Monday, July 30, 2012

A Simple Weeknight Dinner

I am, for all intents and purposes, a "throw-together" kind of cook. I am learning, for my other food blog, how to pre-meditate recipe magic but on most nights, family dinners are the result of throwing some ingredients together and hoping it is tasty. Don't get me wrong - I do plan out my meals weekly so I can shop but I pluck them out of my imagination and not a cookbook. I might buy spinach, eggs, strawberries and walnuts with the intention of making a salad. When it comes to flavourings, it's "a little of this, a little of that". Some nights the results are amazing, other nights, not so much. When it does go right, I usually can't replicate it. 

So, as I was finishing up with dinner the other night, the thought crossed my mind to actually write down the recipe. And now, I can share it with you. 

This recipe takes full advantage of summer produce at its peak and is very simple to prepare. The key here is really to take the time and get the size of the veggies right and to cook everything properly. Given a quick chop and cook you will have a fresh and healthy meal - let the flavours and textures transform with some slow simmering (while you do something else) and you get a bit of magic. The texture of this dish is like a ratatouille so while I envisioned it as a pasta sauce, you could eat it as a side dish or on its own with some nice crusty bread. So, just in case you were wondering what to make for dinner tonight....

Summer Vegetable Ragu
Serves 6 as a side dish or pasta sauce

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 sweet yellow onion, finely diced
1 medium zucchini, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 bell peppers, finely diced
1/4 cup fresh chopped fennel fronds (with stem)
11/2 cup passata (strained) tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
540ml can soft white beans (such as cannellini or navy beans), rinsed well and drained
2 tbsp butter (optional...but tasty)
salt and pepper to taste

In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil on medium-high. Add onions and sauté until glossy and golden, reducing heat if the onions start to brown. Add zucchini and cook until zucchini gets a nice caramelized crust, about 10 minutes. 

Season with salt and pepper at this point then add garlic and bell peppers,  stirring constantly for about 3 minutes so the garlic doesn't brown. Add the pasta sauce and water and stir. Then add fennel and beans and stir through. 

Simmer on medium low for 5 minutes (when you are in a hurry) or for 45 minutes at a slightly lower temperature to really let flavours blend. Keep turning stove down so that the sauce never boils. To finish, season to taste and add butter (if desired) and stir through for a richer flavour.

Serve with your favourite bread or pasta (I used Tinkyada Brown Rice pasta)

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Few Favourite Summer Things

Wow! It seems like so many posts the last few months have been so serious. Time for a bit of summer fun!

The sun is shining (finally!) and there is plenty to explore. Here are a few favourite things...

Ice cream is one treat I am always in the mood for; this local delicacy is out of this world! You can find it at this little shop and eatery; proof positive that the strathcona neighbourhood is transforming before our very eyes.

When I hit the beach, I like to bring along some picnic worthy grub. When I am craving spice, I get takeout from this Victoria-based noodle shopjust wish they would open up on Main St! I am probably the last person to discover this amazing new addition to the food truck scene. I am looking forward to trying this new tapas bar and this new (vegetarian!) addition to the neighbourhood. 

This is my new favourite summer sipper and if I actually have a moment to pick up a book, I am in the middle of this leadership guide and will dig into this novel next.

Enjoy the sun, summer is fleeting...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

G is for Gluten Part Two

Oh the gluten wheat belly post is now the most popular page on this site. So popular, in fact, that it shows up in the number two spot after the wheat belly blog during a Google search. Point...and counter point. 

Gluten is on everyone's lips in some shape or form, this issue is no longer just a "health food thing". We are awash in a sea of processed gluten-containing foods and not surprisingly, massively suffering its effects. 

( For a brief discussion of what gluten is, check out part one if you haven't already. )

Onto the million dollar question: should you avoid gluten? The answer is simple... 

Maybe. Darn dietitian...always confusing us with the subtleties of truly personalized nutrition!

According to new work from the pioneering team at the University of Maryland, there is now a clear spectrum of wheat and gluten intolerance. Here is a look at who should be avoiding gluten and/or wheat:

1. Those with Celiac Disease. No surprise there. Celiac Disease is not an allergy but an auto-immune disease mediated by gluten exposure. If you suspect that gluten is making you ill, ruling out Celiac Disease immediately (go to your doctor and get a blood test tomorrow! It is that simple.) is critical as this diagnosis will ensure that you get the lifelong medical care you require to avoid complications and get gluten free right. A proper diagnosis will also provide you with strong motivation to stay strictly gluten free for life. If you cannot (or your doctor will not) do a blood test, you can actually screen yourself at home and take the results to your doctor.

2. The gluten sensitive. These are people who have ruled out Celiac Disease but through elimination and challenge have demonstrated that their symptoms are directly attributable to gluten and not just wheat. Symptoms include mental fog, fatigue and abdominal discomfort. It is not clear exactly how this sensitivity is mediated, according to study authors.The diagnostic process should be performed with a health professional's guidance to ensure that no other complicating factors could be missed.

3. The wheat intolerant. This classification is not laid out in the study but I added it because I have a personal interest in it. These are people who do not react to other gluten-containing grains such as rye or barley but do react to wheat. I personally became wheat intolerant after having my son and I have ruled out Celiac Disease and wheat allergy with my physician. Without a doubt, when I eat wheat I have increased bloating, a sick/nauseous feeling in my stomach, reflux (which I have never had before - not even when pregnant!), fatigue and if I eat enough of it...bathroom issues. Let's stop there.

4. The wheat allergic. This is a classic allergic response that has to do with histamine release when wheat is consumed. It is mediated by IgE immune cells and can have a spectrum of symptoms from anaphylaxis to hives.

Now what about the rest of us? 

Let me say this: I stand by my earlier statement that, for those of us who don't react to wheat or gluten, it isn't the wheat but how we process it. It is true that much of the wheat we consume has greater levels of more strongly reactive gluten and that those of us who react can become very sick but here is the catch - gluten is one of those rare proteins that none of us digest properly. So a little or a lot...wouldn't we all be pretty sick if it was really that toxic? We don't digest fibre either...and that contributes to its healthfulness. Now, I am not going to claim that gluten is a healthy bonus but I am just trying to illustrate a point.

We consume highly processed gluten-containing wheat 3 - 6 times a day. What other food do we consume so monotonously? Well, maybe dairy. Certainly not steak or blueberries or almonds. Our bodies were not meant to handle such an over consumption of a single food. Especially one that is usually so nutrient poor. Our bodies are designed to glean optimal nutrition from the greatest variety of foods that nature has to offer. In addition, eating such high-glycemic, low nutrient, un-filling food makes overeating almost a certainty, leading to weight gain. Mainlining wheat flour is a sure path to dis-ease. That is your wheat belly. 

So, for better health and vitality, we all need to explore new grains. And eat them as unprocessed as possible. Try rye crackers and spelt bread. Have buckwheat pasta and barley risottos. Eat wheat berries every once in a while. Toss quinoa in salads. Oh, and every once in a while, have a meal with absolutely no grains. See how it feels. Give your body a break from our wheat carbo-loaded normal.

What do you think about all of this? Does gluten and/or wheat affect you? Start the discussion below.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Be Happy...Local Food on Kauai

I just got back from a week long stay in Kauai so I thought I would share a few of my favourite  things to eat there. Kauai has an amazing local food culture and for such a tiny island, it seems like everyone is making some kind of amazing food product, cooking at a food truck or restaurant or serving beautiful local fruit or juices - sometimes right off the back of a pick up truck!

When searching for something to cool you off on a hot day, the only thing better than an ice cold coconut just might be Lappert's Hawaii, Kauai's very own ice cream factory. For a great plate lunch, this is the spot - just not for vegetarians. Vegetarians will find plenty of tasty tofu options, big enough to feed two, here. My husband is a massive fan of Bubba's, which I can appreciate because at least all their beef is 100% grass fed Kauai beef. He ate here more times in the week than I care to admit for a dietitian's husband. Their veggie burger is nothing special but the Hanalei outpost offers local organic salads. And for a special meal out, don't miss BarAcuda in Hanalei on the north shore. I didn't get to try it the last time we went to Kauai and it was absolutely our finest meal of the trip. This is truly original and delicious food, not just overpriced ahi steaks like you will find at other local restaurants.

For foodie treats to take home, you have to stop in a little pottery store in Kilauea to pick up locally blended gourmet salts and spice mixes - I like the red salt with Hawaiian red clay. I also love the granola with crystallized ginger from Anahola Granola, which paradoxically is made in Hanapepe. And this passion fruit mustard makes any sandwich better - really it does.  On this trip, I also discovered this locally made raw chocolate bar at the Healthy Hut - my favourite little health food store.

Should you find yourself in paradise, now you will at least know where to eat when you wake up from your nap on the beach.