Chocolate Quinoa Cake–(gluten-free)

First taste of chocolateHis first taste of chocolate. Need I say more?

I’ve been conspicuously absent from this blog for two months. Changes in my diet left me uninspired to collect and hang on to recipes and new food combos to post here. But now that I’ve settled in and found my groove, I’m back to invent and create in the kitchen once again.

Ever heard of The Plan? Lyn-Genet Recita’s book of the same name struck a chord with me. In fact, it’s the first eating plan I’ve read that really made sense to me. Once I heard about it, I ordered the Kindle book and got started right away. The Plan is NOT a weight-loss program. It’s a system of finding which foods do not agree with you–which ones cause an inflammatory response, therefore affecting your weight, your health, and your aging process. Interested? You can read a short description of it here.

The Plan

While I’ve never been severely overweight, I’ve been carrying an extra 10 pounds around for the last 5 years or so. Exercise and restricting calories didn’t seem to have any effect. However, I lost 8 pounds in the first 16 days following the recommendations outlined in The Plan. I discovered (even though I had shunned what I considered the gluten-free “craze”) that wheat is my culprit. Once I eliminated it from my diet, the weight fell off and I’ve had more energy. As far as I can tell, it is only wheat that causes an inflammatory response in me as oats and rye caused no reaction, so I have not had to restrict myself to a totally gluten-free diet.

That’s a long-winded round-about way of saying that I’ll be including more wheat-free and gluten-free recipes in this little space over the next few months as I work on replacing my old favourite foods. And here’s the first:

Chocolate Quinoa Cake (adapted from Quinoa 365) Gluten-free

Chocolate Quinoa Cake.jpg

Serves about 16.

The best thing about this cake is that you can substitute many of the ingredients according to your dietary needs or preferences. You can use whatever kind of milk or sugar you prefer, and you can use 3/4 cup of butter (instead of combining the butter and coconut oil).

No, actually the best thing about this cake is the way it tastes! It is seriously chocolatey and fudgy and surprisingly decadent. Don’t expect light and fluffy and you will not be disappointed.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked quinoa (see note below)
  • 1/3 cup milk (almond, coconut, or cow’s milk)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1/4 cup melted organic coconut oil
  • 1 cup organic cane sugar (or refined sugar)
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Whipped Chocolate Coconut Cream Frosting

  •  1 (14 ounce) can full-fat organic coconut milk, refrigerated overnight
  • 1 (10 ounce) bag chocolate chips

Directions

1. Cook quinoa. 3/4 cup of quinoa cooked in 2 cups water will yield approximately 2 cups of cooked quinoa. Spread out on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and cool.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 8″ round pans or one 9 x 13″ pan with parchment paper.

3. Mix the milk, eggs and vanilla in a blender or food processor.

4. Add the cooked and cooled quinoa, butter, and coconut oil to the blender. This is where a high-speed blender like a Vitamix or a Blendtec comes in handy, as it will grind the cooked quinoa, preventing a lumpy texture in the cooked cake.

5. Sift the sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and sea salt in a large bowl.

6. Add the wet ingredients from the blender to the dry ingredients in the bowl and mix until thoroughly combined. Divide equally between the two pans, spreading to the edges.

7. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove, let cool in pans for 10 minutes, then invert on cake racks and remove the parchment paper. Let cool before frosting with:

Whipped Chocolate Coconut Cream Frosting.

8. To make the frosting, melt the chocolate over low heat in a medium pot. Remove the can of coconut milk from the refrigerator. Carefully open it and scoop the hardened milk from the can into the pot. Stir until melted and combined. Remove from heat, let cool. When cool, beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. (Soooo good!)

9. Dust your serving plate with a little icing sugar to prevent sticking. Place the first layer upside down and frost. Top with the second layer and finish frosting the top and sides.  Serves about 16, as it is very filling. Packed with protein and gooey goodness. Judging by the look on the little guy’s face, I think it will become a family favourite.

Follow my Gluten-Free board on Pinterest here.

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Kiwi-Cucumber Salad with Toasted Walnuts

Kiwi-cuke salad

February is Heart Month and today is Valentine’s Day. Let’s skip the chocolate (nooooooo . . . ) and be kind to our hearts.

I learned something new today. I’ve always known that kiwi fruit were a good source of Vitamin C, but I wasn’t aware of all the other benefits of this fuzzy little fruit. While our kiwifruit usually come from New Zealand or California, this week I bought some that were grown in Italy. Sweet, firm and juicy–absolutely perfect.

I learned that two kiwifruit contain as much potassium as a banana, and twice as much Vitamin C as an orange. They are an excellent source of fiber, even if you don’t eat the skin (which is NOT weird in your mouth and is fine to eat as long as you scrub it first). Eaten regularly, kiwifruit is a heart-healthy choice as it can thin the blood and reduce blood clotting and lower triglycerides. Not only that, it is also a good source of magnesium.

Kiwi-cucumber salad
We had this as a side salad with our dinner. It was simple to prepare and contains no oil. Zero. And we didn’t miss it one bit. Tossing in some toasted walnuts added to its heart-healthy benefits as they help to lower cholesterol as well. All you have to do is simply slice the cucumbers, marinate them for a while in the vinegars, then arrange with the sliced kiwi on top of greens of your choice and top with the walnuts.

Serves 2-4
Ingredients

  • 1/2 long English cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 3 – 4 small kiwi fruit, thinly sliced, (peeled or unpeeled)
  • 2 cups baby spinach or other greens
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts
  • 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
  • 1/2 tsp. dried dill (or 1 tsp. fresh chopped dill)
  • pinch of salt and pepper to taste

Directions
1. Whisk together the vinegars, dill, salt and pepper.
2. Thinly slice the cucumber. Toss it with the vinegar mixture in a small bowl.
Let stand for 15- 20 minutes to allow the cucumbers to marinate.
3. Toast the walnuts for about 5 minutes in a 400F. oven or until fragrant. Allow to cool.
4. Arrange the greens on a platter.
5. Slice the kiwi.
5. Arrange the cucumbers on top of the greens, top with the kiwifruit and the toasted walnuts. Drizzle some of the remaining vinegars on top and serve.

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Feed a child. Nourish a Mind. #feedsouthafrica

Lunchbox Fund Photo 2
I am a Grade One teacher. You can tell right away that I’m Canadian, as I’d be calling myself a First Grade teacher if I lived in the US. I have a delightful class of 6 and 7-year-olds who live in a rural area of Vancouver Island in BC. They are a happy, healthy bunch who come from loving, caring families. They come to school well fed with carefully packed lunches full of choices from all the food groups. Most of them also come with all their food in reuseable containers, packed by their environmentally-conscious parents who shun things like plastic yogurt tubes, plastic wrappers and drinks in single-use containers.

I’m a lucky teacher. I can start nurturing their minds right away, because they come to me with full tummies, having had a nutritious breakfast shortly before the school bell rang.

Not so in all areas of the world, however, or even in many areas of North America. I’ve also taught in schools where the only food kids had consumed since the dismissal bell rang the day before was a bag of potato chips and a Coke. The warm oatmeal served by the kind ladies from the breakfast program at that school may also have been the only comfort they had felt since leaving me then, too. But at least they had a school meal program to rely on to nourish their little bodies and their brains.

Childhood hunger is a global problem and there are millions of children all over the world who face hunger daily and have no one to guarantee that they will receive even one meal a day. This week I have teamed up with Nicole from The Giving Table and hundreds of other food bloggers not only to draw attention to this problem, but to do something about it. The Giving Table’s mission is to empower everyone to make a difference in the food system. Nicole has teamed up with The Lunchbox Fund, an organization that has been fostering education via nutrition since 2005. It provides daily meals for orphaned and impoverished children in townships and rural areas in South Africa.

This is often their only meal of the day.

A staggering 65% of all South African children live in poverty and almost 20% of all children in the country are orphans. That’s one in five. One of every five children has no mom or dad to come home to, no one to love them as a parent does. Many are living in  households headed by 12 or 13-year-olds, just children themselves. Think of how traumatized your own children would be without you, and now imagine them with no food, living in a country where the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is taking their relatives and friends too.

Nicole’s goal is to raise $5000 with this campaign. This amount will provide 100 children with a lunch every day for a year. A $10 donation will go a long way to help us achieve this goal. Will you help? I hope you’ll consider giving up something, perhaps the latte you pick up on the way to work, and donate it to this cause instead. Just go here to donate.

The Lunchbox Fund identifies schools or forms partnerships with locally based NGOs or community organizations in order to evaluate and identify schools. It funds distributors to buy and deliver food, monitor the feeding scheme, use a Project Manager, and deliver reports back to them for evaluation.

Because this meal provided by this fund requires children to be in the classroom to receive it, they are not only receiving the nutrition their bodies desperately need, but an education that will help each child reach their full potential. And as a teacher, I know that the two go hand in hand. Hungry children cannot learn.

Parts of this video moved me to tears. When Topaz Paige-Green, the driving force behind the Lunchbox Fund visited a school in Soweto one day, she noticed a group of children sitting separately from the other children during break time. When she inquired why they were sitting apart, she learned that they had no food to eat, and they chose to sit away so they wouldn’t have to watch the other children eating.

Nicole has asked each of us to write a blog post to share a lunch idea. The sky is the limit here, but I’ve decided to share what I like to take to school for my lunch. I am NOT a morning person. I do not like having to decide what to pack in my lunch in the morning. If I can simply grab a pre-made lunch out of the refrigerator in the morning and go, my day is off to a good start.
Mason Jar Salads title

These Mason jar salads were the answer for me as soon as I spotted them on Pinterest. I make them frequently, changing the ingredients, not only for variety but according to what I happen to have on hand. In twenty minutes on a Sunday afternoon, I can prepare my lunches for the entire week. That works for me!

Mason Jar Salads
In these ones, I’ve used ingredients for a Greek salad. With the vinaigrette on the bottom, I layered chickpeas, cherry tomatoes,  celery, cucumbers, red peppers,kalamata olives, feta cheese, some quinoa and greens. Once I give it a little shake to distribute the dressing, I’ll pour it onto a plate and enjoy my lunch.

There are only a few guidelines to make these successful:
1. Choose the right-sized jar. I use a pint jar for a salad, a half pint jar for yogurt with fruit.
2. Layer the ingredients with the dressing on the bottom and the more delicate ingredients like greens on the top.
3. Take a little care when you are filling the jars to make them visually appealing. Vary the colours and textures. Think about the protein you have chosen and choose ingredients to complement it.
4. Avoid ingredients with strong odors as they will intensify as the week goes on. Steer clear of eggs, blue cheese, or salmon, or just pack them separately.

Think about how lucky we are to be able to afford to feed ourselves and our children with nourishing food. Please consider donating, even a small amount, to this cause. I’ve made a $10 donation, and I challenge you to do the same. Thank you in advance!

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Black Bean Brownies

BlackBeanBrownies

I was dubious. I mean, really . . . how good could they be? Black beans belong in soups and stews and chili, not in baked goods, right?

If you’re expecting a clone of the Betty Crocker boxed mix, you’ll be disappointed. But if you abandon your preconceived notions of what brownies should taste like and you’re interested in serving a healthful alternative, try these. They have enough chocolate to satisfy any craving, they’re exquisitely chewy, and they’ll make your kitchen smell like heaven. On top of that, they are packed full of protein, they are gluten-free, and they use only 3 Tbsp of oil. With the little bit of salt on top, they also have that sweet and salty contrast that I love.

Black bean brownies

Makes one 8″ x 8″ pan.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups black beans (soaked overnight, rinsed, drained and cooked in 6 cups water for about 45 minutes or until tender) or one 19-0unce can, drained and rinsed
  • 3 Tbsp. coconut oil (melt in microwave)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup organic coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips (divided)
  • 2 tsp. fleur de sel for topping

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Combine all ingredients except 1/2 cup of the chocolate chips and the fleur de sel in a food processor. Process until smooth, scraping and pulsing as necessary.
  3. Spread in a parchment paper-lined 8-inch square pan.
  4. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips and the fleur de sel on top.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes.
  6. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into small squares ((as these are very filling). Store in an airtight container for 2 to 3 days, or in the frig for up to a week.

brownie pan

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Mexican Hot Chocolate

Mexican Hot Chocolate

This unusually cold weather has made us all want to hunker down and hibernate. Winters where we live are generally very mild and may or may not bring snow. This year we’ve had a couple of cold snaps with below freezing temperatures. Curling up by the fire with a warm mug of hot chocolate seems like just the thing to do.

Here’s a healthier version of traditional hot chocolate. It uses cacao powder (I just ground cacao nibs in my Vitamix) and coconut sugar and is spiced up with cinnamon and a tiny bit of cayenne to give it a kick.

The nutrition information on the back of my raw organic cacao nibs package reads, “Cacao is one of the best sources of magnesium and a powerful source of antioxidants. It also provides a vast array of essential minerals and nutrients including iron, potassium, proteins, and alkaloids.”
cacao nibs
My yoga teacher tells me my the cramps in my feet and legs may be due to low magnesium levels. If this is a solution, I’m all over it.

Makes 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cacao powder
  • 2 Tbsp. organic coconut sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups milk
  • cinnamon sticks for garnish

Directions

  1. Combine cacao, sugar, cinnamon and cayenne in a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir until blended.
  2. Heat vanilla and milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Slowly add dry ingredients to milk. Whisk continuously until dissolved, about 2 minutes, or pour into blender and blend until smooth. If it is too rich, you can add a little hot water. Serve with a cinnamon stick.

MexHotChocolate

Sunset in Mexico

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How to Plan a Menu in 3 Easy Steps

dinner time

I love having people over for dinner. It’s one of my absolute favourite ways to spend an evening. Good friends or family. Easy conversation. Appies. Wine.*  First course. More wine. And so on, right through to dessert, which, in my opinion, should always be the crowning glory to a meal.

*Or maybe Prosecco. (Even though I’m the only one who seems to like it, I keep on offering it relentlessly with the hope that I can find a new convert–a Prosecco buddy, so to speak. Sigh. I’m working on it.)

As much as I love dinner partying, I have a love-hate relationship with menu planning. I agonize over it. Every. Single. Time. A regional meal–Greek? Italian? Middle Eastern? Maybe Thai. How about Asian-fusion? Do they like seafood? Should it be super casual or should I go all out?

And then I start looking. I scroll through my own recipes on this blog looking for inspiration. I head over to Pinterest and pin like crazy. I google. I pin some more. And this time I found:

I always seem to put off making a final decision until I’m down to the wire, time wise. It’s easy to get distracted on Pinterest– I want these boots, but I really need these ones.

  • roasted chicken with lemon and oregano. Okay, now this one sounds perfect. I could go with a lemon theme! Meyer lemons are readily available locally now.  Lemon chicken, a citrus salad . . . a lemon dessert. The chicken recipe is from Bon Appetit so I can trust it.

Right?

And then I read the reviews. “Tasted like formaldehyde and old people” read one. “My whole family, except the dog, was disappointed,” commented another, and then this one, “This was the first recipe that I’ve tried from Bon Appetit, and I must say we’re off to a very bad start.”

Back to Square One. I have no more time to pin or google. It’s crunch time. I just go with what I know.

I’ve since devised Three  Steps to Easy Menu Planning  that, hopefully,  I’ll  remember next time I’m trying to make decisions.

3 steps to Easy Menu Planning
One. Keep it simple. A simple menu, simple dishes, simple wholesome flavours. I’m here to enjoy my company, not to win a cooking competition.
Two. Cook what I know. Use tried and true dishes that I’ve made before.
Three. Plan and prep. Choose dishes that I can make ahead of time or at least make components of in advance.

So what did I finally come up with? Simple, tried and true, and it could all be prepped in advance.

1. Prosciutto-Wrapped Scallops with Blackberry Balsamic Drizzle
Prosciutto Wrapped Scallops with Blackberry Balsamic Drizzle
2. Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad with Cranberries, Walnuts and Parmesan
Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad with Cranberries and Parmesan
3. Spring Chicken Thighs
"Spring" Chicken
4. Oven Roasted Seasonal Vegetables–carrots, parsnips, yams, potatoes, yellow and red beets, fennel, onions, cauliflower tossed in oil and rosemary.
5. Raspberries with Lemon Cream in Phyllo Cups
Raspberries & Lemon Cream in Filo Cups
And it was good. The best part? Hanging out with great friends. Easy conversation. Lots of laughs.

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DIY Almond Milk

How to make Almond Milk

Why make your own almond milk? Laura tells me it is definitely not to save money. Commercially processed almond milk can be produced much more cheaply than buying raw organic almonds. But if you’re like Laura, and you care about how food is produced, packaged, transported and marketed and you like to be in control of what you eat whenever you can, making your own almond milk just makes sense. Here are her instructions. You might want to borrow her friend Liza’s idea and try it in Silk Road’s Chocolate Panda tea.

Ingredients
  • 1 cup whole raw organic almonds
  • water to cover
  • maple syrup or other sweetener to taste

Directions
1. Put the almonds in a glass bowl and cover with water. Soak overnight or up to 2 days. The longer you soak them, the creamier the milk will be.
2. Strain and rinse with cold water. The almonds should feel squishy when pinched.
3. Transfer to a blender and add 2 cups of water. Blend until smooth.
4. Strain again, this time through a nut milk bag. You can squeeze the almonds to extract the milk.
5. Add a little pure maple syrup (or other sweetener) to sweeten it to your liking.
6. Store in a glass jar and refrigerate. Shake before using, as it will separate.

The leftover strained almond meal can be stored and added to muffins or quick breads, stirred into oatmeal or toasted and added to granola.

Try Silk Road’s Chocolate Panda tea with your homemade almond milk. This is a rooibos and chamomile tea flavoured with hints of chocolate, mint and vanilla. Whoever dreamed up this combination knew the recipe for relaxation after a busy day at work.

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