Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Moroccan Lentil and Rice Soup

Whoever ordered winter can quit it! Thankfully, this Moroccan Lentil and Rice Soup is a perfect way to thaw out after shoveling, building snowmen or tobogganing - packed with earthy lentils, brown rice and a medley of spices, it's a healthy and filling addition to your winter menu.

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So, we've hit the "dumping of snow on everything we love" part of the year. I know many people love this time - sledding, long walks, skiing and the like, but I am very much against anything that has the capacity to chill me to the bone (or flare my arthritis). So while my mom is outside making snow angels and towing the littles around on their little toboggans, I'm inside making a meal that will warm everyone up. 

This soup was inspired by my discovery of a large bag of lentils and a handful of rice I found in the pantry - both affordable staples for any household with almost unlimited potential which find their way into many a lunch. Having a bevy of spices from Selefina made picking a theme tough though - which part of the world do I travel? Ultimately I went with the savoury spice blend inspired by Morocco - one of my favourite locations to travel culinarily. From there, it was just a matter of assembling the rest of the soup - and discovering that I had a lot of stock on my hands for one pot, finding a second to split everything - and letting it simmer away while I studied for my Paralegal exam.

By lunchtime, the whole house was perfumed with the spice mix, and (having changed out of all the snow gear) mom was first in line for a taste - I'm not going to tell her I had first dibs! Everything melded perfectly after that long simmer, and no spice was dominant (which can be a problem with spice-heavy dishes). Like most soup, it was even better the next day!

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Dry January and February Made Simple with Jordan's Skinny Mixes

After a long overdue holiday season, where most of us were having larger groups, parties and other special events, we all need a bit of a reset. Dry January was started in the UK in 2012 as part of a public health initiative, and now millions of people around the world make the choice to abstain from wine, beer and liquor for the month. Making that small change not only helped the pocketbooks of participants - let's face it, alcohol is an expensive hobby - but a study in BMJ Open found that those "who abstained from alcohol for 30 days slept better, had more energy, and lost weight" as well as lower blood pressure, cholesterol and cancer-related proteins in their blood.(link).

 Dry January not only impacts your health habits for the first 31 days of the year though - the above mentioned benefits were shown to continue due to the fact participants had changed their alcohol consumption patterns. Given that the rough estimate of the amount of time needed to break a habit is 28 days, this isn't surprising! In Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society keeps the momentum going with Dry February, which combines alcohol abstinence with fundraising for cancer research.

Sounds great, right? But what about the birthdays, get togethers, game nights.... all those social events that inevitably happen? Harvard Medical School has some pointers:

  • Find a substitute non-alcoholic drink. For social situations, or when you crave a cocktail after a long day, reach for alcohol-free beverages like sparkling water, soda, or virgin beverages (non-alcoholic versions of alcoholic drinks.)
  • Avoid temptations. Keep alcohol out of your house. When you are invited to someone’s home, bring your non-alcoholic drinks with you.
  • Create a support group. Let friends and family know about your intentions and encourage them to keep you accountable. Better yet, enlist someone to do the challenge with you.
  • Use the Try Dry app. This free app helps you track your drinking, set personal goals, and offers motivational information like calories and money saved from not drinking. It’s aimed at cutting back on or cutting out alcohol, depending on your choices.
  • Don’t give up. If you slip up, don't feel guilty. Just begin again the next day.

 

Jordan's Skinny Mixes is making that first suggestion a little easier on everyone with their great lines of syrups and flavour infusions - from Cherry, to Meyer Lemon and Raspberry (my favourite!) and very unique Strawberry Rose, Mermaid and Unicorn flavours, mocktails take on a whole new life. I love using the Cherry Limeade Flavor Burst in my water when I need incentive to drink more - it's the perfect mix of sweet and tart.

Sugar free, with options for naturally sweetened and Keto syrups with added MCT, there is something for everyone. If sweet coffee your thing but trying to cut back on drinking your calories? Check out their vanilla, hazelnut or mocha syrups with zero calories and all the flavour!

 

Check out more: https://www.skinnymixes.com/

Need inspiration? Try these recipes from Jordan's:

Sober Mermaid:


Not So Spiked Raspberry Lemonade:


Cherry Limeade:


Shirley Temple:

  • 8 ounces of diet ginger ale

  • Sugar Free Cherry Syrup - tablespoon, build up the flavor as desired.

  • Maraschino cherries - garnish 

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (That Don't Suck)

A perfectly chewy oatmeal raisin cookie (that doesn't suck) is a thing of beauty. Raisins soaked overnight, coupled with 24 hours in the fridge to let the grains hydrate and a stint in the freezer to help the cookies keep their shape all go into making each bite a treat.

Don't be scared off by the time commitment! Since these freeze really well, I like to make a double batch at a time and bake as needed. For an extra treat, try soaking the raisins in butterscotch schnapps!

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There are two kinds of people in this world - the kind who see an oatmeal cookie and groan, or the kind that see one and immediately want it. This gets even more divisive when the cookie has "bits" in it. I know I'm not the only one who eagerly bit into an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie and was immediately confronted with burnt, crunchy raisins! 

That said, oatmeal raisin cookies can and should be delicious - with the right treatment. I have a few oatmeal cookie lovers in my life, and since I'm putting together Christmas care packages I knew these would be one of the offerings I'd include. I settled on a tried and true recipe from Elise at Simply Recipes as my base, and (as I am want to do) made a few tweaks to suit the people I'd be giving the cookies to as well as what I had on hand.

Perfecting the bake on these was the difficult part - freshly made dough led to insane spread on the cookie sheet, burning on the edges while still remaining raw in the middle. Refrigerating it helped the spread a bit, but we still had the raw middle issue. Finally, I froze the scooped cookie dough, then baked it at a lower temperature for a bit longer.

That last step was magic - problem solved! The cookies still spread a little bit, but they don't burn, and while the centres still look gooey when they come out of the oven, once cooled they are perfectly baked. The results are chewy, sturdy enough to pack, and full of toasted oat flavour and pops of plump raisins. They're as good as the ones I remember from the cookie factory by my grandparents' house growing up, and a lot easier to obtain.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup

We are fully into soup season! This spicy, smoky Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup is the perfect way to use up leftover pumpkin and is hearty without cream.

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 Even though we've only had a brief dusting of snow here (which is long gone), the weather is brisk enough to run a chill up your spine. When I come in from errands or the gym, the only thing I want is something warm and filling - and this soup fits that bill perfectly!

Having stashed pucks of pumpkin puree left over from Halloween pumpkins (not the carved ones, mind you!) I had a jumping off point to work with. I wanted to make something spicy and smooth, but not heavy and rich with butter or cream. I saw a few recipes online about adding white beans to soup to make it creamier, which sounded like a solid plan - however, I only had black beans in the pantry and I was not about to go shopping again. 

That said, the black beans started me thinking about more smoky-spicy flavours, so I started putting together a spice blend with some of the offerings from Selefina Spices (they are my go-to now for fresh spices, and their sister companies Lardera Coffee and Adagio Teas provide me with all the hot and cold drinks I could want throughout the day). 

A quick deep dive of the freezer netted me bags of cherry tomatoes and zucchini as well, so in they went with vegetable stock, a diced onion and lots of garlic. An hour of slowly simmering brought the garlic to a mellow note throughout the mix, and it only took a short blitz with my immersion blender to bring everything to the perfect texture. Right out of the pot, it was up-front and personal with the smoky spiciness (which I love personally) and after sitting in the fridge overnight the flavours continued to blend, toning it down just a little bit. Paired with crusty bread, it was a perfect meal for the week.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Honey Gingerbread Cookies

It's never too early for gingerbread cookies, especially when it's the special request of a certain 5 year old! These soft and chewy cookies are made with brown sugar and honey with a hit of warm spices from @selefina.spices . Glazed with a simple icing sugar mix and topped with as many sprinkles as you like, they're a great after school snack.

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My niece and I love to get into the kitchen and bake once a week or so, and with the holidays fast approaching she has been asking for gingerbread. For the first time in probably a decade, I did not have any molasses on hand, so I took a leap and decided to try swapping honey in for it instead. The honey swap served two purposes - one, it was a liquid sweetener, so the properties of a liquid sweetener stayed the same (read: soft and tender cookies) and two, honey is sweeter than molasses so it made the cookies a little less bitter and spicy than standard gingerbread.

Speaking of spices, I had access to some super-fresh, fragrant ones from Selefina Spices - including whole nutmeg. My niece got to smell what they really are supposed to smell like, compared to the spices we have in the pantry which are maybe a year or two old, if not older. The learning continued with the exploration of what nutmeg is and what it looks like inside, which is honestly such a beautiful picture:


Ever wondered where nutmeg comes from? It's actually a seed from an evergreen tree called Myristica fragrans! Whole, nutmeg is pretty boring in appearance - it looks like a small Walnut- but once you grate into  it a beautiful pattern emerges! My niece says it looks like a brain! Thank you again to Selefina Spices for this beautiful spice!
 

Making the dough was also a learning experience in measuring by weight, how flaxseed soaks up water, and how butter beaten with sugar can turn it into something really fluffy. The hardest part was waiting for them to cool enough to glaze and decorate - the above cookies got the liberal sprinkle treatment from the 5 year old, and more than a handful of sprinkles disappeared into her mouth in the process! 

 Even if you aren't making these as a teachable moment, you can't go wrong with these cookies - they are tender, chewy and just spicy enough, and are just as good plain as they are decorated in the manner of your choosing. They also hold their shape beautifully when baking, which is a huge perk if you're going for presentation!