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).


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.



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…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).

Resolution: Cleanse? Revolution: Eat cleansing foods daily! Pineapple Lime Smoothie

smoothie pineapple lime shade

After all of the rich, indulgent food and drink we consume in the month of December, eating better almost comes as a relief. There is nothing more I love in January than loading up on salads and green tea. This kind of food just tastes better to me right now and I certainly feel better for eating it. In the post-excess hangover, the idea of doing a more formal cleanse or detox program may pop up in peoples’ minds. While a thoughtful cleansing program can be helpful to some, cleaning up your act for two weeks and then going back to the burgers and fries might not be exactly what the dietitian ordered.

If you are thinking of doing a cleanse this January, or perhaps the cleanse program you started is almost over and you need a maintenance regime, why not consider making cleansing foods a daily habit? Eating well day in and day out has the most powerful effect on your overall health so resolve to simply eat at least one food daily that has powerful cleansing effects. Here is our list of 5 foods that, when consumed daily, will support your body’s naturally ability to cleanse itself.

Green, leafy vegetables: No surprise here…top of the list are the greens. We love kale but there are plenty of other greens to tempt your taste buds and nourish your cells. Spinach, chard, collard or dandelion greens, arugula, rapini, beet greens or kale in all its forms are supremely cleansing foods. Greens top our list because they are incredibly nutrient dense and contain multiple compounds such as glucosinolates and betalains which support detoxification mechanisms in the liver and are potently anti-inflammatory. Anti-oxidants such as kaempferol and quercetin help protect our cells from the effects of daily stress. Go raw in salads and smoothies and wraps, bake up some kale chips, sauté into soups, stews and casseroles.

Citrus fruit: Oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes are a welcome dose of sunshine throughout the drizzly, grey winter. Of course, citrus provides immune-boosting vitamin C but it also offers other helpful compounds to support cleansing. Limonins in citrus fruit are potent anti-carcinogenic substances that help prevent cell proliferation. Pectin, a soluble fibre found in citrus, helps lower cholesterol in the blood. Naringenin, a compound found in grapefruit might help repair DNA damage. Lycopene, also found in red grapefruit, helps protect against DNA damage in the skin. Always a great snack, don’t forget to try citrus fruits in salads and smoothies too. When you enjoy them, be sure not to over-peel citrus – the white spongy substance called pith is nutritious!

Foods rich in soluble fibre: Your digestive tract is a key site of detoxification. When it works well, you are able to digest and absorb the nourishing aspects of food and excrete what you don’t need. Your digestive tract turns over roughly every three days and that gets sloughed off, along with dead bacteria, in your feces. Fibre is key in cleansing. While insoluble fibre from cereals acts like a ‘broom’ to sweep the intestines, soluble fibre forms a gel-like sponge in your digestive tract, helping attach to cholesterol, fats and other substances and carry them out through the intestine. We need 25 – 38 g of fibre a day and if we can get at least 10 grams of soluble fibre, we are in good shape. Barley, oats, legumes such as lentils, psyllium, citrus, apples, eggplant and okra are all good choices.

Deep blue and purple foods: Berries, pomegranates, red onions and purple cabbage all have their own unique properties with respect to cleansing too. Ellagic acid, a compound found in these dark blue and purple pigments, helps support detoxification in the liver and sulfur compounds in red onions and cabbage boost the liver as well. These pigments all offer numerous anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds to support overall health and defend against the stressors of daily life.

Water: Water is the real staff of life. Our cells bathe in a liquid medium and keeping water flowing through our system allows all the metabolic wastes that cannot be excreted in our digestive tracts to be cleansed. Despite plenty of advice to the contrary, our best guess at how much water you need to drink daily is just that – an educated guess. Your water ‘prescription’ is as individual as you are depending on your activity level, the weather, stress and your diet. If you eat more plant foods, which contain more water, you will need less than someone on a heavily processed diet. Your cleansing goal? Drink as much water (fresh juice, seltzer or tea too) as you need to have clear or almost clear urine.

Let’s raise a glass to healthier living in the New Year, pineapple lime smoothie perhaps?
smoothie pineapple lime top

Pineapple Lime Smoothie
This smoothie is a perfect start for those new to drinking their greens. The pineapple lends an almost creamy quality to the smoothie and the spinach is chock-full of green goodness. This is a thick, fibrous smoothie…if you want it thinner, thin it out with water or more apple juice.
Serves 2

1/2 medium cucumber, broken into chunks
1 cup fresh pineapple chunks
1 medium apple such as gala or braeburn, cored and sliced
1 cup unfiltered, not-from-concentrate apple juice
2 cups (or handfuls) baby spinach
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until well-combined and frothy.

Salted Rosemary Chocolate Cookies

rosemary choc cookies - stacked close upIt’s been awhile. Life has definitely gotten in the way this month. It’s sad when you’re so busy you haven’t had time to bake those famous family holiday cookies. But don’t you worry. It all changes today. A little time off and to the kitchen I go to whip up those tasty family treats.

Nothing beats those holiday goodies that grandma or mom bake for you. They add that little something extra that makes them so delicious and special. My grandma always said it was love and good cheer that she added to make them extra scrumptious.

I’ve been experimenting with chocolate cookies the last couple of years. They have become the cookie that everyone asks me to bring to a party, potluck or just because they have a craving. It’s such a great feeling when something you created becomes the special cookie that friends and family crave. The combination of rosemary and chocolate with a touch of salt has become a real favourite. While you might not think that rosemary and chocolate go together, dark chocolate seems to bring out the cool evergreen flavour of rosemary for the perfect wintery cookie.

rosemary choc cookies

Salted Rosemary Chocolate Cookies
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour or all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup dark chocolate chips
fleur de sel or good quality salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375°F.
In a bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
In an electic mixer, cream butter, sugars and fresh rosemary together over medium speed until light and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until well combined. Add vanilla and combine.
Over low speed, stir flour mixture into creamed butter mixture until combined. Stir in dark chocolate chips.
Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Press cookies down slightly with the bottom of a glass or measuring cup powdered with cocoa powder. Sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of fleur de sel or other good quality salt.
Bake in preheated oven for 8-10 minutes or until just set. Cool slightly and transfer to cooling rack.

rosemary choc cookies2
The rosemary in these cookies adds a wonderful aroma to your home while baking. And they are absolutely scrumptious while still warm. They entice both your tastebuds and sense of smell when you eat them, which I think gives off a little zen feeling or maybe that’s just me. I like to keep a batch of this cookie dough in the freezer so I can bake a fresh batch or maybe just 2 cookies whenever someone’s got a craving. To freeze cookie dough, simply prepare cookies and roll into 1 inch balls. Place on a cookie sheet and freeze in the freezer until frozen solid. Transfer to a freezer bag or container and save up to 3 months. When ready to bake, remove the amount of cookies you want from the freezer, preheat oven, flatten cookies, sprinkle with salt and bake as above. Enjoy!

Some Cold Weather Comfort…Homemade Mac and Cheese

I have a confession to make…I grew up on Kraft Dinner. There was plenty of vegetables and real food lovin’ at home but from time to time, I loved my KD. I loved the very orange-yness of it, which I would make extra creamy with lots of butter. Amazing how I never wondered why milk was white but cheese was orange!

So the first time I tasted homemade mac and cheese, it was pretty underwhelming. Nature can have a hard time pushing the manufactured flavour buttons that processed foods set off in your tastebuds. If you just put a bit of cheese in a white sauce and call it mac and cheese, it will taste more like mac and white sauce. Not exactly worth the calories!

In my university years, my tastes became more sophisticated and I started eating Annie’s macaroni and cheese. Somehow it never occurred to me to make my own until a few years ago. I have tried several recipes but never found one that exactly suited my tastes. Since I can’t leave well enough alone, this recipe of course has beans and extra veggies so I can think of it as a ‘real meal’. Let’s just say that this one falls into the ‘sometimes foods’ category. Enjoy it with something nice and green, after a long, rainy day at the park (or the pumpkin patch!).

Mac and Cheese and More
Adapted from Spilling the Beans by Julie Van Rosendaal and Sue Duncan

Serves 6-8

250g macaroni, I used Tinkyada Brown Rice macaroni
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/2 cup white wine or water
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tsp dry mustard
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
3 cups sharp white cheddar, I used L’Ancetre raw milk cheddar.
1/2 tsp salt
385ml can of white beans such as navy or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 head of cauliflower, florets crumbled with a knife and stalks cut into 1/2 cm cubes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions, undercooking by 1-2 minutes. Add cauliflower stems to pasta 1 minute before its done. Drain, rinse and set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, melt butter and whisk in flour. Cook, whisking constantly for 1-2 minutes or until golden. Whisk in milk, white wine and mustard. Add garlic and rosemary. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, whisking the entire time, letting the sauce thicken. Turn off heat and stir in cheese until melted then add salt.

Place pasta, cauliflower and beans in a 9×13 baking dish and pour sauce over it and mix through. Bake for 15 minutes and enjoy.

October Unprocessed…DIY Nut Butter

My mom loves peanut butter. She loves it so much that as kids we gifted her with a peanut butter maker. It was a two foot tall peanut character with arms and legs. When you turned its arm, it churned out crunchy or smooth butter made from fresh peanuts. Besides the fact that it was so cool to make your own nut butter, the freshly churned peanut butter was oh so delicious. It’s a wonderful food memory that got me excited to tackle this DIY unprocessed challenge to make my own nut butter again.

I really have no idea why I haven’t tried making it again. Even for such a foodie as myself, it’s easy to forget how simple it is to make some of our most basic everyday grub. Not only is it fairly easy to prepare, making your own nut or seed butter also allows you to be creative with flavours and to try out a variety of different nuts or seeds. After all, variety is the spice of life!

For this spreadable task, we decided to bring together some of our favourite flavours. Chai tea spice pairs sweet cardamom, spicy cinnamon and cloves with a bold hint of white pepper. We swirled this well loved spice mix into almond butter. Rather than blend up good old peanut butter, we added some BC grown hazelnuts to the mix for a unique new favourite.  

DIY Nut or Seed Butter

Just a few notes to help you get started. Doing it yourself means you’re in control of everything – the ingredients, how it’s made and how it’s flavoured. After all, this is the whole point of going unprocessed anyway. You can really choose to use whatever nut or seed your taste buds desire. You also have the option of going with a raw or roasted butter. Raw butter has a milder earthy flavour, while roasted butter has a bolder rich flavour. You can also choose how much you’d like to make. I recommend starting with 2 cups of nuts or seeds to try it out and then building your butter from there. Smooth or crunchy? Naked or flavoured? The answers are up to you.

Roasting Nuts and Seeds
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Spread nuts or seeds in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Roast nuts for about 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Roast seeds for about 5-7 minutes or until golden brown. Keep a close eye on roasting nuts or seeds as they can go from golden brown to burnt really quickly. I usually like to check them every couple of minutes.
Allow roasted nuts or seeds to cool slightly.

Churning Nuts and Seeds into Butter

If you prefer a crunchy butter, save a small handful of nuts or seeds and chop or pulse in the food processor to create small pieces to add crunch to the smooth butter.
Place raw or roasted nuts and seeds into a food processor and blend until nuts or seeds become finely ground. If desired, you can add a little mild or neutral flavoured oil such as coconut, grapeseed or nut oil to help smooth out the butter. Start with 1 tablespoon for 2 cups of nuts or seeds, blend and taste before adding a little bit more. At this point, you can add any flavourings you would like such as a little sweetness, vanilla or spices. Continue to blend until nut or seed butter is smooth.

Scrumptious Flavours: Using the ingredients listed below create these nut butters following the instructions above. 

Hint of Hazelnut Peanut Butter
1-1/2 cups raw peanuts
1/2 cup raw BC grown hazelnuts

Almond Chai Butter
2 cups whole raw almonds
1 Tbsp mild flavoured oil such as coconut oil, grapeseed or nut oil
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1-1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1-1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground white pepper

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.