Sunday, May 25, 2014

Gardening and Arugula Pesto

Spring is in full swing here on the west coast and I am reaping the benefits!

My sister Valerie and I are taking a gardening course through a wonderful group called Farmers on 57th right here in Vancouver.  Since early April, with the help of our 2 great instructors, we have planned our 4' x 6' garden plot, prepared our soil using nutrient rich mushroom manure, and planted our seeds in the ground (with the exception of a couple of plants we started indoors sitting on a sunny window sill).  Now that all this is done, it's just sit back and watch our vegetables grow!

Well, not exactly.  We do make several trips to our plot throughout the week to water, and to see (with much anticipation and excitement) what has sprouted out of the ground.  Here are some photos taken along the way:

Week 2

We are growing peas, two varieties of kale, mesclun greens, arugula, rainbow radishes, carrots, and indoors we are starting basil and sungold tomatoes.

Week 4
It has only been 5 weeks since we planted our seeds, and we already have plenty to be excited about!  It seems that our arugula has exploded out of the ground.  Yesterday we harvested our tender and peppery leaves for the second time this week.

Week 6

I love arugula.  I remember the first time I tasted it in a salad years ago, and from that time I was hooked.  Arugula is great in salads but you can use it several other ways

This week

After all the warm sunshine we have had in the last couple of weeks, today is a rainy Sunday and a perfect day to do a little cooking for the week.  I made pesto with my arugula, it's so easy and so delicious!  This recipe is perfect for pasta, on a sandwich, as a dip, or even as a base of a pizza instead of tomato sauce.  Give it a try, you're gonna love it!

Makes about 1 cup of pesto

2 cups (packed) fresh arugula
1 garlic glove
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese

Here's how I made this:

Place the first 4 ingredients in a food processor and pulse until all the ingredients are finely chopped.  Continue blending constantly while gradually adding the olive oil.

Pour into a bowl and stir in the parmesan cheese.  Season to 

Place into airtight container and keep in the fridge for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 6 months.  I place mine in small individual containers in the freezer.

Enjoy!  Happy Sunday!

Photography by: Melissa LeBlanc
Recipe adapted from: Giada de Laurentiis

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sunday Morning Crepes

Hello! Clearly I have been absent for most of the fall and winter months, and one might think that I have been hibernating throughout the long and cold winter months, buried in snow, shoveling several times a week, keeping cover from wind gusts and staying warm from the biting cold air.

Nope.  Can't say that I have... It's been a great winter here in Vancouver.  I guess I have been caught up in the day-to-day stuff.  My husband and I are planning a trip to Italy this summer and we are so excited!  I have spent countless hours researching where to go and how to get there, where to stay, and most importantly, where to eat!  He knows how much I love Italian food so he gave me a pasta maker and a pizza stone for Christmas.  Since then, I have made fresh pasta, thin-crust pizza, and artisan bread in my very own kitchen. 

I have also been running... a lot!  In fact, it's been an amazing winter for running; lots of sunshine and mild temperatures (for the most part) which was perfect for the lead up to my second half marathon that I ran two weeks ago.

Sorry to everyone else in the country that has been putting up with one of the coldest winters in years.  Although, as I'm writing this post, there is a snow fall warning for Vancouver, which means that tomorrow morning, I will be doing a whole lot of nothing with the exception of making a great cup of coffee and some crepes.

This recipe is very simple to make and it's a family recipe that I just love.  What's great is that the basic recipe is a bare canvas to add your own flavours.  You can enjoy them plain with maple syrup which is my favorite, but you can also add sweet or savory flavours.

I remember when I was little, my mom made these crepes and served them for dessert with  fruit flambĂ© and whipped cream. 

My dad made them for weekend brunch; he added sharp cheddar cheese when the crepe was cooking in the pan.  That was too weird for me back then, but now, I've started doing the same, and it's genius!

The recipe that I'm sharing with you today is both sweet and savory, and let me tell you, it's a beautiful thing!

Makes 12 crepes

2 large eggs
1 tsp white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup all purpose white flour
1/4 cup instant oats (not large flake)
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese
Maple syrup
chopped toasted walnuts or pecans

Here's how I make them:

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs.  As you continue to beat, add the sugar, salt and alternate between flour and oats.  Finally add the milk, melted butter and vanilla.  The batter will be quite runny.  Let this stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

Using a non-stick pan, melt a little bit of butter on medium heat.  Your first crepe might be a "test" as you need the right temperature for it to cook but not burn.  Pour 1/4 cup of batter into the hot pan and swirl in a circular motion to coat the pan evenly.  Cook for about 2 minutes or until slightly brown.  Using a spatula, lift the edges of the crepe to lift it and flip over to the next side.  If you are adding cheese, now is the time to add it.  Add about 2 tbsp of sharp cheddar and let cook for another minute or two.   Transfer the crepe onto a plate and place in the oven to keep warm.

Repeat with the rest of the batter.  When you're ready to serve, top crepes with walnuts or pecans, and a good drizzle of maple syrup.

What do you add to your crepes?

Happy Sunday :)

Photography by: Melissa LeBlanc

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Crispy Chick Peas

For me, cooking is a way of life and it's something I really enjoy doing.  There's nothing quite like putting together a meal, chopping and cooking simple ingredients while listening to some of my favorite tunes or catching up on the day with my husband.  It's relaxing, it's enjoyable, and I always get excited when I discover a new recipe that I can't wait to share.

Although we cook at home several times a week, there's always the "leftovers" night, and this entails gathering up random leftover items and whatever greens we have and throwing them into what we call our "kitchen sink" salad.  I must say, to our amazement, these salads end up being some of our best!

This latest recipe started with half a can of leftover chick peas sitting in the fridge that I was staring at when I was putting together one of our meals of leftovers.  Although I love chick peas in flavourful dishes like curries and soups, I find them bland and boring on their own.   I wanted to jazz them up a little and that's when I thought back to an amazing dish I had in one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Vancouver.  The dish is made up of deep-fried chick peas tossed in arugula, mint, lemon zest, and chili flakes.  I have simplified the recipe and found a way to transform chick peas into an addictive snack and crunchy addition to my "kitchen sink" salad.

Here's how I made them:

1 cup Chick peas, rinsed and dried
2 - 3 tbsp Olive Oil
Zest of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat up oil on medium-low heat in a non-stick pan.  Add the chick peas and cook until golden brown (tossing gently every 5 minutes or so).  Add lemon zest, salt and pepper to taste and place chick peas onto paper towel and cool for a few minutes.

Go give them a try! Enjoy!

Photography by: Melissa LeBlanc

Sunday, April 28, 2013

DIY: Super yummy granola bars

It amazes me just how many varieties of granola bars are on the grocery store shelf.  I haven't counted them but there's lots.  These days, it's boring if a granola bar is simply made with oats and honey, and maybe a few raisins.

That is why there's one made for every taste bud out there: sweet, sweet and salty, chocolate or yogurt covered or dipped, chewy, crunchy, made with "real fruit filling", peanut butter, with fibre added, calorie controlled... Ugh, the list goes on and on.

It's almost as confusing as the yogurt section of the grocery store.  You can sit there all day comparing the labels (like we're not busy enough), and getting nowhere with it... It's no wonder people are confused and don't know what to eat.  Anyways, that's for another blog post.

I have realized in the last couple of years that I really don't like store-bought granola bars.  In fact, I find them quite expensive and well, they don't taste good, at all!

I do, however, love the chewiness of oats combined with a warm spice like cinnamon, crunchy toasted nuts and seeds, and the sweetness of dried fruit and honey to tie it all together.  So I started making my own, and here's how I make them:

Pecan Granola Bars
Makes: 24 bars


2 cups rolled oats
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup pecans, chopped (you can use other nuts you have on hand)
2 cups of chopped dried fruit (I used raisins and cranberries)
1 cup whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 lb (1 stick) butter unsalted, softened 
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a 13x9-inch baking dish with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, stir together the oats, coconut, pecans, and dried fruit.  In a separate small bowl, stir together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, combine the butter, brown sugar, and honey.  Using an electric mixer beat until light and fluffy, and then add the egg and vanilla extract, and beat until all is combined.  Gradually add the flour mixture.  Add oat mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to combine.

Press the mixture evenly into the baking dish.  Bake until the top is golden and the edges are lightly brown, about 25 minutes.

The bars will be very soft straight out of the oven but will firm up as they cool.  Cool completely on wire rack then cut into bars.

* They will keep up to 10 days stored at room temperature in air tight container.  Or freeze some for a rainy day.


Photography by: Melissa LeBlanc

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Local and in Season: Berry Smoothie in February

 Okay, I know what you're thinking, "Melissa's lost her marbles... berries are not local nor are they in season at this time of year". Well not in this part of the world anyway, but this smoothie is made from local and seasonal berries.  No, I am not growing my own berries indoors in my little sun-filled den... although, I wish I could, but rather thanks to my freezer and a wonderful local winery.

Stocking up on berries is something I typically do every year.  Berry season explodes in the summer months here and I absolutely love it.  My sister and I usually get together and drive out to some local farms just south of Vancouver, buckets and bowls in hand, and head out into the fields to pick berries at the peak of their freshness.  Of course when I get home with my 10 pounds of berries, there's only so many blueberry pancakes that can be made (and I'm not a great baker), so I end up stocking my freezer to have a steady supply for the months ahead.  When my frozen berry stock runs low (which is right about this time of year), I buy a box of local frozen blueberries from a winery in Richmond.

I make the following recipe all the time.  I know what you're thinking again, "it's a little cold outside to enjoy a frosty smoothie", but last weekend was beautiful and sunny and I enjoyed this after a run.   I am currently training to do a half-marathon in June and I find that this smoothie is the ultimate post-run fuel.

How I make this:

1 - 11/2 cups frozen berries
1 banana (fresh or frozen and semi-thawed)
1 cup soy beverage or milk
1/4 cup cranberry juice
1/4 cup plain yogurt

Place all ingredients into a blender and give it a go!

Wish me luck and enjoy :)

If you have a favorite smoothie recipe, please share.