The Fresh Sheet…Peaches

Summer is ridiculously abundant. The fruit literally falls off the trees – juicy, sweet and a bit messy. Kind of like how life should be. Just a few weeks ago, as I was diving into my first peach of the summer, I couldn’t help but remark at what a pure, unadulterated pleasure summer eating is. All of this produce from practically just down the road; so ripe, flavourful and perfect on its own. So perfect, in fact, you wish that feeling could last all year. We can help with that!

peaches in brown basket2 - resizedAnd peaches aren’t just a tasty treat; they are actually incredibly delicious medicine. Peaches are rich in vitamins A and C for healthy skin (good protection when the sun is shining!) and strengthening the immune system, they provide fibre to help keep everything moving smoothly and phyto-chemicals such as phenols that help fight inflammation. So much for thinking that healthy food doesn’t taste good. In fact, it’s crazy delicious.

Since peaches are but a blip in the annual harvest, it is a good idea to preserve some as soon as you get your greedy little fingers all over them. The local peaches won’t last much longer, so buy large! This recipe will make quick work of 5 pounds of deliciousness, which means you could buy 5 pounds for eating now and 5 for eating later. Moderation doesn’t apply to precious in season and highly perishable fruit. And peaches are so easy to preserve that even a newbie can do it. The bourbon was my idea; Heather isn’t much for boozy fruit. I am up for eating just-about-anything boozy. In moderation, of course! Here, moderation applies…

Bourbon and Vanilla Soaked Peaches
Fills 12, 250mL jars
If you have never canned before, read twice before canning once. It is far easier than you might expect but a few key tips will keep you on the safe side. This is a helpful guide to help get you started.

5 pounds ripe peaches, washed (should be fragrant and luscious but not mushy)
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 whole vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise, seeds scraped and pod cut into 12 pieces
Optional: 1tbsp bourbon per jar

Prepare canning jars and lids as directed by canning manufacturer and keep them simmering hot in the canning pot until ready to fill. You will need a jar lifter or slip proof tongs to handle the hot jars.

In a large pasta pot, boil water for blanching peaches. Prepare a very large bowl or another pasta pot with cold water and add the juice of a lemon for holding the peaches.

In a medium pot, bring water to a boil and add sugar. Stir and simmer gently until sugar is totally dissolved. Add vanilla bean scrapings, stir and turn heat to low to keep warm.

Score the bottom of each peach with a knife and carefully lower into boiling water. Blanch for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, just enough to loosen skin. Place into lemon water with a slotted spoon until cool enough to handle. Repeat with all peaches – you can do them in batches.

Peel peaches and slice into hot canning jars. Add one piece of vanilla bean pod to each jar and add 1 tbsp bourbon if desired. Pour hot syrup over peaches, leaving 1/4-1/2 inch of headroom in jars. Use a wooden skewer or chopstick to remove any air bubbles from the jars. Tighten lids on jars (not too tight!) and place back in canner. Process, as per manufacturer’s directions, for 30 minutes. Remove to the counter and let rest undisturbed for 1 day. Seriously. Don’t touch them!

You will know they canned properly if the lid doesn’t give way; if it didn’t work, give peaches to all of your friends as they are totally safe to eat within a week or so (keep them in the fridge).


October #Unprocessed…DIY a Better Bean

This is a bean house. I eat beans daily. Tofu, every once in a while. Eggs, pretty regularly. But my heart belongs to beans. Why? Because there is no food more satisfying, versatile and oh yes, economical. Beans and rice, that staple of traditional food cultures the world over, got me through my unpaid internship year. Since Heather and I are going #unprocessed this month, we thought it would be a great time to talk about making beans from scratch. Just for good, old-timey sake!

There are plenty of convenient legume options that will pass the October Unprocessed kitchen test – sprouted, dried beans; frozen beans and canned (withOUT the BHT or EDTA please!). However, the most economical and delicious way to enjoy beans is to soak and boil them yourself. They have a truly wonderful texture when you DIY. Properly soaked and rinsed beans are also easier on the ol’ digestive tract as you wash away some of the resistant starches.

I know you are busy. So am I. You can still soak beans. Here’s how:

The key is to take the assembly line approach and think ahead. Don’t try and cook soak the beans for a recipe the night before. After you boil them, you still have to make dinner. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have 2 hours to get dinner on the table on a Tuesday!

Start at night. When the house is quiet and you aren’t rushing around like mad. Choose a couple of varieties of beans you use most often – for me, this is the white cannelini bean and the black bean. You will need two large pasta pots. Economize prep time by soaking large batches: at least 3-4 cups of each dried bean topped up by enough water to at least give you 4 inches of water above the beans. Soak overnight or for a day.

The next day, once dinner is made and the dishes are done, drain and rinse those beans a couple of times and then fill the pot up with clean water and put those suckers on the stove. Let them boil as you sit back and watch a movie. See how easy this is? Once the beans are fork tender – about 45 – 55 minutes, you can let them cool and portion them into recipe-sized servings (1-2 cups, depending on how many you usually cook for) and toss them in the freezer. Date the bags. Voila! Beans as you need them.

There are plenty of delicious things to do with beans – add them to salads, soups (puree white beans in soups to make them creamy – delish!), mash for dips and sandwiches or add them to pasta. However, as the weather has made a sudden turn for fall, I was looking to cook up some serious comfort food.

Copyright Desiree Nielsen

White Bean, Pumpkin and Cauliflower Gratin

Give the potatoes a rest and up the nutrition quotient by layering cauliflower and pumpkin. You can take this recipe and lighten it up further by substituting light cheddar and evaporated skim milk. But the cream tastes really good…this serves 4-6 as a main course over your favourite whole grain or is sized just right as a side dish for a holiday meal.

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large leek, white and light green part only
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 lb sugar pumpkin, peeled and diced into 1 cm cubes
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup fresh sage, chopped
2 cups light 10% cream, full fat milk or evaporated skim milk
1 tbsp organic cornstarch or flour
salt and pepper to taste

4 cups cooked cannelini or navy beans (about 2 small cans for those in a rush)
1 large cauliflower, trimmed
2 cups of shredded aged white cheddar or gruyere

Prepare the veggies: thoroughly wash the leek and then slice lengthwise; cut halves into thin slices resembling half moons. Place the cauliflower on the cutting board stem side down and start slicing into very thin, 1/2 cm (1/4 in) slices. Much of the cauliflower will start crumbling but you will end up with enough thin cauliflower steaks to line the bottom of the baking dish.

Cauliflower Copyright Desiree Nielsen

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large, 9 x 12 baking dish, arrange a layer of cauliflower “steaks”. Sprinkle beans over cauliflower and set dish aside.

Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add leek and sauté until soft and glossy, about 5 minutes. Add pumpkin, garlic, cumin and thyme and turn up the heat a bit. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin is soft, about 10 minutes. Add remaining cauliflower crumbles and sage.

Pour the cream over the veggies and heat through. Then, in a small cup, measure out the flour or cornstarch. Add a couple of tablespoons of the hot cream to the flour and whisk with a fork until there are no lumps. Pour the mixture back into the pan, stirring constantly. Allow the cream to thicken slightly and then turn off heat.

Carefully pour the veggie cream sauce over the baking dish. Sprinkle with cheese and cover the dish with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes covered. Remove foil and bake for 10 more minutes. Feel happy.

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


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.


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.


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


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.


Fresh vegetables and dip

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


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.


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


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.


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!



Fresh Sheet…Cauliflower

When the dietitian folk talk about eating a rainbow of fruits and veggies, cauliflower seems like it might get left out in the cold. Cauliflower certainly falls into the under-appreciated category in the vegetable world. Of course, the artsy among us might note that white is actually a pretty nuanced shade and when it comes to the nutrition benefits of cauliflower, the complexity far outshines its seemingly pale complexion. There are plenty of subtle flavours just waiting to be coaxed out of this humble veggie.

Cauliflower is a member of the super-nutritious cruciferous vegetable or brassica family. Glucosinolates, compounds also found in kale and broccoli, help support your liver’s ability to detoxify harmful substances in the blood. Anti-oxidant vitamin C, manganese and quercetin further strengthen your body’s defences against city living and stressful lives.

The name cauli-flower is a variation of cole flower or kale flower; all cruciferous veggies are descendant from colewort, an ancient loose-leafed wild cabbage. Colewort buds became brussel sprouts, its flowers became broccoli and cauliflower, its leaves became kale and collard greens. The stem was transformed into kohlrabi and its root turned into the turnip

Did you know: The compact head of a cauliflower is called a curd and is composed of undeveloped flower buds; cauliflower is white because the coarse green leaves around the curd protect it from sunlight, which inhibits the development of chlorophyll. 

When shopping for cauliflower, choose ones with a clean, creamy white compact curd and thick green leaves. Store in the original plastic bag with the stem side down to reduce moisture damage. When it comes to cooking, roasting beautifully develops a toasted, nutty flavour in cauliflower and be sure to keep those stems…add them to your soup stock bag in the freezer. To preserve phytonutrients, don’t overcook.

Grilled Cauliflower Steaks with Gremolata
Makes 4-6 servings as a side dish.

1 head of cauliflower
oil, salt and pepper

Preheat barbecue to medium heat.
Prepare the cauliflower by trimming away the leaves and a small amount of the stem, but do not remove the stem completely. Stand the cauliflower upright on its stem and using a large sharp knife, cut down the centre of the cauliflower. Keeping the cauliflower upright, cut a 1 inch thick slice off both sides of the cauliflower. These are cauliflower steaks. The rest of the cauliflower can be reserved for another use.

Alternatively, you can create cauliflower kabobs to be grilled with the steaks if you have more guests for dinner. To do this, cut the remaining cauliflower portions into florets and thread onto metal skewers. Brush both sides of the cauliflower steaks with a little oil. If using, brush the cauliflower kabobs as well.

Place the cauliflower steaks on the grill, cover and cook for 8 minutes. Gently flip the cauliflower and grill for another 8 minutes or until both sides are lightly browned and tender. Grill cauliflower kabobs for 8 minutes or until tender, turning halfway through. Meanwhile, prepare the gremolata.

zest from 1 lemon, minced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely minced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Combine all ingredients on the cutting board and use your knife in chopping and swishing motions to mix the ingredients and blend flavours. You can also mix the ingredients together in a small bowl. Brush or sprinkle gremolata over grilled cauliflower steaks and kabobs.

Fresh Sheet…Chickpeas Part III

When the weather warms up, I can hardly resist the urge to eat mezze-style: a patio in the sunshine, assorted delicacies to nibble at one’s leisure, delicately arranged on a platter and supplemented by perhaps a glass (or two) of chilled rose.

This salad blends all the elements of spring – the brightness of citrus, the earthiness of chickpeas and tahini, the vibrant green of pea shoots and parsley and the sharp, cleansing bite of radishes. Enjoy in good company and linger for the afternoon…

Middle Eastern Salad with Chick Pea Croutons
Makes 4 small salads or 2 meal size salads. 

1 cup pea shoots
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
½ cup kalamata olives
1 cup parsley leaves
1 cup sliced radishes
2 cups chopped cucumber

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp tahini
1 clove garlic, crushed or finely minced
salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the chick pea croutons (see recipe below) and set aside. Toss the first 6 salad ingredients together in a bowl. In a jam jar or sealable container, mix remaining ingredients together. Dress the salad right before serving and top with croutons. Croutons and dressing can be made up to 3 days in advance; note that garlic flavours will intensify as dressing rests.

Chickpea Croutons

1 medium carrot, grated
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
1-1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp coriander
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp water
1-19 oz/540 ml can chick peas, drained and rinsed or 2 cups of cooked chick peas
1/4 cup hemp hearts
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400°F.
In a food processor, combine grated carrot, spices, olive oil, lemon juice and water. Pulse until carrot is coarsely pureed.Add chick peas and hemp hearts and pulse a few times to combine ingredients, but not puree the chick peas. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Create croutons by forming about 2 teaspoons of the chick pea mixture into balls or square shapes. Place on a baking sheet lined with a silicone nonstick mat or parchment paper. Bake until golden, approximately 30 minutes, turning baking sheet once through baking. Allow to cool.

Grow Your Own…Greens

It may be cold and (often) miserable out but that doesn’t mean you can’t start thinking about what you are going to grow once the days get warmer! This is my first “growing season” with a patio that receives actual sunlight so I will be relying heavily on Heather’s expertise to help me grow a little food. The first test I set for myself began last fall at the UBC Apple Festival with my somewhat crazy purchase of an apple tree. My next challenge will be to grow Portuguese cabbage.

About a month ago, an envelope arrived from my grandfather in Terrace. In it were some seeds whose provenance involved a transatlantic flight from Portugal in the 1970’s. Was that kind of thing illegal back then? To accompany the tiny, jet-black seeds, was a very simple note instructing me on how to grow them.

All that talk about loss of traditional knowledge? Yup, that’s me. I need “good” soil. If I go into the garden centre and say, “I need the good soil”, they will steer me in the right direction, yes? Even more mind-blowing to my uneducated self, the instruction about waiting a few days after the full moon. I immediately think of something biodynamic. Doubt my grandfather has ever heard the term biodynamic; bet he intuitively knows many of its dictums. According to my grandfather, I need to plant these seeds on Sunday, March 11th.

I grew up with a lot of veggies, especially greens. One of the most classic dishes in my grandmother’s kitchen was Caldo Verde, or quite simply, green soup. You can use any kind of green you like but for me, the memory of this dish is tied to the cabbage that you can’t buy in any store around here. I can’t wait for the day these tiny seeds turn into gorgeous jade-coloured leaves. This “cabbage” I will be growing more closely resembles collard greens but is soft, sweet and less leathery.

Caldo Verde, a casa Tomas

There are many versions of this soup; my grandmother’s is very simple and uses no stock or bacon or sausage. So simple, in fact, that she doesn’t have a recipe. This is my closest approximation of what she creates. Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, such as german butter, cubed
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt (remember, you aren’t adding stock!)
1 very large bunch (or two average bunches) of lacinato kale, collard greens or savoy cabbage

Optional: 2 cups of cooked pinto beans (or 19oz/540mL can, drained); 1 cup of cooked pasta

Heat the oil in a soup pot and sauté the onions until soft and glossy. Remove the stems from the greens, trim the ends and chop. Add the chopped stems to the pot and stir. Next, add the garlic and potato and stir until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add 10 cups of water and the bay leaves and bring to the boil. Add salt. Cover and simmer.

Meanwhile, slice the greens. Slice the leaves in half lengthwise (for larger leaf greens, do this again so you end up with quartered leaves or the strands will be too long for your spoon) and then stack the leaves and finely shred crosswise with your knife. Alternately, my grandmother always “chipped” the greens: after you remove the stems, grasp the bunch of greens tightly in one hand as you take a paring knife or kitchen shears and roughly chip away at the greens so that you end up with small pieces of greens instead of long strands. I wish I had a picture of this for you. It’s crazy. Not for the novice in the kitchen.

Take a potato masher and mash the soup partially, just so the potato forms a bit more of a broth. You still want chunks of potato in the soup. Once that is done, add the greens and cook until the greens are soft. Add the beans and pasta at this point if desired for a heartier soup. Adjust the seasoning if necessary before serving.

February is Apple Month!

In February, eating local is no longer glamorous. Gone are the lazy days of nibbling as you U-Pick or eating your fill of seemingly endless local produce. You have got to be committed this time of year. Committed to trudging through the rain at the Winter Farmer’s Market. Committed to baking with your local wheat. However, thanks to the miracle of cold storage, most store shelves still offer at least one local staple: the humble (and delicious!) apple.  BC Tree Fruits is celebrating national apple month in February and so we wanted to celebrate by offering you a baker’s dozen of our favourite ways to eat apples.

1. Eaten as nature intended: rubbed on the sleeve and consumed with abandon.

2. Sliced and topped with a piece of organic, raw milk aged cheddar.

3. As part of a homey crumble.

4. To add a hint of sweetness to cabbage or Brussels sprouts.

5. Magically transformed into Desiree’s favourite cider.

6. Dipped into almond or peanut butter.

7. Baked into a decadent muffin.

8. As part of a cool weather take on panzanella.

9. Paired with fennel.

10. Cored and packed with cinnamon, maple syrup and walnuts and baked until ridiculous.

11. Layered with pesto, provolone and arugula on traditional rye bread.

12. Cooked down with some honey and cardamom and topped with greek yogurt.

13. Sliced thinly and topped with fig compote and chèvre.

Stay local…spring is just around the corner!