Sweet & Savory Braised Butternut Squash with Yogurt Sauce (Kadoo Boranee)

Imagine soft succulent morsels of butternut squash braised in the warming spices of ginger, turmeric, chili & cumin and tucked into a bed of tzatziki-style sauce and you will have an inkling of the culinary pleasure that is Kadoo Boranee.

sweet and savory butternut squash (kadoo boranee)

This Afghan style braised butternut squash is quite simply the most memorable dish I’ve eaten in the past couple of years and my new favorite way to enjoy seasonal squash.

My husband and I discovered it at this restaurant when we were celebrating our 19th year wedding anniversary this past summer.  If you’re ever visiting the beautiful Santa Cruz area, I highly recommend it for its outstanding food, friendly and attentive service, intimate courtyard and proximate views.

santa cruz staircase

Whenever I visit a new eatery I like to chat up the staff and patrons (or anyone else who is willing to talk to me) about their favorite dishes — gathering up as much information as possible before ordering.  I may have an idea or leaning based on the description in the menu but those who are closest generally know best.  And in this case, our gracious waiter did not hesitate a moment to encourage us to order the Kadoo Boranee as a starter ~ a generous portion served with a basket of warm naan which we shared.

As it turns out, my husband had one of those nasty (and rather untimely) summer colds and was unable to properly taste his food that night.  I was sure to give him a full breakdown of what he missed that evening (wink) but also made a quiet promise to myself to recreate this dish for him later in the fall.

sweet & savory butternut squash (kadoo boranee)

Kadoo actually means pumpkin in Dari but I’m told that butternut squash is often preferred in this dish for its taste, texture and longer seasonal availability.  You may also come across alternate spellings of this recipe – Kadu, Bouranee, Borani – are some of the most common derivations I’ve encountered.

sweet & savory braised butternut squash (kadoo boranee)

I had a lot of fun recreating this dish in my kitchen and putting my own twist on it.  It brought back some wonderful memories of our visit to Santa Cruz and for what it’s worth, my husband said that it was one of the best dishes I’ve ever made.

If you enjoy the warmth and flavors of a delicious, aromatic curry and can imagine them juxtaposed against the coolness of a yogurt-mint base, you might just fall in love with it too.  Kadoo Boranee is reputed to be America’s favorite Afghan dish and I think I know why.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Sweet & Savory Butternut Squash with Yogurt Sauce
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A delicious Afghan inspired dish featuring soft butternut squash braised in warm gingered spices and served with a garlic yogurt sauce and topped with mint.
Serves: Serves 4
  • For the Butternut Squash:
  • 1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3½ Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 pound butternut squash, cubed (I purchased preservative free pre-cut squash)
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic smashed, salted & finely sliced
  • ½ Tbsp fresh ginger, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp coconut sugar
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup liquid: ½ cup vegetable (or chicken) broth + ½ cup water

  • For the Yogurt Sauce:
  • ¾ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • good pinch of salt
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • For topping: pinch of dry mint
  1. Prepare the Yogurt Sauce by whisking together: yogurt, sour cream, salt and garlic in a bowl - cover and place in fridge while prepping the remaining ingredients.
  2. Purée onion in a small blender/food processor.
  3. In a separate small dish, combine the dry spices: turmeric, cumin, chili, coriander & ginger.
  4. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet/wok over low-medium heat and sautée onion until golden, about 10 minutes. Add fresh ginger, garlic and the ground dry spices: turmeric, cumin, chili, coriander and ground ginger, stirring until the seasonings are well combined and fragrant (a minute or two).
  5. Add tomato paste, broth, water, sugar and salt, mixing well to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil and add the cubed butternut squash.
  6. Reduce heat and simmer covered for 10 minutes (lifting the lid to stir the squash once or twice during this time). Remove the lid for the remaining cooking time until the squash is tender but still holding its shape (about 10 more minutes). Continue to stir the squash on occasion and use more water or stock while cooking, if needed. The goal is to have about 80% of the seasoned liquid absorbed into the squash while retaining the remaining liquid as a golden sauce with visible bits of seasoning (garlic/ginger/onion).
  7. Remove Yogurt Sauce from the fridge and distribute 90% of it among 4 bowls or plates spreading it out to create a base for the squash - (retain about 2 Tbsp of sauce for topping). Sprinkle the yogurt base with dry mint, and a dash of cumin/chili.
  8. Top each yogurt base with some of the warm butternut squash - stacking it if you like - and making sure to scoop up some of the delicious sauce and bits of seasoning as you go along.
  9. Finally, top each of the butternut squash bundles with a final dollop of Yogurt Sauce and sprinkle again with dry mint and a final dash of cumin/turmeric/chili/ginger as desired.
  10. Enjoy right away for best results.
The Yogurt Sauce: I recommend making the Yogurt Sauce at least one hour before prepping the butternut squash to allow the flavors to permeate - the garlic is delightful but needs time. You could also prepare the Yogurt Sauce several hours ahead of time or the night before, being sure to store in fridge.
The Yogurt Sauce Ingredients: if you wish you can use 1 cup of yogurt and skip the sour cream all together. I happen to love the cream inclusion in this recipe.
Pre-cut Butternut Squash: I used a preservative free pre-cut butternut squash in this recipe. Pre-cut will cost you a little bit more but in my view, it is enormously convenient and well worth the time saving.
The Heat Factor: this dish is highly aromatic but not spicy. The subtle heat allows you to enjoy the full range of flavor but if you want to experiment with ranching up the heat on your next go through, you could opt for a warmer chile (as opposed to the generic/milder "chile powder" found in the grocery store) such as ancho, chipotle or cayenne.

A little flashback to our engagement night some twenty-two years ago…

engagement night

It's only fair to share...Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on StumbleUponShare on Google+Share on LinkedInEmail this to someone

6 Ways to Arm Your Immune System for Cold & Flu Season

It’s no fun being sick.  We’ve all experienced the nasty symptoms that can accompany a cold or flu and know how difficult it can be to carry out our day to day functions. Reoccurring and enduring illness can also impact our ability to care for our loved ones and manage our work responsibilities.

By building a strong immune system, we put ourselves in the best position to stay well during flu season and lessen the frequency and duration of illness when it does set in.

Beyond exercising appropriate personal hygiene (our first defense against colds and flu), here are some of my favorite strategies for staying healthy through the long winter months.

Fresh Mandarin Juice + Immune Support Strategies

1. Sleep

Proper sleep is not only necessary for restoration, learning consolidation, memory and hormone regulation, it may also be critical for protecting against infection.

Lack of sleep has been shown to disrupt immune function and increase levels of proteins in the body associated with inflammation.  A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine revealed that people who sleep less than seven hours a night are three times more likely to get a cold than those who sleep eight hours or more hours. Scientists suspect that lack of sleep reduces the body’s immune defenses making us more vulnerable to illness.

Dietary and Lifestyle Strategies for improving sleep quality can be found in this feature and an excellent discussion on the importance of teen sleep published by Stanford Medicine can be found here.

Tweet: #healthtip: those who sleep less than 7 hours a night are 3 x more likely to develop a cold http://ctt.ec/EK8Oe+ Tweet: #healthtip: those who sleep less than 7 hours a night are 3 x more likely to develop a cold http://ctt.ec/EK8Oe+

2. Vitamin D

It is believed that vitamin D increases the body’s production of proteins that destroy viruses helping to support the immune system.  While research is ongoing, studies have linked a shortage of vitamin D to a number of diseases including cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, heart disease and influenza. Vitamin D is also essential for absorbing calcium.

Very few foods contain vitamin D naturally; our best source of this mighty nutrient comes from the sun. During the non-summer months, when the northern latitude sun is not sufficiently strong, supplementation becomes necessary for most individuals. The amount of supplementation required will vary depending on a number of factors, including: age, weight, skin color, geographic location, the amount of time spent outdoors and one’s general state of health.  People over the age of 50 and those with dark-colored skin may require more vitamin D to achieve desired levels.

With these variables in mind, many experts recommend that adults take at least 1000 IU of vitamin D daily during the non-summer months to maintain adequate stores but be sure to speak with your health care practitioner regarding appropriate supplementation in your individual case (and those of your children) and keep in mind that your vitamin D levels can be easily tested through bloodwork upon request.

3. Probiotics

Studies reveal that good bacteria can enhance the immune system helping to both prevent and reduce symptoms of flu and cold.

Daily intake of fermented milk products such as unsweetened yogurt and kefir may be helpful but for a more potent concentration during flu season, a daily probiotic capsule containing acidophilus and bifidus may be even better for both adults and children.

A study published in Pediatrics found that healthy children, aged 3 to 5, who took a probiotic supplement during the fall and winter suffered significantly less fever, nasal congestion, cough occurrences/duration and missed fewer days of school. This same study also found that probiotic supplements reduced antibiotic use in these same children.

Children’s products are available on the market and the doses are generally one quarter to one half that of adults but be sure to discuss appropriate dosses with your pharmacist or health care practitioner. Probiotic powder can be mixed with water or added to a delicious fruit smoothie to make it easier for children to consume.

Winter White Salad + Immune System Supprt

Winter White Mandarin Salad

4. Antioxidants (A, C, E, Selenium & Zinc + Phytonutrients)

While there is no one food or nutrient that can guarantee health, fruits and vegetables are the main source of disease fighting antioxidants in our diet which researchers tell us offer a protective effect against various types of illness.

When we eat a whole foods diet that includes a spectrum of colourful produce, we avail ourselves of the broadest range of nutrients possible – this includes not only the classic class of antioxidants (vitamins A, C, E and the minerals selenium and zinc) but also other classes of plant compounds globally referred to as phytonutrients that behave like disease fighting antioxidants in the body.  The beautiful and rich pigmented colors we see in produce come from their phytonutrient content – they help support our immune system and protect us against various forms of illness and environmental harm.  Since different colors produce unique phytonutrients, incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables from the different color groups into the diet is key.

While vitamins A, C and E are found in abundance in produce, the minerals zinc and selenium – also powerful antioxidants and immune supporters, can be found in other foods.  Brazil nuts are one of the best dietary sources of selenium and you can also find this trace mineral in fish and seafood.  Zinc, also essential for the proper functioning of the immune system, can be found in meat, seafood, whole grains and enriched cereals.

Tweet: #Nutritip: just one brazil nut delivers 2 days worth of selenium, a mineral that is essential to our immune system http://ctt.ec/aeslN+ Tweet: #Nutritip: just one brazil nut delivers 2 days worth of selenium, a mineral that is essential to our immune system http://ctt.ec/aeslN+

Raw garlic – crushed or minced – is another immune fighter that is well worth working in to the diet.

5. Fluid (& Chicken Soup!)

Consuming a variety of fluids can help prevent dehydration, alleviate nasal congestion and promote soothing and comfort.  Fluids can also help keep the lining of the upper respiratory track moist which can ease sore throat symptoms. Consider warm beverages such as lemon water with honey, herbal teas and broths.

And the popular chicken soup myth? It turns out Grandma may have been right all along. According to researchers at the University of Nebraska, there is scientific validity to the age-old notion that chicken soup helps relieve cold and flu symptoms.  A homemade chicken soup consisting of: chicken, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery and parsley, was shown to dampen the activity of white blood cells that trigger inflammation.  Chicken soup may also speed up the movement of mucus helping to relieve congestion and limiting the amount of time viruses are in contact with the nose lining.

Tweet: #Nutritip: turns out Grandma may have been right all along ~ the link between chicken soup & colds/flu http://ctt.ec/5VsD5+ Tweet: #Nutritip: turns out Grandma may have been right all along ~ the link between chicken soup & colds/flu http://ctt.ec/5VsD5+

6. Vitamin C

While it may not prevent onset, vitamin C has been shown to reduce the duration of cold symptoms across various populations. Vitamin C is also important during times of physical and emotional stress to support our adrenal glands ~ the glands that are responsible for releasing stress hormones.

This is a good time to stock up on vitamin C rich foods including: red bell pepper, broccoli, kiwi, strawberries and citrus.

The information in this post is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician or other health care professional directly before beginning or changing a course of health treatment.

It's only fair to share...Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on StumbleUponShare on Google+Share on LinkedInEmail this to someone

Pumpkin Oatmeal with Macadamia & Beurre Noisette

Growing up in the country with miles between houses, trick-or-treating by foot was not really feasible (nor was biking in a costume).  Instead, my Dad would drive my younger brother and I along the country roads making as many stops as he could and waiting in the car as we knocked on doors and worked our magic. We would travel around 3 different lakes before retiring back at home to spill our pillowcases full of candy (yes, pillowcases!).  My brother, clever as a fox, always ended up with more loot than me. He figured out that if he left his pillowcase in the car and went to the door with a tiny Jack-o-latern pail (which he usually left empty or with one or two feeble candies) it would look pathetic next to my massive and bursting-full pillowcase and the neighbors would naturally take pity on him and give him twice the amount of candy.  It worked like a charm. Back in the car, he would dump his loot into his pillowcase and start all over again with an empty bucket at the next house.

pumpkin oatmeal with salted macadamia in beurre noisette

All I could do was admire the kid’s ingenuity (although I really should have been asking for a cut of the spoils since his success depended on my compliance – I was half the act).

Macadamia nut is another pull from the past.  In the summers of my youth, when my Dad would generously (and possibly foolishly) lend me his car to bring a gaggle of girls from Montreal to Maine on our annual end-of-summer boondoggles, his sole request — beyond coughing up for the gas — was to bring him back ‘some of those cookies with macadamias in them’ by which he meant, Pepperidge Farm Sausalito Cookies (this was before PF was available in Canada).

Now I happen to think that pumpkin and macadamia is a wicked combination and as a dedicated morning porridge eater, I love switching things up and keeping our morning breakfasts interesting.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

And there are few things quite as compelling, delicious and mystical my friends as brown butter (or beurre noisette as it is also known – poetic and descriptive).

Have you made brown butter before? It will only take you a moment to master it and you may be amazed to discover how it transforms the taste of traditional butter into a husky, nutty flavor enhancing the taste of sweet or savory dishes. Even using a small amount of butter as I’ve done here delivers beautiful flavor and works wonders in this warming autumn spiced oatmeal.

To make brown butter you simply melt butter in a sturdy pot over low-medium heat using a whisk to facilitate even cooking.  Do not leave the butter unattended – the process only takes a minute and you need to watch carefully to prevent burning.

beurre noisette_km_adjusted

As the butter cooks, the fat and milk proteins separate and the color of the butter progresses from yellow to golden to brown in a short period of time. You will notice the butter foaming right before it develops a brown color and once that happens, you want to remove the pan from the heat to prevent scorching.

pumpkin oatmeal with macadamia and brown butter

Once the brown butter has cooled, taste a little to discover what all the fuss is about…

pumpkin swirled oatmeal with macadamia and beurre noisette

I hope you enjoy this warming and delicious autumn oatmeal.  Despite its unique ingredients, it’s very easy to assemble and worth the adventure.  Happy Haunts!

5.0 from 1 reviews
Pumpkin Oatmeal with Macadamia & Beurre Noisette
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A warm and nourishing autumn spiced oatmeal starring beurre noisette
Recipe type: Breakfast
Serves: serves 4
  • 2 cups 100% whole grain oatmeal (steel cut or rolled) certified gluten-free
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée (not the sweet pumpkin pie filling)
  • 2 Tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ⅛ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 ounce macadamia (about 8 nuts), chopped
  • 1 pear, cubed
  • 1 cup milk beverage of choice
  1. Cook oats on stove top according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, in a separate small and sturdy pot, melt butter and continue to heat until it begins to froth (the milk product separating from the fat) and the butter turns brown, remove from heat immediately. Be sure to stir or whisk continually as you cook the butter and watch carefully for the color change, to prevent burning. Allow the beurre noisette to cool slightly.
  3. Add pumpkin purée to the beurre noisette as well as: maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, mixing to combine (I like to use a small whisk). Sample and adjust seasonings as desired.
  4. Once oatmeal is cooked, divide among 4 bowls and swirl in ¼ portion of the pumpkin beurre noisette into each bowl. Top with milk, pear, a sprinkle of nuts and any other toppings as desired.
Steel Cut Oats vs Quick Cooking Oats: both steel-cut and rolled oats offer a good source of soluble fibre - the kind attributable to helping keep blood cholesterol in check. Whether you are choosing steel-cut oats (chopped into larger sizes and take longer to cook) or rolled oats ('old fashioned, quick-cooking oats' that have been rolled or flaked for easier cooking), be sure to choose 100% whole grain. Oats should have at least 3 grams of fibre per serving and ideally zero sugar and zero sodium.
Unsweetened Oats: buying the oats unsweetened allows you to decide how much and what type of sweetener you would like to add to your cereal, rather than the manufacturer. I am not a fan of instant oat cereals (powdered oats) because, even when they are 100% whole grain, these cereal packets almost always have sugar and sodium added to them.
Are Oats really Gluten Free? - pure oats do not contain gluten however many commercially sold oats do due to cross-contamination issues. If you are gluten sensitive or have celiac disease, be sure to seek out certified 'gluten-free' oatmeal.
Cinnamon: cinnamon is not only delicious it has also been shown to have a positive effect on blood glucose levels. Sprinkle cinnamon over your cereal or yogurt, adding it to smoothies, soups, stews and baked goods, as well as swirling it into tea and coffee.
Seasonings: "pumpkin spice" is always an option but if you're sulfite sensitive, you may wish to skip it (commercial brands commonly use the preservative) and simply create your own blend as I have done here. Pumpkin pie spice is generally made up of a combination of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice but cinnamon/nutmeg will get you mostly there.

pumpkin oatmeal with pear and beurre noisette

It's only fair to share...Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on StumbleUponShare on Google+Share on LinkedInEmail this to someone

Quinoa, Black Bean & Sweet Potato Slow-Cooker Chili {with Avocado Cream}

Vegetarian Slow Cooker Chili

I’m practicing.

If I were to go by today’s weather I would be making you iced tea with a sprig or two of fresh rosemary while sporting a bikini but that’s not happening because I’m practicing — practicing and preparing for El Niño.

We’ve been promised (again mind you) a long wet winter here in drought-ravaged California and I’m getting ready with some warming comfort food worthy of a proper fall.

If the rains come, and there’s mounting evidence to suggest they will, it may go a long way to easing the drought conditions (positive side of the story) but it may also go a long way to battering the region — climatologists are predicting some of the strongest storms since the 1050s …  So I’m practicing (and getting ready to batten down the hatches — isn’t that what they say?).

Slow Cooker Black Beans & Sweet Potato Chili

And this meal, is a pretty great one to practice on.

Warm, hearty and delicious, this is a lovely seasonal chili with a great depth of flavor and just the right amount of heat to keep you interested without the overkill.  And it all happens in the slow-cooker! The quinoa cooks alongside the other ingredients (no additional pot necessary) adding some nice bulk and nourishment to this plant-based stew.

Of course you can top the chili however you like (and adjust the seasoning to suit your taste) but lately I’ve been enjoying it with avocado cream (actually, I’ve been enjoying everything with avocado cream…) a simple mixture of mashed avocado combined with some plain Greek yogurt, a squeeze of lime juice and some (always optional) chopped fresh or roasted jalapeno.  D’lish!

Avocado cream is a great way to expand the nutrient profile of traditional guacamole by working in some additional protein (vital for plant based diets) while also getting more mileage out of the avocado through the addition of yogurt — which is rather nice especially since avocado can get quite expensive during off season.  For a vegan version of avocado cream, I recommend using cashews ~ you can find a recipe here.

Black Bean & Sweet Potato Chili Cups for Freezing

This recipe freezes beautifully.  For things like soups, sauces and chilis/stews (foods that pour and mold relatively easily) I often portion them out into individual serving sizes before freezing.  I use silicone muffin cups for this — the muffin tin is not necessary but useful as a freezer tray to hold the cups. Once the contents in the cups are frozen, simply pop the frozen food cups out of the molds and place them into one larger covered container in the freezer (this also reduces the use of plastic).  Our boys can then grab a cup or two (or five) from the freezer at their convenience and simply warm in the microwave.  I also enjoy the portioned options at lunchtime when I’m working from home. It’s a beautiful thing.

Vegetarian Slow Cooker Chili (GF)

As always, be sure to read the Notes in the recipe card below for best results.  I’ve also resurrected the Nutrition Facts Panel as many of you were contacting me separately for the information.  And while I generally prefer to focus on the quality of food over the calorie count, I understand that having an estimated breakdown of nutrients can be helpful for a number of different reasons.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and,  if you happen to see fall, please let her know we’re ready!

5.0 from 2 reviews
Quinoa, Black Bean & Sweet Potato Slow-Cooker Chili {with Avocado Cream}
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A delicious and nourishing plant-based chili with great depth of flavor and just the right kick of heat.
Serves: Serves 8
  • Main Ingredients:
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 3 cups cooked black beans (well rinsed if using canned)
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (about 4 cups)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels

  • Dry Spices:
  • 1 generous Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp ground chipotle chile (or to taste, it's hot especially when fresh)
  • ½ tsp coarse ground black pepper
  • For topping: fresh chopped cilantro or parsley, as desired
  1. Place the first 7 ingredients in a 6-quart capacity slow-cooker: onion, quinoa, black beans, sweet potato, veg broth, tomatoes and corn;
  2. In a separate small bowl, combine the dry spices: chili powder, paprika, cumin, coriander, turmeric, chipotle chile and black pepper;
  3. Add the mixture of dry spices to a slow-cooker and mix with a wooden spoon to combine;
  4. Cook the chili on low setting for 4-6 hours or until the sweet potato is just tender -- taste and make any seasoning adjustments desired.
  5. Be sure to stir the contents of the slow cooker before serving into individual bowls - this will help distribute the juices;
  6. If you find that the chili is not as dilute as you would like (different cooking temps/ time may give rise to more absorption and less fluid) simply add a little bit of stock and stir.
  7. Top the chili as desired, examples: avocado cream; salsa; chopped jalapeno; dollop of yogurt, sour cream or cashew cream; shredded cheese.
Dry vs. Canned Beans: If you're new to my blog, here's my spiel on why I prefer cooking dry (dehydrated) beans over using precooked canned beans:
1) Home prep allows you to soak your beans before cooking which can ease common digestive distress associated with eating beans ~ simply soak beans overnight in a pot of covered water and then drain and rinse the next day. 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.
2) Home cooked beans have a superior taste and texture. Canned beans tend to be overcooked and mushy - preparing your own beans allows you to cook them just to the point of being al dente so they retain their spring and resilience.
3) Most canned beans continue to be made with Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is a known toxin that is used in the lining of many food and beverage cans. Studies have shown that this industrial plastic is absorbed by canned foods and when ingested can give rise to significant spikes in urinary levels of BPA.
The Heat Factor: the moderate heat in this particular recipe comes from the ground chipotle chile (chipotle is derived from smoke-dried jalapeño) - if heat is not your thing, you can omit it all together. The more generic "chile powder" that you find in the grocery store (which this recipe also calls for) is a mixture of milder chile peppers with the addition of herbs/spices such as onion/garlic powder and salt and is not particularly hot. I love the unique and distinctive flavor of chipotle but you could also use fresh chopped jalapeño if preferred - if you are new to hot peppers, start slow with a single small jalapeño (seeds and membrane removed) and see how you do.

Slow Cooker Vegetarian Quinoa Chili with Avocado Cream

It's only fair to share...Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on StumbleUponShare on Google+Share on LinkedInEmail this to someone

Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Apple & Fennel

roasted cauliflower soup with apple & fennel

Checking out of the Safeway this weekend (the undisputed hub of sociological observation), I was reminded that fall means different things to different people.

I’ve already confessed not knowing very much about this well-loved game, but I nevertheless relish every bit of lively banter emerging from the lips of patrons and clerks as I catch snippets of information and predictions.  I also find myself anticipating the somewhat corny but hopelessly contagious sounds of the high school marching band booming across the street from us during Friday night home games.

A new season, a new reason to cheer.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

So what does fall mean to you…

I think about picking apples with my younger boys, mountains lit with orange and red, and the smell of wood burning.  I picture brooding skies, harvest moons and autumn rains soaking into my shoes.  Lazy afternoons wrapped in over-sized blankets, the scent of vanilla, cinnamon and clove but most of all maybe, autumn comes to me in the morning.  The cold under my feet when I first touch the floor, the wind lashing at my cheeks, the warmth of tea in my cupped hands.

roasted autumn cauliflower soup with apple & fennel

Soup is one of those pleasures I rarely tire of.  Rewarding and delicious, it’s easy to make in batches for a large number of people (great for the holiday season) and it freezes well too.

This particular recipe takes advantage of a simple oven roasting method to draw out flavor. The result is as a gently sweet autumnal soup with delicate notes of anise and nutmeg coupled with the aromatics of garlic and onion.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

If you’re not familiar with fennel bulb, it has a subtle anise (licorice) flavor that is not especially punchy in this soup but adds some nice dimension.  It’s very easy to work with so don’t be intimidated.  Treat it much like you would a yellow onion in this recipe by cutting away the bulb portion from the celery-like stalk and simply chopping.

The flavors in this soup develop over time so consider saving a little for later to compare.  As always, be sure to read the Notes in the recipe card below for best results and substitution ideas.

Welcome Autumn.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Apple & Fennel
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A gently sweet autumnal soup with delicate notes of anise and nutmeg
Serves: Serves 6-8
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
  • ⅓ tsp fresh grated nutmeg or nutmeg powder
  • 2 seasonal apples of choice (I used Fuji but wish for McIntosh), peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
  • 2 Tbsp or so olive oil
  • Sea salt & black pepper
  • 4 + ½ cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2 Tbsp fresh thyme
  1. Preheat oven to 450 F
  2. Place cauliflower florets in a mixing bowl and add: 2 Tbsp of olive oil and a generous pinch of sea salt and coarse black pepper. Using your hands or other implement, toss to combine making sure the florets are well saturated.
  3. Invert greased and seasoned florets onto a parchment lined baking sheet, making sure to spread them out so that they are not touching (this ensures proper roasting).
  4. Place the tray in the oven and roast the florets for approximately 35-40 minutes until they begin to take on some nice coloration and gentle searing, shaking the pan once or twice as they cook. Remove tray from oven and allow the florets to cool.
  5. Meanwhile, in a pan large enough to accommodate soup, sauté onion, fennel and garlic with some olive oil over low-medium heat until the vegetables begin to soften (about 8 minutes). Sprinkle the vegetables with nutmeg as they cook.
  6. To the same pan, add vegetable (or chicken) stock and apples. Bring the mixture just to the boiling point then reduce heat immediately to lowest setting and simmer until the apple is just beginning to soften (about 10 minutes).
  7. Remove from heat, add roasted cauliflower florets to the pan and allow the mixture to cool slightly.
  8. Working in batches, carefully transfer contents (including liquid) to blender (or food processor) and blend until desired consistency is achieved (there may still be some texture/bulk to the soup but it should be mostly smooth). Transfer each puréed batch back to the original pan as you go along.
  9. Allow flavors to gather for 10 minutes or so, taste the soup and make any seasoning adjustments desired. If you feel the soup isn't quite as sweet as you would like (depending on the variety of apple and its ripeness) you can add a scoop of apple sauce to the mixture. Apple sauce has the perfect consistency for this kind of soup.
  10. If you wish, you can add some chopped herbs directly into the soup or simply garnish with them. I used thyme here - it complements the soup beautifully and I also happen to have a jungle of it growing outside. Tarragon and sage would also be delicious here.
  11. When ready to serve, reheat the soup and enjoy.
  12. You can store the fully cooled soup in a covered container in the fridge for up to 5 days ~ it also freezes well.
Why Roast Vegetables: roasting is an excellent way to enhance the flavor of vegetables by concentrating their sweetness without adding sugar. This is particularly apparent in soups where vegetables get to play a starring role.
Use a Baking Sheet not a Dish: Vegetables contain a significant amount of water - a flat cooking surface allows that water to evaporate more effectively than higher/curved sides which may have the unintended result of steaming your vegetables = mush = yuck.
Developing Flavors: like many sauces, soups and stews, the flavors in this soup just get better with time. I found it ideal and most flavored the day after making it.
Nutmeg: The amount of nutmeg in this recipe is modest but its flavor is unmistakable. It strikes a lovely note in tandem with the apple and roasted cauliflower but with certain high potency spices, it's best not to kill with kindness. A little permeates a long way with this gem so go easy and see what your personal response is.
Substitute for Fennel: if you know that fennel is not your thing, leek would make an excellent substitute here.
Substitute for Thyme: You can play with different fresh herbs of choice but sage and tarragon might work especially well here in place of thyme.

Roasted Cauliflower soup with fennel & apple

It's only fair to share...Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on StumbleUponShare on Google+Share on LinkedInEmail this to someone

Millet Porridge with Fresh Fig & Hemp Seed

Millet Porridge with Fresh Fig & Hemp Seed

Every once in a while it’s nice to be reminded that the universe is working in your favor; even when it comes to something as seemingly insignificant as a fig.

And so it was on an early Saturday morning when I was preparing to head across town in pursuit of the not-so-common, common fig.

I had just made a similar trip the week before and was feeling a bit sheepish about the expense and the weekend departure from the family when the doorbell rang.

Fresh Fig & Millet Porridge

It was a neighbor who had never dropped by before.  With a bag swinging from one hand and a smile on his face, he let me know that his fig tree was flush with fruit and would I, by any chance, have any use for fresh figs.

Even my husband, about as pragmatic as they come, couldn’t quite get over it.

Millet Porridge with Fresh Fig & Hemp Seed (GF)

My breakfasts have been remarkably consistent over the past decade or so.  Sure, on the weekends I might vary outside the fold with some eggs, feta, coleslaw and apple cider vinegar but generally I’m an oatmeal for breakfast kind of gal.

I love the warmth and comfort it fills me with while supplying just the right amount of energy to get me through a workout without bogging me down. I often toss in nuts (walnut is a favorite) and seeds (ground flaxseed is my go-to) and some fresh berries or seasonal fruit. It may sound involved but really the whole affair takes about 15 minutes.

Millet Porridge with Fresh Fig, Honey & Hemp Seed

Lately I’ve been having fun experimenting with different textured whole grains including millet (not just for the birds!).  Naturally gluten-free, millet is a versatile grain with a mildly sweet and nutty flavor — you can prepare it as you would rice and enjoy it as a side, toss it into salads and burgers or enjoy it as I’m doing today, in a warm cereal.

When it comes porridge, millet is prepared much the same as oatmeal by cooking it on the stove top in its whole form or by grinding it into a powder/flour for a creamier texture.  I much prefer the whole form (pictured below).

Whole Millet Seed Porridge

While it’s different from oatmeal (more textured and lumpier – a bit like a rice pudding) the cooked ground millet by contrast, is pasty — almost gag-inducingly so.  Soft is good, wallpaper pasty not so much.  But it’s all a matter of personal preference so forget what I think and try it out to see what you like!

More information on the nutrient profile of millet and preparation tips in the Notes section below.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Millet Porridge with Fresh Fig & Hemp Seed (Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A warm and comforting porridge made from nutritious whole grain millet.
Serves: Serves 2
  • ½ cup whole grain millet (I used Eden organic yellow millet), whole or ground as preferred
  • 1 cup almond milk or milk beverage of choice
  • ¾ cup water
  • The seeds of 1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp honey (I used The Spartan Table)
  • 2 Tbsp hemp seeds
  • 6 fresh figs, chopped into small pieces or segmented however you wish
  • Other optional toppings: toasted shaved coconut, dried cranberry or apricot.
  1. Place milk and water in a saucepan on the stove.
  2. Add dry millet and vanilla bean seeds (or extract), mixing to combine with liquids, and turning heat up to medium.
  3. Bring liquid just to the boiling point, stir, reduce heat to the lowest setting and cover the pot - allowing the cereal to simmer for about 12-15 minutes or until most of the liquid has soaked into the grain. Remove from heat.
  4. Add honey and more liquid to the cooked millet, as desired.
  5. Divide millet porridge between two bowls, adding more milk if desired and topping each bowl with one Tbsp of hemp seed, fresh fig (or fruit of choice) and any other toppings of choice.
Millet: millet has an impressive nutrient profile that includes 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein per ¼ cup uncooked (similar to an egg). It is high in manganese and a good source of magnesium (a natural muscle relaxant), zinc, plant-based iron and a host of B vitamins.
Grinding: if you would like to try grinding the millet prior to cooking (I know, I really sold it in the post), you can do so by using a coffee grinder or other small grinder. The end product will resemble flour.
Toasting: whether you decide to boil the whole millet or work from ground, toasting the millet seeds prior can add a delicious punch of nutty, roasted flavor.
Vanilla Bean: don't be intimidated by vanilla beans if you haven't worked with them before. My favorite method is to toss a bean in a small bowl, cover it with boiling water and allow it to soften for a minute. Carefully remove the bean, snip one of the ends with a knife and then run the flat side of your knife along the full length of the bean and watch the glorious black paste emerge (aka: VB seeds). Scoop up the seeds and toss them into the recipe.

millet porridge with fig & toasted coconut (GF)

It's only fair to share...Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on StumbleUponShare on Google+Share on LinkedInEmail this to someone

Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (Gluten Free, Dairy Free)

flourless peanut butter chocolate chip cookies (GF, DF)

I had planned a warming porridge for this past week’s post but a combination of weather (oppressively hot) and a new baby (not mine) queered the pitch.

That’s alright because in the process of being derailed, I discovered these obscenely delicious cookies. So I hope you don’t mind me interrupting your Sunday evening to bring them to you.

flourless peanut butter chocolate chip cookies (Gluten Free)

I still get nervous whenever I share cookies of this nature (you know, the weird unconventional kind) with another living being outside our family so it was not without some relief (and a great deal of pleasure) that I received a message (the very next day) from our lovely neighbor — and new mom — letting me know that there were no cookies left and could she please have the recipe.

With only 3 base ingredients in the batter, it’s the kind of recipe you look at and think, really? How is this ever going to work… and yet, it does. Every time. The cookies firm up on the exterior just like conventionally baked ones while remaining gorgeously moist and melt-in-your-mouth tender on the inside.  A concentrated protein snack that delivers all the yumminess we occasionally crave without the usual load.  And, it might take about 7 minutes to pull together.

My husband, who describes these nut butter bites simply as wicked, insisted that I blog the peanut butter/chocolate chip version (his favorite and the variety we made for our neighbor) but of course, you could experiment with other nut or seed butters here and play around with add-ins of choice.  One of my favorite variations is with dried cranberry and shaved coconut in place of the chocolate and I also like to make these with almond butter ~ more expensive but another delicious and nutritious option.

For best results, be sure to read the Notes in the recipe card below and I invite you to drop in to let me know about your own variations and reactions to these kookie cookies!

5.0 from 3 reviews
Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (Gluten Free, Dairy Free)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A flourless and naturally sweetened peanut butter cookie with a gorgeously moist interior.
Serves: About 16 cookies
  • 1 cup all natural creamy peanut butter
  • 1 egg
  • ⅓ cup pure maple syrup
  • scant ½ cup dark chocolate chips or alternate add-ins of choice: dried cranberry, apricot, cherry, raisin, coconut shavings, etc.
  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Place peanut butter, egg and maple syrup in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fully integrated (only about 15 seconds).
  3. Add chocolate chips and mix by hand (with a spatula or wooden spoon).
  4. Drop the cookies by tablespoon full (or so) onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, allowing at least one inch between the cookies (they don't spread a great deal).
  5. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes or until they are firm to the touch and just starting to take on a golden exterior.
  6. Remove the cookies from oven and allow then to cool on a rack before enjoying.
  7. Store any remaining cookies (!) in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. The cookies will darken somewhat but will be equally (if not more) delicious.
Avoid Oily Runoff: If you are using an unmixed natural peanut butter (one that naturally separates with the oil on top), be sure to fully stir the PB before measuring out the cup - this will help avoid oily runoff while the cookies bake. I use a flat knife and stir like the dickens (great workout!). If you still get some oil in the baked cookies, just rest them on a paper towel to absorb excess. It will dissipate quickly.
Unsweetened PB: I used an unsweetened natural peanut butter in this recipe and determined the amount of maple syrup accordingly. If you are working with a sweetened PB, you may wish to adjust the syrup content (although this can sometime influence the result - the syrup assists with binding) so my best suggestion would be to wait until you need more nut butter and opt for unsweetened for the purposes of this particular recipe.
Allergies & Preferences: As mentioned in the post, you can experiment with any nut or seed butter here so don't be deterred by the use of peanuts in the demo recipe. Both sunflower seed and pumpkin seed are low allergens.
Additions & Substitutions: As mentioned in the post, feel free to sub other fruit/nuts/seeds in place of the chocolate in this recipe. Adding liquids (lemon, mint, vanilla, etc.) may influence the outcome though, so you might wish to start with increments (1 tsp for example) and see how the recipe responds.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 30 grams (1 of 16 cookies) Calories: 139 Fat: 9.3 g Trans fat: 0 Carbohydrates: 9.9 g Sugar: 6.4 g Fiber: 1.2 g Protein: 4.2 g Cholesterol: 10 mg

flourless peanut butter chocolate chip cookies

It's only fair to share...Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on StumbleUponShare on Google+Share on LinkedInEmail this to someone

5 Keys to Bone Health

I broke my wrist on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in the park.  I was doing backflips off the monkey bars with my boys and I might have gotten carried away. I over-rotated the landing and was heading right for my tush (which is what I should have let happen) but instead, I stretched out my hand to protect my fall and landed with the full force of my weight on my wrist — my bone didn’t stand a chance.

Refusal to grow up aside, the incident (which happened a few years ago) reminded me of just how disabling it can be to break a bone.

beet juice and bone health

Although bone mass generally peaks somewhere in our twenties, that’s not the end of the story.  Bones are not the fixed, lifeless structures we sometimes imagine.  Instead, they are growing, living tissue that is constantly being remodeled and there’s plenty to do – at all ages – to help preserve bone integrity, improve bone strength and minimize our risk of fracture.

background & risk factors

Globally, osteoporosis — a disease that causes bones to become weak and brittle — gives rise to over 8.9 million fractures annually causing both temporary and permanent disability.

Menopause is one of the biggest contributors of bone loss due to the role that estrogen plays in keeping bones healthy. As estrogen levels decline, loss of bone tissue begins to accelerate. The combination of hormone changes and lower muscle mass in comparison to men puts women at higher risk but osteoporosis is by no means a woman’s disease.  At least 1 in 5 men will suffer from an osteoporotic fracture during their lifetime (and 1 in 3 women).

The two most important factors we can control in managing our bone health (other than staying off the monkey bars in our forties) are exercise and diet ~

1. Build Muscle Mass

Building muscle mass helps support and fortify the structures surrounding our bones. Spinal fractures, for example, are often caused by forces (or loads) on the vertebrae that are greater than what they can physically withstand. Exercises that target the muscles along the back can help strengthen the spine while improving posture.

Muscle also generates the force (mechanical stress) needed to keep our bones healthy, strong and responsive. When muscle mass declines, less stress is exerted on our bones which eventually makes them weaker and accelerates decline.

We build muscle mass through strength training which commonly comprises of weight lifting (with free weights or weight machines) and resistance exercise (with equipment like rubber bands and balls or by using the body’s own weight to create resistance: push-ups, planks and dips as well as squats and lunges).  These exercises can be done at home or in a gym environment. Most fitness classes now also incorporate elements of weight-bearing and resistance exercises such as Pilates, yoga and interdisciplinary cardiovascular training.

2. Practice Balance & Stability

Balance and stability are key to improving movement, fluidity and coordination with a view to reducing our risk of falling ~ especially for those of us walking on ice surfaces 8 months of the year. Balance exercises can be practiced at home and many interdisciplinary group fitness classes also incorporate elements of core stability and balance. The gentle, low-impact art of Tai Chi (meditation in motion) is especially well known for cultivating balance and as a mind-body discipline, it’s also be very helpful for reducing tension and promoting calm.

3. Ensure adequate Calcium from a variety of sources

Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body, is vital for building strong bones (and teeth) in childhood and maintaining bone health as we age.  Our bodies cannot make calcium, it must be acquired through our diet. Calcium-rich dietary sources include plant-based foods, dairy and fish.

Current calcium requirements for adults aged 19 to 50 are 1,000 mg daily with women over the age of 50 requiring 1,200 mg. Children aged 9 to 18 require 1,300 mg of calcium daily.

🌱 Plant-Based Options — most of us think of dairy first when it comes to calcium-rich foods and there’s no question that the concentration of calcium by typical serving size of dairy food is impressive.  But there’s a couple of reasons why I like to focus on plant sources.  For one thing, if you’re a vegan or have an allergy/intolerance to dairy foods or simply prefer to vary your diet outside the dairy fold, it’s important to be aware of other sources of calcium. Another element is that many plant options not only provide calcium they also deliver a whole range of nutrients in the form of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre.  Some of these nutrients also happen to be very helpful for bone health.

For example, calcium containing greens such as spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, bok choy (pictured below), rapini, beet greens and kale, have the added advantage of being rich in vitamin K, a nutrient needed to maintain healthy bones. Studies have linked higher vitamin K intakes with a lower risk of bone fractures.

baby bok choy for bone health

Tipto maximize calcium absorption from greens, it is generally advised to steam/cook them to break down the oxalic acid – a natural compound that binds calcium and reduces its absorption.

Other plant-based sources of calcium include: tofu that is produced with calcium (look for calcium sulfate on the ingredients list); beans, almonds, blackstrap molasses and sea vegetables. Alternate milk beverages such as almond, rice, hemp, coconut and soy milk for example that are calcium fortified are also concentrated sources (generally in the range of 330 mg of calcium per cup).

🌱 Dairy Options — when it comes to dairy, some of the best sources of calcium can be found in milk, yogurt and cheese. One cup of milk, 3/4 cup of plain yogurt and 1.5 ounces of cheese each contain roughly 300 mg of calcium.

🌱 Fish Options — rich in calcium and omega-3 fatty acids, canned salmon and sardines are an excellent and affordable option.  3 ounces of canned salmon with bones delivers approximately 190 mg of calcium while 3 ounces of canned sardines with bones delivers in the range of 325 mg of calcium.

Salmon and sardines also happen to be one of the few dietary sources of vitamin D which is essential for absorbing calcium (more below). Although the calcium in fish comes primarily from their bones, you can grind them up in a blender and combine the paste with a little hummus, natural mayo or your own favorite spread to enjoy in a sandwich. Sardines have a delicious umami flavor that adds great taste to recipes.  The small fillets can be chopped up and tossed into salads or ground up entirely and incorporated into soups, sauces and dressings.

👉 For a full breakdown of calcium concentration by food item search the National Nutrient Database.

4. Dose up on Vitamin D

In addition to its potential role in disease prevention, vitamin D is crucial for absorbing calcium.

Very few foods contain vitamin D naturally (though milk, alternate milk beverages and many orange juice brands are fortified with vitamin D) ~ our best source comes from the sun. During the non-summer months, when the northern latitude sun is not sufficiently strong, supplementation becomes necessary for most individuals. Adults are advised to take at least 1,000 IUs (international units) of vitamin D per day while older adults, those with dark-coloured skin and those falling within certain risk categories may require more. Be sure to speak with your health care practitioner regarding appropriate supplementation and keep in mind that your vitamin D levels can be easily tested through bloodwork upon request.

5. Best Practices

Our bodies lose calcium every day through sweat, urine and bowel excretion which needs to be continuously replenished. Certain foods, and food practices, can promote calcium loss while others inhibit absorption. Here are a few of the more common ones to keep in mind:

Sodium: excess salt can cause calcium to be excreted from our body. Most excess salt does not come from our salt shakers but rather from a heavily processed diet.  Try to focus on whole foods in their natural state and be especially mindful of sauces, soups and dressings (in both liquid and powder form) that are sodium saturated. Be sure to read labels and opt for low-sodium options whenever possible.

Soft Drinks (cola): both diet and regular soft drinks (though not sparkling water) have been linked to lower bone density. Some experts suggest this is because overconsumption of cola displaces milk in the diet (a primary source of calcium and vitamin D), but other studies point to the phosphoric acid content in cola, a flavour additive/preservative that can interfere with calcium absorption by binding calcium in the intestinal tract and preventing it from being absorbed into the bloodstream.  When blood levels of calcium drop too low, the body draws calcium from the bones to maintain balance.

Divided Doses: while it is generally preferable to obtain calcium from food sources first, if you are supplementing keep in mind that the body can only absorb 500 mg of calcium at any one time.

The information in this post is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician or other health care professional directly before beginning or changing a course of health treatment.

It's only fair to share...Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on StumbleUponShare on Google+Share on LinkedInEmail this to someone

Blueberry Burst Breakfast Muffins

blueberry burst muffins with spelt & flaxseed

Not so long ago it seems I was making muffins for our family on a weekly basis.  I’d bake a batch or two on the weekend (sometimes making extra for my mom) and the boys would enjoy them throughout the week — in their lunchboxes, after school or as a grab-and-go on their way out the door. But muffin making eventually gave way to bars (a dragon lives forever but not so little boys) and over the past couple years, I think I’ve only made muffins once or twice.

Something about the return to school this week had me feeling nostalgic about this quick bread and when that feeling collided with a stand of gorgeous seasonal berries spreading blue, well, these happened.

blueberry burst breakfast muffin_protein rich

If you haven’t had a chance to experiment with spelt flour yet, this simple and tasty recipe may be a great place to start — and you won’t have to drive all over town looking for it either; you can find spelt flour in just about every grocery store now (Bob’s Red Mill is a popular brand).

Once a European staple, spelt is among the oldest cultivated grains — it gained popularity in the West over the past decade mainly because of its nutritious properties but also because many find it easier to digest than its distant cousin, wheat.

Like wheat, spelt contains gluten (and would therefore not be appropriate for individuals with celiac disease) but the protein in spelt is different from the protein in wheat and many individuals with sensitivities find it easier to digest. The water soluble characteristics of spelt are also said to make the grain’s impressive range of nutrients more bioavailable (easier to absorb).

blueberry burst spelt muffins

From a foodie point of view, one of the things I love most about spelt is its soft, silky texture.  It works beautifully in baking and also imparts a subtle nutty flavor.  Its gluten content also means that you can substitute spelt flour for wheat flour 1:1 without compromising the texture of baked goods.

blueberry burst spelt breakfast muffins

I’m calling this a breakfast muffin but of course you could eat it any time of day.  If you know someone who is a reluctant breakfast eater though, these delicious bites might just do the trick while quietly being a nutritious choice. The spelt in tandem with flaxseed, milk and egg, delivers a solid amount of protein to these muffins with natural bursts of flavor coming through in the banana, abundant blueberry, maple syrup and vanilla.

In terms of texture, if you haven’t baked muffins/bread entirely from whole grains before you will notice a difference. Or, as my husband might say, you’ll know you’re eating something healthy (wink). I’ve been baking with whole grains for over 15 years now and I find the texture the most appealing part but what I often recommend is to take it in steps – using half whole grain and half regular flour and simply increasing over time as you habituate.  The sweetness is also very mild (which makes you realize just how much sugar is in standard baked goods because there is plenty of natural sweetness going on in this mix) but this too can be modified over time.  Eating well isn’t an all or nothing proposition. I’m a big fan of slow and steady.

blueberry spelt breakfast muffins

I hope you enjoy discovering spelt flour within these bursts of juicy berry and be sure to read the Notes in the recipe card below for best results.

To all of the moms and dads who are sending sons and daughters off to school this week, I’m sending you all a big hug and dose of encouragement – it’s a busy and full week for all ~ ❤️ ~

5.0 from 1 reviews
Blueberry Burst Breakfast Muffins
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A protein-rich blueberry breakfast muffin made from stone ground spelt, flaxseed, whipped banana and a touch of vanilla.
Serves: 12-14 muffins
  • Wet Ingredients:
  • ½ cup milk (or milk substitute)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large ripe bananas, in pieces
  • 1 egg
  • ⅓ cup pure maple syrup
  • Dry Ingredients:
  • 1 + ¾ cups whole grain spelt flour
  • ¼ cup ground flaxseed
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 + ½ cups fresh blueberries
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F
  2. In a large mixing bowl combine: banana, vanilla, olive oil and milk. Using a mixer, blend the ingredients together until creamed - the mixture should take on a lighter and fluffy appearance.
  3. Add the egg and maple syrup, and blend to combine.
  4. In a separate bowl combine: spelt flour, ground flaxseed and baking soda, using a spoon to hand mix.
  5. Add in 1 cup fresh blueberries to the dry ingredients, mixing gently to combine and taking care not to mash the fruit.
  6. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredient bowl and mix only until combined. Try to avoid over-mixing as this hardens the batter.
  7. Spoon the muffin batter into a nonstick muffin tin (with or without cups) about ¾ full.
  8. Divide remaining blueberries on top of batter (dropping them here and there).
  9. Bake the muffins for approximately 20-24 minutes or until the muffin tops have gently browned and are firm to the touch.
  10. Remove the muffin tin from the oven and allow the muffins to cool and collect their flavor for 15-20 before unmolding and enjoying.
  11. Makes 12-14 standard size muffins.
Sweetener - although you could use coarse sugar in place of the maple syrup (adding it to the dry ingredients), I like the taste of maple syrup and find that it adds to the moistness of these muffins.
Banana Whip - blending the banana thoroughly with the other moist ingredients not only distributes the flavor throughout the muffins it is also another great tool in creating levity and moistness in the whole grain batter.
Molds - I used paper cup liners for the photos in this post however I find silicone muffin molds the most practical and useful - (no tugging and no muffin left behind, everything slides out easily in one piece) - a worthwhile investment and you can find them at many hardware stores at a very reasonable price.
Flavor - I find these muffins gain flavor over time. Be sure to allow them to sit for at least 15 minutes after you take them out of the oven to allow the muffins to cool and the flavors to develop.
Storage - you can store these muffins in an airtight container or ziploc bag in the fridge for up to 3 days. The muffins also freeze beautifully.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 83 grams (1 of 12 muffins) Calories: 127 Fat: 5.7 g Trans fat: 0 Carbohydrates: 17.6 g Sugar: 10 g Sodium: 11 mg Fiber: 2 g Protein: 2.3 g Cholesterol: 14 mg

blueberry burst breakfast muffins for back-to-school

It's only fair to share...Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on StumbleUponShare on Google+Share on LinkedInEmail this to someone

Black Bean Tacos with Mediterranean Salsa (Gluten Free)

black bean tacos with salsa

We’ve been doing some collaborative cooking in our home lately.

Last week our youngest made this dish ~ a fairly detailed and somewhat laborious recipe for a young cook and I was happy to partake in both the result and the journey.  He managed it with quiet confidence and persistence working through each of the steps and even made a second trip back to the store on his bike when he realized we didn’t have sour cream (I suggested Greek yogurt but was overruled – he made the right call). I have to admit I enjoyed the mom break ~ so nice to have someone else prepping food for a change but more than that, it was one of those satisfying moments when you see your child’s culinary prowess expand beyond spreading peanut butter (although we all know peanut butter sandwiches are tough to beat).

Our fourteen-year-old wasn’t the only one donning a chef’s hat last week though.  My husband, who is one of the most hands-on people I know (fixer, builder, forest tamer) rarely shows his talent in the kitchen (he’s an outdoorsy kind of guy) but when we recently returned home from holidays to a bazillion (maybe more) ripe tomatoes waiting for us in our garden, we decided on the spot that a salsa making party for two would ensue.

So with music playing and cervezas flowing, we went about cutting, chopping, squeezing and mixing with great gusto and had the best time.  I had forgotten how much fun it is to cook together!  And the result was delicious.

garden tomatoes_blog

(yes, those are squash growing beside our tomatoes – squee!)

Chunky, satisfying and packed with a range of lip-smacking flavors, this is a delicious and hearty salsa that harmonizes beautifully with a range of proteins. While you can certainly serve it as a traditional dip, our preference was to enjoy it heaped into our tacos (so good!).   A perfect complement to our gently spiced al dente beans.  Leaving the veggies in whole form (chopped vs pulverized in a blender) makes this salsa work particularly well as a taco filling. I served the tacos with a generous bowl of guacamole, a side of garden fresh green beans and some fluffy quinoa.

Corn tortilla shells (gluten free) have a different texture and taste than wheat tortillas and they also grill differently (they take longer to char) but with a little persistence, you can get them to crisp up nicely.  I often grill tortillas right on our gas cooktop in the kitchen – keeping a careful eye and using tongs to flip.  It works like a charm.

grilled black bean corn tacos with salsa

Alternatively, you can heat the shells in the oven covered in foil (as they appear in the main photo – warm/steamed but not charred/crisp).

I decided to give this salsa a bit of a Mediterranean twist adding green olive, lemon and fresh parsley but you can play around with ingredient choices that work best for you.  Similarly, you can substitute any desired protein in place of the beans ~ we have made this recipe a few times now and switched up the protein each time.  The grill is wonderful this time of year so take full advantage.

Experiment, have fun and consider making this recipe with others – it’s a ton of fun!

black bean tacos with salsa_blog 5

As always, be sure to read the Notes in the recipe card below for helpful information and best results.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Black Bean Tacos with Mediterranean Salsa (Gluten Free)
Prep time
Total time
A chunky and full-bodied Mediterranean salsa complements lightly spiced black beans in a gluten-free corn tortilla.
Recipe type: Main Dish
Serves: Serves 4
  • For the Tacos:
  • 12 small (5" x 5") soft corn tortillas
  • 4 cups cooked black beans
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp ground garlic powder
  • ½ tsp ground coriander

  • For the Salsa:
  • 2 lbs (about 6 large tomatoes), seeded and cut into ¼" or so pieces
  • 1 or 2 jalapeno peppers depending on heat tolerance (seeded for less heat), finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed, salted and finely chopped
  • ½ field cucumber (skin on), chopped (about ½ cup)
  • ¼ red onion, chopped (about ⅓ cup)
  • 8 large Italian gourmet green olives in oil, finely chopped (about ¼ cup)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • ⅓ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • ⅓ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
  1. Place cooked and cooled black beans in a mixing bowl. Spritz with a touch of olive oil and season with cumin, paprika, garlic and coriander. Hand mix or gently mix with spoon taking care not to mash the beans.
  2. In a large bowl, combine jalapenos, garlic, onion, cucumber and olives. The olives should be oiled. If they are on the dry side, add a touch of olive oil to the mixture.
  3. Add the tomatoes and lemon juice to the bowl and carefully mix to combine.
  4. Fold in the fresh cilantro and parsley.
  5. Allow the flavors to permeate in the fridge for 30 minutes or so. Remove from fridge, taste and make any flavor adjustments desired.
  6. Place in a serving bowl and enjoy with tacos or as desired. Store any remaining salsa in a covered container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Dry vs. Canned Beans: I prefer cooking dry (dehydrated) beans over using precooked canned beans for at least three reasons:
1) Home prep allows you to soak your beans before cooking which can ease common digestive distress associated with eating beans ~ simply soak beans overnight in a pot of covered water and then drain and rinse the next day. 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.
2) Home cooked beans have a superior taste and texture. Canned beans tend to be overcooked and mushy - preparing your own beans allows you to cook them just to the point of being al dente so they retain their spring and resilience.
3) Most canned beans continue to be made with Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is a known toxin that is used in the lining of many food and beverage cans. Studies have shown that this industrial plastic is absorbed by canned foods and when ingested can give rise to significant spikes in urinary levels of BPA.
Why Seed the Tomatoes: don't be tempted to leave the seeds in the tomatoes when prepping this salsa. The seeds contain most of the water and if included, you will end up with salsa soup :)
How to Seed the Tomatoes: my preference is to simply cut the tomato in half and then quarters and use a spoon to scoop out the seed sac in each segment - if you squeeze the tomato to extract the seeds, you will bruise the skin of the tomato which stars in the salsa.
Jalapenos: Jalapenos vary in heat. The ones I used in this recipe are from our garden and very hot. We started with two but quickly realized one was ample. You can always add more if you feel it is too mild but removing the heat is difficult. You can also experiment with other peppers (serrano, poblano, aleppo) as desired or skip the heat element all together.
Olives: I love Kalamata olives but they are so robust in flavor, I chose not to use them here because I didn't want them dominating the other more subtle and delicious flavors going in the salsa. Green olives are better team players that way ;-).

black bean tacos with salsa_blog 2

It's only fair to share...Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on StumbleUponShare on Google+Share on LinkedInEmail this to someone