Healthy Living in the North

Foodie Friday: microwave cooking 2.0

This summer, when I was trying to beat the heat, I used my microwave more often. It worked well, keeping my kitchen and the whole house a little cooler. I was amazed because I’d never used the microwave to cook things like rice and pasta. Now the temperatures outside are closer to the freezing mark but I’m still exploring what I can cook in the microwave. Today I’m tackling meat.

spaghetti and meatballs on plate

I decided to try cooking spaghetti and meatballs, one of my family’s favourite meals, in the microwave. Besides being quick, the other bonus is there are less pots to clean up after!

When I heat food in the microwave, the meat can dry out a bit, making it a little tough and chewy, so I was worried that cooking the meat from scratch by this method wouldn’t work well. I was also concerned that I wouldn’t cook the raw meat long enough and cause someone to get sick when they eat it! Nevertheless, I decided to try cooking spaghetti and meatballs, one of my family’s favourite meals, in the microwave. I have to say, besides microwave cooking being quick, the other bonus is there are less pots to clean up after. I like that!

Microwave Meatballs

Makes 30 small meatballs

Ingredients:

  • 450 grams (1 lb) ground beef
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup of minced onion or 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3 teaspoons total of any of all of these dried herbs: basil, oregano, parsley
  • ½ cup quick oats or dried bread crumbs or crushed crackers
  • 1 egg

Instructions:

Step 1: Microwave the meatballsUncooked meatballs on plate.

  1. Combine all ingredients until they are well mixed with equal amounts of quick oats throughout the meat.
  2. Create the size of meatballs you like but remember that the bigger the meatball the longer you’ll have to cook it. I made 30 small meatballs using a tablespoon measure as my guide.
  3. Place meatballs in a microwave safe dish. Try to keep them spaced apart from each other (I cooked mine in two batches).
  4. Cover with a microwave safe cover. Cook at 70% power for 6 minutes. (My microwave has 1200 watt power so you’ll need to change the cooking time if your microwave has less or more watts than mine.)
  5. At the end of the cooking time, if you have a meat thermometer you can use it to check the temperature inside the meatball. The temperature should get to 160C (320F). Another way to know if the meat is done is to cut it open; there should be no redness to the meat anymore.

Step 2: Microwave the spaghetti

  1. Measure how much spaghetti to use. I hold the spaghetti between my thumb and forefinger. For about two servings, I measure out an amount the size of a toonie coin.
  2. Break the spaghetti into smaller pieces and put it in a microwave safe dish with about three cups of water on top. The dish should be big enough for the water to boil and the spaghetti to get bigger (My dish holds eight cups of water).
  3. Add ¼ tsp of salt to the water and one tablespoon oil.
  4. Cook in the microwave, uncovered for four minutes on high. Then, use a fork and break up the spaghetti so it can continue cooking without sticking together.
  5. Allow spaghetti to sit in the microwave for two minutes and then cook again for four minutes on high.
  6. At the end allow the pasta to sit for five minutes in the microwave. It will keep cooking and become tender.

Step 3: Put it all together!

  1. Use your favourite spaghetti sauce, add it to the meatballs and reheat in the microwave. I warmed my up for about two minutes.
  2. Pour over the spaghetti and serve! Enjoy!
Judy April

About Judy April

Judy works in Dawson Creek as a dietitian. A true northerner, she grew up just 75 km away in Fort St. John. She still wonders why the winters are so long but seems to forget when the long summer days arrive and she can go out in her garden at 10 o’clock at night without a flashlight! She’s a person who loves variety in life and at the table!

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Foodie Friday: Keeping cool in the kitchen

I love the long days of summer when I can be outside and enjoy life without wearing a heavy coat or big furry boots. Ahhhh, beautiful, warm, sunny days! Fast forward: It’s 1 o’clock in the morning and I can’t sleep because it’s just too hot! I’ve got the fan going but I still can’t get cool. Sweat, yes; sleep, no. Sound familiar?

To keep the heat out of my home I’ve learned to close up all the windows and pull the blinds and curtains. I’ve even put a big piece of cardboard in my bedroom window frame to block the sun. It doesn’t look beautiful, but it works! Unfortunately one thing that heats up my home, more than anything, is cooking a meal on the stove or in the oven. I mentioned this at work one day and someone suggested I try using the microwave; it doesn’t create as much heat when you cook. I had never cooked a whole meal using the microwave but the weather outside told me I’d better try something different! Already the temperature in my kitchen was 24.2 C; I’ve seen temperatures of up to 27 C after I’ve finished cooking supper. Would using the microwave keep things cooler? I experimented with the recipe below.

Note: this meal was cooked in a 1200 watt microwave. Depending on the strength of your microwave you’ll need to cook the food for a longer or shorter period of time.

Very important: use microwave safe bowls and lids that let steam escape during the cooking process.

plate of veggie fried rice.

Cooking with the microwave can help lower the temperature of your home during the hot summer months.

Microwave Veggie “Fried” Rice

Serves: two

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup long grain rice
  • 1 cup water
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • 1 cup of frozen vegetables
  • 2-4 eggs

Rice instructions:

  1. Place rice and water in a bowl that is about three times as big as the rice/water mixture. You want to make sure the water does not boil over and the rice can double in size.
  2. Cover and cook, for three minutes on high.
  3. Allow rice to sit in the microwave for two minutes and then cook again for three minutes on high.
  4. At the end, allow the rice to sit for five minutes in the microwave.

Vegetable instructions:

  1. Add 1 cup of frozen vegetables
  2. Cover and cook for two minutes on high.
  3. Let sit for five minutes.
  4. Repeat step 1 and 2 until the vegetables are cooked to your liking.
  5. Mix in 1 teaspoon margarine or butter at the end of the cooking time.

Egg instructions:

  1. Scramble together 2-4 eggs.
  2. Season with a pitch of salt and pepper.
  3. Place in bowl and grease the bowl with a little oil.
  4. Cover and cook for one to two minutes on 80% power level.
  5. Uncover the eggs and mix them so the cooked and uncooked parts are broken up.
  6. Cook for another 30-60 seconds on 80% power level.
  7. Eggs should be cooked but if they are not cook for another 30-60 seconds.

Variations

  • Instead of rice you can make pasta in the microwave as well. Use equal amounts of pasta and water and us similar cooking times as the rice.
  • Instead of rice you can have a dinner roll or toast.
  • Instead of eggs, open up a can of salmon, tuna, lentils, or black beans and add that (cold or hot) to the rice, vegetable mix.

Temperature in the kitchen after all that cooking? 24.5 C – not bad! All in all, I’m going to use the microwave more often, especially when the temperature outside heats up. Next, I’m going to try cooking meats. I’ll let you know how that goes when I write my next post.

close up veggie fried rice.

New to microwave cooking? Check out my tips below!

Here’s a few tips for microwave cooking:

  1. Cut food into small pieces. Shred raw carrots, minced onions, and cube potatoes. The smaller the piece of food the quicker it can cook.
  2. Cook in shorter time periods and stir the food in between. Microwaves cook unevenly. Foods in the outside edge of the microwave cook faster than foods in the middle so that can make some parts of the food very hot and other parts just warm. By stirring the food every few minutes that food will cook more evenly.
  3. Foods with skins like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and sausages may explode. Make holes in the skin with a fork so the steam has a place to go. For eggs, break the yolk, or scramble the egg. If the egg is whole, cover it with water so it poaches as it cooks.
  4. Cover the foods you’re cooking but always use microwave safe containers and let air/steam escape the cover. This keeps the food moist and the food can cook more evenly.
  5. Let the food stand for five to ten minutes after cooking. For example, rice, pasta, or potatoes will continue cooking when they sit in the steam of the microwave. This is good advice for casseroles, as well. Another good reason to let the dish stand for a few minutes is that the dishes get very hot in the microwave! Make sure you use oven mitts when you take the food out of the oven.

How do you keep your place cool in the summer? What you like to cook in your microwave?  Tell us in the comments below!

Judy April

About Judy April

Judy works in Dawson Creek as a dietitian. A true northerner, she grew up just 75 km away in Fort St. John. She still wonders why the winters are so long but seems to forget when the long summer days arrive and she can go out in her garden at 10 o’clock at night without a flashlight! She’s a person who loves variety in life and at the table!

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Foodie Friday: Dealing with food hypersensitivities 

Many people avoid a food due to a food hypersensitivity (this includes both food allergies and food intolerances). I am one of those people and maybe you are too!  It can be very frustrating to feel ill after eating. The pain, exhaustion, and physical toll of a reaction can lead to sick days at work and missed social events. Here are a few strategies to help you stay ahead of your food hypersensitivity:

  1. Read every food label: Get in the habit of reading labels three times—once at the grocery store, once when you’re putting the food away at home, and then when you use the food. Remember, companies can change their ingredients at any time, so don’t assume a food that was safe last week is still safe this week.
  2. Plan ahead: Having a food hypersensitivity can mean that you need to cook from scratch more often; processed foods tend to include the most common food hypersensitivities. Cook double portions and freeze leftovers so you have quick meals available when time or energy is wanting.
  3. Ask a lot of questions: Don’t be shy—when you eat out, phone ahead to see if the restaurant can accommodate food allergies and intolerances. When you’re at the restaurant, keep asking questions about how the food is prepared. Is there a possibility that your food has been cross-contaminated in the preparation area? For example, if you order french fries, were they deep fried in the same oil as the breaded fish? If you’re intolerant to wheat or gluten you’ll react when you eat the french fries.
  4. Become informed: This is likely the most important aspect of living well with a food hypersensitivity. Check out these resources:
    • Food Allergy Canada: this website contains important information especially for those with anaphylactic reactions to food.
    • Health Canada: You’ll find handouts on the 10 most common food allergies: eggs, milk, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and other cereal grains containing gluten, seafood, sulphites, sesame, and mustard. Did you know that casein is a part of milk, and those with egg sensitivities need to avoid albumin? These handouts help you learn the many different names of common food hypersensitivities.
    • Health Link Allergy Dietitian: Did you know that you can call 8-1-1 or email HealthLinkBC to connect with an allergy dietitian? You could also ask your family doctor for a referral to a local dietitian. A dietitian will have access to more helpful resources and be able to get answers to your questions.

What if I can’t figure out my food hypersensitivity?

There are no definitive tests to diagnosis food allergies or food intolerances. The best way to figure out food hypersensitivities is to eliminate the suspect food or foods for a period of 4-6 weeks to see if symptoms improve. This is a difficult task: it involves keeping detailed food records, and a symptom diary to track possible food reactions. There are many people who can’t figure out which foods are bothering them and they spend years avoiding more and more foods. Food is part of life, celebration, and enjoyment; when we can’t freely eat most foods, life can become very stressful and isolating. If this is you, consider reaching out to gain support and learn how to add foods back into your diet. As allergy dietitian Wendy Busse says, “We sometimes have to move beyond the search for a cure or perfect diet.”

Today’s recipe is a happy combination of sweet, chocolaty flavours which avoid the top 10 food allergens. Enjoy!

Thumbprint cookies (adapted from Food Allergy Recipe Box)

chocolate thumbprint cookies

These chocolaty cookies have an ingredient list free from the top 10 food allergens.

Yield:  35-40 cookies

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350C
  2. Combine No nut butter, vanilla, applesauce, and sugar in a microwave safe bowl and heat in microwave for 30–40 seconds until mixture is creamy and soft.
  3. In a second bowl combine dry ingredients: rice flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir with a fork until all ingredients are well mixed.
  4. Slowly add dry ingredients to the wet mixture. Mix with a fork or your hands until you can form a cookie dough and no dry flour remains.  If mixture is still dry mix in 1–3 tablespoons of water.
  5. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease with oil. Roll dough into tablespoon sized balls and place on cookie sheet.
  6. Finally, place a chocolate chip on top of each cookie and bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes.

Note: The approximate cost is $6.50 for the whole recipe.  Special flour, No nut butter, and allergen-free chocolate are pricey, but still less expensive than store-bought allergen-free cookies.

Judy April

About Judy April

Judy works in Dawson Creek as a dietitian. A true northerner, she grew up just 75 km away in Fort St. John. She still wonders why the winters are so long but seems to forget when the long summer days arrive and she can go out in her garden at 10 o’clock at night without a flashlight! She’s a person who loves variety in life and at the table!

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Foodie Friday: Spicy bean wraps

A well-stocked pantry can help with last minute, healthy meals.

A well-stocked pantry can help with last minute, healthy meals.

It’s 5 o’clock… do you know what you’re having for dinner? If you’re anything like me, you have no idea!  You may think, “I might as well go out to eat or get some take-out on the way home,” a decision that takes a toll on the pocket book and may not agree with your health either.  But what if you could look into your cupboards and create simple, satisfying, and healthy meals in a hurry?

Here are a few convenient items I keep stocked in my pantry, fridge, and freezer for quick meals:

  • Canned beans and lentils (chickpeas, black beans, pinto) – I just drain, rinse, and add them to a salad, soup, or wraps. There are more recipes at Pulse Canada.
  • Cheese – simple to shred and always a great addition to a pasta dish or a wrap.
  • Eggs – so quick and versatile to make omelettes, frittatas or an egg salad sandwich. Eggs.ca has many more recipes.
  • Frozen vegetables – some of my favourites include colourful vegetables that inspire the appetite, like red peppers, baby carrots and Brussels sprouts. I microwave them and sometimes add a bit of chili flakes, honey and lemon juice for a zesty flavour. In my opinion, this is the ultimate veggie recipe site!
  • Frozen whole wheat tortilla wraps – always an easy meal – stuffed with your favourite ingredients, which for me includes bananas and peanut butter!

Try this chili-flavoured bean wrap and see how quickly you can get dinner on the table tonight!

Spicy bean wraps
Makes 3 servings

Ingredients:

1 tbsp canola oil

½ small onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced or ½ tsp garlic powder

1 tsp chili powder

1 – 14 oz can pinto beans, rinsed and drained

2/3 cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth

Dash of salt and pepper

¼ cup chopped cilantro

Shredded cheese, if desired

Instructions:

  1. HEAT canola oil in large saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add onion and cook until tender, about 3 minutes.
  2. STIR in garlic and chili powder and cook 1 minute longer. Stir in beans and chicken broth and cook until beans are warmed through, about 5 minutes.
  3. MASH beans with a potato masher or the back of the wooden spoon, adding more broth if needed.
  4. SEASON mixture with salt and pepper and stir in cilantro.
  5. Top with shredded cheese if desired and serve with corn or flour tortillas.

Variations on the recipe:

  1. Dairy free: use Daiya non-dairy cheese as a topper
  2. Want more meat? Replace half the mashed beans with cooked ground chicken or beef.
  3. Other beans? Black beans or Romano beans would work well in this recipe.

Source:  Pulse Canada

Judy April

About Judy April

Judy works in Dawson Creek as a dietitian. A true northerner, she grew up just 75 km away in Fort St. John. She still wonders why the winters are so long but seems to forget when the long summer days arrive and she can go out in her garden at 10 o’clock at night without a flashlight! She’s a person who loves variety in life and at the table!

Share