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

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.

March 03, 2014

Vegan Pancake Recipes for Pancake Tuesday

In honour of one of my favourite traditions tomorrow, Pancake Tuesday, I thought I would share some pancake recipes that I've tried recently with you.

While I love pancakes - especially when they're topped with fruit and have interesting flavour combinations, I don't make them that often because I typically don't like to spend too much time on breakfast. That's why I like Pancake Tuesday - it gives me an excuse to make pancakes for dinner instead!

Whether you celebrate the holiday or not, hopefully you'll get a couple of new ideas for vegan pancake recipes from this post to add to your rotation!

Pancake Recipes I've Tried Recently

Peanut Butter Cookie Pancakes with Bananas

This past weekend I was craving some pancakes in anticipation of Pancake Tuesday, but since I didn't feel like going out to buy ingredients, I wanted a recipe that would make use of ingredients I already had. These peanut butter cookie pancakes from The Pancake Princess (a good source for more pancake recipes!) sounded perfect - vegan, minimal ingredients, and I could use my PB2 powder that I'm always looking for ways to use other than adding it to smoothies!

I wasn't sure how they would turn out by just adding ground flax to the batter instead of making a flax "egg", but they came out so fluffy and soft! I did change the original recipe a bit by using a mix of whole wheat pastry flour and light spelt flour so mine weren't gluten-free, and I also added a dash of cinnamon and increased the baking powder to 1 tsp.

Since I had a ripe banana, I followed the suggestion of topping my pancakes with sliced bananas, along with a quick and easy yogurt sauce that I whipped up instead of serving them with maple syrup (1/4 cup plain yogurt, 1 tbsp peanut butter, 2 tsp icing sugar). Filling and delicious!

Carrot Cake Pancakes

I had a chance to look through Isa Chandra Moscowitz's new cookbook Isa Does It recently, and the first recipe I tried from it were her carrot cake pancakes (recipe can also be found on her blog Post Punk Kitchen). With lots of spices and grated carrot added to the batter, these had a nice flavour and came out super thick and fluffy (as you can see in the photo). I topped mine with some chopped pecans and maple syrup to make them extra sweet!

If you're a fan of puffy pancakes, you could also give these puffy pillow pancakes from her cookbook and blog a try. I haven't made them yet, but they look great!

Other Pancake Recipes on Vanilla & Spice

Carrot Cake Pancakes with Orange Cashew Cream

Blueberry Pancakes with Persimmon Topping

Strawberry Banana Coconut Pancakes (one of the first recipes I posted on the blog!)

For more pancake ideas, including lots of vegan and gluten-free options, feel free to check out my pancakes Pinterest board!

I'll probably be revisiting that board myself so that I can choose another pancake recipe to make for the official day tomorrow...I'm thinking these sweet potato pancakes from Peachy Palate, or these zucchini pancakes from Lindsay Loves Veggies might be good dinner options since they include veggies, or these fluffy whole wheat pancakes from Running on Real Food would make a good plain base for any topping combination! 


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