Fresh Pick Friday – Chard

The sun may be shining here in Vancouver, but the air sure is cold!  Comfort foods have become a mainstay as of late, so I thought I would highlight a hearty green that will make a nutritious addition to your soups and stews.  This week’s Fresh Pick is chard.

Chard

Chard, (also called Swiss chard) is actually a member of the beet family which explains the similarity in the look between beet tops and chard.  It comes in a variety of colours: yellow, pink, red, and purple, and is loaded with nutrients.  One cup of chopped raw chard is a good source of Vitamin C and beta-carotene.

When and Where to Find Chard
Chard is a cool weather green that can be grown in the Lower Mainland year-round.  I had a small batch going in my garden last year, although it performs better in the fall and spring compared to the winter months.  You will definitely be able to find it at the Vancouver Winter Market this time of year, and likely in your local grocery store too.  Look for brightly coloured stems and dark green leaves, avoiding chard that appears wilted or brown.

What to do With Chard
There is so much you can do with chard.  Add it to smoothies, soups, or stews.  Chard tastes delicious sautéed with garlic and chili flakes, and goes wonderfully with brunch dishes like frittatas and hash.  I also like to cut it into thin strips and add it to coleslaws and other salads.  The stems can be quite thick, but don’t throw them away.  They can get added to smoothies with the greens, or diced up fine for soups.

Do you have any favorite chard recipes that you would like to share?  Let me know in the comment section below.

Fresh Pick Friday – Challenge Accepted

A couple of Fridays ago, I challenged you to try a new fruit or vegetable in lieu of my usual Fresh Pick Friday post.  The idea was to get you thinking about different foods and encourage you to try something new.  Food should be fun, and I think trying new things is one way to do just that.

A few of you let me know what you tried, and I appreciate you taking the time to reach out. Some of the new-to-you foods included bok choy, jicama, sunchokes, lychee, and dragonfruit.  I had the chance to try a couple new vegetables as well.  The first was purple sprouting broccoli.  I know, it doesn’t sound that exotic, but it was new to me.  I was on a trip to Galiano Island as part of a school project that involved a visit to one of the local farms.  We ate the broccoli florets right off the plant, and they tasted sweeter than the broccoli that I am used to.  I enjoyed being reminded of the variety of foods that we have available to us right here in BC.

I knew that the purple variety of a pretty standard vegetable wouldn’t fly with some of you, so I went out this week and got a cassava root, also known as yuca or manioc.  It is a staple food in the developing world.  Cassava, when dried and processed into powder is called tapioca.  I had no idea!  It has a woody exterior, and when I cut into it the white flesh on the inside reminded me of both parsnip and coconut meat at the same time.

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Unprocessed Cassava Roots.  Photo Credit: David Monniaux. Source: Wikipedia.

I made cassava fries and served them with baked jerk chicken thighs.  The fries tasted very similar to plantain, which are slightly sweet.  A mango or papaya salad would have been a nice addition, but I didn’t think of it at the time.  It was fun to try something new and I now have a new dinner to put into rotaion every now and again.  Here’s some info on how to prepare cassava and a recipe for the fries if you ever want to give it a try:

I’d still love to hear what you tried and how you liked it (or didn’t).  You can share your findings below in the comments, or email me at info@melsfoodblog.com.

Spicy Miso Soup

I’ve had spicy miso soup at least once a week for almost two months now. It comes together quickly and is warming on these cold and rainy days. I promised you all a recipe a while back, but I can’t seem to make this soup the same way twice. So, I’m giving you a recipe with lots of options. You can customize this soup to suit your tastes or match your refrigerator inventory.

miso soup with website

Spicy Miso Soup
Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1lb mushrooms (button, crimini, or shitake), sliced
2-3 teaspoons red chili flakes
2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 14 oz can beans (navy, garbanzo, or cannellini), drained and well rinsed
4 cups broth (vegetable or chicken)
3-4 tablespoons miso paste (white or red)
2 cups hearty greens (kale, chard, collards or spinach), sliced into thin ribbons

Preparation

  1. Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the onion and mushrooms to the pot, and cook until both are soft and the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the red chili flakes, ginger, garlic and beans. Stir well to combine and let cook for 1 minute.
  3. In a small bowl, add the miso paste and a little bit of water. Mix with a fork until a slurry has formed; this will prevent the miso paste from clumping together when you add it to the soup.
  4. Add the broth and miso paste mixture, then turn up to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly, to medium-high, and let cook for 5 minutes.
  5. Add the greens and cook for 1-2 minutes more, until they turn bright green. Remove from heat and let cool slightly before serving.

Optional Add-In
This soup is really good with egg added to it, if you like that kind of thing. I usually crack the eggs into a dish, whisk them together, then pour into the soup just before adding the greens. You could also poach them separately and add just before serving.

What’s your go-to comfort food this time of year?

Wendy’s Peanut Butter Cookies

pb cookie 9One of my favorite treats growing up was my mother’s homemade peanut butter cookies. They were perfect for dunking into a glass of cold milk. I remember watching my mother sitting in the living room, wooden spoon and mixing bowl on her lap, watching the news while she creamed together the butter and sugar. My brother and I knew it meant peanut butter cookies would be in our lunches the next day.

When I got a bit older, I started making the cookies myself – of course they were never as good as when Mom made them. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the smarts to take a copy of the recipe with me when I moved out, so I haven’t had them in a long, long time. That is until a couple of weeks ago when the recipe was sent to me. I had been thinking about how good of a baker my mother is, and that I don’t really have a lot of dessert recipes of my own.  And it’s about time I gave you guys a recipe that is sweet, rather than savoury.

pb cookies 2

If you are lucky enough to possess a stand-up mixer in your kitchen, I ask that you do not use it for this recipe. They turn out best when you use a little elbow grease, the same way mom used to make them.

pb cookies 3

Use the wooden spoon to cream together the butter and sugar.  You’ll want to take your time and make sure that all the sugar is evenly incorporated into the butter.  This means there should be no streaks of butter without any sugar in the mixture.

pb cookies 6

Add your eggs to the mixture, one at a time, and mix well. Then add the vanilla and peanut butter.  I used crunchy for this batch, but if you prefer smooth go for it.  Fold in the flour mixture until well combined.

pb cookies 8

Use a floured fork to flatted the cookies before baking.

Wendy’s Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes 3 Dozen Cookies

Ingredients
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter or shortening, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup peanut butter, smooth or crunchy
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven to 350⁰C.
  2. In a medium bowl, add the flour, baking soda and salt. Use a whisk to mix ingredients together and then set aside.
  3. Using a large bowl and wooden spoon, cream together the butter and both sugars.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until well combined, and then add the vanilla and peanut butter, and mix again until combined.
  5. Add the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture and fold in until well combined.
  6. Use a teaspoon to place small sized drops (about 1″ sphere) of dough on a greased or parchment lined cookie sheet. Dip a fork in a small bowl of flour and use it to flatten the dough with a fork.
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely on wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

What is your favorite family recipe?

Happy Halloween!

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Fresh Pick Friday will return next week. Have a safe and fun Halloween.

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Fresh Pick Friday – A Challenge for You

Normally on Friday, I talk about a fruit or vegetable that is in season and local to British Columbia in hopes that you might be inspired to try something new.  I thought that I would mix things up a bit this week.  Instead of sharing this week’s Fresh Pick,
I challenge you to try a new fruit or vegetable this weekend.

garlic scapes

It can be anything, from anywhere, as long as it is new to you.  You can ask the produce manager or farmer (if purchasing from the farmers market) for recommendations on how to prepare it, or you could research it online.

I’d love to hear what you tried and how you liked it (or didn’t).  You can share your findings below in the comments, or email me at info@melsfoodblog.com.

Mel’s Box – Week 16 & 17

Well, we have come to the end of our CSA box for the year. I’ve been really happy with the products that we received this season. Some old favorites returned and some new produce was introduced. This year was the first time that I ever cooked with fennel or tried locally grown melon. The various shoots (peas, radish, and sunflower) were also a welcome addition to our meals. I’m going to have to start going to the grocery store a bit more, although I will make an effort to get out to the Vancouver Winter Market on the weekend.

CSA box

Here’s what we received for the last two weeks of our CSA box.

Week 16

Carrots, Broccoli + Pepper: We had the pleasure of enjoying three dinners over the Thanksgiving weekend. On the Monday, my husband and I hosted a small group for a vegetarian meal. I made carrot ginger soup that looked more like tomato because we received purple skinned carrots (they are orange on the inside). Our main course was stuffed acorn squash, served with roasted red pepper and broccoli, both from our CSA box.

Celery: The celery and onion was used as part of the stuffing for the roasted squash. I sautéed it with shallots and herbs, then mixed with wild rice, hazelnuts and dried cranberries before roasting with the squash.

Chard: All the chard made it’s way into my miso, chili and ginger soup. I’ve been making this several times a week for a while now. Don’t worry – the recipe is coming.

Melon: I have never had melon from BC before! I’m not sure of the name, but it was small with bright yellow skin. On the inside it looked like cantaloupe, which is exactly what it tasted like.

Potatoes: I stored these in the pantry for now. I’m thinking soup later.

Shoots: Lovely garnish for our Thanksgiving soup and other meals throughout the week.

Winter Squash: This was a large one that I have saved for a rainy day. Like the potatoes, I think this will become a soup.

Week 17

Beets: I have these saved for now. The beets in my garden are almost ready, so I might make a big batch of borscht.

Carrots: These carrots were smaller than usual, but made for some good snacking throughout the week.

Delicata Squash: I roasted these and then made them into a soup. It went really well with gouda and apple grilled cheese and some great company. Thanks for the pop-in Kirst!

Fennel: I have this saved in the fridge still. I’m going to make the usual with it – braised sausage with fennel and potatoes. I guess last week’s potatoes won’t turn into soup after all.

Potatoes + Leeks: This week’s potatoes, however, will be soup. Classic leek and potato

Melons: Such a nice treat! These were the same as last week and made a lovely evening snack.

Apples: These apples went into gouda grilled cheese and were served with the soup mentioned above.

Peppers: I’ve just been snacking on these raw. Delish.

Spinach + Kale: Miso soup. Spinach, kale, chard – they all make great additions to this soup. And yes, the recipe is still coming.

Thanks so much for following along! I hope that you learned about some new foods and gained a bit of an appreciation for the seasonality of our local food. Perhaps next year you can sign up for your own CSA box. Don’t worry – I’ll be reminding you in the spring.

Fresh Pick Friday – Fennel

We are coming to the end of the fennel season here in BC, but I thought it would be fun to throw in something a little different to get us thinking outside the box.

Fennel

Fennel is a unique looking vegetable.  It is white and bulbous at the base with long green fronds that look a lot like dill.  All parts of the plant are edible, and the flavour is akin to anise and licorice.  It’s one of those foods that people either love or hate.

Season
Fennel is a cool season crop, but you can find it year round at the grocery store.  Here in the Lower Mainland, fennel is available from local farms from early June through to late October.  I’ve received several fennel bulbs throughout the summer this year in my CSA box.

Purchasing and Storing Fennel
Look for bright white bulbs that feel heavy for their size.  Keep fennel in your fridge, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag.  Fresh fennel from the farmers market will last up to 10 days when properly stored.

How to Use Fennel
The fronds are great added to salads or used for garnish on meat and fish dishes.  The stalks and bulbs can be thinly sliced and added to salads.  Grilled and braised fennel bulb is also a delicious.

Do you think you will give fennel a try?

Pumpkins, Gratitude, and Oh Yeah – My Box

It’s been a busy week!  Midterms, getting ready for long weekend festivities, the hubby returned from a two week hunting trip, and did I mention midterms?  A whole week has gone by without a post, so we have lots to catch up on.

First off, it’s Fresh Pick Friday, and with Thanksgiving Day this Monday (for those of us north of the 49th) and Halloween just around the corner, so I couldn’t help but think about pumpkins.

Pumpkin

pumpkinsThe pumpkin season in BC is short.  These gourds like to grow in a warmer climate, so planting typically happens in the spring and summer, leaving the harvest for October and November.  Pumpkins do overwinter well, but this time of year you are more likely to enjoy your pumpkin after turkey and cranberry sauce.  Of course, jack-o-lanterns are also fun to make.  Vancouver and the surrounding area have quite a few farms with pumpkin patches you can check out for some weekend family fun.  Here’s a few ways to enjoy pumpkin this fall:

How do you like your pumpkin?  Let me know in the comments below.

Gratitude

Something that I have never been particularly good at is gratitude.  Now, when I say that I don’t mean that I don’t appreciate things, or never say “thank you” to people who are kind or helpful.  I’m not an asshole.  What I mean is that constitutionally, I’m more of a glass-half-empty than a glass-half-full kind of person.  It takes a conscious mental shift for me to be the latter.

this guy is always grateful!

this guy is always grateful!

That’s why I like Thanksgiving.  It’s a built in reminder for me to take a moment and count my blessings and be grateful for the things I have.  Yes, I should do this more than once a year (and I do), but I like that we have entire day dedicated to this.  So, what am I thankful for?  Great friends, wonderful family, and my best friend in the whole world, my husband.  This guy has the gratitude thing down pat, and I don’t know what I’d do without him.

I’d probably turn into an asshole.

What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving?

Did You Know?

The first Thanksgiving to be celebrated in North America was held in Newfoundland by English explorer Martin Frobisher, who landed there in 1578 while looking for the Northwest Passage.  The celebration was to give thanks for Mr. Frobisher’s safe arrival in the New World.

Mel’s Box – Week 15

Only a couple of weeks left!  I can tell you one thing, I am grateful for the amazing food that our farmers have been providing us.  Here’s last week’s share and what was made with it:

Apples: I am saving these for this Monday.  I’m having a small group of friends over for dinner and the apples will be part of dessert.

Beets: I gave these a quick steam, made a batch of pesto with the tops, and mixed it all together with some roasted sweet potato and black beans.  It was the perfect dinner for one.

Eggplant + Peppers + Onions: I added these to my garlic and some canned tomatoes to make a stew.  It was nice to receive the eggplant so late in the season – it felt like summer hadn’t left just yet.

Kale: I made a huge batch of miso soup with mushrooms, garlic, onion, chili, ginger and kale.  It was dynamite!  I’ve been playing around with the recipe in smaller batches the last couple of days so that I can share it with you.  Good stuff for the yucky weather that is coming our way.

Potatoes:  Nothing yet, but the hunting trip was a success, so I see a lot of “meat and potatoes” in our future.  These will come in handy.

Have a great long weekend everybody!

Fresh Pick Friday – Cranberries

This week’s fresh pick is the tasty cranberry.  Fresh cranberries are crisp and tart, while dried cranberries are softer and sweeter.  Whichever one you prefer, cranberries are a versatile food that can add great flavour and nutrition to both sweet and savoury dishes.

Cranberries

According to the BC Cranberry Growers’ Association, the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island produce over 82 million pounds of cranberries each year.  Most of the cranberries grown in BC make their way to the well known company, Ocean Spray, to be dried or made into juice.  In fact, about 90% of BC’s cranberries are exported to the USA.

Season and Harvest
As you might expect, cranberries are harvested in the fall, from mid-September to mid-November.  Cranberries do not grow on a bush or tree, but rather on low-growing vines.  They are harvested by two methods: wet and dry.  Wet harvesting involves flooding the cranberry fields the night before the harvest, allowing for easier collection of the cranberries.  Specialized machinery churns the water (kind of like an egg beater) loosening the cranberries from the stems.  The cranberries float to the surface of the water, and are then collected.  Dry harvesting is done either by hand or with machinery, but no water is used.  The cranberries are just plucked directly from the plants.

Purchasing Cranberries
There are only a few weeks left of the Vancouver Farmers Markets, where you can pick up some fresh cranberries (just in time for Thanksgiving).  The winter market starts up November 1st, and you might even be able to pick some up there too.  For my friends on Vancouver Island, Yellow Point Cranberries, just outside of Ladysmith is open 7 days a week until December.  Be sure to check them out!

How to Store Cranberries
Fresh cranberries are very firm to the touch and should bounce when dropped (although I don’t recommend testing this out at the market).  They will range in colour from light to dark red.  You can store cranberries in a sealed bag in the refrigerator for up to two months.  Be sure to check the bag often though, as one spoiled berry will ruin the whole bunch.

What to Make with Cranberries
I highly recommend skipping the can and giving fresh, homemade cranberry sauce or compote a try this Thanksgiving.  Dried cranberries make a great addition to salads or as a topping to steel cut oats.  Here are some other recipes using fresh cranberries:

What’s your favorite way to enjoy cranberries?