Healthy Eating

Sunday, January 29, 2012
If you've been reading my blog all month, you'll notice that the recipes have been a little healthier lately.  With the exception of last week's teenager-produced chocolate cake (and how could I not have written about that?), this month's output has consisted of three soups and a vegetarian pot pie. And today I'll be rounding off January with roasted vegetables served on barley.

I hope that January kicks off a year of healthy eating in the Pollock house.  Although we do try to eat well, you wouldn't know it from the cornucopia of dessert recipes I post.  And my promise for 2012 is this: at least as many non-dessert recipes as sweets.

Let me leave you with this delicious and healthy recipe for Balsamic Roasted Vegetables and Barley.  This has everything that a healthy recipe should, including the most important thing: great flavour.  If you eat this, you won't feel like you're giving anything up.

Balsamic Roasted Vegetables and Barley
(adapted from Brick Kitchen)

For the roasted vegetables:
2 – 3  medium zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch thick half moons
1 small red onion, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
1 large red pepper, chopped
8 ounces button mushrooms, halved

For the dressing:
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

For serving:
1 cup pearl barley
3 cups vegetable broth or water
handful of basil leaves, cut into chiffonade
crumbled feta

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine broth and barley in a medium saucepan.  Cook according to package directions.  Drain any excess liquid, if necessary.

Meanwhile, whisk together dressing ingredients in a large bowl.  Add vegetables to bowl and toss to coat.  Using a large slotted spoon, transfer vegetables to a baking sheet, reserving remaining dressing.  Roast for 20 minutes or until tender.

Arrange vegetables and barley on plates and sprinkle with basil.  Serve with remaining dressing and feta.

Thursday's Child: Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How do you outdo the Hagia Sophia?

Last week I wrote about this stunning building in Istanbul, which began its life as a church, was converted to a mosque, and was finally changed into a museum.  But in the 17th century, Sultan Ahmet I was determined to build a mosque that was even more beautiful than the Hagia Sophia.  And in a further show of fearlessness, he had it built right next door.

Maybe it was his youth that gave him the fortitude to try.  He was only 19 years old when he commissioned the building in 1609.  The first architect was executed for a lack of vision, which provided plenty of incentive for his successor.  One of the most stunning features of the mosque is the presence of six minarets, or towers, that grace the exterior of the building.  Generally, mosques have four or fewer minarets, and it caused some consternation in Mecca, where the holy mosque also had six.  To avoid political problems, the sultan sent his architect to Mecca to build that mosque a seventh tower.

The Sultanahmet Mosque (or the Blue Mosque, as it’s commonly known) is still a functioning mosque, and it closes five times a day for prayer.  We planned our visit for mid-morning when it was open to the public.  When we arrived, we all removed our shoes, and the girls and I covered our heads with scarves as a sign of respect.  The interior was incredibly light and airy, probably because of the 260 windows that let in so much light.  The intricate tile work was breathtaking: over 20,000 tiles line the walls and ceilings. 

Which place of worship is more beautiful?  I couldn’t choose a favourite, but I will say this: Istanbul is far richer for being home to both of them.

Thanks to Sacred Destinations, which helped to fill in some of the details I had forgotten.

Bulk Barn cake

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Last night, my youngest daughter and her friends came over after school to bake a cake.  Like mother, like daughter, right?  Well, sort of.  My ingredients don’t normally include a cake mix – not to mention an icing mix.  (I’ve never even heard of that.)  On the other hand, I rarely have as much hilarity in the kitchen as they did.  

And I’d never criticize anyone for using a cake mix.  I was about her age when I first started making cakes, and they were always from a mix.  Once or twice, I remember taking them out of the oven as soupy as when they went in.  Perhaps I wasn’t the most accurate of measurers.  (Alas, I’m still not.)

The photo they took of the cake is priceless.  The lighting is poor, the plate is half-off the counter, and the cake is surrounded by dirty dishes.  In other words, it’s a lot like the first photos I posted on this blog.

The Bulk Barn Chocolate cake

Bulk Barn cake mix
Bulk Barn icing mix
6 eggs (!)
Roses and sprinkles from the Bulk Barn
Simple Chocolate Icing (see below)

1.  Stop at the Bulk Barn on the way home from school.  Buy everything you need to make cake and icing, and to decorate the cake.

2.  Mix 800 grams of cake mix with 1 1/2 cups of water and six eggs.  Stir.  Divide among three cake pans and one cake-pop tray.

3. Bake cakes at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.  Bake cake pops according to directions.

4.  Meanwhile, mix one bag of icing mix with some unmeasured amount of water.  Decide it’s a) too runny and b) the worst thing you’ve ever tasted in your life.  Other than the cake you and your friend made last fall.

5.  Get your mother’s icing recipe:

Simple Chocolate Icing

6 Tbsp softened butter
2 1/2 cups icing (confectioner’s) sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

Beat butter in mixing bowl until smooth.  Add the remaining ingredients, stirring until combined, then beating until smooth.

Frost your cake once it’s completely cool.  Take photos with your friends and divide the cake in three, so everyone gets some to take home.

Thursday's Child: Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Thursday, January 19, 2012
Have you ever seen pictures of a building and been amazed by its beauty, but assumed you’d never see it in person?  That’s the way I used to feel about the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.  Years ago I read a National Geographic article about this glorious church that was converted to a mosque, and later converted to a museum, and I wondered what it would be like to visit.  Istanbul was the ultimate romantic destination for me: the city where east meets west, the culmination of the Orient Express.  But I never imagined I’d go there myself. 

In 2010, this fantastic dream came true, and my family and I were fortunate enough to visit Turkey.  It’s a wonderful country, and we saw enough amazing sites to write a book about, let alone a blog post.  But there was nothing I looked forward to seeing more than the Hagia Sophia.

The Hagia Sophia (also known as Ayasofya) was built on this site in three different incarnations.  In the fourth century, Constantine the Great (for whom Constantinople was named) built the original church here.  After its destruction, a second church was immediately built, which was burnt down in riots in the early sixth century. 

Following that destruction, the church was built in a Byzantine style by Emperor Justinian.  The stunning architecture and the intricate mosaics made it one of the greatest Byzantine churches ever built. For 1000 years, it was the largest Christian church in the world until St. Peter’s Basilica was built in Rome. (It’s big enough to house Notre Dame Cathedral three times over.)

Despite being sacked during the Crusades and many of the riches being carried away to Rome, the Hagia Sophia continue as a functioning church until the Ottomans seized power in 1453. Sultan Mehmet, leader of the conquering forces, was struck by its beauty and turned it into a mosque.  The mosaics were plastered over due to the Muslim prohibition against having figurative imagery in a place of worship.  In their place, beautiful geometric designs were fashioned, reflecting the Islamic worship experience.

In 1934, the mosque was turned into a museum, and it was then that some of the mosaics were uncovered.  This has allowed the beauty of the Christian and Islamic art to shine side by side.  The Hagia Sophia, because of its enormous size and glorious artwork, is one of the most impressive buildings in the world.

And I discovered that sometimes, places you dream about visiting are even more beautiful than you can imagine!
Photo used courtesy of Turkey Vacation Places


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Depending on whether or not you like cold weather and snow, this has either been a great winter in Toronto or a terrible one.  Personally, I’m not a big fan of winter.  Bone-numbing temperatures and slippery sidewalks are something I’d gladly do without.  So I’ve really been enjoying the mild weather over the past couple of months.

This week, a sudden drop in temperature and a snowfall meant that it felt like winter again.  And with spring three months away, it’s time for me to start thinking about the things I do love about this time of year:

1.  There’s nothing more beautiful than a fresh snowfall.   Even if you’re the one who has to shovel it.
2.  No pesky mosquitoes to swat away or sunscreen to get in your eyes.
3.  Ezra Pound’s excellent parody of the 13th century poem “Sumer is icumen in”.
4.  Cold weather is soup weather.

This potato, ham and cheddar soup was made for winter.  It’s filling enough to be a meal on its own, and delicious enough to make you want seconds.  And it will give you the energy you need for shovelling that driveway.

Potato, Cheddar and Ham Soup
(Adapted from:

3 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced

1 carrot, diced

2 cups chicken broth 

1 cup water

2 bay leaves

Salt and pepper

1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1 cup milk

1 cup cheddar cheese
, diced or shredded
1 cup cubed lean Black Forest ham
1/3 cup sour cream 
1 Tbsp chopped chives

In the bottom of a large pot, melt butter over medium high heat.  Add onion, celery and carrot, and stir until softened.  Pour in chicken broth, water and bay leaves, and bring just to a gentle boil.  Add potatoes and cover, cooking until potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes.

Remove and discard bay leaves.  In a measuring cup, stir together flour and milk until no lumps remain, and add to soup.  Cover and stir occasionally until slightly thickened (about 5 minutes).

Add cheese and ham, reduce heat and simmer until heated through (3 to 5 minutes).

If desired, combine sour cream and chives.  Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a dollop of sour cream mixture.

Thursday's Child: Sagrada Familia

Thursday, January 12, 2012
One of the most unique places of worship we’ve visited is Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia. 130 years after it was first commissioned, it’s still under construction, and years away from being done. 

This basilica, known in English as the Church of the Holy Family, was begun in 1882, with the idea that it would be finished in a decade.  However, a year later, the great architect Antoni Gaudi took over the project, and the scope of the building as well as the timelines of the project were radically changed. 

I’ve written about Gaudi before (here and here); in this project, as well as others, his originality and vision are breathtaking.  He often changed his plans partway through a project, which was one of the reasons for the delays in finishing.  Once, when asked why it was taking so long to complete the basilica, he answered, “My client is not in a hurry.”

When Gaudi died in 1926, the building was only 25% finished.  For a while, the project slowed down or stopped completely, due to both the Spanish Civil War and the drying up of private donations.  It was assumed that the Barcelona skyline would forever be dominated by this half-finished place of worship.

However, the Barcelona Olympics and the entry of Spain into the European Union renewed interest in this glorious city and its unusual basilica.  Now, construction is being funded by entrance fees, and completion is once again possible.  Some critics say it could be finished in 2026, the hundredth anniversary of Gaudi’s death. Other estimates say it’s as far off as eighty years in the future.

As in his other buildings, Gaudi shunned flat surfaces and straight lines, using curves, circles and elaborations nearly everywhere, inside and out.  Sculptures range from the crude and primitive to extravagant and ornate.   Columns twist and turn, and change shape completely as they rise.

Opinions about the basilica have been mixed, to say the least.  When dedicating it in November 2010, Pope  Benedict described it “as a hymn of praise to God carved in stone”.   On the other hand, George Orwell once called it “one of the most hideous buildings in the world”.  Whatever you think of it, Sagrada Familia truly is a one-of-a kind church.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers.  The original meal has never been found.”
- Calvin Trillin

Sometimes I feel like Calvin Trillin’s mother.  I love both serving and eating leftovers. There’s nothing better than pulling already-made food out of the fridge, to be reheated and replated, and served a second time.  It’s less work for the cook, I enjoy the sense of thrift from using something again, and often leftovers just taste better the second day.  I’m lucky that everyone else in my family likes them too.

However, I might have overdone leftovers this week.  I had three healthy new recipes I wanted to try, and I made them three consecutive nights for dinner.  Which means we’re still working our way through the leftovers.

I found this recipe for Chickpea Pot Pie on the wonderful blog Eats Well With Others.  The good news is that I loved it, and I’ll definitely make it again.  Unfortunately, the rest of my family wasn’t so sure about chickpeas taking the place of chicken.  So I’ve been enjoying these leftovers by myself for a few meals.

Here’s what I’ll do next time: I’ll follow the recipe as printed, but in the third step, I’ll divide it in half. I’ll prepare the first half with chickpeas (which I will share with no one), and the other half with cooked chicken (for the rest of my family).

And you know what that means – more leftovers for me!

Chickpea Pot Pie with Cornbread Curst
(Adapted from Eats Well With Others)

1 cup chopped sweet potatoes
1 cup chopped potatoes
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups canned chickpeas, drained (OR 1 cup chickpeas and 1 cup cooked chicken)
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 tsp kosher salt
dash of Tabasco sauce
3/4 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup skim (nonfat) milk
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large egg yolk, slightly beaten


Boil sweet potatoes, potatoes and carrots until tender but not soft and set aside.  Butter a 2-quart casserole or 8 ramekins.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

For the filling, heat oil in a large saucepan and add onions.  Cook until they are soft, about 5 minutes.  Sprinkle in the 1/4 cup flour and mix.  Slowly pour in the vegetable broth, stirring well.  Still stirring, cook the mixture over medium heat until thickened and bubbly, about 2 to 3 minutes. 

Add 2 cups chickpeas, peas, cooked potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots, salt and Tabasco.  (Alternatively, divide the mixture into two saucepans, adding 1 cup chickpeas to one pan and 1 cup cooked chicken to the other.)  Cook on medium heat until the mixture is heated through, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Turn into the prepared casserole dish or divide evenly among the ramekins.

For the crust, in a bowl combine the cornmeal, 3/4 cup flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.   In a small bowl, combine the milk, oil and egg yolk.  Add to the dry ingredients and mix until uniform.  Spoon the batter evenly over the filling.

Bake until the top is golden brown, about 22 to 25 minutes for a 2-quart casserole and 12 minutes for the ramekins.

Thursday's Child: St. Peter's Basilica

Thursday, January 5, 2012

One of the wonders of travelling is getting a glimpse into how another culture worships.  Whether I visit a church, synagogue or mosque, it gives me a little insight into the country and its people.  Often these buildings were erected by renowned architects and enhanced with the most treasured art, allowing us to witness the glories of a civilization. This month I’ll be recalling my visits to some of the loveliest places of worship we’ve seen on our travels.

It’s hard to imagine what I could write about St. Peter’s Basilica that hasn’t already been written.  So let me start with the size.  It’s one of the largest Christian churches ever built, with an interior size of almost six acres.  And if required, it can hold 60,000 people.  Ironically, it’s located in Vatican City, the smallest country in the world.

The best-known and most precious piece of art held in the Basilica is Michelangelo’s Pieta.  Carved when he was only 24, it’s a depiction of Mary holding Christ after the crucifixion.  Pieta is the only sculpture Michelangelo ever signed. 

St. Peter’s Square is equally enormous.  If the crowds are larger than the 60,000 that the basilica can handle, then the piazza holds an additional 300,000.  The obelisk in the middle of the piazza was brought from Egypt and the colonnade is lined with the statues of 140 saints.  The photo at the top of this post portrays the statue of St Peter, who was allegedly crucified here.

As with most things that are huge, it’s truly difficult to get a sense of size.  To give you a better idea, the photo above shows St. Peter’s Basilica; the photo below is a close-up of the columns.


Sunday, January 1, 2012
This is a great time of year for soup.

After eating the Christmas turkey, we love to use the bones to make soup.  And this is a meal that I get to delegate to someone else.  Twice a year Andrew is in charge of meals, and that’s after we’ve cooked our Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys.  He makes the soup slightly differently every time we eat it, whether it's with potatoes or rice, or another grain, and with some combination of vegetables that he pulls together from what's in the fridge.  It’s always a treat for me to smell the aroma of turkey soup coming from the kitchen, and to know that someone else is making dinner!

But that’s not the only reason to eat soup at this time of year.  Over the holidays, we don’t want to spend a lot of time fussing with meals, and soups are usually quick to put together.  They’re warm on a cold winter day.  And, after a holiday of eating excess, they’re the simple kind of food that I crave.

I have two soup recipes to share today. I’ve been making the first one nearly as long as I’ve been married.  I cut it out of a newspaper years ago, and later found it in Bonnie Stern’s More HeartSmart Cooking.  Her HeartSmart books were among the first healthy cookbooks I bought, and I still use them all the time. 

The second soup is a more recent find, from the perfectly titled Whining and Dining cookbook for serving picky eaters.  It’s very simple, but so appealing with the alphabet pasta that you might make it even for the people who will eat anything.

Chicken Soup with Rice

1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups homemade chicken stock or 10 ounces chicken broth plus water
2 cups milk
pinch dried sage
pinch dried thyme
pinch dried savory
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 cup diced cooked chicken breast
1 cup cooked rice (I use brown rice or wild rice)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in large saucepan.  Add onion, celery and carrot.  Cook on low heat for a few minutes until tender but not brown.

Sprinkle flour over vegetables and cook gently for 3 to 4 minutes.  Add chicken stock and milk.  Bring just to boil.

Add sage, thyme, savory and Worcestershire.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add chicken and rice.  Cook for 10 minutes.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.  (The soup will thicken on standing.  Thin it with additional milk or water when reheating.)

Alphabet Soup

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped celery (about 2 stalks)
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
½ cup alphabet shaped pasta

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add onions, carrots and celery; sauté for 5 minutes or until softened.  Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Add pasta; simmer rapidly for about 8 minutes or until al dente.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.