Fregola with Peas, Ricotta, Pancetta and Mint

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Live long and prosper!

Have you ever wondered what keeps us young? I am approaching a milestone birthday and when I hear the number I just shake my head and say “That cannot be me!”

I still feel the same as I did before my children were born. I am wiser and a little less agile, but I am still that person. I still love music, nature, theater, photography, travel, cooking, family and laughter, as I always have. I can still skate, cycle, walk for miles and keep up with the rest of the family.

We all know that eating well and living an active lifestyle is important. I have also read that a glass of red wine now and again is good for you. So is dark chocolate. All of these facts were proven through research. Researchers spend countless hours studying the affects of lifestyle and diet so we can understand what we need to do to live long and healthy lives.

It really makes me wonder if we know it all when I hear about places like the island of Sardinia. On this wonderful rustic island there are more than 10 times as many people living to over 100 years old, as there are in the U.S. and Canada.

Sardinia is a region of Italy located in the Mediterranean off the west coast of Italy’s mainland. In spite of its prime location, Sardinia remains a culturally isolated place where the locals live a rural lifestyle of hunting, fishing and farming.

Many researchers have visited Sardinia hoping to unlock the secrets of their longevity, while falling in love with the island, the food and the people. The locals enjoy a Mediterranean diet, paired with wine, friends and family. What more could you want?

Fregola (also known as Fregula) is ancient pasta from the island of Sardinia. It resembles Israeli Couscous but has a slightly chewy, almost nutty taste. I recommend using it in soups and salads and mixing it with vegetables for a tasty pasta dinner. It can be purchased in many specialty stores in North America such as Whole Foods and McEwan’s.

This recipe was adapted from the one on the Bon Appetit website. The flavours are well balanced and the ricotta and mint add a freshness to the pasta. I would definitely make this again.

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Fregola With Peas, Ricotta, Pancetta and Mint

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups fregola
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 ounces pancetta cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups low sodium chicken stock
Salt and Pepper
1 cup frozen peas or freshly shelled peas
3 sprigs fresh mint
4 oz. ricotta cheese

Directions:

Cook fregola in a large pot of boiling salted water 6-8 minutes. The pasta should be a little firm. Drain pasta, do not rinse.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add wine, bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid has reduced, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth and simmer. Add the fregola and cook, stirring often, until pasta is al dente and broth has thickened, about 5 minutes.

Taste and season with salt and pepper. Add the peas and cook, stirring often until peas are warmed through, about 2 minutes.

Serve topped with ricotta and fresh mint and drizzle with oil.

Recipe adapted from bonappetit.com

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Grilled Watermelon and Shrimp Salad Tofino Style

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As many of you will remember I spent some time on Vancouver Island in the summer of 2013. One of the places that we experienced, while on the island, was Tofino, British Columbia. This place is often referred to as the very west end of Canada.

Tofino had long been on my dream list of places to see. It is known for its rugged beaches, often filled with surfers catching waves. You can wander out on the sandy beaches feeling the energy of the ocean as it crashes against the shore. Travelers make their way to this rugged seaside town to watch the storms come in from the Pacific. There is a wild and remote feeling about Tofino, possibly because the road is long and winding and mountainous to get there, also because the coastline is relatively unspoiled.

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Once you are there you can see a few well placed luxury inns on the beach but that is not the heart of Tofino. The heart of Tofino, to me, is the local food culture which is anything but fine dining. It is all about the Pacific style of using fresh and local ingredients to create amazing flavours. Food trucks are found in unusual spots and a few have made a name for themselves as the best places to east in this part of Vancouver Island.

One restaurant called the SoBo started as a food truck and has now become a restaurant in downtown Tofino. It has earned some very high praise from critics and travelers alike. The best news is that the owners have published a cookbook with a sampling of some wonderful recipes from their menus. The book is full of mouth-watering dishes with chapters featuring ideas for you next meal of breakfast, salad, sandwiches, burgers, tacos, appetizers and snacks, mains, sides, and desserts.

The book is nothing short of beautiful. Not only does it include vibrant shots of the food, it also includes some fabulous landscape and seascape photographs by Jeremy Koreski, a local photographer. It also features a foreword written by Sarah McLachlan, the wonderfully talented Canadian recording artist who has spent a fair bit of time experiencing the mysteries of Tofino.

I chose to feature this recipe from the book because grilling watermelon intrigued me. I was not sure if it would like the taste of warm grilled watermelon with grilled shrimp but I am pleased to tell you that it was a taste experience that I hope to repeat again and again. It was a perfect flavour combination and the result was a light and sumptuous salad.

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Grilled Watermelon and Shrimp Salad

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

1 small watermelon cut into 1 inch thick wheels, skin removed
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp. olive oil for grilling
1 cucumber, sliced to 1/4 inch rounds and refrigerate to keep cold
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tsp. salt
12-20 large shrimp or prawns, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds toasted

Directions:

Preheat BBQ or grill pan to high.

Brush the watermelon lightly with olive oil to prevent sticking. Lay the slices directly on the grill racks and grill for 2 to 3 minutes. The slices should be easily lifted from the grill. Turn them over and grill on the other side for 2 to 3 minutes. Lightly salt then remove them from the grill and cut into 1 inch sized chunks.

In a large bowl gently toss the warm watermelon with the cold cucumber, mint, lime juice and salt and the 1/4 cup olive oil.
Lightly brush the shrimp with olive oil and grill for 30 seconds per side or until they turn pink or red. Divide the salad between 4 serving plates, top with the shrimp and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.

Recipe from the Sobo Cookbook by Lisa Ahier with Andrew Morrison

I bought mine here:

http://www.amazon.ca/Lisa-Ahier-Cookbook-Restaurant-Canadian/dp/B00IBP7PCM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1407805714&sr=8-2&keywords=the+sobo+cookbook

Seared Scallops and Freshly Picked Peas with Bacon and Mint

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Last weekend my daughter and I decided to go vegetable picking. There are a number of farms around the city that allow you to pick your own fresh fruit and vegetables as they come into season.

This is one way that you can be sure that you are eating locally and that you are supporting your local farmers. For many years I picked strawberries and made homemade jam. I had never tried picking fresh peas, until this year.

It was not difficult; you just look for pods that are fat and ripe. Those are the ones that are holding lovely, plump, sweet peas. I tasted them fresh from the vine and they were so sweet and delicious I could hardly wait to make something exciting with them.

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Another thing that I had never tried was cooking scallops. For some reason cooking seafood is intimidating to me. I think my Scottish meat and potatoes upbringing is to blame for this. My mother never cooked fish when I was a child.

Nevertheless, I am determined to learn how to cook all sorts of foods so I dug out this recipe from my new Curtis Stone cookbook, What’s for Dinner? and followed it exactly. I figured that if it did not turn out well, I could blame the recipe.

I am happy to say that the sweet peas, bacon and mint perfectly complimented the scallops. The cooking instructions were very clear and my scallops were a hit. It is a great feeling when you take on a new challenge and achieve success.

This cookbook is worth a look. It has terrific selection of recipes that are organized by the days of the week. Chapter titles like Motivating Mondays, Thrifty Thursdays, and Five-Ingredient Fridays list meals that will inspire you to cook, no matter how busy you week gets.

There are 286 pages filled with mouth watering recipes and wonderful photos. I was once told that a good benchmark for buying a cookbook is if you can count at least 10 recipes in it that you want to make. I am sure that there are more than ten recipes from this book in my future.

I would love to hear from you about what foods you love to cook fresh from the farm.

seared-ScallopsSeared Scallops and Peas with Bacon and Mint

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups shelled fresh peas (from 2 pounds peas in the pods)
3 slices thick-sliced bacon, cut crosswise into ¼ inch strips
½ cup coarsely chopped shallots
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 large sea scallops, tough side muscle removed and patted dry
2 tbsp. olive oil

Directions:

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the peas and cook for about 2 minutes, or just until they are bright green and tender. Drain and transfer the peas to a bowl of ice water to cool. Drain well.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until golden and crisp. Using a slotted spoon transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but a thin layer of fat from the skillet.

Add the shallots to the skillet and cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes or until softened. Add the peas and cook, stirring often, for about 3 minutes, or until they are heated through. Stir in the bacon and mint. Season to taste, with salt and pepper. Keep warm over very low heat.

Meanwhile, season the scallops with salt and pepper. Heat another large heavy skillet over high heat until it is very hot. Add the olive oil, then add the scallops and cook for about 2 minutes more, or until the other side is golden brown but the scallops are still translucent when pierced in the center with the tip of a small knife. Transfer the scallops to paper towels to drain briefly.

Divide the pea mixture and scallops among four dinner plates and serve.

Recipe adapted from What’s for Dinner? by Curtis Stone

A Walk to Remember

A Walk to Remember.

For those of you who have been following my blog this summer, you will know that this past Saturday was the day I walked in a 32km charity walk to raise money for cancer research.

After many months of training and pushing beyond my limits, the big day arrived. I rose out of bed at 5:30 AM to get to the starting point on time for our team’s 7:15 AM photos. I looked out the window to check the weather and it was pitch black and pouring rain.

I madly rushed around getting my gear ready and thinking about how I would stay dry throughout the long walk. I had been given a rain poncho in my walk kit so I decided that it would go over my walking gear to keep the rain away. I packed my gear, called a taxi and off I went.

After the opening ceremonies, team pictures and a few stretching exercises 4,590 walkers made their way to the streets of Toronto.  A river of bodies moved like a colourful snake along Lakeshore Boulevard wearing their multi-coloured rain ponchos. Each person moved as quickly as possible toward each rest stop, carefully avoiding puddles and running water along the streets and sidewalks.

We walked for four hours before the rain let up. Once it had stopped I ripped my rain poncho off in one fast motion. I wanted to get rid of the wet, nasty feeling as quickly as I could. Unfortunately; it was no longer usable and the rain started again an hour later. We reached the lunch stop at the 16km mark where I purchased another rain poncho, enjoyed a 30 minute rest stop with a healthy bagged lunch and started off to conquer the next 16km.

The rain finally stopped for the last 11km and we enjoyed a warm, sunny afternoon after all. The walkers raised over $10 million for cancer research that day and they never gave up in spite of the weather. People came from all over Ontario to walk. Some walkers were cancer survivors; many had lost friends and family members to this terrible disease. All were there with a purpose. This year I walked to support my colleague who is a brave young single mother who has been fighting breast cancer for the past year.

It was a day filled with laughter, with  tears, with plenty of hugs, a day of stories, and most of all it was a day of hope.

After a walk that long I prefer to eat a light dinner and relax. This Chilled Cucumber, Basil and Mint Soup is fast and easy to make. It is light and fluffy but packs enough flavour to make it delicious. The recipe would be perfect for a summer lunch or as a first course on a summer meal.

Chilled Cucumber, Basil and Mint Soup

Ingredients:

1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup fresh mint
1/4 cup sliced scallion
1 cup water
1 English cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and chopped
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. hot sauce
salt

Directions:

Puree sour cream, basil, mint, scallion and water in a blender. Add cucumber. Pulse until combined but still slightly chunky.

Stir in lemon juice and hot sauce, season with salt to taste.

Chill soup at least 3 hours but not more than 12 hours. Top each serving with slices of cucumber and a sprig of mint before serving.

Recipe from Martha Stewart Living