Pumpkin pancakes

(read in Italian)

Every year, I patiently wait for the return of pumpkins to add them into my pancakes. While at home we both love adding some mashed bananas or beetroots or spinach into pancakes, the combination of pumpkin, spices, and whole grain flour is always a bit magical!

But keep in mind that adding pumpkin to your pancakes can be tricky! I had to adjust the batter a few times to get it right but, in the end, the result was delicious. If you add too much pumpkin and/or liquid, they just remain too moist and not well cooked. So just go for roasted pumpkin, with less water, and check your batter step by step as you prepare it – I actually love this step: you learn to be more aware of what you are doing and how you prepare your food!

I have decided to top them with some date syrup and chopped apples tossed with a bit of melted ghee and cinnamon. Chiara x

Pumpkin Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 100 g cooked pumpkin (better if roasted)
  • 80 g whole grain flour (use wheat or spelt – brown rice flour for a gluten-free version if needed)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp milled flaxseeds
  • approx. 70 ml water or a plant-based drink (hazelnut, almond, or cashew work well)
  • 1 tsp of ghee or butter (softened at room temperature)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp ginger powder
  • a pinch of all spice
  • a pinch of salt

In a medium-sized bowl, combine spices, ghee, flaxseeds, egg, pumpkin (make a puree with your pumpkin using a blender – add the minimum amount of water or plant-based drink necessary to blend it). Mix well these ingredients and start adding the flour (add also more liquid when necessary – at this point, you have already used some of the total amount to blend the pumpkin, so you have just a small part left). Stir until there are no lumps. The batter tends to be particularly tricky due to the pumpkin, so learn how to check it step by step. Heat a frying pan, preferably a non-stick one, on a medium heat with 1/3 tsp of ghee. Use 3 tbsp for each pancake, moving the pan until the batter is evenly distributed. Cook each pancake until it can be easily flipped with a spatula. Keep the batter well mixed. Using these quantities, you will be able to make approx. 6 pancakes.



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Kale and Basil Pesto

(read in Italian)

Summer means plenty of fresh basil available.. and what a better way to use it than making pesto? I like the traditional one with cheese and pine nuts, but I get bored easily so I always like to get creative and try new food combinations. This recipe calls for basil, kale, and pumpkin seeds: the taste is a little bit different obviously, but it’s rich in flavor and pairs well with a slice of sourdough bread or some pasta.

Let’s briefly talk about kale! Are you among kale lovers or not? Kale has been one of the most trendy healthy foods around for the last few years, but honestly, if you don’t like it, there’s no need to force yourself to eat it! There are many other nutritious veggies that you can include in your days. I honestly love kale and is usually a weekly staple in my grocery shopping – I mainly use it in salads, oven-baked chips and, obviously, pesto!

Kale is a member of the cabbage family, rich in vitamins like C, A, K, B6, but also minerals like magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium. Among vitamin C and beta-carotene, it has other compounds with antioxidant activity, like flavonoids and polyphenols (antioxidants are important compounds that help us working as a protection from the effect of oxidative stress and free radicals – so, for example, they may help us dealing with inflammation and aging). Kale contains also some compounds that may help us to lower the cholesterol levels in the body. Sounds like a mighty little plant, right?

Interesting studies:
Antioxidants and kale
Binding of bile acids by kale (for cholesterol)
Kale and postprandial glucose level

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KALE AND BASIL PESTO

Ingredients

  • 100 g pumpkin seeds
  • approx. 40 g basil, stems included
  • approx. 150 g kale
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • approx. 100-120 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp capers (optional – delicious variation inspired by a post from Green Kitchen Stories)

Toast the pumpkin seeds in a pre-heated oven at 150°C for a few minutes, just until they start to turn golden. Wait until they are cold to add them in the blender, with the lemon juice and a small part of the basil: it’s better to add basil and kale in small portions – blend for a few minutes, pausing from time to time and scraping the walls. When your ingredients will be finely chopped, start adding the olive oil in portions. You can adjust the amount of both oil and lemon juice to your preferences. Store in the fridge in a closed jar for a few days with a thin layer of olive oil on top (just to keep the top covered with oil).



 

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Whole grain scones and Raw Raspberry Chia Jam

Before moving to Ireland, I never had a scone before… but they are such a lovely idea for breakfast or brunch that after trying them a couple of times, I ended up experimenting at home with several combinations. I always use whole grain flour as a base, but all the other ingredients are different every time (sometimes I also sneak in a part of almond flour) – being creative while cooking can actually be the key to really enjoy your healthier choices.

“DO YOU HAVE LIMITED OPTIONS? DO YOU END UP EATING THE SAME FOODS EVERY DAY?” …these are just two of the most common doubts for someone who wants to start having a healthier diet and lifestyle. And don’t make me start mentioning the fear of eating tasteless and boring food.

Well, speaking from my personal experience, when I have decided to embrace a healthier lifestyle, paying attention to what I was eating, cooking more from scratch, and reading the labels of products before buying them… my diet changed completely and has been an exciting journey made of new foods, preparations, combinations, flavours, and colours! It’s incredible because on one side I had this “discovery journey“, and on the other side I was learning more about myself, my body, tastebuds, cooking skills, and (last but not for importance) I was learning more about the FREEDOM to choose and not to be limited by a diet or a food trend or an impossible goal! After more than 10 years, my journey is not over yet and I’M SO GLAD that every day I’m still OPEN to experiment and learn!

Below you will find an example of what I’ve written… Scones and an easy raw jam that pair well with them!

Chiara x

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WHOLE GRAIN SCONES

Ingredients

  • 200 g whole grain flour (I usually use wheat or spelt or a mix of them)
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil (measured solid)
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tbsp date syrup (optional)
  • almond or hazelnut drink

If the coconut oil is solid, start by placing your 2 tbsp in a small cup and wait until it gets warmer and softer. In a large bowl, mix the flour, date syrup, and cinnamon – in a cup/glass, mix the 2 liquids (mix approx. 100 ml of vegetable drink with the vinegar, then if you will need more liquid, simply add some extra plant-based drink). Add the coconut oil to the dry ingredients and mix with your hands until the flour starts to “crumble”. Then, add the baking powder and, straight after, start including the remaining ingredients in small portions, checking if your dough really needs more liquid or not. When the dough is ready and doesn’t stick to your hands anymore, quickly cut the scones – I use a cutter that has a diameter of 7.5 cm and I roll out the dough to approx. 3-5 cm (but you can decide how to make them – in this way, you will make 4-5 large scones with the quantities listed above).

Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for approx. 20 minutes. When they are almost ready, I brush them with a mix made with a splash of almond drink and a little bit of date syrup (approx. 2 tbsp drink + 1/4 tsp date syrup) – you can do this step twice so the scones will be more golden on top.

Serve them warm with Greek yogurt (or coconut yogurt) and fresh berries or the raspberry chia jam that you find below.

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RAW RASPBERRY CHIA JAM

Ingredients

  • 250 g fresh raspberries*
  • 3 tbsp chia seeds
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • optional: add a pinch of vanilla or 1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger

Mash your washed raspberries with a fork, add the lemon juice and the chia seeds (add also some vanilla or ginger, if you are using them). Mix well and leave in the fridge for at least 15 minutes before using it (you can add more lemon juice or 1-2 tbsp of water to get your preferred consistency for the jam). You can store the jam in a closed container in the fridge for a couple of days.

* my suggestion if you use frozen raspberries: heat them for approx. a couple of minutes in a pan with 1/2 tsp of ghee, mash them with a fork and leave to cool down before adding the seeds.



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Noodles with Asparagus and Courgettes

Asparagus is one of those veggies that many people avoid to cook at home because of their characteristic taste, not so easy to pair and to prepare. The key is actually “keep it simple” – find a way to eat asparagus that you like and that at the same time allows you to celebrate them and really appreciate their flavour.

This Spring vegetable comes in several colours (green, purple, white) and it’s actually packed with nutrients*

  • low in calories
  • good amount of fibre (important to keep the body overall healthy)
  • rich in vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, A, K, and E – folate, potassium, phosphorus (folate is important for many processes in the body (among them, cognitive functions) and it’s a key nutrient for women who are pregnant or are planning a pregnancy – many other nutrients come in a smaller amount in asparagus, making this veggie really useful for our health and well-being)
  • good amount of antioxidants (important compounds that help us working as a protection from the effect of oxidative stress and free radicals – so, for example, they may help us dealing with inflammation and ageing)
  • being a source of potassium, they are one of those foods that help us get our daily intake of this important mineral (potassium helps to regulate blood pressure and the amount of sodium in the body – for many people, the daily diet is often rich in sodium and lacks in potassium)

Asparagus is also pretty famous for something else… the smell! Wondering why? What’s the chemistry behind asparagusAsparagus contains asparagusic acid, which our body converts into sulfur-containing chemicals that stink. In this interesting study published in the British Medical Journal, the researchers tried to know more about asparagus and our metabolism.

* if you have a specific medical condition, for example, uric acid kidney stones, talk to your doctor about having asparagus as part of your diet.

LET’S GET PRACTICAL! Here there is a simple recipe that will help you to fall in love with asparagus – it’s simple, rich in flavour, and really quick to prepare. You can use your favourite noodles, I have decided to go for the brown rice ones, that are pretty basic, and are a staple in my pantry (you never know when you’ll want to make a bowl of ramen or a stir-fry!).

Hope you’ll like it!

Chiara x
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Noodles with Asparagus and Courgettes

Ingredients
(serves 2)

  • 1 medium-sized courgette
  • approx. 200 g asparagus
  • 120 g brown rice noodles
  • 100 g plain tofu
  • 1 tbsp tamari
  • 1 tsp of freshly grated ginger
  • a pinch of black pepper
  • a pinch of hot paprika
  • black sesame seeds
  • some finely chopped Spring onions (to add on top before serving) – approx. 1 tsp of chopped pieces for each person, but you can also put some in a bowl and leave it on the table
  • extra virgin olive oil

Cut the vegetables (courgettes and asparagus) in thin slices (leave the tops of asparagus as they are) – chop the tofu into small cubes and mix it with the tamari, black pepper and paprika. Heat a little bit of olive oil in a pan and then cook the tofu until it starts to get golden brown on the outside, then add the vegetables, mix well, and keep cooking for a minute (the vegetables are thin and you want to keep them crunchy).

Cook the noodles in boiling water following the instructions on the package and when they will be ready, rinse with cold water, drain the excess of liquid, and add them to the pan – add also the grated ginger, mix well, and get ready to serve. Add a little bit of olive oil just before serving, together with black sesame seeds, and some finely chopped raw Spring onions.

 



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Greens on Tofu

Sometimes things are just totally unplanned! This is what happened for the recipe that you’ll find below. A combination of grocery shopping day, plenty of inspiring fresh ingredients in the kitchen, not too much time to cook, and a warmer weather that calls for green and fresh meals! What came out is something that I suddenly called “not your average toast”, because the idea is the same behind a toast: a thick base with a distinctive flavour (marinated tofu, in this recipe), covered with delicious toppings.

Hope you will like it! Chiara x

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Greens on Tofu

Ingredients
(serves 2)

100 g plain tofu
a pinch of garam masala
1 1/2 tbsp tamari
2 medium-sized courgettes
2 handful of rocket
some microgreens (here I have used the ones made from coriander)
1/3 tsp black sesame seeds
extra virgin olive oil

Preparation

Make 4 thick slices out of the block of tofu and toss them with a little bit of olive oil, the tamari sauce and a pinch of garam masala – be sure that the marinade is well distributed around all your tofu, then place it in the fridge for 30 minutes (or you can cook it straight away if you’d have time). Roast the tofu in a pre-heated oven at 180°C until it starts to turn golden and crispy on the outside (approx. 15-20 minutes).

Cut the courgettes into slices (not too thin – so you’ll ensure that they will keep well a crunchy texture) and cook for only a couple of minutes in a warm pan with a little bit of olive oil.

Place the tofu on a plate* (I have used 2 slices for each person) – cover it with the courgettes first, then add the rocket and the microgreens. Sprinkle some black sesame seeds on top before serving.

* you are mixing cooked and raw ingredients, so it’s better to leave the tofu and courgettes to cool down a little before serving.

 



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5 Simple Ways to Reduce Waste in Your Kitchen

Today is Earth Day, so I thought that would be nice to talk about some ways in which you can easily reduce waste in your kitchen. I truly see being creative while cooking, re-connecting with the nature around me and having an attention to reducing waste as things included in a healthy lifestyle.

In this way, HEALTHY LIFESTYLE means to me more than just choosing to pair some veggies with my bowl of pasta to add more nutrients to my meal. From my point of view, it includes having a completely different perspective of

myself
food
health
well-being
people around me
nature

It’s always a good idea asking yourself from time to time “is my lifestyle exactly how I’d like it to be?“, “what can I change/improve?“, “great, I’m eating in a healthier way, but I’d like to do something more. Let’s step back and check my lifestyle from a different point of view!“, etc…

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Let’s talk about 5 ways to start having a more Earth-friendly lifestyle.

1) GET CREATIVE, SAVE MONEY, REDUCE WASTE

You can put this idea into practice in several ways, for example:

  • leftovers can be a chance to have some food ready for your next meal or a way in which you can get more creative in the kitchen
  • since they can take up some time to prepare, you can decide to cook cereals or legumes in a large amount (plain) and keep them in the fridge for a few days: in this way, you will be sure to have them ready whenever you need to put together a quick meal, simply add fresh fruit or vegetables and healthy fats
  • start cooking more from scratch: no need to suddenly go from only putting together a toast to start making bread, yogurt, tomato sauce, and fresh pasta for all your family everyday! Start doing it step by step, following your own schedule, cooking skills, and needs – there’s always room for improvements!
  • start discovering food markets, local producers, organic products and cook more seasonal foods. It’s a good way to reduce waste (usually in food markets most of the products have less or zero packaging), eat more according to the seasons, and get involved in all the social part that’s around food markets
  • do you have some empty glass jars? Recycle them properly or give them a new life!
  • when possible, try to buy more products in bulk or without packaging

2) BRING YOUR OWN REUSABLE BAGS

Whenever you plan to go for your grocery shopping, remind yourself to bring the bags with you – it’s also handy to always have one of them with you: keep it in the car, in your purse or in the pocket of your coat (some of those foldable bags can become so tiny!).

3) RECYCLE

Get organised with the different bins and be sure that everybody in the house knows how to use them. Wondering if you can or can’t recycle something? Check with your local recycling station or have a look online for specific guides made for your city/area.

4) CUT DOWN ON ALL THE SINGLE-USE STUFF

I’m talking about paper towel, cling film, parchment paper, aluminium foil, plastic bags, etc… First, take a step back and check how much of this kind of stuff are you using and start choosing reusable alternatives more often. Here there are some examples:

  • get a few beeswax wraps to cover bowls, plates, or to fold around an open watermelon (check out, for example, Bee’s Wrap and Abeego)
  • get a reusable baking mat
  • be sure to have always a tea towel and a sponge on hand so it will be easier to swap the paper towel for them for example when you spill something
  • get cotton produce bags and air-tight containers to store everything properly
  • what do you use to pack your lunch for the office? What can you change/improve?

5) GIVE “UGLY” FRUIT AND VEGGIES A CHANCE!

It’s pretty common to choose the apple that looks perfect over one that has some imperfections – we have all done that! But by choosing every time those perfect looking fruit and veggies, you keep sending a message to the shop about customers’ preferences so they will adapt the offer. The result? More waste! So, give those not-so-perfect apples a chance and you’ll find out that they are tasty and nutritious exactly like they are supposed to be!

Now it’s your turn! Have a look at your cooking/buying habits and check what you can start improving right now. And remember… every day is Earth Day!

Chiara x