Monday, March 7, 2011

Tahini tutorial.

So as promised I'm doing a tahini tutorial. Making home made tahini is really very easy, there is only one tricky past (but we'll just cross that bridge when we get there.)

So to start of you roast the sesame seeds. Apparently you can make "raw" tahini, but it is MUCH more bitter then the average kind. This is actually the most difficult part of the whole tahini making process, because you need to find the perfect roasting time - on most sources I've found it was 15 minutes on 170 C. I didn't use a timer (ignorance is bliss) and although the seeds were only slightly browned, after a few minutes of blending they ended up looking like this.

The smell was overpowering burned as was the flavor. So I ended up trashing that batch and starting from scratch. Moral of the story, it's better to under-cook then overcook the sesame seeds.

Alright, so you take your roasted sesame seeds and you stick them in your food processor or vita-mix (a powerful hand blender worked for me).

Blend, blend, blend

After about 10 minutes (the time will vary depending on what you are processing the seeds with) it will start to look like this.

Keep blending until its drippy and looks something like this.

I've found tahini to be a tad too bitter for me on it's own ( perhaps I under-roasted the sesame seeds) but I was able to make the most amazing hummus with it.

Not my picture, but it looked EXACTLY like this...

And if you're wondering why go through all this trouble to make something you might not even like, here is some encouragement:

Health benefits of sesame seeds:
  • A high source of mono and polyunsaturated fats, sesame seeds help in maintaining a healthy cardio-vascular system. In addition to this, these seeds have significant amount of saturated fats as well.
  • The magnesium present in the seeds helps prevent asthma, by lowering airway spasm, controlling high blood pressure and restoring the normal sleeping pattern in women suffering from the symptoms associated with menopause.
  • Magnesium also aids the body in preventing the spasm of the trigeminal blood vessels, which is the main triggering factor behind migraine attacks.
  • Sesame seeds also have a high copper content. This mineral is essential in a number of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant enzyme systems and therefore helps relieve the pain and swelling associated with RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis).
  • The high levels of calcium and magnesium present in these seeds help build bones, enhance bone density, lower the risk of osteoporosis and also regulate the body metabolism.
  • Sesame seeds are especially high in dietary fiber and proteins. Hence, they provide the required protein levels to the body and also help add roughage in the intestines.
  • The mineral iron, present in these seeds, is very essential in the process of respiration, at the cellular level. It helps carry oxygen to the cells, by synthesizing hemoglobin in the body.
  • High in zinc, sesame seeds help in healing wounds and strengthening the immune system of the body.
  • The dietary fiber, along with the phytosterols, present in these seeds lowers the LDL levels in the blood and helps maintain blood glucose levels.
  • Sesame seeds contain lignans (the plant compounds), which are essential antioxidants that act against cancer, by reducing the cell damage caused by free radicals.
  • 1/2 a cup of sesame seeds contains 3 x more calcium then a cup of milk.

So try it, you just might like it!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Love the fat

As someone recovering from an ED my biggest fear used to be fats. I didn't understand the concept that fats didn't make you gain weight (not that I couldn't have afforded to anyway) and the whole calorie input/output ratio. I avoided anything with the slightest amount of fat like it was the plague, and tried my best to suppress my nut cravings (my body's way of crying out for fats). When that got out of hand I would find myself eating nuts by the handful and not being able to control myself. It was the most frightening feeling.

But I've learned a better way to live – just give your body the fats it desperately needs. I still struggle with this concept a bit, but I am slowly learning to embrace my love of healthy fats to the full.

Oh yes, fats are HEALTHY. In today it's all about the low-fat this 'n' that, and products that have a reduced amount of fat commonly find their way into the shopping carts of people who are a) trying to lose weight or b) eat healthy. But is low-fat really healthy?

Most people are aware of the fact that fat is essential to the body functioning properly. It is needed for energy, healthy skin and the absorption of vitamins and minerals. Of course most people think of these benefits in context with the so-called “good fats” – mono -saturated, polyunsaturated and Omega-3 fatty acids . The truth is however, that these saturated fats are also a needed part of an every day diet. Cell membranes are made up of both unsaturated and saturated fatty acids, which means the body needs a variety of fat sources. Without saturated fat, they would lose their stiffness, and be unable to function properly. We should eat foods with saturated fat so our body can absorb and utilize other essentials. In addition saturated fat contributes to brain health and immune health.

Of course the key is moderation and ideally only 10% of our total energy intake should come from saturated fats. But I thought it was interesting to point out the animal fats are not all bad. So go ahead and eat:

It won't kill you (I'm preaching at myself here as well)

Recently my healthy living goal has been to include more fats into my diet – particularly the plant based kind (I already eat my fair share of cheese and eggs). This means nuts, nut butters, avocados and olive oil. One problem with this most recent venture of mine is that 100% nut and seed butters are extremely expensive. So I've decided to make my own. Armed with my trusted hand blender we set out to take over the world, one nut butter at a time.

Yes it's just a hand blender, but it has some amazing power to it :P. Although I'm sure a food processor or Vita-mix would do the job much better, we work with what we've got.

So far I have almond, coconut butters under my belt, as well as tahini (I'll be doing a tutorial on this one, so stay tuned). Looking forward to some yummy nutty snacks ahead.

My success stories :P
Coconut butter

Raw almond butter


I still have yet to find new and creative ways to use my newly acquired nut butters. Although this has been my favorite combo so far – raw almond butter on a cracker topped with banana.

And speaking of healthy fats let's not forget my green little friend – Mr. Avocado.

I love eating him on toast with a sunny side up egg, plain with lemon and salt, or in a white bean spread. Delish!

So don't be afraid to enjoy your fats everyone. It tastes good AND it's healthy. What more could you want?

(If you haven't been getting a lot of fats in your diet I've found from personal experience it pays to go slow and give your body a chance to adjust. There have been times I've overdone it a bit and ended up with extreme nausea and stomach pain.)

What's your stance on fat?

Got any tahini, almond butter, coconut butter recipes to suggest?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Beans beans good for your heart, the more you eat the more you...

....want (gosh what were you guys thinking)

I think beans are an underrated health food. There are so many blogs out there advocating tofu, seitan, tempeh and other vegetarian protein sources that beans and legumes get to sort of get pushed into the background. But in reality beans are a wonderful, healthy food that is incredibly versatile and tasty. There are so many different varieties of beans, as well as tasty recipes that you are bound to find something that works for you.

Beans are an often-overlooked source of incredible health benefits. Some people believe that because of their high amount of carbs they they should be avoided and seen as a weight gain risk . Nothing could be farther from the truth though, as research has shown that the carbohydrates found in most beans are of the complex variety. Complex carbohydrates are not contributors to any sort of weight gain, instead providing the brain and muscles with a lot of good, stable energy supplies.

Beans actually contain a wider variety of healthy nutrients than most foods. These include calcium, potassium, vitamin B6, magnesium, folate, and alpha-linolenic acid. These nutrients work together on several key areas of the body promoting total health. Beans also happen to be good sources of proteins (around 15 g per cup), and when paired with other whole grains form complete proteins without the added fats and cholesterol often found in animal sources. Another thing that you might not have known is that, red, pinto, and kidney beans are the highest antioxidant food, beating both blueberries and cranberries.

Studies also tie beans to a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, , and breast and colon cancers high blood pressure. Sometimes the reduction in risk is substantial (the risk for heart disease, for example, may be reduced by as much as 22%.)

Here are some spesific health benefits of particular beans.

Black beans

Rich in anthocyanins, the same heart disease– and cancer-fighting antioxidants that are found in grapes and cranberries.

Garbanzo (chickpeas)

A recent study found that a chickpea-fortified diet slashed “bad” LDL cholesterol levels by almost 5%.


The thiamin (vitamin B1) in this bean protects memory and brain function; a deficiency has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Potassium regulates blood pressure and ensures normal heart contractions.


Fiber helps stabilize blood sugar, lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Beans and legumes are a definite staple in my diet and I eat them at least 4-5 times a week. I like the versatility and different flavors they provide, because it helps keep things interesting. Besides that they're fairly easy to prepare, very cheap (unlike most other vegetarian sources of protein) and healthy to boot. You can substitute them in most meat recipes, blend and use them as thickening agents in soups, make a variety of sauces, dips and spreads or (if you're feeling daring) add them to your dessert.

Here are some tried and proven bean recipes:

Simple rice and beans (my go-to meal when I want something quick and simple)

There's no real recipe for this one. All I do is add:

kidney beans
tomato past and/or chopped tomatoes
sauted onions and garlic

I don't ever measure the ingredients because it is entirely to taste. All that goes into one pot and boils for about 20 minutes to infuse the flavors. Then I serve it over rice with avocado and yogurt. Delicious

Next on my agenda is : black bean brownies

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hunger awareness guide.

One of the things I've been focusing on more in my pursuit of a healthy lifestyle is mindfully eating and learning to listen to my hunger cues. This has become a little complicated in my case, as 2 years of disordered eating have caused me to become somewhat confused as to what my body needs and how to appropriately respond to those needs. I know that becoming reconnected with my body is a process, and I'm proud to say I've come a long way in this aspect. But there are still times when I second guess myself - "Am I really hungry? Or am I actually tired, bored or trying to cope with negative emotions". Here's something someone sent to me, which I am finding helpful in answering these questions:

Instructions: Self-evaluation encouraged before and after eating. The goal is to keep your hunger between a 3 and a 7 as often as possible. This exercise if to help those who have become disconnected with their bodies and hunger signals, (usually through an eating disorder,) to become more aware and attuned with their hunger and nutritional needs.

0 - Starving.

1 - Very hungry, feel like ordering everything on the menu.

2 - Preoccupied with hunger, everything on the menu looks good.

3 - Feel hungry and the urge to eat is strong.

4 - Feel a little hungry. Can wait to eat.

5 - Neutral, not hungry, not full.

6 - Sense food is in your belly, could eat a bit more.

7 - Feel satisfied. Hunger is gone and you may not feel hungry again for 2-3 hours.

8 - Not uncomfortable, definitely a full belly.

9 - Moving into uncomfortable.

10 - Very uncomfortable.

This scale has been helpful for me, because it encourages me to stop before or during a meal and really think about what stage of fullness and hunger I'm at. That way I don't end up eating too little, only to be RAVENOUS 2 hours later; or to eat too much to be point I feel uncomfortable - both physically and mentally.

I'd go as far as to say that re-examining your eating habits from time to time would be beneficial for anyone - especially if you are under a lot of stress or busy. We tend to give little importance to nourishing our bodies when things get stressful and busy, when in reality that is when it is more important.

Here are some yummy food I've been enjoying recently (and once again I apologize for the low quality pictures)

Vegetarian white bean chili (recipe adapted from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen)

Ridiculously Easy Curried Lentil/Barley Soup (although I think most lentil soups fall under that category)

¼ onion
¾ cup dry red lentils
1/3 cup barley
2 tsp madras curry powder
¾ cup cauliflower
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 clove crushed garlic
salt to taste
2 bay leaves
3-4 cups broth/water

Optional: Greek yogurt or sour cream

Bring water/broth mixture to a boil in a pot. Dice the carrots and cauliflower and chop the onions. Add dry lentils to the boiling liquid, along with chopped onion, squeezed garlic and spices to the water. Let it cook for about 15 minutes, then add in the dry barley. After another 15-20 minutes add the vegetables Cook for about 30 minutes or till both lentils and barley are cooked through. Add last minute spices- 2 tbsp tomato paste; salt and more curry powder to taste. Serve hot, topped with Greek yogurt or sour cream if desired.

Aside from that I've come up with my own version of overnight oats. If you like your oats very thick, creamy and sweet - then you should give this a try.

All you do is:

- Add 1/3- 1/2 cup oats,
- Mush in half a banana
- Add 2/3 - 3/4 cup yogurt along with 1/4 cup milk
- Mix in 2 tsp of shredded coconut
- Stir it all together

Let it sit in the fridge over night and there you have it!

Personally I think these oats stand on their own in terms of flavour. But topping suggestions would definitely include fresh berries, nectarines, peaches or cherries. Get creative, because this is a great base to work off of.

What is your latest healthy living focus?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Take time to ENJOY.

I'm not sure if anyone else finds themselves eating the same things every day, or if it's just me. It just seems hard to try to think of fun and creative things to eat when you are pressed for time/on a budget/have food allergies. It's so easy to stick to the "tried and proven" foods that you know taste at least edible and give you the energy you need to keep going on with your day. It's far more risky to experiment with a recipe that :
a) could turn out awesome
b) could be an epic fail

It's kind of like playing Russian rollete in a sense, because sometimes you're not sure if the pros outweigh the cons. I for one hate nothing more then spending my time and effort preparing a meal only to discover at the end that it doesn't taste good. Especially if I'm tired or have had a bad or stressful day. A failed experiment is not something I need right then.

But eating the same things over and over again has it's drawbacks as well. By having an overly repetitive diet no matter how healthy you are bound to be missing out on an important vitamin or mineral. Not to mention that after a while eating becomes a chore, something you HAVE to do. It shouldn't be that way! Eating is one of life's pleasures and is meant to be enjoyed.

From now on I'm going to experiment with one of my meals/snacks every day and try something new. There are bound to be hits and misses, but I think in the long run it'll make my dining experiences a lot more enjoyable and pleasurable for me.

Here are some recent experiments - both hits and misses :P.

Today's oats: oats with cinnamon, pear and vanilla essence cooked in, topped with chopped almonds and more pear.

As promising as this sounds my oats were amazingly bland and the texture was way off. They were mushy as opposed to thick and creamy. I have no idea how I managed to screw up something so simple. Oh well, we win and we lose, right?

This on the other hand was a definite win: pot barley risotto - 3/4 cup of barley cooked in 1 cup of water + 1/2 cup mushroom and chicken broth. Chopped mushrooms and chicken added in the end (the broccoli was more for the color factor then anything else)

Chewy, flavorful and delicious.

Another hit - white bean basil spread.

And a all time winner:

What successful food experiments have you conducted lately (please include links so I can try them out). Do you have any idea how I might have messed up my oats :P?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Healthy indulgences.

I think everyone needs some indulgences in their lives. It's what keeps us sane, happy and well... human. An indulgence is as different as people are - some people indulge in a tall, fancy latte at a chic cafe; others in an expensive bottle of wine. or a well aged rare cheese. Others prefer something of the simpler sort - a bag of chips and a good movie.

My indulgences vary depending on my mood. Coffee is most definitely a major culprit, and you'll rarely find me able to turn down a glass of good wine. But today I indulged in something of a different sort. Instead of telling you about it though, I think I'll just show you.

Ladies and Gentlemen I present a simple coconut cake.

This is a recipe I adapted from on-line. I would describe this as a simple, very versatile light cake. I'm looking forward to experimenting with different mix ins and ingredients. But the recipe I'm including is the basic one. I have a slightly well worn oven so it took way longer to bake. If your oven is temperamental I would suggest lowering the heat and lengthening the cooking time.

Yellow coconut cake (it's vegan as well):

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3.4 cup raw sugar
1 cup milk (dairy or non-dairy works)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1/2 cup shredded coconut

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients

2. In another bowl, mix all wet except oil, and stir well. Mix together wet and dry ingredients.

3. Add oil, 1 tablespoon at a time and mix well. (To be honest I'm not sure why you can't just add it to the wet ingredients. I did it this way though, and it turned out just fine). As a final step add in the coconut.

4. Bake 22-25 minutes till lightly golden or a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

(Variations : instead of using flain milk you could used some vanilla flavored soy milkt. I imagine using coconut oil would be a lovely addition as well).

Serve with coffee or milk, plain or topped with strawberry preserves, chocolate icing, nut butter – or whatever else suits your fancy.

People that call cake "unhealthy" don't really know what they're talking about. Admittedly the ingredient list doesn't contain any "super foods"l yes it was made with white flour and sugar. But milk is healthy, isn't it? Canola(or coconut ) oil is healthy, isn't it? Coconut is healthy. And a little raw sugar once in a while won't kill you either

Am I suggesting that a bit of cake from time to time is healthy - I sure am.

Here's another indulgence that may be scandalous to some, but healthy in my book - pizza.

(Sorry for the poorly lit shot - no windows in my kitchen)

Made with a whole wheat crust (awesome recipe here) and topped with eggplant, chopped tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, cheese, olives and mushrooms.

Let's break that down, shall we?

eggplant - contains vitamin A, B, C ; calcium and riboflavin, high in fiber and potassium and contains antioxidants

chopped tomatoes - high in lycopene (which is better absorbed by the body when cooked) vitamin C and potassium

olives - monounsaturated fats, B vitamins, pro-vitamin A, E, K

mushrooms-a rich source of riboflavin, niacin, and selenium, a excellent sorce of potassium, lots of fiber

whole wheat crust - a whol
e grain - need I say more

cheese - high calcium content, protein, and B vitamins plus a large amount of other essential nutrients such as phosphorous, zinc, riboflavin, and vitamin A.

When I put it in that way it hardly sounds like an indulgence, does it? But if it is then you certainly have to agree it's a healthy one at that.

So go ahead - do it! Eat pizza more often. It's good for you :D

What's your healthy (or not so healthy) indulgence?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Simple is good.

Sometimes the good things in life are simple.

I'm not sure if anyone else can relate to this, but often I browse food blogs and find myself wishing for a certain ingredient/food that is simply unavailable and/or extremely expensive. I'm thinking of things like peanut flower, canned pumpkin, almond butter, Greek yogurt, chia seeds. Most of these ingredients seem to be "healthy living staples" for most food bloggers, but sadly they are out of my reach :(

Not to mention all the fruits and vegetables that are not seasonal in this part of the world, and thus unavailable to me - fresh berries , zucchini, squashes of all kinds, spinach, kale. Unfortunately, because I am on a very tight budget at the moment I am limited to mainly - carrots, apples, bananas, beetroot, potatoes, broccoli, green beans, corn and cabbage. There's always the occasional special deal on eggplants, tomatoes and the like. But for the most part it's pretty repetetive.

But you know what - simple and cheap can be yummy! Take my meals today for example. They are simple, cheap yet tasty and healthy at the same time. And they all take a relatively short time to prepare.

( Disclaimer :This does NOT represent my food intake for an entire day. There are snacks and add ons/seconds that are NOT pictured here. I will not be posting everything I eat in a single day simply because it would cause me to compare with other food bloggers and their portions. I am a unique individual and my body needs different things then others, and I am learning to accept that fact.)

My day started with a popular breakfast: oats!!!!!
(I know this is unoriginal, but I can't help myself. Oatmeal is yummy :))

This bowl is something I call "chocolate cake" oats. It's just a name though, because they don't REALLY taste like chocolate cake, but they are yummy all the same. I can actually kind of taste the egg white in there, but it adds a sort of "cakie" flavor to the oats. And its super thick as well (just how I like it). Here's how I make'm

1/2 cup of oats
1 egg white (you can add more, but I find the flavor too overpowering then)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1/2 - 1 tbsp of DARK cocoa powder (it has to be really good quality stuff, if it isn't you need to add more)
sweetener to taste

Mix everything together in a pot stirring vigorously to make sure that the egg whites have "dissolved" evenly through the oats (otherwise you are left with little white strings of egg white and that is NOT cool). Turn on low heat, stirring from time to time until the mixture is thickened to your liking. Watch out though, because the bottom may begin to burn if you leave the heat on too high. Leave to cool for a few minutes (it'll thicken even more)and add your desired toppings ( I personally am partial to coconut). Enjoy!

It's as simple as it looks, yet it's full of protein and yummy as well.

Let's move onto lunch. I had bean burger ala Kath (she has an awesome tutorial/recipie here)

This is also cheap (way cheaper then making it with meat in any case - especially if you're cooking for a crowd). If you make a bigger batch I'm pretty sure you can freeze them if you need something easy to grab on the go. Just pop em' on the pan and they're good to eat.

They require no special ingredients and you can top them any way you like. I had mine with pickles and mustard, and the other with spicy salsa.

After taking this picture I realized I had forgotten an ingredient that would make these burgers complete - cheese. So before I finished my meal I quickly rectified the mistake. And I made a priceless discovery - cheese + bean burgers + salsa are like peanut butter + bananas + bread. A match made in heaven :P

Then I had a driving lesson and went out to do a few things. I got home and was feeling just a tad (alright more then a tad) bit hungry. I decided to try something new with my afternoon snack today (yes I eat more then one), and take the time to sit down and really enjoy it. And I sure did enjoy it.

Coffee (REAL Italian coffee mind you) with a pear with cereal and cinnamon sprinkles.

Again nothing fancy, but really good.

Dinner came none too soon. I was "tasting" my food the whole time I was cooking - I was so hungry. I snapped a poorly lit shot and dug in.

(I wonder how professional food bloggers manage to set up their shots perfectly, take a beautiful picture and eat before their food gets cold. It so does NOT work for me.)

Lazy girl's stir fry - brown rice, egg, broccoli seasoned with chicken spice and a bit of soya sauce (be careful about combining the two - my food was too salty)

I think by now I've made my point. As much as I'd love to, I can't eat gourmet vegetarian/vegan food like this:

But I do the best with what I have. And I think I do a pretty good job too :)

I still want to get my hands on some almond butter and chia seeds though ... someday