Healthy Living in the North

Something old is new again! Using an Instant Pot at 80

Adele's mom standing with her Instant Pot.

Food traditions are an important part of healthy eating. Here, Adele’s mom finds the joy in modernizing her traditional baked bean recipe with her new Instant Pot!

I remember, as a child, watching my mother make baked beans in an old brown bean pot that stayed in the oven from morning until suppertime. She would soak the navy beans overnight in water and baking soda, rinse them, and then add all the ingredients into the pot to cook “low and slow” for at least 8 hours. The smell permeating through the house was fabulous and she would usually have fresh baked buns or bread to accompany them. As kids, we could hardly wait for those beans to be ready! Today, with the busy lifestyles of working families and multiple commitments, it’s difficult to prepare foods using traditional methods that are so time consuming. But now, we can have the best of both worlds, using new technology in the kitchen!

New technology makes a great gift

I got my mom an Instant Pot for Christmas because I loved mine so much and she was quite curious about it. After a couple of lessons, she felt comfortable enough to cook with it on her own and she did remind me, “I might be 80 something years old, but I’m not stupid and I have used a pressure cooker all my life!” Uh…sorry Mom. But I digress. So after trying her hand at cooking a couple of roasts using the searing function, and following my instructions to deglaze the pot to avoid the dreaded burn message, she wanted to branch out in her repertoire of Instant Pot skills.

Traditional baked beans: the Instant Pot version

I told my mom that I had made baked beans in my own Instant Pot a couple of times and that they were as good as the original version, but she seemed very skeptical that you could get the same great results in so little time. She was willing to give it a go though! Mom still insisted on soaking the beans overnight, not actually necessary for the Instant Pot, but she believes adding the baking soda helps to “de-fart” them (disclaimer: this cannot be proven!).

Here’s how we made the beans:

  • Dump beans in the pot, add water to just cover.
  • Throw in whatever other ingredients you like best in your baked beans. For us that was ketchup, onions, a bit of cut up pork, salt, pepper, a couple tablespoons of brown sugar and a squirt of hot sauce (my mom didn’t see me do that and would probably not have allowed it otherwise!). We sometimes add molasses too.
  • Put the lid on and make sure your lever is pointed towards the back (non-venting) and hit the “bean/chili” button which sets your timer for 30 minutes. If your Instant Pot doesn’t have that function, hit “pressure cook” and set the timer for 30 minutes. It takes about 10 minutes to come up to pressure, 30 minutes cooking time, and another 10 minutes on natural release.
  • After cooking, quick release the rest of the pressure and voila!

We got yummy, fully cooked, but not mushy, home baked beans that are every bit as good as those that have been baked in the old fashioned way. My dad ate three helpings, so I guess they turned out pretty good!

Lifelong learning in the kitchen

Mom and I have such fun learning new things in the kitchen together, with Dad overseeing and then critiquing our work! They are quickly becoming Instant Pot aficionados, and look forward to learning new ways to make traditional family recipes, that will save time and energy.

FYI, she still packs my lunch in a brown paper bag when I stay in Prince George for work. Sheesh!

Adele Bachand

About Adele Bachand

Adele has been in Operations Management for over 15 years. Prior to starting her career as a Long Term Care Manager, she was a Human Resources Management Professional in a variety of industries including retail, tourism, finance, and manufacturing. She is professionally educated and trained in the human resources field, and has a Bachelor of Administration and Management Certificates from Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology. She continues to improve her education and skills through a variety of methods including communications and team building through the BC Patient Safety Quality Council. Adele has completed the Core Linx Leadership program with Northern Health and the Patient Safety Officer training program through Healthcare Canada. Currently she has taken on a one-year relief position in Population and Preventive Public Health as the Regional Manager for Healthy Settings. This is providing her with a significant challenge learning about Healthy Communities, Healthy Schools and upstream thinking! One of Adele’s goals is to help provide our patients, residents, family, and community members with the safest care possible, while honouring their participation in person and family-centred care. She is also an advocate for mentoring and challenging staff to reach their full professional potential. Adele’s personal interests include gardening, her two dogs, and just about any kind of crafting where she can be creative! She has also become a fan of the adventures of side-by-side rides in the back woods of Quesnel.

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Layer up your lunch!

A layered salad in a mason jar, showing multiple layers of vegetables throughout the jar!

I recently spotted this delicious-looking salad in the lunchroom at work – my colleague Melanie was the one who brought it in, and I thought it was brilliant!

There’s something about this presentation that’s just so appetizing – it seems like a great way to get in some of your daily allotment of veggies (Canada’s Food Guide recommends vegetables and fruits make up half your plate).

My interest was sparked, and after researching layered salads a little, I found this helpful post: No More Soggy Salads: A Guide to the Perfect Salad in a Jar. Basically, you put lighter, squishable stuff (like lettuce) near the top, and heartier stuff (like beans or shredded carrots) on the bottom. Add some protein of your choice, spoon on some dressing, et voilà!

Do you ever make salad in a jar? Share your tips and recipes!

Anne Scott

About Anne Scott

Anne is a communications officer at Northern Health; she lives in Prince George with her husband Andrew Watkinson. Her current health goals are to do a pull-up and more than one consecutive “real” push-up. She also dreams of becoming a master’s level competitive sprinter and finding a publisher for her children’s book on colourblindness. Anne enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, reading, writing, sugar-free chocolate, and napping -- sometimes all on the same day!

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Curried Cauliflower-Kale Soup

The final product: Curried Cauliflower Kale Soup.

My husband and I recently enjoyed this savoury soup after a chilly day of outdoor activities. I love it because it’s a great way for us to get a healthy serving of veggies – plus, there’s just something so comforting about a hot bowl of soup!

It’s also dairy-free, and if you use vegetable broth, the soup can be vegan. For meat-eaters, adding shrimp, fish, or chicken is an option. And because you can make it in advance, I’ve found it also works well for potlucks.

If you use the curry powder recommended below, the flavour will be relatively gentle. I prefer offering a milder curry unless I’m 100% sure that everyone likes it hot. Those who want to spice things up can always add a dollop of hot sauce.

Modified from a recipe at Savory Lotus
Makes 4-5 large servings, 6-8 small ones

The ingredients for Curried Cauliflower Kale Soup.

Ingredients

For the soup:

  • 3 Tbsp Madras curry powder (I like Sun Brand)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin seeds
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 small head cauliflower, blended or processed into a rice-like texture (detailed instructions below) – a total of 3-4 cups “riced”
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • A 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 4-5 cups broth (bone broth or vegetable broth). If using bone broth, I recommend chicken or turkey – beef would overpower the flavours in this dish
  • 2 or 3 large leaves of kale, ribs removed, leaves torn into 2 or 3 large pieces each
  • 1 cup full fat coconut milk. I prefer brands made of only coconut extract and water – no guar gum or carrageenan — but this is just a personal preference. If your coconut milk has guar gum or carrageenan, the recipe will still be fine.
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Salt to taste

For the garnish:

In the well-known vegetarian cookbook My New Roots, author Sarah Britton advises that almost any dish can be improved by the addition of three things: minced fresh herbs, grated citrus peel (lemon, lime, or orange), and toasted nuts or seeds. I’ve taken that advice to heart here; to garnish, you’ll need:

  • About a ¼ cup minced chives
  • Grated peel of ½ a lemon
  • ¼ cup toasted pumpkin seeds or toasted almond slices
Nutrition Facts table for Curried Cauliflower Kale Soup.

Method

  1. Peel and chop the onion, garlic, and carrot and set aside, keeping them separate – you’ll need them at different points in the recipe.
  2. Stir the curry powder, ground cumin, and pepper together in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Wash the cauliflower and discard the woody stem. Chop the florets into large chunks, then pulse in small batches in a blender or food processor until you achieve a rice-like texture. Repeat until all the cauliflower is riced.
  4. Grate the ginger and set aside.
  5. Heat the coconut oil in a large pot over low-medium heat.
  6. Add the onion and cook slowly, stirring often, until it’s translucent and just starting to brown. This will take 10 – 15 mins.
  7. Add the garlic and spices and cook for 30 seconds to “bloom” the curry powder. Stir constantly – burnt garlic will harm the flavour.
  8. Add the riced cauliflower, chopped carrots, and grated ginger. Stir well to coat them with the spice-onion-garlic mixture.
  9. Add the 3 cups broth and stir well.
  10. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the carrots and cauliflower are tender, about 10 minutes.
  11. Add the kale (don’t chop it), cover the pot again, and simmer for about 7 more minutes until it’s cooked – you may need to push the kale leaves down into the soup. Leaving the kale unchopped makes it easier to scoop out for the next step.
  12. Scoop out the cooked kale leaves, plus about 1/3 of the remaining soup, and pulse briefly a few times in the blender or food processor until the kale leaves are chopped into small pieces (but not pureed).
  13. Add the mixture back into your soup pot and stir.
  14. Add the coconut milk and lemon juice and stir well.
  15. Simmer for 5 minutes to blend the flavours, then add salt to taste.
  16. Just before serving, stir in the lemon peel and sprinkle with the chives and toasted nuts or seeds.
  17. Have hot sauce available for anyone who likes a bolder flavour.
Anne Scott

About Anne Scott

Anne is a communications officer at Northern Health; she lives in Prince George with her husband Andrew Watkinson. Her current health goals are to do a pull-up and more than one consecutive “real” push-up. She also dreams of becoming a master’s level competitive sprinter and finding a publisher for her children’s book on colourblindness. Anne enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, reading, writing, sugar-free chocolate, and napping -- sometimes all on the same day!

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Foodie Friday: Microwave Baking—can you have your cake and eat it too?

The final product for the chocolate mug cake recipe.

The holidays are a festive time. Usually there is no shortage of goodies to choose from: cookies, chocolates, nuts, gingerbread, to name a few. But can sweets be part of a healthy way of eating? When we look at the larger picture of health, I believe sweets can be included. 

The irony of labelling foods as “bad” or “good” is that it can create a strained relationship with food. We can get trapped into feeling great when we’re eating all the “good” food but guilty when we eat something that is identified as less healthy, like sweets. The Ellyn Satter Institute, which is founded on evidenced-informed approaches, suggests another approach, called eating competency.

They list five steps to wellness based on eating competence:

  1. Take time to eat. Have family meals and snacks between times made up of foods you enjoy and give yourself permission to eat. You will gradually get bored with the same-old and seek additional foods to enjoy.  
  2. Eat food you enjoy. Use fat, sugar, and salt to make your meals and snacks tasty and rewarding. You will eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein foods because you enjoy them, not because you have to. You will also eat less sugar, salt, and fat. 
  3. Include your sugary beverages and “forbidden foods” at meals and snacks. Compared with munching and sipping alone, you will consume less fat and sugar (and be kind to your teeth). 
  4. Address saturated fat by using a variety of fats. This includes things like butter, cream and gravy; margarine and mayonnaise; olive, canola oil, corn, or soybean oil. 
  5. Let your body weigh what it wants to weigh. Evidence shows that weight stability supports health; weight yo-yoing doesn’t. 

It’s in that spirit I am sharing a recipe that can be included as part of a healthy approach to eating, and it continues my series of recipes that I discovered in my search for easy microwave dishes. I found this recipe on the Internet and altered it to be cow milk-free because milk and I don’t get along. For someone who can’t eat all the lovely milk chocolate that’s around this time of year, this recipe gave me a simple, chocolatey dessert to satisfy my chocolate craving! 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Mug Cake

Servings: one or share it with a friend!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup white flour
  • 2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup milk or milk substitute – I used oat milk, at room temperature
  • 2 Tablespoons butter (or milk free margarine), melted and cooled
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon creamy peanut butter (you only have to hang out with me for a day before you realize I love peanut butter! If you’re not a peanut butter fan, leave it out or add a tablespoon of chocolate or caramel syrup instead)

Instructions:

  1. In a small bowl thoroughly mix the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, and baking powder (I like to put the cocoa through a sieve before I mix it with the flour. This breaks up any lumps that can be hard to break up when you add the wet ingredients).
  • Mix wet ingredients: milk, melted butter, and vanilla extract. Mix with dry ingredient into a smooth batter. 
  • Now you need to find a mug. It needs to be at least 400 mL (14 oz) so when the cake bakes it does not overflow the edges. You can serve your dessert right in the mug but if you want to serve the cake on a plate, grease the inside of the mug with a bit of oil and choose a mug with straight side so the cake comes out easily after baking.
  • Place the batter into the mug and add the tablespoon of peanut butter. Try to bury the peanut butter into the chocolate batter.
  • Cook in the microwave for one minute on high. Let it sit for one minute and then cook it again for one minute. It will be very hot so take care when removing it from the microwave. Let it cool for at least five minutes. Loosen the sides of the cake from the mug with a knife and turn it onto a serving plate. Cut it open and let the peanut butter melt onto the plate for an impressive look! Serve with a little ice cream, whipped cream, or just as is!

Enjoy the holidays! Give this chocolatey mug cake a try and share it with others! Some of the best memories happen around food!

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: sharing a meal with others – a true holiday gift

Season’s Eatings! With the holidays just around the corner, I start to grow homesick for my home on the East Coast. I often catch myself daydreaming about my family’s long dining room table with the bright red tablecloth and the people I love gathered around it. More than just a big Christmas dinner and devouring turkey with all the fixings takes place there – a lot of important family traditions happen around that dining room table. It’s those traditions that mean the most to me. I’m grateful for my family and that I’m able to spend the holiday season with them. Not every family or every year will be the same. Sometimes people celebrate with chosen family, with friends or coworkers, or choose to take time alone and reflect on the passing year.

The benefits of preparing and sharing a meal with others are a true holiday gift.

When we think about eating during the holidays, it’s easy to dwell on the large portions, decadent options, and seemingly endless buffets. I encourage you to take holiday eats off the “naughty list,” listen to your body, and take the time to enjoy each morsel. The benefits of preparing and sharing a meal with others are a true holiday gift. For all the years I worried about the contents of the holiday meals or spent my time anxiously trying to make the perfect dish, I barely remember a single meal I ate in great detail. What does last, for me, are the memories, traditions, and the sense of family around that long red table.

One thing that’s always on the table is my mom’s homemade cranberry sauce. She makes it every year to share with family and neighbours and I want to share the recipe with you!

Cranberry Orange Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • Zest of one orange
  • 1 12-ounce pack fresh cranberries

Instructions:

  1. Combine juice and sugar to a saucepan and heat until dissolved.
  2. Add cranberries and zest, simmer for 10 minutes, until all berries burst. Stir occasionally.
  3. Cover and cool completely.

Amelia Gallant

About Amelia Gallant

Amelia is a Primary Care Dietitian living and working in Fort St. John. Born and raised near St. John's, Newfoundland, she made her cross-country journey to northern BC in 2017 and is delighted to see comforts of home in the kindness of the people she meets and their love of the outdoors - even in the long and snowy winters. Forever a foodie, Amelia's the one at your dinner table trying to snap the perfect picture, or trying to replicate the latest food trends in her kitchen. As a dietitian, she hopes to simplify the mixed nutrition messaging and help people re-learn to enjoy their eating experience while supporting their healthy living goals.

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Foodie Friday: To-fu or not To-fu – Smart ways to adopt plant-based eating

Plant-based eating has become one of the largest food and health trends of the past few years, which, as a dietitian, I’m delighted to see. Aside from being delicious, plant-based protein choices are typically lower in saturated fats, higher in fibre, and can be more sustainable for the environment. You can’t deny the health benefits of vegetarian or vegan eating when it’s done properly, because there are many benefits!

However, that doesn’t mean that we need to adopt a strict new lifestyle to reap the rewards. It’s up to you what kind of commitment you want to make. Many of us probably wouldn’t fare well on a strictly vegan diet (me included!), but we could make small steps to better our health, and the planet’s. Most of us eat 21 meals each week – is there opportunity for you to make one or two more of those meals meatless?

Plate of tofu and veggies.

Looking to include more meatless ingredients in your meal rotation? Tofu could be that quick-and-easy staple your family is looking for!

If meatless eating is a new ballgame for you, it doesn’t need to be a complicated affair; try simple items like vegetarian chili, tofu stir fry, lentil soup, homemade black bean burgers, or falafel. You could also be more adventurous and include things like TVP (textured vegetable protein), seitan (made from the protein gluten), or tempeh (a fermented soy product). I don’t usually recommend the “fake meat” products which are highly processed, usually pack a dose of sodium (and are expensive). As always, fill your plates with delicious vegetables and whole grains to make these meals as satisfying as possible.

Tofu, in particular, is one of those foods that people decidedly dislike before they’ve had a chance to try it. I get it, it’s bland, spongy, and there are so many types – it can be intimidating to make for the first time. With the right techniques, like pressing out the excess moisture, and using a delicious marinade, it just might be that quick-and-easy staple your family is looking for!

Amelia’s Tofu “Un-Recipe”

Ingredients:

  • 1 block extra firm tofu (454 g)
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch

Marinade (or use another favorite marinade recipe):

  • 1 tsp oil of choice (sesame, canola, olive)
  • 2 Tbsp cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock (or use water if none on hand)
  • 1 Tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce (or use extra stock for lower sodium)
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar (or honey, molasses, maple syrup)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced (or a hefty pinch of garlic powder)
  • 1 tsp grated ginger (or a pinch of ground ginger)
  • Optional: Hot sauce, to taste. (Or use black or cayenne pepper for lower sodium)

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C), prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or with lightly oiling. Tofu can also be cooked by pan frying over medium heat or even bbq-ing, 5-8 minutes per side, if that suits you better. Tofu can also be eaten raw; uncooked marinated tofu is a yummy addition to a green or pasta salad.
  2. Open tofu package and drain excess water, dry the surface of the tofu with a clean towel. Slice the tofu widthwise in 1cm (3/4 inch) slices. Slice each slice into 2 triangles.
  3. Lay the triangles between two clean, dry kitchen towels and press firmly to remove any excess moisture, removing moisture allows the tofu to soak up delicious flavour!
  4. Mix marinade ingredients in a dish and add tofu, ensuring all pieces are covered, and let sit at least 20 minutes, turning halfway through to coat. During this time you can chop veggies and start to prepare your side dishes.
  5. After 15 minutes, drain excess liquid (if any) and add cornstarch, tossing to coat evenly.
  6. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake 40 minutes, flipping tofu after 20 minutes.

My favorite way to enjoy baked tofu is dipped in a spicy peanut sauce and served alongside some colorful veggies and roasted potato chunks.

Have you tried incorporating vegetarian mealtimes in your household? Let us know in the comments what it’s like for you to eat off the “meaten” path!

Amelia Gallant

About Amelia Gallant

Amelia is a Primary Care Dietitian living and working in Fort St. John. Born and raised near St. John's, Newfoundland, she made her cross-country journey to northern BC in 2017 and is delighted to see comforts of home in the kindness of the people she meets and their love of the outdoors - even in the long and snowy winters. Forever a foodie, Amelia's the one at your dinner table trying to snap the perfect picture, or trying to replicate the latest food trends in her kitchen. As a dietitian, she hopes to simplify the mixed nutrition messaging and help people re-learn to enjoy their eating experience while supporting their healthy living goals.

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Foodie Friday: Creating fast and efficient meals for big events

I recently went home to visit family – people who now live far apart from each other, in different corners of the country, and the globe! On this particular visit, my sister and her small children were returning from Singapore, so along with additional family, we were navigating some significant jet lag! Needless to say, we wanted to have hassle free, easy to prepare meals. Also, when you’re visiting family you haven’t seen in at least a year, who wants to spend all that time cooking?

Planning meals for large gatherings (such as family reunions or celebrations) can take a lot of work, and can be stressful! Fear not. Here are some tips that can make meal time faster and more efficient, so you can spend more time visiting.

Tips for preparing big meals:

  • Stick to familiar meals, and keep it simple: for big family gatherings, we often stick to meals we know best. That way, cooking is easy, and less risky! Keeping recipes flexible helps make cooking easier.
  • Meal plan: to prepare for meals the next day, my mom and I would take a moment to plan the night before. This helped us to stay organized and take stock of what we needed to prepare. You can meal plan as far ahead as you need to!
  • Prepare snacks ahead of time: to prepare for our family’s arrival, we made a few key foods ahead of time, including muffins, dipping sauces, and cut-up vegetables. This way, we had some snacks ready for people to munch.
  • Prepare parts or all of the meal ahead of time: it’s often helpful to prepare dishes ahead of time (e.g. lasagna). However, if this isn’t an option, preparing some meal components in advance can help with efficiency. We cook our spaghetti sauce ahead of time. That way, all we have to do is cook the noodles at dinner time, and we can spend the day visiting.
  • Assign tasks: Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Each day we assigned cooks (and dishwashers!) for different meals. My four year old nephew even helped out – he picked the basil for a pesto sauce I made, and helped put the ingredients in the blender (with supervision).
  • Serve foods buffet style: at meal time, food was placed on the kitchen table and everyone served themselves. This allowed everyone to choose from what was provided.
  • Plan for leftovers: consider sending guests home with extra food, freeze individual portions for future lunches, or incorporate leftovers into the next day’s meals.

I made the following recipe while home visiting. It was a hit! It incorporates summer vegetables, is quick to prepare, and is a definite crowd pleaser.

Bowl of lentil sauce.

The lentil and zucchini dish served with toasted bread and cheese. A quick and simple meal for large groups!

Lentil Sauce with Zucchini Noodles

Ingredients:

  • 1-2  large fresh tomatoes (or 1 15oz (475ml) can of diced tomatoes)
  • 1/4 cup hummus
  • 1/4 cup split red lentils
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast (optional, but delicious)
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning (or any standard herbs you like: basil, thyme, oregano, parsley, etc.)
  • 2 large zucchini, spiralized (I use one fairly large zucchini or 2 small ones)*
  • Sprinkle with parmesan cheese (optional)

Note: If you don’t have a spiralizer (which I don’t), you can use a cheese or vegetable peeler to slice the zucchini thinly.

Instructions:

  1. If using fresh tomatoes, cut into chunks. If using canned, add with other ingredients as directed below.
  2. Boil the water in a pot. Add lentils and let simmer for 3 minutes. Add all other ingredients, except cheese. Let pot simmer until sauce is the desired thickness (if you like a thicker sauce, let it simmer a little longer).
  3. Remove sauce from burner and pour over the raw zucchini. Option: you can also cook the zucchini right in with the other ingredients if you prefer cooked zucchini.
  4. Sprinkle on parmesan cheese and enjoy!

This recipe can be served as a meal or as a side dish.

Little girl eating from spoon.

My niece Lilian taste testing. At meal time she enjoyed eating this dish with her fingers; exploring the different textures and colours.

What are some ways that you make large group meals efficiently and less time consuming?

For more zucchini recipes, check out:

For other tips on using leftovers, check out:

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel Burton is part of Northern Health’s team of population health dietitians, and is the food security lead for the vast region that comprises northern BC. Laurel is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health. Her work focuses on the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel has supported food security work in a variety of geographical regions, and has worked with groups across the lifecycle, within BC, and internationally, to support community and regional food systems development, for the aim of optimizing health. In her spare time, Laurel loves a good book, a hike in the woods with friends, or spending time at home baking sourdough bread, surrounded by her many, many houseplants.

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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: beat the heat! No-cook summer meals

I’m not originally from northern BC, but having grown up in St. John’s, Newfoundland, I can relate to long winters, short summers, and the month we’ve renamed “June-uary” back home. Since leaving the fog behind and moving to northeastern BC, I so appreciate seeing the sunshine all year round, especially late into the summer evenings!

One thing remains the same in my two homes: the temperatures eventually climb in those short months of summer and I often hear people say “it’s too hot to cook!” Pair the heat with busy summer schedules, and many of us may turn to fast food, restaurants, and delivery, in a pinch. These choices are usually high in calories, fat, and sodium, and low in nutrients which make them a poor choice on the regular. Their ease and convenience can be appealing, but there are lots of ways to get healthy meals on the table just as quickly – without even pre-heating the oven or turning on the stove! Salads, sandwiches, and “brinner” (breakfast for dinner), have been my go-to’s for no-cook healthy eating over the years, but my favorite is the snack plate!

snack foods on a board.

A snack plate is great for little fingers and can help increase intake for smaller appetites too. It’s also a great opportunity to use up leftovers or stragglers in the fridge.

 

No matter the time of year, I truly enjoy a “snack plate” style meal. It gives me vibes of sharing tapas with friends or noshing at a party, plus the varieties in textures and flavor are so satisfying! A snack plate is also great for little fingers and can help increase intake for smaller appetites too. The snack plate can be a great opportunity to use up leftovers or stragglers in the fridge to reduce waste. To make a healthy and delicious snack plate, here’s what I’d recommend:

  • Fresh chopped veggies and fruit always make an appearance – and should fill most of the plate. Take advantage of what’s local and seasonal right now, or pull some from your freezer and quickly steam in the microwave!
  • Protein like boiled eggs, hummus, pre-cooked shrimp or meats, marinated tofu, and/or reduced fat cheese. A grocery store rotisserie chicken goes a long way as well!
  • Whole grains in the form of crackers, sliced baguette, naan bread, or even air-popped popcorn.
  • In a snack plate it’s the dips and extras that bring it all together! Add in pickles or olives, roasted nuts, spicy mustards, veggie dips, chutneys or salsas, whatever you and your family loves! Try my quick pickle recipe below.

Quick-Pickled Mixed Veggies

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup veggies of choice, sliced thin. I use red onion, radishes, and carrot ribbons (made with a vegetable peeler)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • ½ cup boiling water (from the kettle)
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ tsp red chili flakes

Instructions:

  1. Dissolve the sugar and salt in the hot water and add vinegar, chili flakes, garlic and vegetables. Ensure the veggies are submerged.
  2. Cover and leave to sit at room temperature or in the fridge until the mixture is cool.
  3. Serve immediately or refrigerate up to three days.

Amelia Gallant

About Amelia Gallant

Amelia is a Primary Care Dietitian living and working in Fort St. John. Born and raised near St. John's, Newfoundland, she made her cross-country journey to northern BC in 2017 and is delighted to see comforts of home in the kindness of the people she meets and their love of the outdoors - even in the long and snowy winters. Forever a foodie, Amelia's the one at your dinner table trying to snap the perfect picture, or trying to replicate the latest food trends in her kitchen. As a dietitian, she hopes to simplify the mixed nutrition messaging and help people re-learn to enjoy their eating experience while supporting their healthy living goals.

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Down at the farm: Community Supported Agriculture

Summer is here! Amongst the many things to look forward to at this time of year is… Wednesday. Why Wednesday, you might ask? Well, this is when we take a weekly trip down to the farm and pick up our allotment of locally grown foods from the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project. This is the fourth year that my family and I have enthusiastically participated in the Skeena Valley CSA.

What is a CSA?

A CSA is a partnership between farmers and community members, which reduces risk to farmers and thereby supports local agriculture. Participants pay the farmer(s) in advance, providing them with the financial capital needed to plant, grow and harvest food for the season. In turn, participants enjoy local foods harvested throughout the growing sechopped rhubarb sitting on a table.ason. In our case, we receive weekly food allotments for about 20 weeks, from late May through to early October.

What food do we get from the CSA?

Every week, we are supplied with a variety of food items. In Terrace, it’s still early in the growing season, and at this time of year we tend to receive a combination of fresh produce, preserved items from the previous year, and other unique offerings. For example, a recent allotment included potatoes, jam, fresh lettuce, field flowers, lovage, lamb’s quarters, dried mint tea, eggs, raw honey and a bag of miso paste (produced by a local chef). Later in the season we will see dozens of other foods items, likely including cucumbers, tomatoes, berries, zucchini, cabbage, corn, apples and squashes.

What do we like about participating in the CSA?

There is so much I appreciate about being part of the CSA. For one, I am always impressed with the diversity of food items that we receive, and it is great exposure to what can be grown and harvested locally. Sometimes we receive foods that are unfamiliar to us: What, for example, do we do with “lamb’s quarters”? (Curious? Check out Emilia’s post about these leafy greens!)

I also like being able to dabble in seasonal food preparation. We can certainly preserve some of our CSA foods for later use, such as the rhubarb that I chopped up and fired into the freezer for future reincarnations into rhubarb muffins, rhubarb crumbles, or rhubarb iced tea (yes, it’s a thing). On the other hand, some of these items won’t keep well, so we have to be quite intentional and creative in incorporating these fresh and sometimes unfamiliar foods into our meals. Last week, I made a colourful salad with fresh lettuce, field flowers (totally edible!), and lamb’s quarters, mixed with chopped green cabbage and a miso dressing. It was crunchy and delicious!festive summer veggies and leaves in a wood bowl.

The CSA is also great for kids!

I love bringing my toddler to the farm. There are a few chickens, rabbits, and lambs on site, which is a curiosity for those of us who don’t have animals at home. More than that, however, on the farm we also get exposure to local agriculture, more than we do at the grocery store, or local farmers’ market. It’s rewarding to hear my daughter say, in relation to something we are eating, “Did this come from the farm?”

How about you? What opportunities do you and your family have to engage with the local food system? What are some of your favourite locally harvested foods?

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health Nutrition team. Her work focuses on nutrition in the early years, and she is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. She loves food! You are likely to find her gathering and preserving local food, or exploring beautiful northwest BC on foot, bike, ski, kayak, or kite.

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