The Fresh Sheet…Grapefruit

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For many of us, January is NOT the time when we think of anything being fresh and in season. But after the holiday festivities, fresh is exactly what I am craving. Luckily, while many parts of Canada and the US are under a few feet of snow, it’s citrus season under sunnier skies.

Luscious red grapefruit are a much sweeter, friendlier variety than their paler cousins and they just what the New Year ordered. Ruby hued grapefruit is full of the skin-loving phytochemical lycopene, along with a dose of vitamin C to help fend off cold and flu season.

When choosing grapefruit, look for fruit that are quite heavy for their size which means that they will be juicy and delicious! They will do fine on the counter but I love my grapefruit chilled.

Grapefruit are lovely on their own as a snack, broiled with a bit of brown sugar and chili flakes or in a smoothie but they also make a lovely addition to salads. No matter how cold it is outside, I am a salad girl. In the colder months, I tend to gravitate towards chewier leaves like parsley and kale. Stick-to-your-ribs kind of greens…if you can call greens stick-to-your-ribs.

If you are on the healthier path this month and looking for a dense, hearty salad to begin the year with a clean slate, we have just the thing. This salad will actually fill you up with plenty of heart-healthy fats and even has a bit of ginger to help settle an over-indulged tummy. Did I mention the scent of grapefruit helps to quell appetite?

Eat well. Heather and I wish you all the best for the year ahead!

Grapefruit and Avocado Salad with Ginger Lemon Dressing

Serves 4-6

1 large bunch of your favourite kale, de-stemmed, leaves torn into bite sized pieces (about 8 packed cups of leaves)
1 large red grapefruit, peel and pith removed and sliced into bite sized pieces
1 ripe avocado, chopped
1/2 cup raw almonds, whole or slivered

2 tbsp avocado oil or other lightly flavoured oil like almond or grapeseed
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 tsp honey
pinch of salt

Wash and spin kale leaves so they are nice and dry and place in a large salad bowl. Save the stems and mince them for use when making a soup or stir fry. Don’t waste good food!

Mix dressing ingredients together and then pour over kale. Using fingers, massage dressing into kale leaves until they wilt and shrink by about 50% in volume. Magic!

To make the grapefruit seem juicier, use a knife to slice off a 1 cm (1/2 in) piece from top and bottom. Then use a knife to cut off all of the peel and pith so you are left with just juicy fruit. Cut the fruit into pieces, placing your cuts so you don’t get any of the skin on the outside of the slices to reign in all that juicy goodness.

Toss grapefruit, avocado and almond with kale and serve.

Tip: to make this a complete meal, serve with shredded leftover chicken or some pan-fried tofu, cut into “croutons”

Dreaming of Summer Ice Cream Sandwiches

The grey clouds seem to have completely taken over the skies of Vancouver. It’s cloudy, rainy, cold and blah grey. And it’s been like this all week. You might ask – isn’t it always rainy in Vancouver? While our winter can be rainy, our spring and summer are usually bright and sunny. But it’s cold and yucky out. I’ve been wallowing in the lack of blue skies, seawall running, warm wind in my hair bike riding and vitamin D. Mother Nature has graced us with a few gorgeous sunny days, but it seems to only be an amuse bouche and I want more.

To get into the summer spirit, I sprinted to the first summer Trout Lake Farmers Market like all eager locavores ready to indulge in the tastes and flavours of summer. My dreams of farmers’ tables piled high with strawberries, blueberries and juicy peaches were a little far fetched. It’s not truly summer yet. Of course, I wasn’t disappointed in the local goodness available, but I do daydream of the sweet fruit delights that summer brings.

While I patiently wait for the sunshine and busy bees to bring us those delicious local berries and juicy apricots, I daydream of tasty memories from my travels in tropical countries. Slurping the fresh juicy flesh of sweet mangoes and licking creamy smooth coconut ice cream come to mind. To beat the rainy blues, I decided to combine these flavours for a tasty treat that’s bound to feel like summer before the sun’s even here for good! While we don’t grow mangoes here in Canada, they are in season elsewhere, abundantly available and deliciously sweet. Perfect for a pre-summer treat.

Dreaming of Summer Ice Cream Sandwiches
Makes 12 treats.

Mango Coconut Ice Cream
3 cups mango, chopped (about 3-4 mangoes; I prefer the sweet Ataulfo mango, but frozen mango works well too)
½ cup sugar
400mL can coconut milk
2 tbsp lime juice

Prepare your ice cream maker by freezing overnight or longer so it’s frozen solid and ready to make delicious ice cream.
Puree chopped mango with the sugar in a food processor or blender until smooth. Transfer to a large measuring cup or bowl. Stir in coconut milk and lime juice. Pour the mixture into the ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for freezing. This usually takes about 25-35 minutes. If the ice cream is still quite soft, place in the freezer for a few hours to firm up. The ice cream can be made a few days ahead if desired. Simply remove the ice cream from the freezer about 15-30 minutes before assembling the sandwiches to allow the ice cream to soften so it’s easy to handle.

Molasses & Ginger Cookies
You’ll need about 24-30 cookies. Feel free to use your own favourite gingersnap cookie recipe. This is one of my favourite gingersnap cookies because it’s a mix of traditional gingersnaps and gingerbread molasses cookies. This recipe is slightly modified from Whitewater Cooks with Friends cookbook. If you don’t have a copy of this cookbook already and love delicious food, it’s a must have. You won’t be disappointed.  
1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (regular all-purpose flour is fine too)
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ginger powder
1 tbsp fresh gingerroot, peeled and finely grated
2 tsp candied ginger, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp finely ground black pepper
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 egg
3 tbsp molasses
3/4 cup large flake oats 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a mixing bowl, mix the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, all gingers, cloves and black pepper. Add melted butter, egg and molasses. Beat well. Add oats and stir just until incorporated.
Drop by tablespoon onto prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Using the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar, flatten cookies to 1/4 inch thickness.
Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Let cool and transfer to cooling rack to cool completely. I like my cookies soft for ice cream sandwiches, so I slightly underbake them. You can easily increase the baking time to 15 minutes if you would like a crisper cookie.

Ice Cream Sandwich Assembly
Match closely sized and shaped cookies into pairs to create your ice cream sandwiches. I usually like to prepare my ice cream sandwiches a few hours before sharing them so the cookies have a little bit of time to soften. You can also prepare and enjoy immediately. Once cookies are paired up, scoop a big scoopful of slightly softened mango coconut ice cream between 2 paired cookies and press lightly together. You can use the side of a knife or back of a spoon to smooth out the sides if you like. If you are preparing them ahead of time, place assembled sandwiches on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and freeze for a couple of hours.

Bring on Summer!

The Fresh Sheet….Mushrooms

Technically, spring is upon us but this can actually be one of the leanest times when it comes to finding local food. For those of you in warmer climes, you might already be enjoying those tender first spears of asparagus; dipping crunchy radishes into butter and salt or stewing rhubarb into cool compote to layer with yogurt. We’re not quite there yet. What a perfect time to talk about the fungus among us!

Mushrooms are an often overlooked and under-appreciated food stuff. Growing in dark, dank places with nary a rainbow hue to hint any nutritional value – we often think of mushrooms as just a neutral filler. That is where you would be wrong. Mushrooms have a host of nutrition benefits and are as versatile as your imagination. Mushrooms can lend a hearty, meaty texture to vegetarian dishes helping you slim down and tread lighter on the planet. Mushrooms are also a unique source of a vitamin D precursor and special polysaccharide molecules that help modulate the immune system. To delve into the super food side of mushrooms, it is time to go beyond the basic button.

In Asian cultures, certain varieties of mushrooms have been prized for their health-sustaining benefits. Shiitake mushrooms, rich in bioavailable iron, B vitamins and the anti-oxidant selenium, are well-researched for their promising health properties. Lentinan, a polysaccharide found in shiitakes, has been studied for potential anti-cancer activity. Eritadenene in shiitakes may help lower cholesterol. Crimini mushrooms (the brown buttons) are a unique vegan source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which may help lower estrogen production and crimini mushrooms appear to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. A whole world of fungi awaits to be discovered: crunchy enoki mushrooms, steak-like portobellos or velvety oysters all have unique flavours and textures to suit any dish.

At the market or in the store, look for mushrooms that have firm, dry flesh and be sure to carry them in a paper bag to help retain their texture. There is no need to wash mushrooms prior to use; ideally, simply wipe mushrooms with a damp cloth just prior to cooking. Otherwise, give a quick rinse and dry as thoroughly as you can.

What to do with those earthly beauties once you get home? Let us count the ways! Stir-fries, soups, casseroles, risotto, as a vegetarian main course or burger…there is a recipe for every occasion. Since April is National Cancer Awareness month, we thought we would create a recipe that highlighted the super food status of the humble mushroom.

Edible Medicine Soup

This soup packs a powerful punch; anti-inflammatory ginger, garlic and mushrooms fortify body and soul.

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 lb mixed mushrooms (use crimini as a base and add shiitakes and other exotic varieties as availability and budget allows)
4 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
1/2 cup white wine
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
1 bunch lacinato (black) kale, sliced into 1 inch pieces
1 litre low sodium veggie stock
1 can (540ml) no-salt added white beans, or 2 cups cooked beans

Salt to taste*

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat; add onion and cumin seeds and sauté until onion glossy and transparent, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and continue to sauté until mushrooms release their liquid, about 3 minutes. Then, add garlic and stir frequently until most of the liquid is evaporated.

Deglaze the pot with white wine or water; when most of it evaporates, add the veggie stock and bring to a boil. Add 1 litre fresh water and then reduce heat to a simmer. Add ginger, kale and white beans and simmer for at least 20 minutes. The longer the soup simmers, the more the flavours will come together.

*We suggest salting to taste at the table instead of adding salt while cooking, in hopes of keeping salt content as low as possible. But if the salt is what you need to indulge in healthy foods, go for it. Try and keep it to 1/4 – 1/2 tsp.

Simple and Delicious Holiday Gifts…Chocolate Barks

If you are anything like me, the holidays bring a rush of nostalgia, enthusiasm and good old-fashioned holiday cheer which leave you pining for days of baking, crafting and decorating. Then, of course, the pot of soup boils over; my baby starts tugging on my pant leg and I am awakened to the reality that is a mile-long to do list and not enough time to get it all done.

So if you love giving homemade gifts, one strategy (beyond re-wrapping store-bought items!) is to choose things that make a big impact and yet takes almost no time to prepare. Given that there aren’t many more days until Christmas, why not forget about spending too much money on trinkets for coworkers and holiday hosts and give some beautifully homemade gifts instead?

Chocolate barks are the perfect treat and so easy to make. And who doesn’t love chocolate? Even I, a confessed lover of all things cheese and chip, eat way more than my fair share of chocolate this time of year. Heather and I wanted to come up with some unique pairings this year and include one perennial favourite that I can’t go without.

If you need gift wrapping ideas, here are a few:

1. Pick up “Chinese Takeout” containers and line with a colourful, food safe, tissue
2. Pile bark into canning jars and tie with a ribbon
3. Wrap, butcher style, in parchment and tie with twine

Holiday Chocolate Bark Recipes

Pistachio, Cardamon and Fleur de Sel Bark
about 1 lb good quality dark chocolate (we used callebaut), chopped
1 cup shelled pistachios, left whole
1/2 tsp cardamon, plus more for sprinkling if desired

Dried Pear, Candied Ginger and Roasted Cinnamon Bark
about 1 lb good quality dark chocolate (we used callebaut), chopped
3/4 cup chopped dried pear
1/4 cup chopped candied ginger
1/2 tsp roasted cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling if desired

Note: roasted cinnamon is a new product that is roasted before grinding; you could substitute regular cinnamon but this gives a richer flavour

Dried Sour Cherry and Black Pepper Bark
about 1 lb good quality white “chocolate” (we used callebaut), chopped
1 cup dried sour cherries
1/2 – 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

Candy Cane Bark
about 1 lb good quality white “chocolate” (we used callebaut), chopped
1 cup smashed candy canes (about 8 candy canes)


Note: we used organic candy canes..such a pretty colour and no yucky dyes! To smash the candy canes, break them into a heavy duty freezer bag and place between thin tea towels on the floor or a sturdy counter. Then take a rolling pin and bash the heck out of them. Great holiday stress reliever!

Bark Method

In a double boiler (or a metal mixing bowl that fits nicely over a sauce pot), bring 1 inch of water to a simmer. Place bowl on top of pot and add chocolate, stirring occasionally until smooth and uniformly melted.

Meanwhile, line a cookie sheet with a silpat mat or parchment paper. Sprinkle the cookie sheet with any chopped ingredients over an area the size of a piece of letter paper.

If you are using a spice, mix it into the chocolate just before taking off the heat. Pour the chocolate over the ingredients on the cookie sheet. Use a spatula to evenly spread the chocolate. Finish the bark with an extra dash of spice or fleur de sel, if using. Allow bark to cool outside or in the fridge until firm, at least 1 hour.

Break up the bark pieces and store in storage containers or wrap for immediate giving!

Happy Holidays!