Pea & Shoot Risotto

July 2nd, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Supposedly, summer officially started last week. Someone clearly forgot to tell Vancouver, because it’s been wet wet wet for the last few weeks. People have taken to calling it ‘Juneuary.’ It’s a name that makes you chuckle for a moment when you first hear it, until that next moment when you realize oh no, it’s true. There’s some implicit hope in that name at least, that the true spring will follow soon enough. ‘Junetober’ would be far more depressing.

As a result of all this wet, crops all over the lower mainland seem to have been a bit slow to start. The folks at UBC farm only just started their Wednesday and Saturday markets last week, and with all the flooding in the valley last week, which ruined crops and set a number of farmers months behind schedule, local veggies may be harder to come by this year. Lucky for Dave and I, we signed up for a CSA box from the farm this year that should keep us pretty well buried in vegetables until October.


We received our first box last week, and it was full of tasty green things: spinach, kale, mesuna and ruby streak mustard greens, mint, green onions, and pea shoots. The pea shoots were perhaps the item I was most excited to see, and so on one of our currently rare sunny evenings I used them to make this risotto.

In my mind, this dish is quintessnetially linked with spring. It’s light and refreshing, and also comforting, which makes it perfect for those more typical spring days that cannot decide if they want to be sunny or rainy or both. These qualities come from the fresh pea shoots, stirred in right before you eat so that they retain their crunch and full flavor. Strictly speaking, the pea shoots aren’t absolutely necessary. You can make a delicious risotto with just the peas, but the pea shoots make this dish extra special.


Spring Pea Shoot Risotto
I am always surprised when I read that people find risotto intimidating. I’ve always enjoyed making risotto. It takes more constant attention than a lot of other dishes, but that’s balanced out by the fact that there’s typically very little prep involved. And for that 20 minutes or so of stirring there’s nothing else for you to do but relax, maybe listen to the radio, and reflect on your day.

6 cups of veggie or chicken stock (salted if homemade)
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 small white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups unwashed Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup butter
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 cups pea shoots, torn into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup of fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

Heat the soup stock on the stove in a medium saucepan. It needs to be hot, but not boiling. Add the peas to the hot stock, and let them just cook through – you want them to keep their bright green color. Remove the peas with a slotted ladle and set aside.

Use a large bottomed saucepan or a frying pan with high sides to make the risotto. Over medium heat, saute the onions in the olive oil until soft, but not brown, about 5 minutes. Clear a space in the middle of the pan and add the diced garlic to cook for just a minute.

Next, add the butter to the center of the pan, let it melt completely, and then stir in the rice to coat it with butter. Now the stirring starts. Keep the rice moving just enough so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Cook the rice until it start to turn translucent, about 3-5 minutes.

Next, add the wine and stir until it has been totally absorbed by the rice. Begin adding the stock a couple of ladles at a time, and gently stir the rice until the stock has been absorbed. Repeat this process until the rice is cooked, but still al dente, about 15 – 20 minutes. You’ll likely use all the stock.

Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the peas, parmesan cheese and parsley. Cover and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve in bowls, with a big pile of pea shoots on top, along with and some slivers of parmesan cheese.

Serves 4 as a main.

Note: Another tasty variation on this recipe, which requires only slightly more work, is to make your pea shoots into a pesto to stir into the cooked risotto. Combine half the pea shoots, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a bit of lemon juice in a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. Stir in the pesto at the same time that you add the parmesan and whole peas.

Garlicky Green Polenta

May 22nd, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

The last (and also, only a bit shamefully, the first) time I was inspired to post a recipe in this space came not too long after the final shift of last year’s season at UBC farm. For the intervening 6 months since that time I have been in a deep, creative hibernation -in other words, working tirelessly to survive the first year of my master’s degree – at least as far as food was involved.

But now it’s spring. The first year of my program is over(!) and even though it’s still really wet, it’s a warm sort of wet, and it’s pleasant and things are growing out there and I couldn’t be happier! And once again, I’ve been inspired by my experiences on the UBC farm to share a new recipe with you all.

One of my volunteering gigs at the farm is as a farm friend with a program called Landed Learning. Every other Wednesday morning, and many other days that I don’t attend, green thumbs like myself get together with much older and wiser volunteers to mentor groups of school kids on the wonders of growing things that they can eat. Each group of 4-5 kids gets their own garden plot, and together we’ve spent the last 8 months (with a few months off in the middle of winter) planning and planting and composting and harvesting and cramming more about growing food into their 8 – 12 year old brains than I thought possible. It’s truly a fabulous program.

Anyone who knows me well has heard me go on and on and ooooon about how much I enjoy and look forward to getting my hands filthy with these kids. But my favoritest (yes, favoritest) thing about the program is this: each week, one of the groups cooks or bakes something for all their classmates to share during lunchg using ingredients from the garden.  This is a really important opportunity for some kids who might not otherwise get into the kitchen to try their hands at cooking. Maybe more importantly, making food to share with others in your community is a priceless experience for people of all ages.

There’s just one thing. . .  You see, these kids have been coming out since the beginning of March, and as you might imagine, there’s not typically a lot of food growing in a Canadian garden in March, even in Vancouver. But the children’s garden has kale. Lots and lots and lots of kale. I know that other greens can technically overwinter here, but for the last couple months it’s just been a unconquerable sea of red russian kale.

See all those yellow flowers in the above image from the farm? That’s kale. Well, the stuff near the ground off in the back might be dandelions, but I assure you that it’s mostly kale, gone to seed. And if you’re thinking to yourself that kale and pre-teens don’t go together, let me stop you right there. For the most part, those kids will try anything, and many of them truly love the kale that they grow in the garden. Some days it’s all I can do to keep them from eating the kale that they find in other group’s plots right down to the soil. “No, you can’t just take a couple ‘bug-sized’ nibbles. Leave that leaf alone!”

Even the most kale adoring omnivores will get sick of it when it’s the only thing that’s growing. The kids have been real troopers though, and with the help of the program organizers they’ve been making all number of creative kale foodstuffs each week, from a simple kale salad to kale sushi and open-faced kale blossom sandwiches. Thankfully, even though the planting season usually begins for most of Canada this may long weekend (or later . . . sorry about that frost Calgary :/), we’ve been planting in Vancouver for weeks now. The garden plots are already starting to fill up with lettuce and spinach and radishes that are just asking to be munched on. Along with the fact that the kale seems to have finally reached the end of its days, this means that the never-ending era of kale, as one child dubbed it, is almost certainly over.

That said, I am not even close to sick of kale. Far from it. And when I found myself with a large pot of polenta leftover from a cornbread experiment this afternoon, it was those inventive, tasty green dishes made by the kids that leapt to mind. So I reached for the kale in the fridge and whipped myself up a straightforward, light lunch of garlicky kale and goat cheese polenta. The greens give the polenta a refreshing edge, and I love the way that the cheese, stirred in a the end, only sort-of melts and creates a smooth and silky counterpoint to the polenta grains.

My take on the greens was loosely inspired by Heidi Swanson’s Garlicky Green’s Recipe. I also just love how that name sounds. This polenta recipe is more of a method than a science, and I can imagine substituting any number of greens (spinach, chard, collard) or cheeses (parmesan would be perfect) in this dish. Or, if you want to give it some weight and make it into more of a dinner, you could try beefing up the fried greens with some mushrooms and onions or whatever else you like. It’s a flexible combination, so I encourage you to be adventurous.

Garlicky Green Polenta
If you’re a frequent polenta eater, feel free to make this with leftovers from the day before. I find leftover polenta to be a bit thick and unwieldy – you can bring it back to life by reheating it on the stove and adding a bit of butter to smooth it out.

1 cup cornmeal or coarse polenta grains
3.5 cups water
2 tbsp butter (optional)
salt & pepper to taste

1 big bunch of kale (or spinach, chard or collards)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced.

2-4 tbsp goat cheese, crumbled

Bring the water to boil in a saucepan. In a thin stream, whisk in the cornmeal. Adding it too quickly usually results in lumps. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until thick. Generally this takes about 10 minutes, but I find that the cooking time can vary anywhere from 4 – 15 minutes depending on the coarseness of your grains.

Once thick, remove from heat and stir in the butter until smooth. (If like me, you prefer a chunkier polenta, feel free to leave out the butter). Add a bit of salt and pepper to taste.

While the polenta is cooking, wash the kale leaves thoroughly in a bowl of clean water and then rinse in a colander. De-stem the kale and tear or cut the big leaves into bite-sized pieces.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or wok. Add the greens, and then a pinch of salt. They will sputter when they hit the pan. Stir continuously until the leaves turn bright green and wilt – usually about 4 minutes, depending on the heat and the type of kale. When the kale is just about wilted, stir in the garlic. Saute briefly, and then remove the pan from the heat.

Stir the cooked kale and half of the crumbled goat cheese into the polenta. Serve into individual bowls and top with the remaining goat cheese.

Serves 4 as a side, or 2 as a light lunch.

Pickled Beets

November 28th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Just over a month ago I spent a rainy morning in the fields, pulling up the remainder of the beet field at the UBC Farm alongside a cheery group of fellow volunteers.

It was a wet and miserable day, but while we were all soaking wet in and under our rain gear, we were hardly miserable ourselves. There were some HUGE beets in that field.“Monster beet”! “It’s as big as your head”! Such exclamations kept us crawling forward, motivated to find ever larger and more impressive beets. There’s nothing like a massive root vegetable to get these people excited. And now, I too can call myself the type of person who enjoys digging through the mud for such things on a cold, wet Friday at 9:30 in the morning.

We were swimming in beets that day. With limited time and resources available, we had been instructed to take only the best beets, and to leave anything smaller than a golf ball. A practical decision maybe, but a waste of the most tender and delicious of the beets.

So we did what we had to do. We organized a beet rescue operation. Our mission was clear: no beet left behind. As we worked, we gathered the culls into piles, and left them in the field. When the last tote of beets went up to the harvest hut after many hours of numb fingers, we went back for the rescue beets.

Those rescue beets were perfect, perfect for pickling. A small beet is tender and sweet, but it still has that strong, savory flavor. They are just the right size to pop straight into your mouth. Stupendous.

And my favorite part about pickling beets? The very first step is to boil them, and then all you need to do is give them a little squeeze, and the juicy little morsels just jump right out of their skins. You probably knew that. But I didn’t. You should have seen my face the first time I tried it.

I used a recipe adapted from Canadian Living to pickle my rescue beets. It glosses over the steps involved in safely canning food, and I will as well. A much more comprehensive post on how to can safely is on my list of future projects. Proper canning methods are very important because of the risk associated with the bacterium clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism. If you’ve never canned before, I recommend these resources here and here to get up to speed.

It may sound a bit intimidating, but it’s really very easy. For me, the scariest part actually occurs months later, when I’m ready to pry open a sealed jar. Like I did today. You may feel like you’re quick enough to dodge the inevitable wave of beet juice, but it always manages to find your favorite sweater.

Pickled Beets
Adapted from Canadian Living Magazine, August 2008

Always follow exactly the amounts of vegetable, vinegar and water set out in the recipe when pickling, otherwise the preservation may not work properly. The spices, on the other hand, can be experimented with to your liking, as I did here.

3&#189 lb small red beets
2&#189 cups apple cider vinegar (min 5% acetic acid)
1 cup water
&#189 cup granulated sugar
2&#189 tsp pickling salt

Spices for each 2-cup jar:
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 whole star anise
2 whole cloves
2&#189 tsp black peppercorns
1 whole allspice berry
1 &#189 inch piece of cinnamon stick

Cook the beets in boiling water until tender (about 30 – 35 minutes). Remove from heat, drain, and leave to cool. Slice off the ends and roots, and then slide the skins off with your fingers. If beets are too large, half or quarter. You’re after golf ball sized pieces (~1&#189 inches).

While the beets are boiling, sterilize your jars and lids. I ran mine through the dishwasher. The cycle took just long enough that they were done around the same time as the beets, and the dishwasher kept everything hot until it was needed.

Bring the vinegar, water, sugar and salt to a boil in a large saucepan, until the sugar and salt are dissolved. About 5 minutes.

Place the spices in the jars. Pack the beets in tightly, up to about &#190 of an inch from the rim. Pour the vinegar mixture into the jar to cover the beets (if you’re a klutz like me, you may want to use a funnel), leaving about &#189 inch of room at the top.

Cover the jars with the lids. Screw on bands until tight. Fingertip tight is fine, you don’t need to strain. Place the jars in boiling water, but make sure the jars aren’t touching each other or the sides or the bottom of the pot, otherwise they may break. I used a tea towel in the bottom of the pot because I don’t have rack. Boil for 30 minutes.

Remove from the boiling water, let cool, and listen for that satisfying ‘POP’ of the jars sealing.

Yield: Makes 4 2-cup jars.

Note: If you’re not as excited by the prospect of letting your beets marinate for months on the shelf, and find yourself saying “this is all fine and dandy, but I want pickled beets now“, then you could also try a quick pickling recipe like this one over at Simply Recipes.

Here we go again

November 27th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Or at least, here I go again.

Most of you probably have no idea where I am going with this.

You see, I have this blog. Or rather, I have a domain name and server space, with blogging software installed on it, but which contains very few actual posts or any writing at all. The latter is perhaps the more honest description, but let’s just call it a blog so it can feel good about itself. Actually, we might even want to call it secret blog because I am pretty sure no one but the web bots have ever scanned its sparse pages and prose.

After Perpetually Astonished first came into being as the byproduct of my exam-induced procrastination, I don’t think I ever wrote a single post. I imagine that many a great thing in this world has been created by students looking for a way to avoid studying, but my blog certainly wasn’t one of them. When I tried to make another go of it this spring, I decided to write about technology, design and human computer interaction (HCI) because that’s what I know. I thought I’m working on a Master’s in HCI, I am brimming with opinions and there are scads of interesting things to talk about! It was perfect, I was set to blog.

And while I very sincerely meant to embrace that topic and write like crazy, I just couldn’t get the words out. At last count, I have 7 unfinished drafts just sitting in the queue, and I have zero desire to finish any of them. Realizing that I am not passionate enough about what it is that I supposedly ‘DO’ to actually write about it has been a real eye-opener. I think that I am only just beginning to suspect what that really means for me and my potential career in computer science – but that’s a conversation for another time.

The real point is this: I miss writing, and I want to be better at it. I recognize that the only way to do that is to write, write, write. So this time I am going to try writing about something that I am certain I love, and that I have proven myself capable of talking about indefinitely. Food.

While I consider myself a competent cook, I know I have leaps and bounds further to go, and I want to start challenging myself to learn everything that I can learn. I am not making any promises on what you should expect to see here, but I suspect you’ll be happy if you’re interested in either recipes, or reflections on the many, many, many kitchen failures in store for me in the future.

And before you even say it. . . I know, I know. Food blogs have been done to death. But despite my lack of any real expertise or training, food and cooking are some of the only things in life that I actually feel qualified to talk about. If the best that comes from this blog is writing practice and an archive of family recipes, then I shall be delighted!

So screw it. I’m doin’ it. Here on out, I’m a food blogger. What’s the worst that that could happen? It’s just pots and stuff, right?