I am a very physically active person, always have been and likely always will be. I often say that I run in order to eat anything and everything I want. That is only partially true… I need to run, my hyperactive personality drives me to train and set physical goals for myself. As a side-effect, I can eat anything and everything – but realistically, I don’t. I try to be very conscious of what I am putting into my body.
A lot of my time this summer will be dedicated to training. I am training to run the Half-Marathon in Mont-Tremblant on August 14th, the Canadian Sprint Triathlon (750m swim, 30k bike, 5k run) in Ottawa on September 3rd, and the Montreal Half-Marathon on September 25th.
With this new quest on cutting out processed foods and achieving a 60% raw and vegan diet, it is not always easy to find the right kind of fuel before or after your run. Before I used to rely on bagels and cream cheese before my long runs, and Gatorade during. Honestly not the best choices for me; I did not always feel the greatest during my training sessions and the taste of Gatorate often nauseated me. Now, when you are going au naturel, finding the right sources of energy, sodium, potassium and electrolytes is not easy. I am still trying to figure it out…
While I’m figuring it out, I have managed to do some things right and sneak a few tricks up my sleeve. Two of my favorite things to fuel up and recuperate pre and post training include: coconut water (I have a glass prior, bring it with me during long runs and have a glass after), and this Avocado Chocolate Milkshake that really sets the stage for a swift recovery (and an über tasty treat).
Add drinking lots of water and that’s what I’ve come up with so far. I am hoping to share more about my training foods, fuels and experiments over the next few months. If you have any suggestions for me, I’m all ears!
Avocado Chocolate “Milkshake”
- 1 ripe avocado
- 2 dates, pitted
- 1 tbsp raw cacao powder
- 1 tbsp honey (or agave, or maple, etc…)
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups of milk of your choice
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 pinch of salt
- A couple of ice cubes
Scoop of the avocado and discard the pit. Use a milk of your choice: I suggest using a nut milk for a raw and vegan version, but you can also just as easily use regular low-fat milk. Begin by using only a cup of milk and add more while you blend to adjust for desired thickness of the “milkshake” until it reaches that perfect consistency. The salt helps round out and bring out all the flavours, and will help restore sodium and electrolytes for this great post-training treat.
Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth and creamy.
The highlight of any homemade lasagna – aside from the homemade cheese of course – is the sauce. This sauce hides generation after generation of ingredients, methods, tweaking and most importantly tradition. Whether it is your mother, father, aunt, grandmother, etc…. most of us have at some point in our childhood, clenched someone’s apron and helped stir the family recipe on the stovetop. These recipes that have no specific list of ingredients and are handed down from generation to generation, and the only way you remember how to make them is by standing by the process and hopefully getting to taste it hot from the pot before anyone else gets to. Now that, just that, makes the recipe memorable. That is the moment that your taste buds will remember forever, until one day you put those ingredients together for your family and friends to pass on the tradition.
This is how my sauce originated. Une vraie de vraie sauce à spag! It is a meat and tomato sauce that my mother made over and over, while I stood by paying attention to every ingredient every step of the way, until one day I finally made my own. I have decided to share my version of this sauce with you, but by all means feel free to stick your own because at the end of the day, that’s the one that matters.
Kristel’s Meat Sauce
- 2 medium onions, about 2 cups chopped
- 3 stalks of celery, about 1 cup chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 8 oz of crimini (brown) mushrooms, stems removed and chopped, caps cut in quarters
- 300 grams lean ground pork
- 700 grams lean ground beef
- 2 cans diced tomatoes (28 oz each can)
- 2 cans of water (28 oz each can)
- 1 can tomato paste (156 ml can)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp chili flakes (or to taste)
- 2 tbsp herbes de provence
- 2 bay leaves
- Salt and pepper to taste
I’ve decided to break this down step by step:
Step 1 – Sweating
In a large pot drizzled with olive oil, start to sweat (cook until translucent) on medium-high heat the onions, celery, the chopped mushrooms stems and garlic, with about a tablespoon of salt, the chili flakes and pepper. The salt will help draw out the moisture from the vegetables but make sure they don’t brown.
Step 2 – Browning
Add the ground pork and beef to the pot. Break up the meat as is starts to cook through. Add the herbes de provence, the bay leaves and mushrooms caps as the meat continues to brown. Stir-in the canned diced tomatoes, the tomato paste and the water, as well as the teaspoon of sugar. The reason for adding sugar to a tomato sauce is to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes.
Step 3 – Simmering and Reducing
Bring the sauce to a boil, turn the heat down to low and simmer for about three hours. At the halfway point do a taste test to see if you sauce needs more salt, pepper or chili flakes; adjust the seasoning to your liking. When you first add the tomatoes and water the sauce will look very watered down but that is normal. Simmering the sauce for 3 hours plus will help concentrate the flavours and you will notice that the overall volume of the sauce will have reduced. I like to use my cooking spoon to measure the level when the water has been added and after the sauce has been reduced. I usually notice that the sauce content has reduced by an inch or two. At this point I can safely assume that my meat sauce is ready for serving, storing or in this case, layering in my lasagna.
Here are the additional ingredients you will need: 400g of lactose-free mozzarella (which you can now find in most grocery stores) and lasagna pasta. Choose a rectangular baking dish and estimate how many sheets of pasta you will need. I had four layers in my dish and I used three sheets per layer, making a total of 12 sheets of pasta. Cook the pasta until al dente and strain (skip this step if using fresh pasta).
Now, this is when you start layering: begin with a ladle of sauce, just enough to barely cover the bottom of your dish. Put down the first layer of pasta (1). Cover with a few ladles of sauce and top with a layer of pasta (2). Spread the homemade cheese and spinach filling, then add another layer of pasta (3). Cover with a few ladles of sauce and top with a final layer of pasta (4). Add one last ladle of sauce, just enough to cover the pasta. Top the dish with the shredded lactose-free mozzarella and c’est fini!
Finally, about an hour before you’re ready to eat (maybe longer if you’ve made it ahead of time and kept it in the fridge), preheat the oven to 350°F and cook the lasagna until brown and bubbly on top. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 15 before serving!
I know it’s a long process to make the cheese, simmer the sauce and layer the lasagna, but why not make a day of it, invite your friends, spend some time with family, open up a bottle of wine and maybe see if you can create your own culinary tradition!
Got any food traditions you’d like to share? I love hearing about them. Feel free to comment here or email me!
My better half is a lactard.
When we first met and he confessed to me he was lactose intolerant, I was troubled. To me, coming from a French family where cheese is not just a staple but a necessary for survival, not being able to eat cheese would be a complete nightmare for me. Troubled by how I would cook without butter (yes, butter is a dairy product), without cream, without gorgonzola and coming to terms with no more grilled cheeses, no more pasta carbonara and more… I had to figure out a way around this predicament. And, I did. I found out about Almond Milk, Belsoy, soy ice cream (eek!), coconut milk, and finally some lactose-free cheese at my run-of-the-mill grocery store out of all places, and in the refrigerator next it, some lactose-free milk. But aside from all these dairy products, do you have any idea how many food products contain some sort of dairy?!?!?! Come on people, time to wake up and read your labels.
Now, it had been years since Mr. Better Half had had lasagna and I was craving lasagna; you know, the good kind like your mom used to make. I decided I would make this lasagna, with a creamy cheesy center and all. So I pooled my resources and attempted to make my own homemade cheese, aka paneer. Paneer is that cheese that you find in Indian dishes and is incredibly easy to make. Actually, it’s kinda stupid and here’s how you do it. You do need some extra equipment that most of don’t have lying around in our kitchens: cheesecloths. They are easy to find in most grocery stores, so usually there is no need to go to a specialty store to find them.
T & T – Homemade Cheese, a.k.a. Paneer
- 1 litre lactose-free milk
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp herbs or spices
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
In a large pot bring the milk, salt, herbs or spices to a simmer on medium-high heat. Just as it boils, turn off the heat and stir in lemon juice. You will see that the milk will start to curdle. That’s normal; let it sit for about 15 minutes. Take one sheet of cheesecloth and line it into a strainer. Strain the milk mixture, gather the cheesecloth and slightly squeeze out some more liquid. Wrap the cheese in the cloth, press it between two plates and refrigerate for a couple of hours. You can also add a jar on top of the plate to press down the cheese even more. And voilà, you’ve made cheese!
You can choose all sorts of different spice blends, herbs (dried or fresh) to make a variety of cheeses for any recipe you can think of. This cheese remains creamy but doesn’t melt, so you can pan-fry it. Play around with different flavours, you’ll be amazed by what you can come up with.
For this batch I chose to include about one teaspoon of herbes de provence since I was planning on using the cheese as a ricotta replacement for my Lactard Lasagna. So here’s a sneak-peak at the creamy cheesy center of my lasagna:
Homemade Cheese and Spinach Filling
- 1 batch homemade lactose-free cheese
- 1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 4 cups of fresh spinach coarsely chopped (or a 5oz package)
- ¼ cups shredded lactose-free mozzarella
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a pan drizzled with olive oil, sauté the onions and the spinach until wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to mixing bowl and allow spinach to cool. Once cooled, crumble the homemade cheese and add the shredded mozzarella. Mix all ingredients until well combined. Set aside until ready to build your lasagna. Instead of lasagne, you can also use this mixture as a stuffing for pasta shells, cannelloni, chicken, Portobello mushrooms… Be creative and don’t be afraid to try new things!
This weekend is Thanksgiving – Canadian Thanksgiving to be exact. This is by far my favorite holiday along with Halloween. You can bet that October is an exciting month for me! It’s harvest season, so the markets are overflowing with bright fresh ingredients. The temperature is cooling so it’s time to pull out those boots and comfy sweaters. I love Thanksgiving for the food obviously but also because I enjoy taking a moment to think about what you’re thankful for. I even make everyone around the table say this before they can touch their food. I love the time spent with family and friends. For many years, because of university and a part-time job, I could not go spend Thanksgiving with my family but decided that I would host one here in Montreal for all my friends and family that stayed around and couldn’t make it their home for the holiday long weekend. Of course we grow up, get jobs and return to our families. That doesn’t mean the tradition stopped there – but more on that later…
So, this weekend’s Thanksgiving get-together will be slightly different. Mother is coming to visit and my brother-in-law joining us for dinner, so it’ll just be the four of us, with an 18 pound turkey! I may have to digress to explain why we need such a big turkey for so few of us. Yes, I’ll admit it, I especially love the leftovers but there are only so many turkey meals one can fit in a week. The reason is that on Sunday we are meeting up with other loved ones for a hike and picnic up North from Montreal and we said we’d bring sandwiches. So, dinner for three people and turkey sandwiches for fifteen – somehow that bird needs to get cooked! I do not want to go into detail on how to prepare a turkey since there are an infinite amount of resources for that (and probably more accurate ones at that). However, since we are only three, I wanted to try a couple of new things this year.
On the menu we have: roast turkey with a mushroom stuffing – a classic of mine if you ask anyone who had it; butternut squash risotto; candied yams – because it is not a true Thanksgiving dinner without them, and glazed Brussels sprouts since they are in season. For dessert: dairy-free carrot cupcakes with dairy-free chestnut-cardamom icing!
Mushroom Stuffing – a Kristel’s Kitchen original
I never used to like stuffing much. It was the one item at Thanksgiving dinners that I used to avoid because it looked boring and I would rather eat an extra serving of wild rice or yams. When I started hosting Thanksgiving parties, I figured I should give stuffing a try and make it with the flavours I wanted to taste. Mushrooms are the best! They are incredibly diverse and fragrant and I simply cannot get enough of them. So somehow this is the recipe that I came up with which has been perfected over the years. Everyone’s favorite stuffing is always their mothers’ but I am proud to say mine comes in as second best!
- 8 slices of thick-cut bacon or pancetta, diced
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 celeri stalks, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 4 cups assorted mushroom, chopped
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 large apple, diced
- 1 tbsp cider vinegar
- 6 slices country style bread, or 3 cups diced
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- Salt and pepper
In a large skillet, cook the bacon until the fat start to render. Add the onions, celery, garlic, and sauté until barely soft. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, add the thyme and cook mixture until barely soft. Add the mushrooms and while they cook, combine the diced apple and cider vinegar in a large bowl. When the mushrooms start to water, remove from heat and transfer to the apple mixture and allow to cool. While the mixture cools, if the bread isn’t stale enough, proceed to toasting the bread slices.
A side-note: this is a great way to use bread that you would otherwise throw out; take advantage of reducing your waste whenever you can. As another example, the celery and apples I used here were also past their prime, but I still managed to make good use out of them.
Back to the stuffing… Once the bread is toasted, dice it and add it to the mix. Stir to combine and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper is necessary. Add the eggs and mix well to combine. Now you are ready to stuff that bird! Once the roast beast is done to perfection, spoon out the stuffing. It is then ready to serve.
Butternut Squash Risotto
My lovely sister in-law and her husband gave me a subscription to Bon Appétit for my birthday and every month I wait impatiently for my new issue to arrive. Just this week I received the November issue (just in time for Canadian Thanksgiving) and of course it was a special issue for the upcoming American Thanksgiving. Hey, I’m definitely not going to complain about celebrating this glorious holiday twice!
- I obviously did not use any shrimp
- I never use cream when making risotto
- Instead of vegetable broth, I used all that extra stuff they hide inside the bird to simmer up a broth
- I finished the risotto with about ½ cup lactose-free smoked gouda
It’s never quite Thanksgiving without them. Start by peeling and slicing the sweet potatoes. Either boil or steam them until just barely tender (remember to salt your water if you’re boiling). Layout the slices in a baking dish, sprinkle with brown sugar, cardamom and cayenne pepper. Squirt the juice of about half of a lemon onto the yams. Drizzle with maple syrup (don’t use the fake stuff here – it would be sacrilegious) and bake at 400ºF until golden and caramelized.
Trim clean and cut the Brussels sprouts in half. Steam or boil until tender (again, remember to salt the water). I had extra bacon leftover from the stuffing so I decided to sprinkle the broken up pieces of bacon atop the Brussels sprouts with some chopped scallion and a bit of duck fat (you can use butter instead).
Dairy-free Carrot Cupcakes with Dairy-free Cardamom-Chestnut Icing
I am not going to claim to have come up with this recipe but I will thank the Food Network for their help in putting together this dessert. Lucky for me, the carrot cupcake recipe I found was entirely dairy-free and you can find the recipe here. As for the icing, I had to improvise a tad. I went with the traditional butter cream proportions of 1 cup of butter for 4 cups of icing sugar but experimented with it a bit. For those who want to make lactose or dairy-free desserts, this is a reminder that butter is a dairy product and is not lactose free.
For the icing:
- ½ cup margarine (try to find it in bar-form which is firmer than its container-form)
- 2 cups icing sugar
- 1 tsp cardamom
- 3 tbsp chestnut cream
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
Let the margarine come to room temperature before whip with an electric beater. Gradually add the icing sugar until well incorporated. Add the cardamom, chestnut cream and vanilla extract. Combine well and proceed to decorating cooled cupcakes.