Feature Food of the Week – Asparagus

There’s always a sigh of relief when the first crop of Asparagus comes in because that means spring really is here!

Asparagus is certainly a unique looking vegetable with it’s long thin stalks and fgreen-asparagus-1331460_1920unny spiky leaves. it’s been called the “aristocrat of the vegetable” for it’s regal appearance as well as its popularity with the nobility, from Roman emperors to King Louis XIV to name a few.

Asparagus is available in three colours: green, purple and white. The season for asparagus is brilliant and brief – it’s only available May and June – so make sure you try some while it’s here!

Nutritionally, asparagus is low in calories and offers high amount of fibre, iron, vitamin C, vitamin A and B vitamins. Folate in particular is a very important B vitamin found in asparagus.

When buying asparagus, look for stalks that are straight and crisp with tips that are tight and green/purple.

You should eat your asparagus as soon as you can but you can store for up to three days in the refrigerator if you have to. To preserve freshness, wrap the ends of the asparagus in a wet paper towel and cover with plastic warp or place stalks in a glass of water.

Quick Tip: Make sure you snap off the woody end of your asparagus before you cook it! Just hold it at the end and bend until it breaks off.

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Roasting and steaming are two great ways to cook asparagus. Steam asparagus for about 5 to 10 minutes. The time will depend on how thick the asparagus is. Roast asparagus for 12 – 15 minutes in at 425 F . I love how with roasted asparagus the tips become just a little bit crispy. Blanching is another method where you cook asparagus for 3-4 min in boiling water, then drain and run the asparagus under cold water to stop the cooking process.

Roasted asparagus goes really well as a simple side to meats such as chicken, turkey and steak. Asparagus pairs well with other vegetables in medleys. You can make it an addition to pasta dishes or in a stir-fry.

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Rhubarb Compote Recipe

As a follow-up to Monday’s post I’ve been cooking with Rhubarb this week.

This recipe for rhubarb compote that I came up with is incredibly easy to make recipe to make and so good. This compote is super versatile. It goes great as an accompaniment to so many things: over oatmeal, with yogurt you can use it to make a parfait, or even on top of pancakes or French toast.

In this recipe, I love the interplay of sweet and sour on the taste buds and the hint of spice gives just a little extra something that makes the flavour pop.

You can look back at Monday’s post to see all the good things about rhubarb. Honey is an all natural sweetener which has been used for thousands of years. It was very highly prized in Ancient Rome. In addition to being a natural sweetener it may provide some antioxidants and antibacterial activity.  You might think it interesting that ginger is included in this recipe. Ginger is often featured with rhubarb, and as you’ll see they make a great pairing. I put cinnamon with everything I can because it’s a great spice, I love it’s flavour, and it has great antioxidant properties as well as effects on controlling blood sugar.

There are suggestions for two different amounts of honey. Personally, I like things less sweet and thought ½ cup was too much but others told me that they preferred the recipe with this amount over the other. You’ll just have to give it a try and decide for yourself!

Rhubarb Card (3)

The Story Behind the Slice Pt 2 – What You Need to Know When Choosing a Loaf of Bread

bread-933228_1920Bread, it’s been a staple forever it would seem. If you’ve read Tuesday’s post you’ll know more about all of that, where it came from and how it all came to where it is today.

Bread is part of the Grains and Starches Food Group. They are an important source of energy and nutrients to the human diets, particularly B Vitamins and Vitamin E in addition to minerals such as copper, iron and selenium. Moreover, grains are a good source of fibre which contributes to the maintenance of good health in many ways, such as reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes, controlling blood sugar, lowering cholesterol as well as maintaining a healthy weight.

Nowadays, there are so many different kinds of bread available and they come in all different sizes, shapes and colours and even flavours. The question therefore is, with so many options on the shelves– which one do you choose?!!

 

In today’s post, I’ll give you a glossary of grains terminology to help you demystify some of the terms you might see or hear about as found on packaging and what they mean when trying to decide which loaf of bread to buy.

But first, here is a very quick overview of the anatomy of a grain. A grain is made up of 3 parts:

  1. Bran – outer layer or protective shell of the grain. This part provides fibre as well as some B-vitamins and minerals.
  2. Endosperm – middle part of the grain, and the largest component, which acts as a food source for the seed. This part provides carbohydrates (starches) and proteins.
  3. Germ – innermost and most nutrient dense part. This is where you will find the key nutrients of the grain.
PARTS OF THE GRAIN

Anatomy of a Grain

Now here is the overview of what terms you might see when you go to buy a loaf of bread and what you need to know so you can make an informed choice:

Whole Grain – all three parts of the grain kernel (bran, endosperm, germ) are found in relatively the same proportions as in nature. Whole grains undergo the least amount of processing of any grains. This is the most advantageous choice from a nutrition perspective. It is recommended that at least 50% of our grains be whole grain. Look at the ingredients for the word “whole” in front of grains to make sure you are getting a whole grain product and try and choose whole grains whenever you can!

Whole Wheat –made from the entire wheat kernel.  This makes it sound like it is  a whole grain, however in Canada, whole wheat flour has a product can labeled “whole wheat” has to contain only about 95% of the wheat kernel, so some of the germ and bran may be missing so.Whole wheat flour is first processed to separate the parts of the kernel, then the parts of the grain are recombined to make the flour “whole” again. Up to 5% of the bran and germ can be left out, which is done to decrease the risk of rancidity and improve shelf life. Thus when a product is “whole wheat” it may not actually be a “whole grain”. Check the ingredient list to be sure!

White/Refined Flour – the bran and the germ are stripped from the flour and only the endosperm (the soft starchy portion) is left through processing. Why remove these important components? One reason is that it improves the shelf life of the flour. Another, refined grains provide a softer and lighter texture to baked goods; however with the bran and the germ removed you miss out on the real nutritional value to be gained from eating grains such as the vitamins, minerals and fibre. Moreover, because you are missing the fibre found in whole grains, refined grains will cause a greater and faster rise in blood sugar and do not keep you full as long. Obviously, it is not possible to use whole grains for everything (i.e. cakes and pastries) but it is encouraged to limit the amount of refined grains in the diet as much as possible.

Enriched/Fortified – refined flour that has had the nutrients that were lost when the bran and germ were removed are added back into the flour. This means that enriched flours are slightly more nutritional than straight white flour but still falls short when compared to whole grain flour.

Multigrain – made from different kinds of grains (i.e. wheat, oat, rye, corn etc.). Note that this does not mean the bread is made from whole-grains; you will have to check the ingredient list to make sure.

Sprouted Grains – the sprouting process is stimulated under controlled conditions before the grain is used to make bread. You will still get all the benefits of whole grains, because all parts of the grain must be present, but in addition, enzymes activated as the sprouting process begins break down some of the starches in the endosperm making the grains easier to digest and making the vitamins more bioavailable. Ezekiel Bread is an example of a bread made from sprouted grains which is it’s claim to fame.

Gluten-Free – bread made from grains that do not contain gluten (these are wheat, rye and barley). Usually a mix of different grains such as rice, corn, tapioca are used to create a similar quality product to those that are made using gluten containing grains (more to come on what gluten is!).

Artisan Breads – specialty breads made from a variety of different grains to create different flavours and textures. They may or may not have whole grains. Just because a bread loos “special” or is darker in colour it is not a good indicator of the true nutritional quality of the grain product.

Final Thoughts:

In the end, we all have a choice and a right to choose what we eat. The important thing is that you take the time to consider your options and take responsibility for your choices. A healthy diet is about balance and moderation so having refined grains once in a while is okay. Enjoy and be grateful for what you eat! Go out and try new types of bread and ways to have your grains. There are so many good things to be gained from grains!

Want more? For more information on whole grains and choosing grains visit: https://wholegrainscouncil.org/

The Story Behind the Slice – Do You Know Where Your Loaf of Bread Came From?

There is nothing quite like the smell of freshly baking bread. The moment I say this you know what I mean. It casts a spell, stimulates the senses, lifts the spirit and has an overall incomparable effect on the human psyche.

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Bread is one of the principal and most important sources of nutrition ever known to human beings. It has been with us since the beginning and, in many ways, it was a spark for the growth of all civilization. There is much more that lies behind the bread you contemplate at the bakery; that you slice and toast for breakfast; that you pack or pick-up for lunch; or even the ordinary dinner roll. Where did it come from? How did it all come to this? Questions that lead to a fascinating story.

The domestication and cultivation of grains like wheat caused our nomadic ancestors to become stationary. This was a revolutionary lifestyle change. The discovery of bread making closely followed. Non-leavened flat breads (think of Indian naan or chapattis, Middle Eastern pitas, Mexican tortillas) were the first types of bread, produced by mixing flours with water to make a paste and then heating this to bake bread. This method made food more compact, easier to store and transport, and last longer. But bread making did not stop there.

The first recorded leavened bread (what you see now when you visualize bread) is traced back to ancient Egypt around 3000 BC. It was the discovery of yeast, also used for making beer, changed the course and preparation of bread forever. Apparently, the discovery of leavened bread was accidental, occurring when an air-born yeast randomly landed on some unbaked bread, thereupon reacting and catalyzing a transformation in the process of bread making. Yeast produces carbon dioxide gas which is what gives bread it’s puffiness. From there leavened bread became the new norm and popular throughout the globe.

Bread has maintained a singularly important role in history, culture and religion. Bread symbolizes prosperity. The bread riots of the French Revolution are infamous. For Christianity the reference to bread is common throughout the bible. In Judaism, the gorgeous braided Challah featured as part of the Sabbath and important holidays. Even in popular culture “bread” or “dough” is synonymous with “money” – again symbolizing abundance and prosperity.

Over the years, the simple loaf of bread has seen many developments and transformations but it has remained integral to survival. The processes of refining flour have been an ongoing mission since the beginning. White flour naturally requires more effort in processing and refining and it was considered a status symbol: whiter, finer breads for the higher classes and darker, denser and more coarse breads for the lower classes. Nowadays, it’s interesting to note how the mindset has shifted to the reverse with current nutrition knowledge promoting the importance of whole grains for their higher vitamin and mineral content.

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Considering where it has come from and where it is at today, it will be interesting to see what lies ahead in the story of bread. Unfortunately, the question always arises – have we gone too far? The addition of preservatives, high amounts of sugar and over-processing is stripping bread of the simplicity with which it started and the nutritional advantages with which it served our ancestors. In Canada from 2006 – 2011 there was limited or stagnant grown and some decline in certain sections and specific bread products. Nevertheless, innovation has always been an important hallmark in the history of bread. Already we have seen the diversification of special products and flours made from grains other than wheat, owing to the massive dietary shift to go gluten-free. Artisan breads are seeing a comeback, and they are more similar to what our ancestors would recognize as bread.

One thing is certain, awareness is of first and foremost importance. Realizing how the decisions we make affect our health and the power we have to make decisions for our own health and well being and champion change for ourselves, our families and our food systems.

Feature Food of the Week – Rhubarb

Spring is here and so begins the arrival of an array of fresh local fruits afile6971278531027nd vegetables. It’s an exciting time!

Rhubarb is an interesting one of those. Rhubarb is technically a vegetable but it is used as a fruit for the most part. It’s pretty, pink and perky stalks make it the perfect spring feature. Originally from China, rhubarb was used medicinally for thousands of years. It only became popular as a food ingredient in North America in the 19th century.

Nutritionally, rhubarb is low in calories (approximately 27 calories/cup) and is a source of Vitamin C, calcium, potassium, magnesium as well as a good amount of soluble fibre.

You can find rhubarb in season locally from January to June. It’s grown in two crops: the hothouse variety, available from January to June, and the field-grown variety, available April, June and July.

In the market, rhubarb is often sold loose with leaves still intact. Look for firm, well-colored, straight stalk and healthy looking leaves (if still intact). When you get home, you should remove and dispose of the leaves immediately because they are toxic!!! Keep rhubarb-2267993_1920the trimmed stalks in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them.

Please note: rhubarb leaves are toxic owing to their high oxalic acid content. So, remove them as soon as you can and don’t eat them!

Got too much? After removing the leaves, wash the rhubarb stalks, chop them up and store them in the freezer in sealed plastic bags for up to six months. Because you will be cooking them anyways you don’t have to worry about losing texture from freezing.

Since rhubarb stalks are tough and far too tart to be eaten raw you will have to cook your rhubarb before you eat it. Often, a sweetener is needed to cut the sour taste of rhubarb, however you can minimize the sugar content by using natural sweeteners or combining rhubarb with other fruits, such as strawberries, or fruit juices. Pairing rhubarb with other fruits is one reason why you rarely see rhubarb featured on it’s own.

One of the most common uses for rhubarb is in pies. Here are some others of my favourite ways to use rhubarb:

  • Rhubarb Compote – made by cooking rhubarb down to a saucy or syrupy consistency. This is a great addition to a bowl of oatmeal, or topping to yogurt or frozen yogurt!
  • Rhubarb Crisp
  • Add chopped rhubarb to muffins
  • Use rhubarb in sauces, jams and chutneys

If you are looking for a dish to impress you can make a rhubarb tart. This rhubarb and almond tart is simple to make, looks rather elegant and would be just the perfect way to finish dinner on a spring evening!

For more on rhubarb visit: https://www.ontario.ca/foodland/food/rhubarb

What’s Your Food Story?

Food (i.e. a source of nutrition) is the common denominator for all forms of life on the earth. Since time immortal, there has been a fascination with food. It has the incredible power to bring people together. And it has been the fall of civilizations – ripping cultures and people apart. It’s undeniable that we all have a relationship with food in some way or another. As individual as we are from one another so are our likes, dislikes and beliefs about food. Time, history, geographical location and life experience all contribute to these conceptions about what we should and should not eat.

Many traditional medicinal practices believe in the power of certain foods to heal or to harm the body. For instance, Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of healing; the Four Humours of the Hippocratic Medicine system; even the Traditional Chinese Medicine system all shared a common belief in how eating certain foods and not others affected the balance and thereby the overall health and vitality of the body. It is certain that there has been a higher reverence placed on food than is currently seen in much of society’s relationship to food today. Could this be due to the limited supplies and lack of those times, compared to the overproduction and overconsumption of today?

Food and culture are intertwined. Think of how certain foods are integrated into a culture’s heritage and traditions, or in other cases where foods are excluded. What dishes are considered special and why? Consider the turkey at Thanksgiving; chocolate on Valentine’s Day; even the Birthday Cake … all are relevant examples. These beliefs and associations come via a process of socialization and the society in which we are raised.

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What about your family meals and traditions? Where do they come from? Do your beliefs serve and support? How do certain foods make you feel and why? After identifying what your beliefs are about foods you can then reflect on how they impact your overall relationship with food.

We all have our own ideas about food and nutrition. Some of those may have been learned and passed down, others we develop y experiences we have in our individual life situation. However your story is not over. Remember as you can always re-write pages to improve the story’s content and direction, so too can you make changes to improve the quality of your diet and nutrition.

So what’s your food story and how do you want it to read?