March is Nutrition Month.
Before you start nervously stocking up on kale, chucking out your chocolate stash and counting every calorie, please, just relax.
This year's theme is "Simply Cook and Enjoy." The Dietitians of Canada want to bring Canadians back to the kitchen. And they want them to have fun.
The national professional association for dietitians, which represents close to 6,000 members across Canada, sees home cooking as the foundation of good eating.
We live in a food-obsessed culture, watching cutthroat cooking competitions on TV and poring over Internet food porn. But in the last few generations, there has been a loss of basic cooking skills.
"It's not as hard as people sometimes think," says Rosemary Szabadka, a public health dietitian with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.
"People see so many evils in food," says Szabadka. Nutrition Month is about focusing on the positives: "The passion for food and the passion for cooking." The message is that even with time constraints and tight budgets, it's possible to make quick, easy, healthy meals from scratch -- and to make them tasty.
Getting started shouldn't be hard. "Everything is online now," Szabadka points out. "You can type in anything, and you'll get all these recipes."
The Dietitians of Canada are getting in on the Internet act with Cookspiration.com. It has recipes geared to mood, cravings and schedule, as well as a free iPhone and iPad app that serves up recipes and tips.
The next step is shopping. "Planning is important," says Szabadka. "Don't just go haywire in the store. Make a good grocery list."
It's important, too, to see cooking and eating as a family thing. "You want to get the kids involved, so they don't see cooking as a chore," advises Szabadka.
Here are some wonderfully non-threatening recipes from the Dietitians of Canada. Easy and adaptable, they allow you to improvise a little, working with what you've got and with what your family likes. And you can have these dishes on the table in less than 30 minutes.
"Just enjoy," says Szabadka. "Be proud of yourself. You've made something good!"
Pasta with Roasted Vegetables and Goat Cheese
1 l (4 cups) cubed zucchini
500 ml (2 cups) cubed eggplant
500 ml (2 cups) coarsely chopped red bell pepper
250 ml (1 cup) coarsely chopped sweet white or red onion
30 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil
7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) dried Italian seasoning or French herbs
250 g (8 oz) rotini, penne or other pasta
100-125 g (3.5-4 oz) soft crumbled goat cheese
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Preheat oven to 220 C (425 F). Grease a large rimmed baking sheet. Combine zucchini, eggplant, peppers and onions in a large bowl. Add oil and Italian seasoning; toss to coat. Place vegetables in a single layer on prepared baking sheet; roast in preheated oven, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 40 minutes or until vegetables are golden and slightly softened. Meanwhile, in a pot of boiling water, cook pasta according to package instructions or until tender, but firm; drain. Toss vegetables with pasta. Sprinkle goat cheese over top; toss to combine. Leave as is or sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Makes 4 servings.
Tester's notes: Easy-peasy. Just toss the pasta and veg together and you have dinner in a big bowl. I left out the eggplant -- due to an anti-eggplant faction in my house -- and loaded up on mushrooms and tomatoes instead. The trick here is to really roast the vegetables until they get all caramelized and gorgeous.
And you might want to reserve some of the pasta cooking water, just in case. Warm, salty and starchy, it makes an excellent binding if a pasta dish is too dry. You can also use fresh herbs: Just add them at the end when tossing in the vegetables and cheese, using a substitution ratio of about 30 ml (2 tbsp) fresh for every 5 ml (1 tsp) dried.
Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Pizza
1 x 30 cm (12 inch) round of flatbread or enough pizza dough for a 30-cm (12-inch) pizza
15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil
250 ml (1 cup) shredded mozzarella cheese
60 ml (1/4 cup) soft crumbed goat cheese
1 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 large tomato, sliced
60 ml (1/4 cup) sliced black olives
60 ml (1/4 cup) sweet Vidalia onion, sliced (optional)
5 ml (1 tsp) dried basil (or 30 ml/2 tbsp chopped fresh basil)
Preheat oven to 200 C (400 F) if using flatbread or 230 C (450 F) if using pizza dough. Place flatbread on baking sheet. If using pizza dough, spread out dough on lightly greased pizza pan to make a 30 cm (12 inch) circle. Brush olive oil on top of flatbread or pizza dough. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Top with goat cheese, red pepper, tomato, black olives, onion, if using, and basil. Bake pizza in bottom half of preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until crust is golden and filling is bubbly. Makes 4 servings.
Tester's notes: I used a baking stone, which is preheated along with the oven and creates a nice crust. Again, you can change up the fillings, depending on personal tastes and what you have on hand.
One note: Portion control is a big part of nutrition month, but if you have teenagers, the idea that this yields four servings is wildly optimistic.
500 ml (2 cups) sliced zucchini
1 small onion, minced
15 ml (1 tbsp) butter or margarine
7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) olive oil
6 eggs, beaten
15 ml (1 tbsp) chopped fresh parsley
5 ml (1 tsp) ground fennel
2 ml (1/2 tsp) ground dried rosemary
2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
1 ml (1/4 tsp) ground black pepper
30 ml (2 tbsp) shredded Cheddar cheese
Preheat broiler. In a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat, cook zucchini and onion in butter and olive oil for about 5 minutes or until tender. In another bowl, combine eggs, parsley, fennel, rosemary, salt and pepper; pour over vegetables. Cook over medium heat, without stirring, until the bottom of mixture has set but top is still soft. Sprinkle cheese on top. Place under preheated broiler for about 3 minutes or until cheese is melted and top is brown. Makes 6 servings.
Tester's notes: Tasty and adaptable (and I love the flavour of fennel). Just make sure that the skillet as well as the handle are oven-proof at high heat.