Q. How do you eat a huge salad with one hand?
A. You use a rice paper wrapper!
In a former life of mine in the hospitality industry, one of the most popular lunchtime offerings we had was an imported spring vegetable roll. They were huge and chock full of sprouts and julienned vegetables. They were fresh and refreshing, they were crisp inside and ever slightly so chewy on the outside, and if any food could be a celebrity-grade health foodie, this one would probably rate a Gwynneth Paltrow on the scale. Looking back, I always thought it was kind of ironic that we always had them catered in, despite having a full kitchen, because they are super easy to make. All you need is rice paper wrappers and a knife!
The rice paper wrapper is a fundamental staple in Vietnamese cooking. Spring rolls are often full of crisp vegetables and herbs. Summer rolls typically have pork or shrimp, noodles, and vegetables. But the reality is, you can use them however your heart desires!
They're cheap, they're gluten-free, really easy to work with, and hold their shape on their own. You can use them to make fast and healthy meals or beautiful finger appetizers. You can even do as they do in the east: set out plates of fillings, and allow your friends and family to dip and roll their own over a slow, conversational meal.
All good stuff, no heavy bread. Perfect for the season!
In most metropolitan areas, they're actually pretty common, if somewhat tucked away. I find them either on the shelf in the ethnic food aisles. Sometimes they're sitting near the sushi.
While you're likely to find them if you look, you might have only one choice in shape and thickness. I've seen round ones online, but the ones I've got are square. They're also fairly thick. Shape makes no big difference, but if you find that your rice paper is very thin, you may have to treat it a little more carefully.
Some rice paper, I hear, requires hot water. But I haven't encountered them. For the rest, fill a baking dish or bowl large enough to hold the wrapper with a little water. Simply immerse the sheet gently--they're pretty fragile when dry!--give it a few seconds, and remove. Leave it sitting on a plate or cutting board until it's pliable and slightly sticky.
Then... treat it like an Asian Fajita station! Fill it however you like. There's no wrong way to do this. Fold up either both ends or just one, and roll it up. No toothpicks required.
If you tear it, no harm done! Stick the edges of the torn area together and continue wrapping. Nobody will notice at the end.
If you're pre-preparing rolls for a crowd, clean your counter off, dip the papers, and line them up on the counter to work on. By the time you finish dipping, the first one will have softened enough to work with. If you've got all the filling ingredients set out, you can prep them in a little assembly line.
Serve them with salad dressing, peanut sauce, sweet and sour sauce - whatever you feel like. The wrappers have almost no flavour to them at all, so you can focus on pairing with the fillings.
Better yet, if you're making for a crowd, make multiple dipping sauces so that people can pick and choose!
Spinach Salad (shown above): 2 cups raw spinach, 1 sliced strawberry, a few slices of red onion, served with a honey balsamic dipping sauce.
Rainbow wraps (at top): sliced cherry tomatoes, yellow pepper, carrot sticks, spinach or lettuce, and red cabbage with a salad dressing dipping sauce.
BLT wraps: Lettuce, tomato, and 1 strip of bacon, served with a Ranch dipping sauce or a drizzle of peppery mayo on the inside.
Summer means lots of active play for kids. This year, my six year-old son will begin his third year of soccer. He loves to run, and I love any sport requiring no special equipment besides a jock, cleats, and shin pads. But the thing that I don't love about soccer? The foods parents usually bring for the team as an after-practice snack when the kids are hot, sweaty, and in need of refueling.
Popsicles, granola bars loaded with chocolate chips with frosting on top, bags of chips, and sugary punch drinks are usually what sits in the coolers, waiting to be handed out. Or, in other words: sugar, sugar, sugar. These snacks are often cheap, artificially-flavoured, artificially-coloured, high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden empty calories.
Not the best fuel for hard-working growing little bodies.
We get a pleasurable rush from eating sugar that never tapers off, ensuring we never get bored of it. It affects our taste buds, our thoughts, and our behaviour. It's a major factor in childhood obesity, and it's a nutritional void.
According to Abby Langer, a registered dietician, kids need 5-7 servings each of fruit and vegetables every day. Kids need several different options to ensure they get their vitamins and minerals. People, she says, have evolved to not only eat a wide variety of foods—but to want and need to eat them, too.
But busy families may not have the time to wash and cut fruits and vegetables when there are barely 15 minutes between getting home and soccer practice.
It's easy to see why healthy eating can get pushed off as something to be done “later” instead of staying top priority, and it's how junk foods find an “in.”
Well, I’ll tell you a secret: healthier snacking is only as difficult as you want to make it.
Make fruit containers do the hard work!
Berries and grapes come in hard-shell containers or bags that usually have slits or holes in them. Wash the produce straight in the container or the bag. Once washed, close it back up, give it a good shake to dry out, and tuck it straight into the cooler with a paper towel underneath to catch any drips.
Prep ahead - in your fridge!
Not all items have a good shelf-life when pre-washed, but there are still many that do. Save yourself oodles of time by pre-washing and pre-cutting foods such as apples, carrots, celery. Treat cut apples with a little lemon juice to prevent browning, and keep celery and carrots in water to keep them moist and crisp.
Take advantage of healthy, convenient pre-packaged snacks
If you don't have the time to prepare something yourself before heading out to a game or practice, a healthy substitute is Mott's Fruitsations FruitRockets and Mott’s Fruitsations +Veggies Fruit Rockets. These convenient pouches (which incidentally travel well in lunch bags and purses), are made from 100% fruit, come in 6 different flavours, are unsweetened and contain no artificial colours or flavours.
An important lesson we’re not teaching kids when we hand them a granola bar with 10 grams of sugar in it after soccer is that real fruit and vegetables have a natural sweetness that tastes awesome.
Both of these products contain no gluten or peanuts, which makes them inclusive for many children with food allergies and sensitivities, like my son.
Rethink the snack!
Hard-working bodies need more than just carbohydrates - they also need protein for building muscles and satisfying their tummies. And yet, high-protein foods rarely make their way into the cooler! Buy lunch meats or cheese slices at the deli, and roll them up for a quick and satisfying snack.
Put your pantry to better use!
Once or twice a month, stock up with pre-made dried goods to grab before the big game. In addition to dried fruit and vegetable chips, look for things like jerky and no-nut snackables like crunchy roasted chickpeas. Try whipping up a homemade trail mix made with popcorn, pretzels, dried fruit, coconut, seeds, and dried soybeans. It’s a nut-free, high-fibre, low-salt, micro-nutrient dense superfood powerhouse that will be way more satisfying than a sugary granola bar.
Use your freezer more!
Homemade muffins are a great way to pack in some extra fruit and veggies. Bake a double batch, wrap your muffins individually in cling-film after they’ve cooled, and freeze them!
And did you know you can freeze hummus? Buy or make your favourite hummus and divvy it up into the small containers before freezing it. Grab a little hummus tub and a baggie of pre-cut carrots and celery, and you’ve got an instant snack. Just give it a stir after it’s thawed to mix it up again.
Unsweetened fruit smoothie blends including fruits and vegetables can help add variety to a child’s diet, but fussy eaters might still balk at having to eat whole fruits and vegetables. Take it from snack expert 7 year-old Mya Prehn and her mom, Erin, who knows that kids sometimes feel like eating healthy is a chore.
So why not make it more like a game?
Uneaten lunches were what encouraged Mya and her mom to create Lunch Apeel, an incentive game encouraging kids to eat healthier. Foods are assigned an “Abby Apple” value based on how healthy they are (Mott’s Fruitsations are worth 2 Abby Apples!). After earning 20 Abby Apples, kids earn a reward chosen together by the parents and child. Rewards can be anything from books to a movie-night.
It helped Erin and Mya establish a dialogue about good eating practices, and it got Mya involved in finding foods that would satisfy both her body’s needs and her taste preferences. Mya has gone from ignoring her vegetables to helping her mom pack healthy lunches and earning as many as seven rewards each month.
Mya pitched Lunch Apeel on the TV show Dragon’s Den and struck a deal to help get Lunch Apeel on the market. She was given $1,000 from each of the Dragons on the condition - set by Arlene Dickinson - that some funds be used to help support the Breakfast Club of Canada. On April 30, both Mya and Arlene will be in Calgary to make a $5,000 donation to an elementary school, helping to make sure kids in need don’t have to come to school hungry.
Like my son, Mya plays soccer, and this year, both of them will be heading out to the field equipped with what they need to play hard. Join us in making a healthy resolution! This year, ditch the junk from the coolers and pack a healthy snack instead. Encourage your kids to get involved in physical activities and making good nutrition choices by cutting back on added sugar in the diet.
"Um, you know this weekend is kidlet's Super Saturday, right?" my husband said to me last Friday.
Wait, what? Super Saturday means it's the end of his hockey season. April is here, y'all! When did this happen?
April means something else though, too.
Better weather + playoffs means one thing: copious amounts of Man-Time. Usually spent in the Man-Cave, or anywhere else where the guys can gather to celebrate the tradition of combining sports, beer, and television.
Big soft pretzels and sports go together like peas and carrots. While they take some time to prep, mostly because of the time you need to let the dough rise, the effort is always worth it because trust me! You'll never had a pretzel as good as one you make yourself: steaming-hot, fresh, and mouthwateringly yeasty-good instead of stale, cold, over-salted, and loaded with preservatives and dough conditioner agents.
That's true of most bread... store-bought will never be as amazingly good as fresh-baked. And for sure: no store-bought baked good could ever make your house smell as amazeballs.
One thing I often see in homemade pretzel recipes is that they omit key things that make a pretzel look and taste its best. A home-made pretzel will not be much of a pretzel, in my opinion, without being boiled in water with baking soda in it. Here's why:
As I've mentioned in some of my previous posts, such as "Hummus: You're Making It Wrong," baking soda is a common household superhero and it falls on the alkaline side of the pH scale. It's perfectly safe; it can be a naturally-occurring salt, and it's been used for over 100 years as an antacid and leavener- in fact, baking soda and its near-kin in chemistry, baking powder, revolutionized bread baking as we know it. As a leavener, baking soda is frequently used to cause goods to rise by releasing carbon dioxide as it chemically reacts with acidic products. If you've ever done the baking soda volcano experiment, you've seen that reaction at work! In hummus, it reacts with the pectic bonds of chickpeas, breaking them down and making the chickpeas grind into a smooth paste.
On pretzels, baking soda acts as a salty-flavouring, but it also does something else when you boil the pretzels in baking soda and water before you bake them.
You may be familiar with the Maillard reaction--I think it's safe to say that it's one of the best-loved chemical reactions. The Maillard is the browning effect that happens on all kinds of foods like bread and roast chicken at certain temperatures. Chemically, what happens is that sugars react with certain amino acids beginning at around 140F-165F, and other compounds are created that make the food smell wonderful, make it tasty, and cause that beautiful brown color.
Science tastes awesome.
The Maillard process happens even more quickly in alkaline situations. This means that on pretzels, boiling the pretzels briefly before baking them gives it that luscious dark brown and caramelized flavour in a much shorter baking time, meaning that the pretzel's outer crust doesn't get baked hard and dry compared to the inside. The alkaline salt also gives the pretzel its distinctive flavour.
To get that shiny texture, keep the salt stuck to the surface, and to also help keep your pretzels soft, brush on a wash made of egg and a little bit of water!
And simply omit the cheddar for a dairy-free pretzel treat.
In a mixing bowl, combine warm water, yeast, and sugar. Stir to wet the yeast well, and then add salt, olive oil, and 3 cups of flour. Stir until flour is fully combined, and gradually add more flour, stirring, until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl (approximately 4 cups).
Sprinkle some flour on a counter or table surface and begin to knead the dough. Fold in about 1/2 cup grated cheddar as you knead for about 6-8 minutes, flouring your hands and the counter as necessary, until dough is smooth and elastic when pinched.
Lightly grease a bowl and set the dough, covered, to rise in a warm spot for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until doubled.
Shortly before the dough is finished, set a large pot to boil with 2 quarts of water and 1/2 cup of baking soda. Beat the egg in a small bowl with a little bit of water (about 1tsp) and set to one side. Begin preheating the oven to 425F and prep two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Turn out the risen dough and divide into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a 20-22" rope, and either twist into a pretzel shape, pressing it together firmly, or cut into 1" pieces (for making pretzel bites). Boil pretzels (2 at a time, if large) for 30 seconds, making sure that all sides of the pretzels are exposed to the liquid. Carefully lift them out with a spatula and set them on the parchment paper.
Using a pastry brush, spread egg wash on the upper surface of each pretzel or pretzel bite. Top with more grated cheddar and coarse salt. Bake the trays for 12-15 minutes, until deep golden brown color develops.
If storing the pretzels for later, allow them to cool uncovered, else the salt will dissolve.
Whisk together the lemon, mustard, and honey before adding the mayonnaise. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight before serving.