Monday, September 21, 2009

Cooking from scratch: 5 easy recipes for greening your diet

Roasted Tomato sauce

About one dozen tomatoes
2-3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 large onion, sliced
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of fresh herbs (oregano, rosemary, thyme) or 1 t dried
Pinch of red pepper flakes
2 T oil
Sea salt and pepper

In a large baking dish or roasting pan (9x13 or larger) spread the sliced onion, garlic, bay leaf, pepper flakes and herbs.

Core the tomatoes, slice them in half and lay them cut-side down on top of the onion mixture.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with the olive oil

Bake at 375 for about 45 minutes.

Remove from the oven and when cool enough to touch remove the bay leaf and herb stems, and wiz in the food processor to desired consistency.

Tip: This freezes well. Make a bigger batch if you have a larger dish. Try adding 1/2 grated carrots under the tomatoes before you put them in the oven to roast, or 1/2 cup red lentils or tuck in chopped red pepper.

Thin crust pizza dough

1 t sugar
1 cup warm water
1 T yeast
¼ cup olive oil (or any type of oil)
About 2 ½ cups of whole white or multigrain flour
2 T fine cornmeal or coarse corn flour
1 t salt

In a small bowl dissolve sugar in water and sprinkle over yeast. Set aside for about 10 minutes until it starts to bubble.

In a large bowl combine 1 cup of the flour with cornmeal and salt.

Add the oil to the bubbling yeast mixture and pour over the flour. Mix well and begin adding the rest of the flour about ½ cup at a time until you have a nice doughy consistency. You might be left with ½ a cup or so of flour that you can’t stir in. Just sprinkle it on the counter and knead it into the bread.

Shape dough into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl covered with a tea towel. Let rise until doubled, about 1 ½ hours. I put mine in the oven to rise (with the oven off).

To make the pizza:
Punch down the dough and divide in three equal parts. Roll each piece into a 12” – 14” circle, add your toppings and bake at 400 for about 15 minutes, depending on how crispy you like it.

You can freeze the dough after you punch it down and divide it.
Try adding a teaspoon of dried herbs to the flour before you mix the dough.


2-4 T butter
1 heaping teaspoon of Dijon mustard or dried mustard
2 T flour
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded cheese
Freshly ground pepper
½ pound macaroni noodles (or another shape)

Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour and continue to stir for a couple of minutes (‘til it starts to smell a little toasty). Stir in mustard. Using a whisk, add about ¼ cup of the milk, stirring well. Still using the whisk, add the rest of the milk. Keep stirring until it comes to a gentle boil and starts to thicken (about five minutes). Let it thicken a bit more and then stir in the cheese. Keep stirring until the cheese melts, then remove from heat and add a few grinds of pepper.

Toss with the cooked pasta.

Tip: Try using a couple of different types of cheese to vary the flavour. Add a little paprika and cooked cauliflower to make it heartier.

Bridget’s House dressing

2/3 cups of olive oil or grape seed oil
4 T vinegar (cider, sherry, white or red wine vinegar)
3 T honey or maple syrup
1 t sea salt
Freshly ground pepper.

I put everything into a mason jar, put the lid on and give it a good shake.

Tip: I usually make this with ½ walnut oil and ½ olive or grape seed oil.

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

1 ¾ cup whole grain flour
½ t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
½ t salt
2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
¼ cup flax meal (ground flax seeds)
¼ cup wheat germ (can substitute chia or bakers’ bran)
¾ cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 cup oil or melted butter
1 T honey
¼ cup milk
1 t vanilla
1/2-3/4 cup chocolate chips
½ cup pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds

Turn the oven to 350 and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients (except chocolate and seeds)

In another bowl combine oil (or butter), honey, milk, vanilla. Beat in egg. Add to dry mixture. Combine well. Stir in chocolate and seeds.

Drop by generous tablespoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheet.

Bake 12-15 minutes.

Remove from oven and let set a bit before moving to cooling rack.

Tip: The dough can be frozen. Try switching it up with different types of nuts or seeds, raisins or other dried fruit.

Greening your diet for a healthy planet and family

In this season of abundance I have been giving a lot of thought to the idea of regional food independence. It’s the notion of supporting local farmers so they can make a reasonable living and supply us with high quality local food, a basic cycle that was hardly worth discussing a generation ago.

But you need to buy local food to make the cycle work. Judging from the burgeoning frozen food sections in our local grocery stores, the average family’s dependence on frozen and other packaged foods is leading us off the healthy green path in more ways than one: Processed food travels a great distance to reach us and includes lots of packaging waste; it tends to be loaded with chemical additives (flavour enhancers, preservatives, dyes) and includes unhealthy fats and too much sodium. It’s really no surprise that the old fashioned homemade diet is better for the earth and healthier for us too.

So how did we get in this sorry state? There are many reasons, but one of them is that a whole generation has lost the everyday know-how that enabled our grandmothers (and for us lucky ones, our mothers as well) to whip up dishes from scratch. It’s something we’ll need to relearn whole scale if we want the local food movement to grow and prosper, if we want our region to become less dependent on food that is trucked in from far away places, and if we want to be healthier overall.

It’s about learning to cook (as opposed to reheating) which is why I taught my children, age six and nine, to make homemade pizza dough. (I want them to be as confident proofing yeast and setting pizza dough to rise as they are pouring their own cereal.)

I know that people turn to packaged foods for speed and convenience too. But some of the most popular packaged foods are the easiest to make from scratch. (It would take me longer to walk to the salad dressing section of the grocery store than to mix up a batch of homemade dressing.) Here are my top five suggestions for greening your diet for a healthy planet and family:

1. Tomato sauce – Avoid jars and make your own with fresh or canned tomatoes. Make a big batch and freeze some for later.
2. Pizza dough – Replace frozen pizza with homemade dough or pita bread (topped with your homemade tomato sauce). Homemade dough freezes well too.
3. Salad dressing – Does your fridge house a crazy collection of bottled dressings? Make your own from oil, vinegar, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Use it for salads, or drizzle it on meat, fish or vegetables before grilling or baking.
4. Mac & cheese – It takes about 15 minutes to make a basic cheese sauce from scratch so you can bid goodbye to boxed Kraft Dinner and other packaged versions of the real thing.
5. Cookies – Baking cookies is quick, easy and fool-proof. That’s why they’re always the first thing that kids learn to bake. They’re also a satisfying snack that can be surprisingly nutritious…if you make your own.
Take a look through your fridge and freezer to see what other packaged foods you might like to replace with a homemade version.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Eating local -- all year long

September 4th was the Eat Atlantic Challenge, a day Atlantic Canadians were asked to eat only food grown or produced in Atlantic Canada. Those who took part know that this time of year, locally grown food is so abundant it’s a breeze to make a meal of food grown nearby. Given our climate though, eating a locavore’s diet (meaning local-only food) through the winter is a challenge for even the most committed. But savouring little bits of locally grown fare is doable year round. It’s the best way to “green” your diet, since local food has a small carbon footprint (as opposed to food trucked in from California or South America). Supporting local farmers also makes our region more independent.

I know the last thing you want to think about this month is what you’re going to eat in February but if you’re into eating local food you really do need to plan ahead and now is the time, since we’re in the thick of the fall harvest.

Here are some freezer staples that keep my family eating local food year-round:
In September I can’t get enough of field-ripened tomatoes. I roast them for tomato sauce for weeks on end and when I’m too tired to roast any more I simply bag the tomatoes whole and put them straight in the freezer. (Ideally you could skin the tomatoes first by cutting a small “x” on the bottom and plopping them into boiling water for 30 seconds. The skin can then be peeled off easily before the tomatoes go into the freezer.) I use the sauce for pasta, pizza and as a base for soups.

With a freezer full of tomato sauce we can last until April without buying tasteless tomatoes grown in faraway places. We mostly avoid tins of tomatoes and have no need to buy jars of sauce, which makes me happy for a few reasons. Although tins are recyclable, they are lined with a plastic coating that contains BPA, the hormone disruptor that is being removed from many water bottles; the sauce jars can’t be recycled locally; plus my freezer stash hasn’t been shipped in from Heaven knows where.

We buy a 50 pound bag of winter squash each September and spread it out on shelves in the basement. Throughout the fall I roast two at a time, scoop out the middle and freeze it for use in soups, stews & quesadilla fillings. My husband (strong and patient) peels and cubes several squash for roasting with other root vegetables.

We pick organic apples from a friend’s tree each October. My husband peels and bags as many as we can stuff in the freezer to use in tarts, fruit crisps and for fresh apple sauce all winter long. Ditto for local rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A healthy approach to laundry

I’m convinced that I do twice as many loads of laundry in summer as I do in winter. It’s not because I want to (although I do love my clothesline) it’s because there are more dirt, dribble, sweat & grass stains on our clothes than other times of the year. In our house there is little hope of wearing something more than once.

Staying on top of the dirty clothes pile takes effort, but it can also be quite harmful, for you and the environment.

Most mainstream laundry detergents are derived from petrochemicals that pollute our waterways and they’re not that great for people either. Detergents leave a chemical residue on your clothes and bedding, residue that you absorb through your skin. To make matters worse, most detergents and laundry aids are heavily scented with artificial fragrances that contain phthalates, which are potential hormone disruptors. They can cause headaches and aggravate allergies and asthma too. Phthalate residue is formulated to linger on your clean laundry (smell it and you’ll know for sure). So you absorb that residue as well. It’s just a little each time but week after week a little becomes a lot since these chemical residues build up over time.

Stain removers and bleaches are harsher than detergent so the above scenario gets compounded. Many contain neurotoxins and carcinogens. Fabric softeners are alarmingly toxic too. All of these substances account for the majority of household poisonings among children.

There are many ways to make your weekly (or daily) laundry chore more eco-friendly and a lot healthier for you and your family. Here are just a few:

Choose an eco-friendly laundry detergent. Down East, Nature Clean and Seventh Generation all make detergents that are unscented, effective and HE compatible.

Boost the cleaning power of these detergents with borax. It’s a naturally occurring mineral salt that works as a whitener, brightener, fabric softener and deodorizer. Look for it in the laundry aisle (Mule Team is the brand, with great retro packaging.) Add equal amounts of borax and laundry detergent to your wash water. It needs time to work its magic; let your laundry soak for 15 to 30 minutes before you start the wash cycle.

You could also use washing soda, in the same ratio. It needs to be dissolved in hot water first.

Take advantage of the sun - it's the world’s greatest bleach. Or chose oxygen bleach.

Consider non-toxic stain removal. Treating the stain quickly is the key to effective, non-toxic removal. Try soaking the item in a mixture of ¼ cup borax to 2 cups of water then launder as usual. Lemon juice and salt gets rid of rust stains (I’ve tried it). Sprinkle the stain with salt and squeeze lemon juice over it. Put it in the sun or let it sit overnight and then wash as usual. Hydrogen peroxide mixed with water gets rid of blood stains (I have tried that too).

Make your laundry life easier and don’t buy white clothes for your kids.