Friday, September 13, 2013


Thanks to Heather Heagney, of After the Harvest for writing in to share with us her experiences in the urban element kitchen at our Superfoods class this past season. If this topic piques your interest we'd love to see you at our next Superfood's class on November 12!

For someone who talks about, writes about, thinks about, prepares and enjoys food at a borderline obsessive level, it’s been a while since I’ve taken a cooking class. I guess you could say that my knife skills are a little rusty. With this in mind, I decided to visit the urban element to bone up on my culinary skills. Little did I know that not only would I be boning up, I’d also be de-boning!

Due to my meat-free lifestyle and constant hunger for all things healthy, I chose a class called Summertime Superfoods featuring fresh vegetables and fruits, grains and fish. I thought to myself, “I got this. I’m a kale master!” I pictured myself dancing around in a kitchen full of leafy greens, gogi berries and nut butters.

I did not picture myself de-boning a fish or watching my fellow classmates grill squid!

Under the tutelage of urban element’s Resident Chef Anna March and Nutritionist Joanne Cairns, I learned that there is much more to superfoods than just greens and berries. Most surprisingly, I learned that mackerel is a superfood -- a super-fish, if you will. Sourced sustainably from The Whalesbone Oyster and Fish Supply, my first mackerel experience was a humbling moment involving a sharp knife, a nervous me, and, eventually, my learning how to de-bone this small fish! A challenging, yet quite empowering experience. Our maple smoked mackerel was cooked on the barbeque using soaked wood chips. In the end, the taste was well worth my close encounter with the knife and my anxiety over missed bones.

Much like learning a new culinary skill, learning about the health benefits of some of your favourite foods can also be very empowering. For example, pesto, avocados, chocolate and berries -- all of these foods exist in the ‘superfood’ category. Not only knowing how your food is literally healing you, but also knowing how to use those ingredients to whip up a delicious, restaurant-worthy dish is a very powerful feeling indeed! And, let me tell you, our dishes were restaurant-worthy. It was quite rewarding to see such pretty plates in front of us as we dined on the fruits of our labour.

What is a superfood, anyway? According to Dr. Frank Lipman, the qualities that make certain foods ‘super’ over others include: “few calories, low in sugar and salt, lots of soluble fibre, nutrients and health-boosting phytochemicals” []. Superfoods such as kale, mackerel, chocolate, avocados, walnuts and berries are known to be so healthy that they have even been said to help fight cancer, aid depression, prevent heart disease and improve overall mental and physical health and wellness.

We began the class by enjoying a delicious appetizer of quinoa tabbouleh salad with homemade lavash flatbreads. Hosted by the charming Barbara, we guests had time to enjoy our appetizer and get to know each other, discovering our motivations for taking this specific class. Chef Anna and Joanne introduced themselves and shared their passions for whole foods, seasonal ingredients and homestyle recipes, all focusing on a balance between health and flavour. Chef Anna then explained each dish that we would be preparing as a group so that we would know what to do once we rolled up our sleeves and set up shop at our cutting boards.

The class flowed nicely as we hopped from station to station, preparing different components of each dish that we would later enjoy paired with lovely wines. There was an eclectic mix of participants in attendance: sisters, couples, friends, busy working women; each of us there to have fun, learn more about healthy food and improve our culinary skills. Let’s be real though, we really just wanted to eat! Having said that, it did feel good knowing that even after a beautiful multi-course meal that concluded with a decadent vegan chocolate mousse, I would still fit into my jeans the next day, and most importantly, feel well.

In a time when more and more of us are investing in our health through what’s on our plate, this Summertime Superfoods class was a delightful reminder to think outside the kale box and expand my palate to include other unique healthy options.

Recipes we learned in one evening included:

Citrus-cured salmon crudo
Spiced melon and avocado salad
Watercress and summer melon soup
Honey and citrus vinaigrette
Seared Atlantic mackerel
Gluten-free corn and scallion fritters
Tomato carpaccio
Basil and parsley pesto with olive oil and toasted pine nuts
Grilled Mediterranean salad
Marinated and grilled calamari
Romesco with toasted almonds and chick peas
Roasted black olives and quinoa tabbouleh
Chocolate avocado mousse with Pascale's vegan toasted coconut ice cream and fresh raspberry salad