As much as I enjoy cooking, there are enough times where I simply do not feel like spending any amount of time or effort in the kitchen. So when my husband suggested we go out for dinner tonight, I was very tempted to agree. However, then I thought about how much effort is involved in getting three hungry children out of the house, and the bill that would be handed to us at the end of the meal, and decided against it. Besides, there was a gigantic basket of freshly picked blueberries (thanks, Mama!) on my kitchen counter, waiting to be eaten. Then I remembered the bag of Bob’s Red Mill Organic Scottish Oatmeal in my pantry with a recipe for Scottish Oatmeal Pancakes or Waffles on the back that I’ve been wanting to give a try. Who says you can’t have pancakes for dinner?!

Although my children can devour fresh blueberries by they bowl fulls, for some reason they do not like them in any baked goods, including pancakes. So for them I made a plain batch, which they LOVED. Every bite they took was accompanied with a heartfelt, “Mami, make these again!” My husband and I savoured the warm, juicy bursts of antioxidant goodness in every bite of our batch. I will be making these again very soon – maybe as soon as tomorrow’s breakfast!

(I’ll also be using some of these berries in my Flax & Bran Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins, replacing the 1/2 cup of chocolate chips with at least 1 cup blueberries.)

Blueberry Scottish Oatmeal Pancakes or Waffles

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (I used regular whole wheat flour)

3/4 scottish oatmeal* – UPDATE: IF YOU LIVE IN CANADA, THIS CAN BE PURCHASED AT SOBEYS!

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

2 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted (I used 1/3 cup grape seed oil, but canola oil would also be good)

fresh blueberries

Directions:

Mix flour, oatmeal, baking powder, salt and soda. Stir in buttermilk, eggs and butter until smooth. While this batter is best on the thicker side, stir in a little more buttermilk if the batter is too thick. (For waffles, just add 1 more egg and 1 tbsp of oil.) Gently fold in however many blueberries you would like!

* As per the packaging: “Oatmeal originated in Scotland centuries ago and was different from our modern rolled oats. A coarse meal was produced by slowly grinding the kernel between two large millstones. Bob’s Red Mill Organic Scottish Oatmeal is produced in the same old-fashioned way and contains all the health-giving nutrients of the best quality oats from which it was ground – the germ, the oil and the fiber.”

Do you go blueberry picking? What’s your favourite recipe using blueberries?

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Summer is the perfect time to enjoy a cold, refreshing beverage. One of my family’s favourite afternoon “snacks” is a Refreshing Fruit Smoothie (though they also make for a great way to start your day!). They are quick and simple to make and are packed with great nutrition because I use plain Greek yogurt and plain kefir as the base of my smoothies. What I add to the base depends on who I am making the smoothie for and what I have in my freezer and in my fruit basket. Mostly, I use ripe bananas (fresh or frozen), frozen berries, a splash or two of orange juice, and a little agave nectar, honey, or maple syrup. However, banana and mango, or banana and pineapple also make super yummy combinations! Feel free to scroll to the very bottom of this post for the recipe, however I would encourage you to continue reading for some (what I feel are important) nutritional information related to this recipe.

Why do I insist on using plain yogurt and plain kefir? Because they are much lower in sugar than their flavoured counterparts. For example, compare PC brand’s 0% Plain Greek Yogurt versus their 0% Vanilla Greek Yogurt: per 3/4 cup, the plain yogurt contains 2 g of sugar while the vanilla yogurt contains 13 g of sugar! I also like that the plain Greek yogurt does not contain any gelatin or other unnecessary, not-so-good-for-you ingredients. In fact, the ingredient listing is simply “Skim Milk, Bacterial Culture”. Now, I’m not saying there aren’t other good brands of yogurt out there – I would just encourage you to read the label of your current yogurt to be aware of what’s actually in there. And true, by adding agave nectar, honey, or maple syrup to my smoothies, I’m basically just adding the sugar that has been left out of the yogurt – but at least I can control the amount and type of sugar added.

Aware of the risk of getting too analytical and technical, I would like to briefly explain why the type of sugar is important. It’s because of something called the “glycemic index” (GI). It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes during my second pregnancy that I even heard of this term, and indeed it is an important tool in managing one’s diabetes. However, I believe that the GI index is an important tool for everyone and this is why I’d like to provide you with a simple definition: “The glycemic index measures how fast and how much a food raises blood glucose levels. Foods with higher index values raise blood sugar more rapidly than foods with lower glycemic index values do.” (Click here for the source and a more detailed definition.)

Our goal should always be to incorporate mainly “low GI” foods into our diet and to keep “high GI” foods to a bare minimum. Examples of “high GI” foods are white bread, white rice, refined breakfast cereals, white potatoes, and candy. Examples of “low GI” foods are large flake oatmeal, bran cereals, whole grain bread, brown rice, legumes, nuts, quinoa, apples, berries, yogurt, and milk. Essentially, you want what you eat to be as un-processed as possible. And when it comes to “sweeteners”, you are better off using agave nectar, honey or maple syrup (in order of lowest to highest on the GI index) in place of the highly processed sugar our current generations are seemingly addicted to.

Here is an excellent link to some more in-depth information about the glycemic index, in case you’re interested!

And finally, here is the recipe for my “Refreshing Fruit Smoothie”!

Ingredients:

1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I prefer PC brand’s 0%)

1 cup plain Kefir

2 Tbsp orange juice

1 – 2 ripe bananas (fresh or frozen) (Whenever I have too many ripe bananas on hand, I either whip up a batch of my Bran & Flax Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins or peel them and put them into an air-tight container and into the freezer.)

1 and 1/2 cups frozen mixed berries or other preferred fruit

1 – 2 tsp agave nectar, honey or maple syrup

<strong>Directions:

1. Add first three ingredients into blender (or beaker if using an immersion blender as I do). This becomes your “base” and you can then add any fruit combination you would like!

2. Add fruit and sweetener. Blend. Add kefir for a thinner smoothie. Add more sweetener for a sweeter smoothie. Add more fruit for a fruitier (?!) smoothie. Serve. Enjoy!

What is your favourite summer beverage?!

Have you ever heard of the glycemic index and do you use it in your daily food-consumption decision making?!

Whole Grain Pancakes

May 3, 2012

For a time, my kids were slightly addicted to Cheerios for breakfast. And when there isn’t much time available in the mornings before having to rush out the door to catch the school bus, I certainly rely on this cereal for a quickly prepared breakfast the kids will eat without complaining. But now that I make my own pancake mix and store it in my pantry, we have pancakes for breakfast more frequently – even on weekdays! These pancakes are packed with flavour (especially if you follow my modifications) and texture and you’ll never want to buy another box of prepared pancake mix again (not that I have ever even considered doing so)!

I found this recipe in “Whole Grains for Busy People” by Lorna Sass. (I include my modifications in brackets.)

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour (I used 1 cup spelt flour, 1 cup kamut flour, 1/2 cup quinoa flour, 1/4 cup ground flaxseed

Editor’s Note: 1 cup oatmeal (large flakes) was originally (accidentally) omitted from this post – be sure you add them!

1/4 sugar (you can omit this if you’re trying to cut back on your sugar consumption, as I am)

1 Tbsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp salt (I usually omit salt from all my baking)

Directions:

In a large zipper-top bag or storage container, combine all ingredients. Seal and shake gently until thoroughly mixed. Label and date. Refrigerate for up to 3 months. Shake gently to aerate the mix before each use. (I doubled the recipe and am storing it in my pantry.)

To make the pancakes, you will need:

1 large egg

1 cup well-shaken buttermilk, plus more if needed (I have also used kefir instead, with equally tasty results)

2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted (I use 1 Tbsp canola oil instead)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups Whole Grain Pancake Mix (see above; stir before measuring)

1 to 2 tsp grated zest of a lemon or orange (optional)

Directions:

In a large bowl, lightly beat the egg. blend in the buttermilk (or kefir), butter (or oil), vanilla, and lemon or orange rind (if using). Fold in the pancake mix just until the flour is absorbed. Avoid overmixing.

Heat a large griddle or skillet over medium heat. Lightly coat the surface with oil (my griddle doesn’t require any greasing). When a drop of water thrown on the griddle immediately sizzles, pour on 2 Tbsp batter per pancake, allowing space for the batter to spread. When the pancakes are dry around the edges and the bottoms are nicely browned, 2 to 3 minutes, flip them. Cook until browned on the second side, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Lower the heat if the pancakes are browning too quickly, leaving the centre uncooked. Serve each batch as soon as it’s done, arranging the pancakes slightly overlapped. Do not stack the pancakes – this causes them to steam and become soggy. If you prefer to bake and serve all of the pancakes at once, set them in a single layer on a baking pan and place in a warm oven.

Please let me know what you think of these pancakes if/when you try these!

My absolute favourite way to start off the day is with a veggie omelette. I like experimenting with new combinations, and this morning’s omelette was no exception. I had recently bought some baby bok choy and cremini (aka brown) mushrooms and decided they would make an exciting combination in my omelette. I was not disappointed!

Ingredients (serves two):

3 – 4 cremini mushrooms (though I’m certain portobello or button (aka white) mushrooms would taste just as good!)

1 baby bok choy (I purchased mine at my local No Frills), rinsed and chopped into medium pieces, including the white stem (the stems and leaves of baby bok choy are much more tender than those of the larger ones)

1 garlic clove, finely chopped or pressed

1/2 medium onion, finely chopped

4 eggs, well beaten, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Spray medium frying pan with cooking spray (I use olive oil in a reusable spray bottle I purchased at “Kitchen Stuff Plus”) and set stove-top to medium-high heat.

Once oil is heated, add the mushrooms and saute for 2-3 minutes, then add the bok choy and continue to sautee for 2-3 additional minutes. Add garlic and onion and continue to sautee until the vegetables are to your liking. Add the eggs and turn heat to medium-low and cover with a lid.

Once eggs have set, either place frying pan in the oven under the broiler on low for a few minutes (make sure the handle is heat-proof!), or flip the omelette and continue cooking on the stove top.

I highly recommend visiting http://mushrooms.ca/ where you can learn more about mushrooms and find inspiring recipes.

Click here to learn more about bok choy (aka Chinese cabbage) on Leslie Beck’s fabulous website.

What is your favourite combination to include in your omelette?!

I just adore quinoa. Although it is referred to as a whole grain, it is actually a tiny seed, and it can also be ground into flour. Cooked whole quinoa has a slightly nutty flavour and a lovely crunchy texture. But what I love most about quinoa is that it cooks in just 15 minutes and is a complete protein! Oh, and it’s gluten free! I use it often instead of rice and prefer it over couscous, but it is even more versatile than that – you can add it to virtually any meal or snack. When I cook quinoa, I make sure to cook enough to last several days in an airtight container in the fridge. Please refer to a previous link for more information about quinoa.

Here are a couple of ideas for using cooked quinoa: Add 1/4 cup of cooked quinoa to the Greek Yogurt Delight recipe to boost it’s nutritional value and satiety. Or, you can add any array of roasted/grilled vegetables to some quinoa and drizzle it with some Honey Mustard Dressing and sprinkle some feta cheese over top (and some sliced almonds or chopped pecans are also a nice addition).

This afternoon, however, I decided to add some cooked quinoa to the “Carrot Spice Muffins” in Patricia Green & Carolyn Hemming’s national bestselling cookbook, entitled “Quinoa 365 – The Everyday Superfood” . These muffins are kid-friendly, gluten-free, and of course, contain vegetables! And as an added bonus, they contain no oil or butter! Rather, they are moistened by the addition of plain yogurt. Serve these for breakfast, lunch or snack time!

Here is the recipe with some slight modifications.

Ingredients:

2 1/3 cups quinoa flour (can be purchased at the “Bulk Barn”)

2 tbsp ground flaxseed (can also be purchased at the “Bulk Barn”)

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt (I usually omit salt from my recipes)

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/3 cup raisins

1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (or omit these and replace them with an additional 1/3 cup raisins)

2 large eggs

1/2 cup brown sugar – NOT packed (I always try to reduce the amount of sugar in a recipe!)

2/3 cup plain yogurt (I used PC’s Greek Yogurt, of course!)

2 1/4 cups finely grated carrots (you could reduce the amount of carrots and add grated zucchini instead to add more vegetable variety!)

1/2 cup cooked quinoa (I buy mine from Costco as it’s organic and pre-washed. The brand name is “truRoots”)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Lightly spray a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking oil. Combine the first eight ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Stir until well blended. Mix in the raisins and nuts (if using) and set aside. Whisk the eggs, sugar and yogurt in a large bowl. Stir in the grated carrots.

Using a spatula, gently stir the flour mixture into the carrot mixture until just blended. Scoop the batter evenly into the muffin cups. Bake on the centre oven rack for 20 – 24 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of a muffin comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the oven and allow them to cool completely before removing them from the pan. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 1 month, but I doubt they’ll last very long – the batch I made this afternoon is already devoured!