April 16, 2014

Greek Pasta Salad with Tofu Feta


With the Easter holiday coming up this weekend, normally I would be posting an Easter-themed recipe on my blog this week. But for some reason, my Easter inspiration just wasn't there this year - I couldn't come up with anything that hasn't already been done!

So if you're looking for a cute Easter idea, check out these peanut butter bunnies and raw cookie chicks that I made last year. Or if you're just here for the recipes, I've got a great pasta salad to share with you today!

I'm not typically a huge fan of pasta salad, as it can sometimes be a bit boring. For me, the keys to a memorable pasta salad are to add lots of veggies, some kind of protein, and a flavourful dressing - all of which are included in this recipe!

This dish is like a bulked-up Greek salad - besides the usual veggies that you would find in a Greek salad (tomatoes, cucumber, and peppers - I left out red onion based on personal preference), I added olives, artichokes, and capers for lots of salty, briny flavour, and rotini pasta to help soak up the dressing.


Instead of using traditional feta cheese, I decided to make "tofu feta". If you've never heard of this idea, you can mimic the flavour and texture of a salty cheese by marinating uncooked firm tofu in a dressing made with lots of lemon juice, miso, a bit of olive oil, and lots of herbs.

The tofu was actually my favourite part of this dish - I love the chewy texture and it really soaked up the marinade so it didn't just taste like bland tofu! I also loved how each bite was full of ingredients - the ratio of pasta to veggies was a bit skewed towards the veggie side, which is how I prefer my salads!

This makes a lot of pasta - enough to feed yourself for lunches for the week, or it would make a great potluck or BBQ dish to share with a group!



Greek Pasta Salad with Tofu Feta
Inspired by Katy's Kitchen; tofu adapted from Keepin' it Kind

Tofu
350g/12 oz package extra firm pressed tofu, drained and water squeezed out
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp white miso paste
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
Ground pepper

Salad
~450g dried pasta (I used rotini)
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
2 tomatoes, diced (I removed most of the seeds as I chopped)
1/2 an English cucumber, sliced into half-moons
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, sliced in half
6 oz jar of artichoke hearts, drained and chopped (*save the oil for the dressing)
2 tbsp capers, drained
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Dressing
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp oil (I used the oil from the jar of artichoke hearts, but you could use olive oil)
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
Salt and pepper


First, start marinating the tofu. If you don’t have already pressed tofu, press it between layers of paper towel with a heavy object on top for at least 15 minutes to remove excess water. Slice tofu into small cubes (about ½”). Whisk together the remaining ingredients to make the marinade. Place tofu slices in a shallow container and pour marinade over top. Let sit for at least 30 minutes, tossing occasionally to make sure all the tofu pieces get coated.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add pasta. Cook for length of time specified by package directions, then drain and rinse with cold water.

Meanwhile, prepare the veggies (green pepper, tomatoes, and cucumber) and place in a large bowl. Add the olives, artichokes, and capers. When the pasta is done, add it to the bowl as well.

Make the dressing by whisking all ingredients together. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour dressing over pasta salad and toss to mix.

Add tofu to the bowl, including any leftover marinade. Add parsley and toss well to mix.

Chill until serving time. 


Makes 4-6 servings.

April 11, 2014

Things I've Been Enjoying Lately

Happy Friday! Instead of posting a new recipe this week, I wanted to clear out some of the pictures I've been holding onto and share some of the things I've been eating and enjoying lately with you. Hope you enjoy this little taste of my life and I'll be back next week with a new recipe!


Coconut Products



Coconut is one of my favourite flavours, so I tend to try a lot of coconut products! 

I got a bag of coconut cacao nibs for Christmas and it disappeared pretty quickly - I mostly add them to smoothies, but I've also used them as an oatmeal topping, as an addition to energy balls, and as a chocolate chip replacement in baked goods. I don't actually find that these taste like coconut, as they're just coated in coconut sugar, but they are tasty! 

I discovered the coconut spread from Earth Balance a while ago, and I love spreading it on toast or even cooking with it. I also found these toasted coconut flavoured almonds on my last visit to the US, and they make a great snack, or chopped and added to salads!



Toast



I've been hearing about toast being the new fad in the foodie world, but I've been enjoying it as a quick and easy meal for quite a while already! I recently found this hearty grains sliced bread that I think makes the perfect toast because it's still soft and fluffy but sturdy enough to hold lots of toppings. My favourite toast toppings are mashed avocado with lemon juice, or the coconut spread I mentioned above with sliced radishes, salt and pepper - or a combination of both as shown above!


Ice Cream



Now that the days are longer, the sun has come out, and temperatures are rising, I've already started to get back into my obsession of last summer - self-serve frozen yogurt (pictured above was a mix of caramel latte, white chocolate, and peanut butter flavours - yum!). I was also craving ice cream last weekend and the nearest ice cream shop was serving Kawartha Dairy products so I treated myself to this creamy orange and vanilla waffle cone - so good!


Smoothies

 

If I have time in the morning, I love to start my day with a smoothie. I'll usually stick with banana and almond milk, but sometimes I'll add instant coffee if I'm not in the mood for drinking a hot coffee. I've also been loving avocado smoothies - the next time you have a ripe avocado that you have no plans for, put it in the freezer and add it to a smoothie for extra creaminess! I also like to keep my smoothies nice and thick so that I can top them with granola and eat them with a spoon :)


Pineapple Pizza



I got to try a new wood fired pizza place (called Pie) a while ago that I wish would come to my own city because I wanted to try so many things on their menu! After much consideration, I finally decided on the St. Lucia pie, which came with pineapple and shredded coconut (I declined the bacon). The crust was thin and foldable, and I don't know why more pizza places don't offer coconut as a topping - I loved it!


Birthday Treats



I've celebrated a few friends' birthdays recently, and I always like the chance to make birthday treats! One of the treats I made was these peanut butter swirled black bean brownies from Minimalist Baker. I'm not much of a brownie person, but even I had a hard time staying away from these! I thought they had a nice texture and weren't too "healthy" tasting for a brownie.



It's been awhile since I've made a layer cake so I was nervous about this one, but luckily it came out perfectly! The cake was a simple vegan vanilla cake that I found on All Recipes, and I coated it with a basic buttercream frosting and some sliced strawberries on top. I thought the cake was nice and moist and I liked the dense crumb, and it went well served with extra strawberries and ice cream!



I also made these funfetti rice krispie squares for another friend's birthday this past month (there are plenty of recipes online, but I followed one from Sally's Baking Addiction). They have funfetti cake mix in them plus rainbow sprinkles, topped with a layer of chocolate glaze and more sprinkles! These were fun and easy to make and tasted good too!


St Patricks Day Potluck



In March, we had a St. Patrick's Day potluck, where we all had to bring in a green food. There were salads, dips, veggies and fruit, and some soda bread and Irish stew to go with the theme as well. My favourite dish was an avocado lime pie with oreo crust - I'll have to get the recipe! For my contribution, I made minty no-bake cheesecake cups layered with oreo crumbs and tinted green with some spinach. They didn't turn out quite how I was hoping so I'm not sharing the recipe, but I still liked them!


Sugar Bush



A couple of weeks ago, my family and I went on a tour of a sugar bush just north of the city. We took a horse drawn carriage ride around the area, learned about the different methods that have been used to make maple syrup in the past, and finished off the tour with a plate of giant pancakes served with three different types of local maple syrup. And of course I bought a bottle to take home too!


Thankfully the weather has warmed up since that weekend, and I'm hoping the sunshine and warm afternoons are here to stay! I'm already looking forward to being able to sit outside to read or eat lunch, and of course more frozen yogurt and frappuccinos!

Have a good weekend everyone!


April 01, 2014

Dirty Chai Breakfast Cookies


A chai latte has always been one of my favourite drinks to order at coffee shops, but most of the time when I go Starbucks or other places, I'm in need of a bit more of a caffeine kick so I end up ordering some kind of latte (for those of you in Canada, I recommend the new maple macchiato!).

For those times when you're craving a chai latte but also want a bit more caffeine, a "dirty chai" - chai latte with a shot of espresso - should do the trick!  Or if don't feel like going out to a coffee shop, you could make these cookies inspired by that drink (and by these caffeinated cookies from Healthy Food for Living) instead!


The original recipe was for healthier oat cookies with a dose of both brewed coffee and instant espresso in them. For my version, I used strong brewed chai tea for the liquid, with both instant chai and instant coffee added to the dry ingredients. And for even more chai flavour, I added some spices like cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and cardamom.

The first time I made these, I found them a bit too dry and not quite strong enough in the coffee flavour, so I adjusted the recipe a bit by reducing the flour and increasing the amount of coffee, and they came out just how I wanted - a soft and cakey cookie with a mix of both chai and coffee flavours!

I also replaced the oil with coconut oil and reduced the amount a bit to keep these cookies healthy enough to eat for breakfast, or any time of the day when you need a bit of an energy boost!


Dirty Chai Breakfast Cookies
Inspired by Healthy Food For Living

3/4 cup whole wheat flour 
1 cup rolled oats
1 tbsp instant coffee 
1 tsp dry chai mix powder (optional)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp allspice
Dash of cardamom
1/2 cup strong chai tea (I steeped one bag in ½ cup boiling water for about 5 minutes)
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
2 tbsp brown sugar 
2 tbsp melted coconut oil
1/2 tbsp ground flax
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp finely chopped dates (about 3 dates)
2 tbsp cacao nibs


Preheat oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour to cardamom).

In a separate bowl, stir together the chai tea, maple syrup, brown sugar, coconut oil, flax, and vanilla. Let cool a bit, then pour this mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Mix in the dates and cacao nibs.

Drop spoonfuls of the cookie mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and press down slightly to form a cookie shape. Since the dough will still be a bit warm (from the tea), place the baking sheet in the freezer for about 5 minutes so the cookies firm up. Bake in the preheated oven for about 12 minutes. Let sit on the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 12-13 cookies.



March 25, 2014

Roasted Beet, Carrot & Lentil Salad


Does anyone else feel like time is going by super quickly lately? I can't believe it's already near the end of March and I've only managed to write two blog posts this month!

Between schoolwork, spending time with family and friends, and going to classes at the gym, I've been keeping pretty busy and focusing less on developing new recipes. Instead, I've been trying more recipes from cookbooks or other blogs, and throwing together quick and easy meals using whatever I have in the fridge and pantry.

Last week, I picked up a can of lentils thinking I could just use them for another easy, throw-together meal. Taking a look at what I had in the fridge to use up though, I got a bit more inspired and came up with this delicious warm lentil and spinach salad topped with roasted beets and carrots.


The base of the salad was still pretty simple - just saute a bit of garlic, add a can of lentils to the pan to warm them up, and add in some baby spinach leaves so that they get slightly wilted. A sprinkle of toasted pumpkin seeds adds a bit of crunch, and a balsamic dressing brings it all together.

For the topping, I roasted some chopped beets and carrots with a bit of dried herbs, and then made a glaze with balsamic vinegar and maple syrup so the roasted veggies end up with a nice sweet and tangy caramelized coating.

This turned out to be one of those meals that seems simple and rustic, but with special touches that make it more memorable, like the boost of flavour from the balsamic vinegar and the sweet candy-like beets and carrots.

I always love warm salads like this one, but I'm excited to start eating more warm-weather meals with fresh veggies too (if the weather ever does warm up that is)!



Roasted Beet, Carrot & Lentil Salad
Partly adapted from Barbara Cooks

For the roasted veggies:
3 small beets, peeled and diced (about 1-1.5 cups)
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp dried herbs (I used a mix of dried parsley and thyme)
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp pure maple syrup

For the salad:
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1/2 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 can lentils, drained and rinsed
~3 cups (packed) baby spinach leaves

Dressing:
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 425°F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Toss the beets and carrots with 1 tsp olive oil, the herbs, and some salt and pepper, then place on the foil-lined baking sheet in a single layer. Roast in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, tossing once halfway through.

Meanwhile, start preparing the salad: Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pumpkin seeds and toast for a few minutes, until they start to pop. Transfer pumpkin seeds to a small bowl. Add olive oil to the pan, then add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds, until it starts to brown. Add the lentils to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Let cook for a few minutes, stirring often, until the lentils are heated through. Transfer lentils to a large bowl and add the toasted pumpkin seeds and the spinach leaves.

You can keep the pan heated on the stovetop because you will use it to glaze the veggies. When the beets and carrots are done cooking, add them to the pan over medium heat with the balsamic vinegar and maple syrup. Let cook, stirring often, until the liquid is almost gone. Remove from heat.

Prepare the dressing by whisking all ingredients together in a small bowl. Pour dressing over the lentil-spinach mixture in the bowl and toss to mix. Divide salad onto plates and top with the glazed beets and carrots. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired.  Serve warm.

Makes 2 main servings, or more as a side dish

March 12, 2014

Green Spinach Banana Muffins for St. Patrick's Day


With St. Patrick's Day coming up in less than a week, I've been trying to think of something green and festive to make for it. I don't usually celebrate the holiday itself in any special way (I think I've only gone out to an Irish pub once), but I do like to wear green at least! 

We're also doing a green-themed potluck in our office, so it should be fun to see what everyone comes up with! Last year I made pasta salad with a green avocado yogurt sauce, and this year I'm thinking of cucumber rollups (like these), but we'll see!


Besides the potluck, I wanted to share something green on my blog too. I figured that if blended spinach can make a green smoothie, why not use it in another breakfast food - healthy muffins! 

It turns out I'm not the only one to try this idea, and this recipe for popeye muffins from The Green Forks looked perfect for adapting into my own version. By pureeing baby spinach with the wet ingredients, you end up with a pretty intense green batter (see below) that actually keeps its colour after baking. 


To make my muffins a bit more nutritious, I reduced the sugar in the original recipe from 3/4 cup down to just 1/4 cup, since the recipe also uses a ripe banana to add some natural sweetness, and I replaced the oil with applesauce to make them fat-free. I also used a mix of spelt and whole wheat flours, added a flax egg, and mixed in some cacao nibs for a bit of chocolately crunch (chocolate chips would work really well too!). 

I loved the texture of these muffins - fluffy and moist inside, and they had a nice mild taste with a hint of banana. And if you're worried about the spinach, I couldn't really taste it (although I did detect a slight spinach smell by the second day). 

These would make a fun treat for St. Patrick's Day, or a healthy snack any time!



Spinach Banana Muffins
Adapted from The Green Forks

1 tbsp flax + 3 tbsp water
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup light spelt flour (or all purpose, or more whole wheat)
1/4 cup cane sugar (increase to 1/2 cup if you like a sweeter muffin)
2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 (5-6 oz) container baby spinach
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (1 large banana)
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce*
3/4 cup almond milk (or other non-dairy milk)
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp cacao nibs (can substitute desired amount of chocolate chips)

*Note: If you don't like the texture of fat-free baked goods, feel free to use oil instead of the applesauce. You can also make these less "healthy" tasting by increasing the sugar and adding chocolate chips!


Preheat oven to 350°F and prepare a 12-cup muffin tin by lining with paper cups and spraying with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, stir together the flax and water and let sit for at least five minutes to thicken.

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flours to salt). In a blender or food processor, add the spinach, banana, applesauce, milk, and vanilla and puree until smooth. Pour the spinach mixture into the dry ingredients and add the flax mixture. Stir gently just until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Fold in the cacao nibs.

Divide batter evenly into the muffin cups, filling each one about 2/3 full. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until the muffins feel firm on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let muffins sit in pan for a few minutes, then remove them from the pan and let cool on a wire rack.

Makes 12 small muffins.


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