How to Easily Add More Fruits and Vegetables to Your Diet

Last week I discussed how eating more fruits and vegetables can be the starting point to healthy eating. Now I’ll share some tips that can help you find easy ways to make eating fruits and vegetables part of your routine.

fruits-veggies-healthy

I will start by identifying opportunities to include more fruits and vegetables in your daily routine. Then I will identify some obstacles to eating fruits and vegetables and explore ways to overcome them.

Opportunities to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

  • Have some fruit with breakfast, like a banana, an orange or some berries. Whole fruit packs more nutritional punch than juice, so aim for that.
  • Bring a fruit and some veggies in your lunch to eat at work. It’s easy to grab an apple, pear or a nectarine in the morning as you are getting ready. Also, carrots, bell pepper, or cucumber can be easy options for the veggie.

clip art paper bag

  • Serve at least one vegetable with dinner, regardless of what you are eating. If you don’t normally serve vegetables when you eat pasta, chili, tacos, or pizza, give it a try. You can make a salad, or serve some steamed broccoli or carrots or your favorite vegetable.
  • If you already serve a vegetable with dinner, add a second one. It could be a salad, or a roasted vegetable, or any vegetable you enjoy. It will add more variety to your dinner plate, and most people like variety.

Obstacles to Eating Fruits & Vegetables and Solutions

  • Obstacle: I forget to eat them
    • Solution: Make some of your fruits and vegetables more visible, to serve as a reminder to eat them.
      • Keep some fruit out in a bowl on the kitchen counter or table. Seeing fruit that is ready to eat can help you to remember to take some for your work lunch or when you are hungry for a snack and rustling around in the kitchen.
      • Keep a couple of vegetables (like baby carrots, broccoli or lettuce) in the main part of the fridge instead of the vegetable drawer. It will be more noticeable to you each time you open the fridge to get something.

bananas and oranges basket of fruit on display apples and oranges

  • Obstacle: I don’t have enough time in the morning to prepare vegetables for my lunch
    • Solution: Keep some vegetables on hand that are quick and easy to grab and go.
      • Buy bags of baby-cut carrots, so that you simply need to take some and put them in a baggie. Bell peppers are another option, as you can bring a whole one and slice it at lunch time.
      • Prepare a larger serving of vegetables with dinner the night before, so that there are leftovers that you can bring for lunch. Extra steamed broccoli can be eaten as a cold salad with the addition of a bit of balsamic vinaigrette. Beets with a bit of balsamic vinegar are also good cold.
      • When making salad for dinner, make extra for the next day. Don’t dress it in the salad bowl, do that on the individual plates. Undressed salad will keep well until at least the next day. Now you have some salad that you can bring to work for your lunch or you can serve it for dinner on the second day.

 

  • Obstacle: I skip lunch/don’t have time for lunch at work
    • Solution: Bring some fruit and vegetables anyway, and eat them as a morning and/or afternoon snack. They can be eaten during a 5 minute break, or while you are doing work at your desk.

 

  • Obstacle: I buy my lunch at work and there aren’t usually many vegetable options
    • Solution: Bring some fruits and vegetables to work with you anyway, and eat them when you take a morning or afternoon break.

 

Hopefully these tips and tricks will help make it easier for you to find opportunities to add more fruits and vegetables to your routine as they really can serve as the launch point to healthy eating habits.

assorted fresh vegetables

How do you incorporate fruits and vegetables into your daily food routine? What makes it challenging sometimes to do so?

Cooking with Fresh Herbs: Chicken with Blackberry Sauce

Chicken Recipe Chicken with Blackberry Sauce

This chicken dish has become one of my favorites. There are several reasons for that. One of them is Greg’s reaction the first time I made it. He came into the house when I was almost done cooking, and excitedly exclaimed “It smells like a restaurant in here!” It was a compliment. And it was true. The shallots and fresh rosemary used in the blackberry sauce were really fragrant and made the food smell very appetizing. As this was early into my journey of cooking from scratch instead of making, uh, heating up, processed food, these wonderful smells were pretty uncommon in our kitchen.

Sprig of fresh rosemary - photo by Fir0002

Sprig of fresh rosemary – photo by Fir0002

I think a second reason I like this chicken with blackberry sauce so much is that this dish is what first introduced me to using fresh herbs. The recipe, which is from the August/September 2011 issue of Clean Eating magazine, calls for fresh rosemary. So off to the store I went, in search of fresh rosemary. It was easy to find, and I discovered that I like rosemary. The only problem was that the amount of rosemary in the package was far more than needed in the recipe. Not liking to waste food, I had to find other uses for it. My first success was combining it with garlic to make roasted potatoes. It didn’t take too long to figure out how to use this wonderful fresh rosemary, and then to move on to using other fresh herbs, like sage, dill and thyme.

Fresh herbs bring such vibrant flavour to my food that they have become a necessity in my kitchen. So much so that at this time last year I decided I would have to create a herb garden. Once I thought about it, I decided that if I was going to get Greg to dig up a garden for me, I might as well make it big enough to plant some vegetables too. Last year’s garden was a success. I had fresh herbs from the garden from late May until late November. It’s now late March, and I keep looking out the back window, feeling despair as I see my garden, still buried under several feet of snow. It feels like winter may never end this year. I want spring to arrive, so that I can plant again, and have the ability to go pick the herbs I need to prepare tonight’s dinner.

So you see, this chicken with blackberry sauce isn’t just a meal the family enjoys eating. It is also the reason I now have a herb and a vegetable garden.

This recipe is simple and easy to make. There are not very many ingredients, and only a bit of chopping for prep.

While making this dish, I learnt the technique of deglazing a pan. Deglazing is when you add liquid to the pan and scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom and they end up as a part of the sauce. Not only does it add flavour to a sauce, it also makes cleaning the pan quite easy.

Recipe: Chicken with Sautéed Blackberry Sauce

(recipe from Clean Eating magazine, August/September 2011 issue)

main dish idea chicken with blackberry sauce

Ingredients

  • 4 6-oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or 2  9- to 12-oz breasts cut in half)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/3 cup chopped shallots (1 large shallot)
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • ½ cup pomegranate juice*

Directions

  • Season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper.
  • In large skillet (not non-stick), heat oil on medium heat. Add chicken and cook, about 6-7 minutes per side, or until it is cooked through. If the skillet is not large enough for all the chicken breasts to fit with space between them, cook in batches. Once cooked, transfer the chicken to serving plates and let rest for 5 minutes.
  • While the chicken is resting, place the same skillet on medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook about 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Add rosemary and cook about 1 minute more, until shallots are tender.
  • Add the blackberries and pomegranate juice to the pan, deglazing the pan by scraping up browned bits from the bottom. Cook until the liquid is reduced to a thin layer, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
  • Top chicken with the blackberry sauce and serve.

* Note: If you don’t have pomegranate juice, you can substitute a half/half mix of cranberry and orange juice. Don’t go with just cranberry juice as the result is just a bit too tart.