Thursday, April 24, 2014

All Natural Mixed Berry Chia Jam

If you want to delight your guests and loved ones with a beautiful, delicious and succulent seasonal jam, have I got the thing for you! 

Even better? This version is brimming with nutrients and will only take you about 10 minutes to whip up (yup, that's right, 10 minutes!).  Oh and don't worry, I won't tell a soul... your domestic goddess status is safe with me.

I've always relished the idea of jam but rarely eat it because most commercial brands and home preserved varieties are more about the added sugar than the fruit.  It's a real shame too because fruit contains so much natural goodness (and plenty of sweetness), it doesn't actually require much messing. 

But how to create a jam without the pectin and the heavy sugar load needed to activate it?

That's what I love about this recipe.  It allows the taste and the star quality of the fruit to shine through without bogging it down with additives/preservatives.  Chia seed is a natural gelling agent and a perfect fit for this raw, natural variety of homespun jam. Chia also brings with it an array of nutrients to complement the fruit, which you can read more about in the Nutrition & Cooking Notes.

The other fun thing about this recipe is that you can choose (and vary) the fruit according to its seasonal availability to create a different taste experience each time. Chia works particularly well with berries because the tiny seeds mimic those natively found in the fruit but you could certainly experiment with other pulsed fruit (or ideally a combination of berry and other fruit) and see how the resulting texture appeals. With something this easy, it's not much of a stretch to imagine creating a new variety every week.  And now that the warmer months are finally upon us [yay] it's nice to support local growers and benefit from fruit at its peak of freshness and nutrient quality whenever possible. 

By the way, I also think these little jam jars would make a gorgeous hostess or mother's day gift!


All Natural Mixed Berry Chia Jam 

All Natural Mixed Berry Chia Jam
  • 8 - 12 (about 150 grams) plump, juicy and happy fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 cup (80 grams) dazzling fresh blueberries
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) orange zest, optional
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) honey or pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) chia seed

Makes about 1 cup of mixed berry chia jam (6 servings)

Nutrition & Cooking Notes:
  1. Chia Seed: Chia seeds offer plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, fibre, antioxidants and an impressive array of minerals. Unlike flaxseed, chia does not have to be ground to be bioavailable (ie: to be absorbed and usable by the body). Flaxseed has a similar nutrition profile to chia (with slightly less fibre, omega-3s and minerals per serving) but flaxseed has the added benefit of containing lignans - plant compounds believed to be protective of breast health - which chia does not.  Chia is more expensive than flaxseed but due to the highly concentrated nature of its nutrients on a gram per gram basis, a small amount of chia goes a long way. You can find chia seed at any health food store and many larger grocery stores.
  2. Fresh & Frozen Fruit: Chia works particularly well with berries in this recipe because the tiny chia seeds mimic those found natively in the fruit but you can certainly experiment with different pulsed fruit (maybe a combination of berry and other fruit such as apple, peach, plum or apricot for example) and see how you like the resulting texture.  Frozen berries will work here but you may need to thaw them first and allow some of the moisture to drain. You can also increase the amount of chia seed to enhance gelling effect if there is a higher moisture content from the frozen fruit.  Again, some experimentation may be required.
  3. Citrus, Spice & Fresh Herbs: You can play around with different varieties of citrus including lemon, lime and orange and add other flavorings such as cinnamon, clove, cardamom, anise and ginger. Fresh herbs such as basil, thyme and mint can also add a zing factor.
  4. Not a Preserve: It's important to note that the featured recipe is a raw, fresh food jam that does not contain any additives or preservatives. This particular jam is not suitable for canning or long term storage.  It should be kept in a container in the fridge and enjoyed within one week.  

  1. Combine: strawberries, blueberries, orange zest, orange juice, honey and vanilla extract in a blender or food processor.  Pulse briefly until desired consistency is achieved.  For a chunky jam with pieces of fruit still visible, you will only need two or three pulses.  This will also allow the blueberry to appear distinct from the strawberry which is quite beautiful.  If you prefer a more uniform colour and a smoother texture, continue pulsing until desired consistency is achieved.
  2. Transfer fruit mixture to a suitably sized bowl and add chia seed, mixing with a wooden spoon to combine.  Your fruit mixture will gel relatively quickly but I like to leave the mixture in the fridge for about 2 hours before serving for an ideal jam consistency.  You can store the jam in a glass mason jar in the fridge or any covered container to be consumed within one week.
  3. Keep in mind that this is a raw, fresh food jam that does not contain any additives or preservatives. This particular jam is not suitable for canning or long term storage.  It should be kept in a container in the fridge and enjoyed within one week.  With a recipe this simple, you can make a new variation every week and take advantage of seasonal fruit and herbs from your garden throughout the summer!

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my favourite way to enjoy this jam is on my morning oatmeal 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Homemade Gummy Bunnies!

We're just getting back from a little road trip down the coast (LA) and into the southeastern interior of California (Mojave/Colorado deserts), Arizona (Flagstaff, Grand Canyon) and Nevada (Vegas).  

We drove over 2 thousand miles in 4 days but it was worth every neck cramp, backseat brawl, and early morning rise. There was a jacuzzi at dawn in a pine forest (complete with a visit from a wild rabbit), roadside frisbee under dark desert skies and some rather colorful scenery on the Strip to keep us all amused. There was also an amazing night of eats and entertainment to kick it all off here.  

So while I gather and organize the photos from our trip and we settle back into school, work and life, I'm sharing a simple and festive recipe for homemade gummy candy with you today!

If you like gummies (or know someone who does), this is a really fun idea -- you can use any mold you like and with all the online shopping options that exist these days (read Amazon), it's easier than ever to find just about any shape, size or theme you're looking for (and quick delivery too ;-), so have fun exploring.

I strongly recommend that you seek out silicone molds wherever possible because they make the task of unmolding - which turns out to be not such a small task at all - much (much) easier. You can certainly make this recipe using a traditional chocolate/candy mold (plastic) as I have done here but you might find yourself pulling out your hair and a toenail in the process.  I have included tips in the Nutrition & Cooking Notes below to guide you through the later, just in case.

This recipe uses only four basic ingredients with a base of natural fruit and vegetable juice.  I went with a company headquartered around the corner from us here in Half Moon Bay but you can work with any quality juice of preference.  The resulting gummy candy is slightly softer than the commercially processed candy but I think we can agree that's not a bad thing.  My teenage boys had no trouble gobbling these love bunnies up. Hope you and yours enjoy them too!

Homemade Gummy Bunnies

Homemade Gummy Bunnies!

Per Batch (use a different colour/type of juice for each batch):
  • 1/2 cup all natural fruit or vegetable juice
  • 4 Tbsp fresh lime or lemon juice 
  • 1 Tbsp honey or pure maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp unflavored gelatin powder dissolved into 4 Tbsp boiling water, (consider agar-agar for a plant-based gelling agent)

Each batch makes approximately 50 mini bunnies (using a 1-1/8"- 1-3/8" by 1/4" mold) 

Nutrition & Cooking Notes:
  1. As mentioned above, silicone molds are preferred for unmolding however if you cannot find one you may wish to gently spray the interior of a candy/chocolate (plastic) mold with a touch of olive oil before pouring the gummy mixture. This will help enormously with unmolding. A little dab will do and you can work the oil into all the nooks and cavities of your mold with your index finger.  The oil taste dissipates quickly once the candy is unmolded.  The trick is to allow the gummies to get nice and cold/hard in the fridge before trying to release them (doing otherwise is an exercise in complete frustration that may lead to inadvertent utterances ;-).
  2. Choose an assortment of fruit and/or vegetable juices as desired for your base.  Some natural juices have extraordinary colours, so you can really have fun with it.  I used mango, carrot, strawberry and blueberry. Adding the lime/lemon can change the colour of the juice (tends to make it lighter) but that too can create a beautiful effect. We found the carrot juice really dazzling.
  3. If you like your gummies on the sour side, and who can blame you, adding more lime or lemon juice is the trick. The current recipe offers a little kick but if you prefer predominantly sour, you can increase the citrus content relative to the juice base (try a half cup lime or lemon and a quarter cup frut/veg juice) for a more pronounced pucker effect ;-).

  1. Be sure to have your molds ready as the gelatin will set fairly quickly once added to the juice mixture.  If you are using a plastic mold, you may wish to gently spray the interior with olive oil to assist with unmolding - just a little dab will do and you can work it into all the nooks and cavities of your mold.
  2. In a small bowl, dissolve 2 Tbsp of gelatin powder into 4 Tbsp of boiling water - whisk the gelatin until it is fully dissolved into the water.  Set gelatin slurry aside to hydrate (or 'bloom').
  3. Meanwhile, place fruit or vegetable juice of choice in a bowl and whisk in lime (or lemon juice) and honey (or maple syrup).
  4. Give the gelatin slurry a final whisk before adding it to the juice mixture, whisking to fully integrate.
  5. Working quickly but carefully, transfer the mixture into a pouring device (I used a large measuring cup with a pouring snout) and begin pouring the gummy mixture into the molds just until almost full.
  6. If the mixture solidifies before you have finished pouring it into the molds, you can reheat the remaining mixture in a pot on the stove top for a moment and continue pouring.
  7. Allow the mold/s to sit for a moment before carefully transferring to the fridge and allowing the gummies to solidify fully before unmolding (the gummies should no longer be sticky when you touch the backs).  If you are pressed for time, you can cool the molds in the freezer but be careful not to burn the little guys.
  8. We find the gummies store best in an airtight container in the fridge.
  9. The nutrition facts below are based on a generic all natural mixture of fruit juice (not a particular brand).

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Garlicky Bean Dip with Chipotle Spiked Tortilla Chips

We had our first serious rainfall this week.  And that's a good thing.

Up until now, we have had the occasional sprinkling of rain but it never seems to last for more than a few minutes and doesn't really amount to anything.  Even in the heart of so-called rainy season, I can count on one hand the number of times the sky has opened up. It makes me wonder how California manages to thrive environmentally and agriculturally in the clutches of this largely desert climate.  

The drought conditions have been so severe this year that it was threatening to work it's way into the state's water drinking supply.  Some experts were warning that we were on track for the most severe drought in over 500 years. 

So when it rained this week -- and it rained hard -- it was both a relief and a blessing.  

It was also a perfect excuse to hang out in my puffy slippers (a thing of rare beauty I tell you) and cook up a batch of these warming chipotle chips with chunky bean dip!

Bean purée is one of the most well-loved ingredients in my kitchen.  We enjoy it not only as a dip with veggies and crackers but also as a spread in sandwiches and quesadillas that make a regular appearance in the boys school lunches.  Versatile, nutritive and delicious, you can use any bean you like in this recipe and play around with herbs and spices to achieve the flavours that work best for you and your family.  One serving of this bean & tortilla snack delivers over 10 grams of protein, 7.5 grams of fibre and barely a trace of sugar.  Healthy snacking at its best. 

I do recommend cooking your own beans which I recognize is more time-consuming however most pre-cooked beans continue to be sold in tin cans that are lined with BPA, a known toxin.  (See my Nutrition and Cooking Notes for more information).

I tend to cook beans while I'm doing the dishes, preparing lunches, or cooking a different meal.  That way, my time is well spent and I don't feel like I'm standing there for 45 minutes watching paint dry.  Cooked beans store beautifully in a covered container in the fridge.  

Enjoy and Cheers to Mother Nature.


Garlicky Bean Dip with Chipotle Spiked Tortilla Chips

For the Bean Dip (will create 5 cups cooked beans or 4 cups bean purée)
  • 2 cups (500 mL) dry beans of choice (I used kidney beans however any bean will work)
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) (or so) water
  • juice of one lemon
  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) olive oil
  • pinch sea salt & coarse pepper
  • optional, handful cilantro

For the Chipotle Chips (will create approx 80 chips)
  • 2 large soft flour tortillas (any variety of flour will work), cut into 1+1/2" sized pieces or so
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) olive oil, drizzled or sprayed*
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) chipotle chili powder 
  • 1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) garlic salt (with parsley) or simply sea salt

Serves 8 

Nutrition & Cooking Notes:
  1. Bean Type: You can use any bean or lentil of choice here -- chickpea, black beans, cannellini bean, black-eyed peas, lima beans, pinto beans, etc. -- and incorporate different herbs and spices to enhance flavour.
  2. Why Cook your Own Beans: Canned beans are always an option however, in addition to having a superior taste and texture, I favor dried beans because of ongoing health concerns surrounding Bisphenol A (BPA).  BPA is a known toxin that continues to be used in the lining of many food and beverage cans - including canned beans.  Studies have shown that this industrial plastic is absorbed by canned foods and, when ingested by consumers, can give rise to significant spikes in urinary levels of BPA.

    Canada was the first country in the world to declare BPA a toxic substance after reviewing a substantial body of evidence that linked BPA, and its estrogen mimicking effects, to a variety of troubling diseases and disorders including prostate disease, breast cancer, fertility problems and neurological issues, including fetal and infant brain development.

    Health Canada has banned the industrial chemical from plastic baby bottles (as has the European union), but has not extended this ban to include food and beverage cans, which critics continue to argue is necessary to ensure public safety. Until more studies are conducted, I continue to take a cautionary approach by reducing our exposure to BPAs as much as possible.
  3. Health Benefits of the Lowly Bean: Often neglected, beans deliver potent health benefits including assisting with blood sugar regulation, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure and guarding against cardiac incidents.  They are an excellent source of quality carbohydrate, fibre and protein as well as delivering numerous vitamins and minerals (notably folate, magnesium and iron).
  4. Soaking Beans prior to Cooking: it is generally recommended to soak dry beans before cooking them to rehydrate prior to cooking. This not only facilitates the cooking process it may also ease the common digestive distress associated with eating beans.  You can simply soak your beans overnight in a pot of covered water to achieve this.  In the morning, simply drain the water and rinse.  You can also use a quick soaking method which is to boil the beans in water for 2 minutes, remove from heat, cover and let stand for an hour.  Drain and rinse. (For 2 cups of beans, soak in 6-8 cups water for either method).
  5. Olive Oil Spray: I like using olive oil spray for the tortilla chips because it covers a broader surface with a lighter coating of oil than can be generally achieved by drizzling the oil.
  6. Nutrition Facts: The Nutrition Facts panel below is based on a serving of both the bean dip & the tortilla chips.


Heat oven to 375 F.
  1. Cook pre-soaked beans according to package directions (usually 3 or 4 cups of water per 1 cup of beans).  NB: 2 cups of dry beans will create 5 cups of cooked beans or 4 cups of bean purée.  You will likely have bean purée leftover from this recipe for future use. Soaking beans prior to cooking is recommended to rehydrate the bean and facilitate the cooking process.  
  2. Cut the flour tortillas into roughly 1 + 1/2" pieces using any shape you desire (triangles or rough squares as I have done here work well).
  3. Place the tortilla pieces (there should be about 80 of them) in a large bowl. Spray (or drizzle) olive oil over the tortilla pieces and, using your hands, work the oil into the surface areas as thoroughly as possible.
  4. Sprinkle the oiled tortilla pieces with chipotle, paprika and salt again working the spices into the surface area of the tortillas.
  5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the tortillas out such that they are not touching each other (use a second baking sheet if necessary).
  6. Place the tray in the oven and bake the chips for 5-8 minutes (ideally shaking the pan once if you think of it) just until the chips are crispy and fragrant without being over-done.  Cooking time will vary depending on oven temp.
  7. Meanwhile, strain cooked beans in a colander and rinse thoroughly.  Placed cooked and strained beans in a blender or food processor and add garlic, half the water, lemon, olive oil and seasonings. 
  8. Blend the beans to desired consistency, adding more water as necessary.  Sample and adjust seasonings as desired. I like a chunkier bean dip with pieces of bean and garlic poking through so I don't fully blend to a purée.  If you like a smooth and creamy bean consistency, simply blend to desired uniformity. 
  9. Nutrition Facts below include both bean dip & tortilla chips.
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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Full Spectrum Energizing Salad with a Honey-Lemon Tarragon Vinaigrette

I didn't expect to feel the transition to spring in Northern California.

Well, not so much anyway. 

Unlike the dramatic seasonal transformations that take place at home, and the huge relief and joy that accompanies them, I suspected the transitions in this part of the world might be more homogeneous. Boring even.  But I was wrong. We are surrounded by a myriad of colors, blossoms and burgeoning new life.  I feel a renewed sense of energy and enthusiasm and I know you will too.  Spring may be late in coming in certain parts of the world ("I think we're on to our next winter" is the best line I've come across by the way) but it's on the way, that we know for sure.

And what I love most about this time of year is that everything is expanding, including our dietary options. Soon farmers' markets will be abuzz with an array of deep pigmented produce each delivering a different vessel of potent nutrients and taste sensations.

Fruits and vegetables are not only replete with vitamins, minerals and fibre, they are also the number one source of health-protective antioxidants and powerful phytochemicals in our diet (plant compounds that also have disease fighting properties) all working together to help fortify our health and shield us from disease.

The key here is to take advantage of what's in season (whether it's from your farmers market or local grocer) and aim for variety to benefit from the broadest spectrum of nutrients possible.  

Ninety percent of today's featured salad comes from our local farmers' market -- especially beautiful in early spring is the lush rainbow chard, the bright green sugar snap peas, radiant radish, citrus (ongoing) and beets of all colors and descriptions.  The berries are also from Cali but just a little further south ;-).

You will note from the nutrition facts that we have met our daily requirement of vitamin A and exceeded our vitamin C requirement by 300% from one serving of this simple, delicious salad.  Of course, not measured are the potent antioxidant/phytochemicals as well as a host of other vits/mins in this dish (vitamin E, vitamin K, folate, magnesium, manganese, lutein).

Don't miss the swoon-worthy vinaigrette!

Cheers to a radiant Spring.

Full-Spectrum Energizing Salad with a Honey-Lemon Tarragon Vinaigrette

Full-Spectrum Energizing Salad with a Honey-Lemon Tarragon Vinaigrette

For the Salad:
  • 8 large leaves of rainbow Swiss chard (substitute other greens: spinach, kale, mustard greens, etc.), washed and torn into bite-sized pieces and massaged*
  • 1 small bunch radishes (you will need about 4), sliced thin
  • 2 cara cara oranges (substitute any orange or citrus of choice), sliced with rind removed if preferred 
  • 1 yellow sweet bell pepper, sliced or chopped
  • 1 yellow zucchini, sliced
  • 14 or so sugar snap peas, with fibrous outer string removed*
  • 2 medium kiwifruit, sliced
  • 1/3 cup blueberries
  • 1/3 cup fresh raspberries or strawberries
  • 14 or so raw unsalted almonds

For the Honey-Lemon Tarragon Vinaigrette:
  • 2.5 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar (substitute white rice or apple cider vinegar)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 heaping tsp grainy Dijon mustard
  • pinch Herbes de Provence
  • 1 heaping Tbsp fresh Tarragon, finely chopped
  • sea salt and coarse black pepper to taste

Serves 2

Nutrition & Cooking Notes:
  1. Massaging dark leafy greens is a simple and effective way of softening the tough fibrous exterior of raw greens rendering them more palatable/digestible without cooking them.  This method can be used on any dark leafy green (kale, chards, collards, turnip/mustard greens, etc.)  Once you have your bite size pieces assembled into a bowl, simply spray (or drizzle) a touch of olive oil over the greens and use your fingers to gently massage the oil into the greens.  You will notice the greens taking on a slightly darker, silken appearance. You can also use a little mashed avocado instead of olive oil as your lubricant. 
  2. Sugar snap peas are beautiful, delicious and nutritive but they come with a tough string that some find rather difficult to chew and digest.  I recommend using a paring knife to snip off the ends of the sugar snap pea while pulling back on them to remove the string that runs the full length of the pod. (You can also gently steam the sugar snap peas to soften and facilitate this process). Once this fibrous string is removed, the pod splits open easily.  You can then enjoy both the peas and the stringless pod at this stage.
  3. Common antioxidants found in the diet include vitamins A, C, E and the mineral selenium.  Here are some antioxidant-rich ideas for your basket: • Vitamin A: sweet potato, squash, kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, cantaloupe, peaches, mango, apricots, carrots • Vitamin C: red bell pepper, broccoli, brussels sprouts, citrus fruit (oranges, lemon, lime), kiwifruit, strawberries • Vitamin E: wheat germ, sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnut, avocado, spinach • Selenium: Brazil nuts, seafood, tuna, beef and chicken liver, whole grains, garlic, eggs

  1. See Nutrition and Cooking notes above for details, options and explanations.
  2. Simply wash, chop and assemble ingredients into a large serving bowl or individual salad plates/bowls.
  3. Meanwhile, in a small container with fitted lid, place all of the vinaigrette ingredients together and shake vigorously before drizzling over salad.

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Northern California in bloom

beautiful market fresh rainbow chard

our farmers' market is open year-round 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Thai Basil Chicken

I'm not sure if we've had this conversation before.

You know, the one where I ask you what your favorite cuisine types are and you ask me mine and we both nod in polite acquiescence but continue to think we're right and the other one's out to lunch.

Yeah, that one.

So, what's your favorite cuisine type?

Mine's Thai. 

Holy Basil, Thai Basil. Thai Lemon Basil, Cilantro, Chilies (!), Creamy Dreamy Coconut, Green Curry, Yellow Curry, Red Curry, Garlic, Ginger, Kaffir Lime, Lemongrass, Mint, Peppercorn, Turmeric... 

Pretty much indisputable, right?

Some of my favorite things about Thai cuisine include its enthusiastic use of fresh herbs and spices over dry ingredients, its ability to push all the sensory buttons by delivering the fabulous four: sweet, sour, salty and spicy and... did you know that in traditional Thai cuisine, measuring cups are never used? (come on Betty Crocker, you've just got to admire that kind of reckless disregard).

If I haven't made my case yet, perhaps this simple dish will convince you.  

Aromatic, satisfying and delicious, 30 minutes is all you will need to have this lovely meal on your table. Faster than the time it would take to have it delivered to your door and a healthier version to boot!  When you make your own Thai food, you can adjust the ingredients to suit your dietary needs and preferences. For instance, Kecap Manis is a syrupy sweet sauce that is traditionally used in Thai Basil Chicken recipes.  I have avoided it altogether here.  Sodium is also a consideration in Thai cuisine and I have opted for low sodium soy sauce and also offered other suggestions to help minimize sodium intake in the Nutrition and Cooking Notes for you.  

As with all dishes of this nature, once you've gone through the steps of making it the first time, your subsequent preps will go much faster (and trust me, you will want to make this one again and again) -- you can even do your cutting and chopping the night before, return from work and voila, dinner in under 15 minutes.

Be sure to read the Nutrition and Cooking Notes for cautions and best results and do let me know if you give it a try!

Thai Basil Chicken

For the Basil Chicken:
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, or more to taste, smashed and chopped
  • 3 or 4 bird's eye chili (Thai chili), seeded and thinly sliced*, substitute 1 Tbsp chili garlic sauce
  • 1 large colourful sweet bell pepper (I used 6 miniatures, orange + red), chopped
  • 6-8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into small cubes 
  • 1 or 2 large bunches of Thai basil (about 20 or more large leaves)
  • 1 bunch green onion or chives, chopped (for topping)

For the Thai Sauce:
  • 3 Tbsp (45 mL) low-sodium soy sauce or Tamari (gluten-free soy sauce)
  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) fish sauce
  • 1 heaping Tbsp (15 mL+) black bean garlic sauce (not traditional Thai but I love it in this recipe - there are GF brands as well)
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) coarse sugar (turbinado/demerara or brown sugar)
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) water

For the Cornstarch Slurry:
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) cornstarch 
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) cold water

Serves 4

Approximate Prep time: 20 minutes
Approximate Cooking time: 10 minutes

Nutrition & Cooking Notes:
  1. CAUTION: Bird's eye chili (Thai chili) is *very* hot.  When preparing the chili (seeding and chopping) I strongly recommend you wear gloves (I use latex surgical gloves) however rubber gloves may be even more protective.  I also recommend that you not try sampling the chili on its own. The taste of the thai chili in this recipe is unmatched (simply delicious) and when mixed in with the ingredients, the heat is not overwhelming however, I do caution against working with these chilis with bare hands which can inadvertently lead to the hot oil spreading into your eyes and other delicate areas.  
  2. Most large grocery stores should carry bird's eye/Thai chili (and certainly Asian markets).  These particular chilis are a hallmark of this recipe, however if you cannot find them or are concerned about the heat factor, you can substitute chili garlic sauce. 
  3. The sodium content in Thai sauces (fish sauce, oyster sauce, chili sauces, soy sauce, etc.) is not insignificant.  No need to be salting this dish and if you are on a low-sodium diet, I recommend omitting the fish sauce and black bean sauce altogether and adding more low-sodium soy sauce.
  4. Thai basil (as distinct from "Thai holy basil") is a type of sweet basil but unlike Italian sweet basil (traditional basil) it has a slightly stronger anise (licorice flavour) that is said to be more stable at higher cooking temperatures. Thai basil has narrower leaves, with purple stems and flowers. It can be difficult to find outside of Asian markets and specialty stores.  If necessary, you can substitute traditional sweet basil.
  5. I always buy two bunches of basil because, like spinach, once wilted, the basil tends to shrink and disappear into the recipe.  I add generous amounts while cooking and then top with more fresh leaves when serving.
  6. There is no substitute for fish sauce ;-) (unless it's oyster sauce).  Truly, you will not regret purchasing a bottle and you will immediately recognize its familiar flavour from other swoon-worthy Thai dishes you may have enjoyed.
  7. Do not be tempted to use chicken breast (or other) for this recipe.  Chicken thighs are perfect here retaining their plump, tender and juicy characteristics.
  8. The cornstarch slurry is used because if you try to add cornstarch directly to the liquid you want to thicken, the sauce in this case, it will clump up and be ineffectual. In order for cornstarch to work properly, you first need to make a slurry, which is a mixture of equal parts cornstarch and liquid (usually water) and add that mixture to the liquid you wish to thicken.
  9. I recommend smashing the garlic (as distinct from running it through a garlic press) for two reasons.  I love the chunkier texture of the garlic in this recipe and chopping/slicing the garlic cloves alone without first flattening it (smashing/crushing) will not release the allium's beneficial oils. To smash, simply use the flat side of a large knife and carefully press down on the garlic over a cutting board until it breaks/flattens somewhat, then simply chop or slice.
  1. In a large skillet or wok, sauté onion, garlic and bird's eye chili (or chili garlic sauce) with some olive oil over low-medium heat just until the onion is translucent.
  2. Add bell pepper to the skillet ingredients and mix to combine.
  3. Remove from heat and transfer onion mixture from the skillet to another dish and reserve.
  4. Meanwhile, whisk together Thai sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
  5. In another small dish, whisk together water and cornstarch and set aside.
  6. In the same skillet used for the onion mixture, add a little more olive oil and increase heat to medium-high.  Add chicken to the skillet and sauté until most of the exterior of the chicken pieces are no longer bright pink (there should still be some lighter pink visible).  This will only take about 4 minutes so you don't want to leave during this portion of the show ;-) and risk over-cooking your chicken.
  7. Add onion mixture (onion, garlic, bird's eye chilis and bell pepper) to the chicken and then pour the Thai sauce over the ingredients (having given the Thai sauce one final whisk ahead of time). 
  8. Add half of the Thai Basil at this stage (either using the leaves intact or gently tearing them in half for larger leaves as you wish).  Mix to combine all the ingredients.
  9. Add the cornstarch slurry to the mixture and bring the sauce to a gently boil.  The sauce will thicken somewhat.
  10. Remove from heat, add the remaining basil leaves to the dish (reserving a few for topping if you wish), mixing the basil around to integrate (the contents should be warm enough to just gently wilt the final leaves).
  11. Now you are ready to enjoy your delicious Thai basil chicken!
  12. We especially enjoy this meal served with a traditional Thai basmati rice however the possibilities are endless: with salad, over coleslaw, over quinoa, buckwheat, millet, wild/brown rice, as you wish.
  13. Be sure to scoop up some sauce from the skillet to pour over the chicken and top with green onion or chives.
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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Flourless Double Chocolate Almond Butter Cookies (Gluten Free, Dairy Free)

Imagine my surprise getting an email from my son's drama director last Tuesday advising of a costume parade that my son was appearing in on the Thursday.

So far so good, right? 


"The costume parade is a chance for the director and the costume committee to see what the costumes look like and make any needed additions or changes."


He wouldn't have... He couldn't have...

Two gentle email inquiries later, and then (every mom's fear), this confirming reply: 
"Your son should have brought home a complete costume outline for you over a month ago."

Is that right.


Of all the charms and gifts our youngest may be endowed with, passing along school communications is not his strong suit.  

But perhaps most stunning is the way he handled it all with a calm and grace that was positively disarming. Because, let me tell you, the fur was flying. In his characteristic way, he reassured me (by text) that I didn't have to worry about a thing.  No. All was under control and that he had been 'quietly' gathering his costume and had 'planned' on talking to me about the 'finishing touches' tonight or tomorrow night. Then, the coup de grâce, he arrives home with a giant almond-studded dark chocolate bar for his mom. (The little bugger played me like a fiddle).

But wait, it gets better.

Fast forward to the weekend and I'm quietly fretting because my husband and I are heading to San Jose to catch a hockey game, our eldest is out of town for the weekend and that means our youngest has to travel home from his evening rehearsal by himself. 

Well, I must have gone over the safety protocols once too often because he eventually sat me down and asked if we could do a mindful meditation together (I kid not. He's taking a mindfulness class in grade 8 - how great is that?).  

I studied Buddhism for four years (yet spot the difference) but nothing could have prepared me for the tenderness of this moment.

He asked me to close my eyes and locate my breath.  This, he explained, was my 'anchor' "now take a few deep breaths from your anchor and feel yourself starting to relax.  If you find that your thoughts start to wander, that's ok, you can notice that but then just bring your thoughts back to your anchor and continue.

And if you start worrying at the game tonight mom, just find your anchor and start breathing again."


I still can't get over how these simple and unconventional ingredients come together to create a legitimate cookie!  Soft and springy on the outside, moist, dense and fudgy on the inside.  Magic.

I've come across many flourless cookie recipes that are held together by 2 and 3 cups of sugar, which seems a little counter-productive, so it's especially nice to know that these are made up of healthful ingredients with only 3 Tbsp of added sugar in the entire batch! Two of these cookies (a snack sized serving) supplies more protein than an egg. And guess what? You won't be disappointed with the taste either. They are *so* yummy. 

Please read the Nutrition and Cooking Notes for options and best results.

Flourless Double Chocolate Almond Butter Cookies

Flourless Double Chocolate Almond Butter Cookies (Gluten Free, Dairy Free)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) well mixed all natural smooth almond butter (just nuts, sugar free, sodium free)
  • Heaping 1/3 cup (80 mL) quality unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 large ripe banana 
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 3 Tbsp (45 mL) pure maple syrup or honey
  • 1/3 cup (80 mL) quality dark chocolate chips* + a few more for topping

Makes about 20 cookies

Nutrition and Cooking Notes:
  1. You can use any nut or seed butter of choice in this recipe but be sure to mix the nut/seed butter thoroughly before measuring it out so that the oil is well integrated and the mixture is creamy (otherwise, you may end up with too much oil and a flat cookie).
  2. There are endless ways to enhance (or change) the flavour of these cookies: a drop of peppermint extract, almond extract, a pinch of espresso, a dash of chile pepper, some citrus zest, etc. - have fun with it!
  3. I've tried playing around with quantities and substitutions in this recipe (reducing the nut butter; adding some coconut oil; substituting apple sauce for the banana) but nothing seems to work quite as well as the original recipe.  There is a certain magic to the chemistry of these ingredients but as always, feel free to experiment, and do let me know if you have some success! 
  4. This cookie batter is best baked all at once.  Even if you don't plan on eating 20 cookies, I recommend baking the entire batter and freezing or reserving the baked cookies for later use rather than saving half the batter as it does not age well (the banana tends to oxidize as all natural/real foods do).
  5. When the cookies first come out of the oven, they will appear lighter, almost golden brown on the outside (while the interior will be dark and fudgy... swoon).  The exterior will progressively darken over time but the will be equally delicious. If you store uneaten cookies in the fridge, you will observe this transition. 
  6. We like to warm our reserved cookies from the fridge before enjoying - this softens the cookie and melts the chocolate all over again.
  7. *Vegan, soy free and sugar free dark chocolate chips are available at health food stores.  You can also make your own chocolate chips. 


Heat oven to 325 F.

  1. Using a simple hand mixer, food processor or blender, mix together almond butter, banana and vanilla until well combined and smooth.
  2. Add cocoa powder, egg and maple syrup or honey and mix to combine.
  3. Mix in dark chocolate chips by hand with the help of a spatula or wooden spoon.
  4. The mixture should be creamy and somewhat firm/fudgy. If the mixture is too soft, simply place it in the fridge for about 20 minutes or so to allow it to firm up a bit.
  5. Meanwhile, place parchment paper over a baking sheet and gently brush or spray the paper with olive oil.
  6. Drop almond butter cookies onto sheet by rounded tablespoons allowing room between the cookies (they will expand and puff up somewhat).  Add another chip or two to the top of each cookie.
  7. Place cookies in oven and bake for 15-20 minutes (depending on how hot your oven is) or until cookies are firm to the touch.
  8. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to cool on a rack for a few minutes  before enjoying!
  9. Store leftover cookies in a covered container in the fridge.

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you should end up with a creamy, almost fudge-like, batter

a light and fluffy golden exterior...

combines with a moist and rich fudgy interior

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Carrot & Sunflower Seed Breakfast Bread

Every plant in the universe seems to want to grow in this part of the world and I think I know why.

Of all the wonders California has to offer, surely the greatest has to be the sun.

I miss the snow.  I do.  I miss home, my community and my family.  I dream about our house in Ottawa and the ash tree in our backyard. 

But you take your blessings where you find them and there's just something to be said for stepping out the door on a February afternoon and being surrounded by warmth and light. Having the sun caress every part of your body and watching your dog sparkle in the light. She too comes to life in the sun. Her smile is unmistakable. It transforms me.

So today, I thought I would send you all a little bit of sunshine from the golden state so that you too can take part in the experience.

These photos were taken outside on our little balcony.  To me they represent all that surrounds us here in beautiful California including the gorgeous orange trees that continue to produce fruit (seemingly without end). 

As for the recipe, I spotted a lovely orange-hued bread over at my friend Charles' the other day that immediately caught my attention (as many of his recipes do).

I was smitten with the idea of the puréed carrot in the loaf but somehow couldn't get the idea of leaving little bits of visible carrot flecks in the loaf out of my head.  I knew it would add weight to the bread and transform it into something different but I wanted to see where things might end up.  So off I went with three different tries, ending up with something a little different each time.  This was a happy experiment, and I have Charles to thank for it.

This is definitely not a soft, light and springy bread.  There is texture, density and complexity to this loaf but that is not to say that it's not delicious in it's own right.  We especially enjoyed this robust, colourful bread topped with sharp cheese and toasted with a touch of marmalade (for my husband) and hot red pepper relish (for me). The boys like to have their first piece simply with butter.  Who can blame them.  Next up will be sandwiches.

There are mild sweet notes generated from the orange and the carrot in this bread but they are quite subdued (less than 1.5 grams of sugar per slice).  Each serving delivers as much protein as an egg and also packs a good amount of dietary fibre. The seeds, orange and carrots also ring in a host of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

And here's something else. Did you know that cooking carrots actually boosts their antioxidant content by breaking down cell walls?  Studies have shown that eating cooked carrots results in much higher blood levels of beta-carotene.  Beta-carotene's antioxidant properties are thought to help reduce our risk of disease. Some of the beta-carotene we consume gets converted to retinol (the active form of vitamin A) which helps support our immune system, vision, cell growth (including skin), teeth and healthy bones.

Be sure to read through the Nutrition and Cooking Notes I prepared for options and best results. 

Carrot & Sunflower Seed Breakfast Bread

Carrot & Sunflower Seed Breakfast Bread (inspired by FiveEuroFood )
  • 2 + 1/2 cups (625 mL) flour of choice (I used equal parts light and whole spelt)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) oatmeal (100% pure rolled oats)
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) salt
  • 1 heaping Tbsp (15 mL) Herbes de Provence (any mixture of dried herbs will do)
  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) sunflower seeds 
  • 2 large carrots (about 1 cup grated)
  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) orange juice
  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) orange zest
  • 1 + 1/2 Tbsp (22.5 mL) dry active yeast

Makes 10 Slices

Nutrition & Cooking Notes:
  1. I'm calling this a breakfast bread but of course, any occasion and any hour of day works!
  2. You can experiment with different flours as you like for this loaf.  If you are looking for something light and springy, you may want to start with AP flour in combination with the oats but naturally this will take away from some of the nutrients.  It's a bit of a balancing act however because using only whole grains in tandem with the weight of the carrots and seeds can create a dense, heavy and somewhat chewy loaf.  You will also not get as much rise from your loaf with the heavier, denser grains but this may or many not be a consideration for you.
  3. Oven temperatures vary widely.  The oven I am using here is the hottest I've ever worked with and I placed the bread on the lower rack to prevent it from over-cooking (browning).  If your oven is more moderate, a middle rack placement with slightly more cooking time may be appropriate.  Allowing the bread to sit in the warm (but turned off) oven allows the interior to continue to cook.
  4. Herbes de Provence is simply a mixture of herbs typically found in the Provence region of France. The brand I use (Morton & Bassett) contains: chervil, basil, rosemary, tarragon, garlic, lavender, marjoram, savory, thyme and parsley.
  5. Studies continue to link a shortage of vitamin D to many serious diseases including: cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, heart disease and influenza. Recent research has also shown that vitamin D deficiency is associated with higher levels of inflammation in the body (a precursor to age-related diseases). Our best source of vitamin D comes from the sun. During non-summer months, when the northern latitude sun is not sufficiently strong, adults are advised to take at least 1,000 IUs (international units) of vitamin D per day. Children should also be taking vitamin D. Older adults, people with dark skin, those who don’t spend a lot of time outdoors and those who wear clothing that covers most of their skin, should consider supplementing year round. Vitamin D levels can be easily tested through your medical or naturopathic doctor.

Heat oven to 400 F.
  1. Peel and roughly chop carrots placing them into a small pot on the stove. Add just enough water to cover the carrots - about 1 cup. Allow carrots to come to a gentle boil for about 10 minutes until barely soft.
  2. Stain the cooked carrots reserving the warm liquid.
  3. Place carrots in a blender with some of the reserved water and pulse once or twice (depending on power of your blender) just until the carrots have broken down into small pieces but are not yet mush or purée (add more of the reserved water if necessary). 
  4. Transfer the blended carrots into a large dish with surface area (such as a casserole dish) and spread them out to cool.
  5. Meanwhile place flour and oatmeal in a large bowl. Add salt, herbs and sunflower seeds, mixing to combine.  Add yeast and combine once more.
  6. To the cooling carrots add orange juice and orange zest, mixing to combine.
  7. Add cooled carrot-orange mixture to the dry ingredients and mix to combine. Add the remaining reserved water (and additional water) as necessary to bind the dough. (I use my hands to mix at this point). The dough should be sufficiently moist (not too dry) without being wet.
  8. Form dough into a rough ball and place in a bowl.  Cover with a cloth in allow the dough to sit in a warm, dry place for 15 minutes. 
  9. Remove dough and knead 5-7 times on a floured surface. 
  10. Transfer the dough into an loaf pan that has been sprayed with olive oil and shape the dough to accommodate the loaf dimensions (trying to distribute as evenly as possible).
  11. Cover the loaf once more with a cloth and allow it to sit for 30 minutes in a warm, dry place to rise. 
  12. Remove cloth, admire your beautiful loaf and then place in the middle or bottom rack of oven (depending on how hot your oven is) for approximately 20-25 until the loaf begins to take on a golden colour.  Turn oven off and allow the loaf to sit for another 5 minutes in the oven.
  13. Carefully remove loaf from oven and allow it to cool for 10 minutes or longer before slicing.  Enjoy!

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right off the tree (it will never stop amazing me)