The Fresh Sheet…Eggplant

 

 

Eggplants.Desiree Nielsen RD

Eggplants are one of those vegetables that feel like summer to me but I am often at a loss for preparation ideas because my husband has an utter disdain for them! Serving gorgeous slabs of grilled eggplant won’t do unless I am willing to eat them all myself. A staple in mediterranean cuisine, eggplants have yet to really seduce us here in North America. But it’s worth giving eggplant another shot for its versatility and nutrition. With fall right around the corner, bringing these jewel-like beauties home will help extend the feeling of those long sun-drenched days (even if the only sunshine around is the artificial kind).

Eggplant.Peppers.DesireeNielsenRD

Preparation is key to enjoying eggplant’s charms – salting and resting the flesh will help to remove any bitterness that some might find unpleasant. It is also best to enjoy eggplant while they are fresh and in season…which is right now! Eggplant doesn’t just look pretty, it comes with plenty of nutrition to spare: eggplant is a source of soluble fibre to help stabilize blood sugars, lower cholesterol and soothe the digestive tract. It is also rich in manganese, an energizing mineral; potassium and magnesium protect the heart and potent antioxidant pigments give its skin that glossy dark purple colour.

When these little gems hit the farmers’ market, I too often give them a pass. So I was determined to find a recipe that would convince even an eggplant hater and I think we might have found it. This caponata pairs eggplants with their cousins, bell peppers and tomatoes for a savoury match made in heaven.

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Eggplant Caponata
Makes about one litre

Caponata is an Italian antipasti that is sweet, savoury and delicious – it takes time to make but will last through the week in the refrigerator to perk up any meal. It has a myriad of uses: try it as a sandwich spread, a pasta sauce, a topping for Bruschetta, layered in a casserole or as a sauce for proteins. We have paired it with grilled tofu in the photo but it would also be delicious with chicken or white fish.

3 cups cubed eggplant (about 2-3 small)
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 1/2 cups chopped bell peppers
1 tbsp minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
1- 28 oz can of plum tomatoes
3/4 tsp oregano
3/4 tsp basil
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped Kalamata olives
1 tbsp Red wine vinegar
1/4 – 1/2 cup Italian (flat leaf) parsley leaves

Place cubed eggplant in a bowl and generously salt, tossing to coat the eggplant. Let sit for 30 minutes and then rinse and pat dry.

In a large saute pan, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat, then add onion and bell peppers; sauté until glossy and soft, about 10 minutes. Add eggplant and sauté for 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is soft and golden brown.

Deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup of the juice from the plum tomatoes and then crush the plum tomatoes into the pan by hand, reserving the juice for adjusting the moisture of the dish later. Add the herbs, 1 tsp freshly ground pepper and garlic, stir and reduce to simmer for about 40 minutes. Stir occasionally and if the mixture sticks or gets too dry, deglaze with a bit of the reserved tomato juice. Stir in the red wine vinegar, olives and parsley before serving.

One litre of caponata will make a large volume of appetizers or will comfortably serve 8 people as a pasta sauce or side dish for proteins.

The Fresh Sheet…Birch Syrup

birch syrup with spoon

The celebration of a cold Canadian winter is never complete without tire d’érable, aka maple taffy on the snow at the Cabane à Sucre festival. Sweet maple syrup is boiled down into maple taffy and a steaming strip is poured over a bed of snow and then rolled up onto a stick for sweet licking. I like to call this delicious treat the true Canadian lollipop. I have fond memories of celebrating this tradition with our French Canadian friends in Kamloops.

A couple of years ago, we learned that some folks up in Quesnel were tapping birch trees and boiling the sap down into birch syrup. Not quite as sweet as maple syrup but the birch trees still dripped a scrumptious sap that is worth the hard work to boil it down into a sugary treat. Hiking in the forest behind our cabin we discovered a peaceful grove of birch trees. It sparked our interest to try making our own birch syrup. So, we packed up a backpack full of empty containers, a drill and some taps and headed out on our adventure.

As you can imagine, we didn’t really strike syrupy gold the first time we tapped the trees. It took a few tries and some learnings before we got a tasty batch we were proud to showoff. We quickly learned that you need to extract a lot of sap to make a small jar of birch syrup. You need about 80 to 100 litres of birch sap to make just 1 litre of birch syrup (maple syrup is about a forty to one ratio). Even so, it made for a fun adventure hiking up to the birch grove each day over a long weekend to empty our buckets and revel in how much sap dripped out of the trees.

birch sap

Straight from the tree, birch sap looks just like water. I enjoyed taking a couple of gulps right from the tree spout. It was refreshing like water with a hint of sweetness. We couldn’t wait to boil it down into sweet syrup. Three days of harvesting the sap and a few more boiling it down in our backyard to a gorgeous amber colour, birch syrup has a unique caramel-like flavour. We’ve enjoyed a quick sip of birch syrup when we crave a sweet treat or a few more spoonfuls drizzled on ice cream. We do look forward to cooking a few of our favourite recipes with our homemade birch syrup.

birch syrup in jars

You can find Sweet Tree Ventures Birch Syrup at Edible Canada on Granville Island or from the Sweet Tree Ventures website.

Ode to September Soup

September is such a beautiful month in BC. With sunny blue skies and warm air, it can feel like summer in the middle of the day. And yet, fall sneaks into the early mornings and evenings with that clean crisp smell and chilly air. It’s one of my favourite times of the year to enjoy the best of both seasons. It’s also a time when I begin to crave warm comfort food and a soul-nourishing bowl of homemade soup.

A couple of years ago, I enjoyed an amazing bowl of roasted tomato soup at a conference. It was so good that I just had to try and re-create it. Now, it’s a family favourite with rave reviews. It’s rich in seasonal flavour harvested from the farmer’s market or my garden pickings.


Roasted Eggplant & Tomato Soup
This recipe makes a big batch perfect for lunches or freezing for future meals. It makes about 2.25L or 9 cups.

1 large eggplant
6 medium tomatoes
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
28oz/796mL can diced tomatoes
1 small bunch basil, chopped (about a 14g pkg)
1/2 cup whipping cream – consider including a lower fat version if possible 
salt, pepper and sugar to taste
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400ºF.
Slice eggplant into 1 inch slices. Place in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet or pan. Roast eggplant for 20 minutes. Cool slightly and chop.
Increase oven temperature to broil. Cut tomatoes into quarters. Place in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet or pan. Roast under the broiler until charred, about 15 minutes, turning every 5 minutes.
Heat oil in a large soup pot or saucepot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until onion are soft, about 8 minutes. Add roasted and chopped eggplant, roasted tomatoes, canned tomatoes and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
In batches, transfer to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth or to desired consistency. Return to soup pot or use a clean soup pot/saucepot. Stir in chopped basil and cream. Heat soup over medium heat until heated through. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Serve garnished with freshly grated Parmesan cheese if desired.

The Fresh Sheet…Plums

This September couldn’t possibly get any better: the sun is shining, morning greets with an energizing crispness and the afternoons are still blazing hot. You almost forget that the rainy season is just around the corner as you laze around the park enjoying all that delicious late summer fruit. Of course, should the weather turn less than hospitable, you now have plenty of reason to bake. On one such day, I ventured over to my friend Melissa’s house to bake clafoutis.

There is an abundance of plums in early September and for most, this turn of events goes uncelebrated. Few wax lyrical about plums in the way you might about lush summer peaches or raspberries. They are not prescribed to keep the doctor away, as the apple. And because they arrive with so much bounty in our midst, it could be easy to give them a pass but I urge you to indulge when the time comes. Plums are subtle, their charms best coaxed out with a bit of attention. Even if it is just a bit of manchego and a drizzle of honey.

My friend Melissa has a beautiful food blog and so we thought it might be fun to spend a little time in the kitchen together (and then share the spoils with you!). I am not much of a baker, so I suggested we try our hand at clafoutis. It sounds quite fancy but clafoutis is actually a simple, rustic and cozy dessert (or breakfast. Who am I kidding?). With the texture of baked custard crossed with bread pudding, it is perfect for a rainy day, warm and fragrant out of the oven.

Plum Clafoutis

Melissa and I adapted the clafoutis recipe from the lovely Gluten Free Girl, who was in turn inspired by Julia Child’s original recipe. This is baking for the improvisateur: switch up the fruit, the flours…it will all work. Our first go-round was quinoa and almond flour but the quinoa is a bit earthy in flavour. For those well-accustomed to “earthy” flavours, it is a great gluten-free option. Oat flour was lovely and will definitely be a crowd pleaser if you are looking to avoid wheat. We also experimented with 3 large pears, poached in sugar, cinnamon and cardamom. Perfect for when late summer turns to autumn.

Serves 6

3 cups plums, pitted and chopped into bite-size pieces
2 tbsp honey
1 1/4 cups whole milk
2/3 cup natural cane sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla (no artificial extracts, please!)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup oat flour

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Combine the prepared plums with the honey in a large bowl and let them marinate as you get the batter going.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and salt. Place the flours in a separate bowl. Slowly whisk the egg/milk mixture into the flours until you have a smooth batter; it will resemble a thin pancake batter.

Grease a 7-8 cup (roughly 8 x 12 inch) baking dish or 9 inch pie plate with butter. The deeper and smaller the dish, the creamier the clafoutis. Scatter the honey-coated plums over the bottom of the dish. Carefully pour the batter over the fruit. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until the top is golden and crisped.

Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Local Food Challenge…Frozen Blueberry Yogurt

On a hot summer day, nothing beats a chilly treat. And we’ve got a tasty recipe that’s simple and super fast to make. You can literally whip this one up in 2 minutes! The bonus is that it’s a healthy choice too. With only 2 local ingredients, it allows the natural flavour of the foods to come through. This is true local eating at its best. 

Super Quick Frozen Blueberry Yogurt
makes 2 cups or 4 small servings

2 cups frozen BC blueberries
1 cup plain yogurt, preferably 2- 3.5% M.F. – The little bit of fat makes this treat creamier than if you use fat-free yogurt.

Place the blueberries in a food processor and pulse several times to break up the blueberries. Add the plain yogurt. Blend until mixture is smooth and looks like delicious blueberry ice cream. Serve immediately.

This is a simple and easy recipe that has lots of room to be creative. Although blueberry is my favourite, this recipe is delicious using frozen peaches, strawberries, blackberries, cherries or other local fruit. Raspberries are also fun for a tart frozen treat.

Enjoy that local food!

Growing Chefs! Going Local! Challenge Begins

 

There is nothing more local than patio produce! A very nice specimen of Portuguese Kale.

 

There is no time like the present to head to the farmer’s market or your local food grocer and buy yourself a basket full of local delicacies. Food will not get better than it is right now – so take full advantage! Thick slices of tomato, served with nothing more than a little salt and pepper; wild salmon or sablefish, served with roasted fennel and eggplant; local blueberries swirled into cold, creamy yogurt…need I go on?

Eating local in August is hardly a challenge…so why not take the Going Local! Challenge, in support of Growing Chefs?

Your mission is deliciously simple. Sign up on the Growing Chefs! website; ask friends, family and coworkers to donate to your campaign and then simply do your best to eat as close to 100 miles as possible from August 19 – 25.

With so many amazing options this month, it might be hard to narrow down what to put on your plate. To help you on your way, we have created a 2 day sample meal plan that incorporates traditional menu items with a little twist to allow you to enjoy your favorites while sticking to a 100 mile diet.

The meal ideas are very flexible, make substitutions based on what looks best at the store or farmer’s market. If you want to learn more about what is in season in the lower mainland, check out the Get Local Seasonal Food Chart. Every fruit or vegetable used below can also be substituted with anything you find at your local Farmers market, so feel free to be unique and create your very own meals. The fresh produce used in this plan follows the get local BC seasonal chart.

Get Local, Folks (aka start feasting!)

Day One

Breakfast

Berry Smoothie

Use a selection of fresh berries, yogurt, honey, a splash of milk and a few cubes of ice for a cold, crisp beverage. To make the smoothie more sweet and less thick, try using some BC melons, in season this month.

Snack– a handful of raw hazelnuts and dried fruit. Pick up Canadian hazelnuts at the farmers market near you. You can dry your own market-fresh fruit on low in the oven or with a dehydrator or pick up dried fruit from the market.

Lunch

Tuna sandwich and salad

Use canned tuna from Estevan Tuna or cook any fresh fish finds and mix with fresh chopped herbs. Spread between two pieces of 100 mile bread from a bread affair. For added crunch, chop up celery and mix or a favourite crisp vegetable from your local farmers market. You may also want to add cheese from your local dairy producer and sour cream can be used in place of mayonnaise.

A salad can be made using your favourite greens and for a dressing, drizzle on vinaigrette made from local vinegar and hazelnut oil (Canadian hazelnut). For more flavour, add fresh herbs.

Snack– Hard-boiled egg and local crackers. Eggs can be found at many farms in Maple Ridge and Abbotsford. Bradner Farms and Rabbit River Farms are two brands found in grocery stores. Local crackers from Nichol fine foods are a great choice, or try making homemade crackers using ground wheat berries, egg whites and some hazelnuts mixed up and baked until crisp.

Dinner

Grilled chicken burgers, corn on the cob, and roasted potatoes

Grill up some local chicken breasts and serve on crispy, thick cut 100 mile bread. Add a few slices of local bacon, cheese and fresh vegetables. For a chicken marinade, mix some honey, cilantro leaves and garlic and brush onto chicken. Boil up corn ears and rub on fresh butter mixed with chopped chives.

Day Two

Breakfast

Toast and hazelnut butter

Toast up some 100 mile bread and spread hazelnut butter from Poplar Grove Arbour. You can make fresh hazelnut butter yourself by taking hazelnuts and grinding them up in a high-powered blender. They release their natural oils which creates a thick delicious butter. Pour up a glass of fresh milk and a cup of local berries to complete the meal.

Snack

Fresh vegetables and dip

Make a dip from sour cream and fresh dill and serve with fresh-cut veggies.

Lunch

Lettuce wraps

Sauté or grill up fresh vegetables, along with strips of chicken or beef. Using fresh herbs like cilantro and garlic will give a Thai-inspired taste. Spoon your sauté into leaves of lettuce and roll up. These can be pre-made for an on-the-go lunch, all you need to do is roll up the lettuce wraps right before your about to enjoy them.

Snack

A bowl of creamy Greek yogurt with one apple grated into it.

Dinner

Meatballs and Panzanella salad

Mixing local ground beef with breadcrumbs from 100 mile bread, eggs and some of your favorite fresh herbs, create delicious meatballs. Tomatoes are in season and can be made into a rich tomato sauce, with a splash of local wine and your choice of cheese.

Serve meatballs alongside a Panzanella salad. This salad uses a twist on the traditional recipe. Toast up your 100 mile bread, cube and toss in hazelnut oil. Combine your homemade croutons with local vinegar, basil leaves, chopped up crisp peppers, cucumber and tomatoes. Add your choice of cheese, or mozzarella if you find it.

Dessert

For a treat, make homemade meringues: whip local egg whites, mix with honey and bake. Serve with fresh macerated berries and drizzle with honey and crisp hazelnuts

Hungry yet? Happy Challenge, everyone!

 

 

Dark Chocolate Dipped Cherries

I indulge in these delightful treats as I write this post. One bite is all it takes to get addicted to these summer treats. They will replace the much loved chocolate dipped strawberries. Sweet BC cherries dipped in rich dark chocolate and chilled to the perfect temperature. A few wholesome ingredients, super simple to make and impressive for the main dessert at any summer event or a delightful afternoon pick-me-up. These are definately a summer treat you have to try.

I believe there are 2 ways to enjoy these unbelievably delicous cherries:
1. Hold them by their stem and take a bite off one side. You’ll bite into the deep rich chocolatey crust and then get a burst of chilly sweet cherry flavour. Continue to take bites until all you’re left holding is a cherry pit and stem.
2. But my favourite way to eat’em is to hold the end of the stem between your first finger and thumb, tilt your head back and drop the whole decadence into your mouth. Pull on the stem to release the treat and bite down into its delicious flavour. Savour every chew or let it melt in your mouth. And then of course, spit out the pit!

Dark Chocolate Dipped Cherries
8 oz (225 g) good quality dark chocolate
1 Tbsp. butter
about 30 sweet BC cherries with their stem intact (or cherries from wherever you live) – I prefer the flavour of the sweet red ones paired with dark chocolate, but you can certainly use the Rainier yellow cherries as well.

I prefer to melt my chocolate over a hot water bath or double boiler. If you prefer, feel free to use the method that you’re most comfortable with.
Fill a saucepan with 1 inch of water. Find a bowl that fits securely over the saucepan.
Coarsely chop chocolate. Combine chopped chocolate with butter in the bowl. Place the bowl over the saucepan and heat the water over medium-low heat. You want to slowly melt the chocolate. Stir frequently and ensure the water doesn’t get too hot (rapid boil). When most of the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and wipe the bottom with a cloth. Stir a few times and allow the remaining chocolate to melt completely. Get ready to dip!
Dip each cherry into the dark chocolate. You can dip the entire cherry or leave a little section at the top undipped. Twirl to let the extra chocolate drip off. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Continue with remaining cherries. With this hot summer heat, I chill my cherries and keep them in the refrigerator until ready to serve. But if it’s cool enough in your neighbourhood or if you have air conditioning, you can let them set at room temperature.

These treats make great desserts for any barbecue, picnic or summer get together. Make it even more fun with a cherry pit spitting contest!