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Delayed squash consumption

December 23rd, 2012

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It may be almost Christmas, but the presence of our October CSA boxes is still being felt around the house. We diligently worked our way through a bag of multiplier onions, although I had begun to suspect it was refilling itself until Dave finally polished it off a few weeks ago. The pile of storage garlic was also with us until early December, but I hadn’t entirely realized it was gone because of all the little bits of garlic skin I keep finding in the corners of the pantry.

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I suspect that all of the squash might have disappeared sooner if Dave had not started storing them on top of the fridge, but that Autumn Crown that you see there on the right continues its watch over the kitchen. With his extra 10 inches, Dave is naturally privy to a world of shelves and surfaces that I need a stool to access. And if something doesn’t regularly fall into my normal line of sight, I tend to just forget that it even exists. Hence the delay in squash consumption. At least six times in the past two months I have noticed the squash pile and announced to Dave or the cat something like “Oooo, squash! We are definitely eating that tomorrow,” only to became distracted by some other foodstuff in the fridge the next day. That was until the end of semester slog hit anyways, at which point my regular distraction became ordering take-out Chinese and filling myself to bursting with deep-fried squid.

I first made this delightfully simple recipe a few weeks ago with kobacha (that one up there on the left in fact), and when I finally do decide to polish off the lone remaining squash, I’ll probably make it again. Roasting squash imparts a deep, rich flavour on the flesh. The glaze doesn’t overpower, but it adds a little something extra that keeps drawing me back to the kitchen for more. In fact, we ate so much in one sitting that the dish became more of a main than a side. Slices flew off the pan so fast that I barely managed a picture of the stragglers.

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I think pretty much any squash you like would work well with the salty sweet tang of the soy, although the results will noticeably vary. That’s the best thing about squash, really. I was repeatedly amazed by the differences in flavour and texture across the square varieties we received over the fall. Not like all those carrots, which I will admit I have come to believe were being intentionally deceitful, hiding that same ol’ carrot flavour under rich, colourful skins. I think you can trust in the mottled pinks, blues, oranges or greens of a good squash.

SOY AND GINGER GLAZED SQUASH

1 small squash, like kaboacha or sugar pumpkin

4 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp honey (sub with 1 tsp molasses to make vegan)
1/2 inch cube fresh ginger, finely grated
1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil

Preheat your oven to 400F degrees. Cut your squash in half length-wise, and scrape out all the seeds with a spoon. Cut into 1/2-inch wide quarter circles. You can also peel the slices now if desired – I usually just leave the peel on because I find it easier to remove as I eat the cooked squash, but I realize that’s not for everyone.

Blend together the soy sauce, lemon juice, honey, ginger and pepper, adjusting to your taste. Slowly drizzle in the olive and sesame oils, whisking as you go.

In a bowl, toss the the squash pieces with about 2/3 of the soy mixture until coated, and then arrange the squash tightly on a cookie sheet. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the squash is soft and browned. About halfway through brush the pieces with the remaining soy liquid, flip them, and brush the other side.

Serves 4-6 as a side

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A bottomless layer of carrots

November 15th, 2012 § Comments Off on A bottomless layer of carrots § permalink

The UBC Farm did a great job keeping our CSA box varied over the course of the entire spring and summer. There was kale in almost every box, and until the weather turned too frosty there were always salad greens as well, but the varieties were always different. If I came home with arugula two weeks in a row, it was only because I had been delighted to find it in the ‘Swap Box’ and had agonized over the decision to trade something else in just so that I could enjoy it again. For the most part, the contents of any two boxes were never the same.

In theory, this was also the case for the bottomless layer of carrots that lined our box for most of September and October, thanks to the bumper crop that was still being harvested up until a week ago. The carrots came in such a wide variety of deep, rich colors – golds, purples, reds, and of course oranges – that it was easy at first to trick my brain into believing it was encountering some form of novelty. Beautiful carrots, but they pretty much all tasted the same. This season my goal was to use every single foodstuff in our box without letting anything go to waste, but after a couple of weeks the never ending carrots nearly broke me. Nearly. By the time they let up, I had pretty much used them all. . . if we ignore the very small handful of stragglers (only 2!) that were pushed to the very back of the crisper and forgotten.

I can’t say a lot of my carrot experiments were all that exciting, but this soups stands out in my memory. It came about sometime early in our multi-week carrot experience, before we resorted to just plain ol’ roasting. The fennel harvest had just begun and we had received a massive bulb with lovely, bushy fronds still attached. Fennel is a cool weather plant, and it grows well year round in many places. You can almost always find it in the supermarket, but if you’re lucky and in the right location you may also find it at your local farmer’s market this time of year.

This is a very simple soup, and a breeze to put together. What I like most is the chunkiness, which is a nice change from a more typical smooth and creamy style.

CHUNKY CARROT AND FENNEL SOUP
This recipe was adapted from Heidi Swanson and the New York Times. Most people only use the fennel bulb, but in fact the whole plant is edible. If your stalks fairly tender, you can slice them up thinly and throw them in as well. I followed Heidi’s suggestion to add some protein and topped my soup with a poached egg. I am a sucker for a soft egg yolk on top of almost anything, and it works especially well with the licoricey fennel.

2 tbsp olive oil
2 pounds carrot, peeled and sliced into thick chunks
1 medium fennel bulb and some stalks, thinly sliced; fronds chopped and reserved
3 cloves garlic, chopped
6-8 cups vegetable or chicken stock

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
zest of half a lemon
salt and pepper to taste
parmesan cheese, freshly grated

eggs, 1 per person

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed soup pot. Add the fennel and sautee until just soft, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and cook until they just start to soften, about 5 to 8 minutes, and then toss in the garlic and cook for a minute. Pour in enough broth to cover the veggies and simmer, covered, until the carrots are fully cooked, about 20-25 minutes.

When the soup is just about 5 minutes to completion, poach or fry an egg to medium soft for each person that you’re serving. The egg turns out best when its freshly cooked and the yolk is still soft, so try to time everything so that the egg finishes just as you’re seasoning your soup.

Remove from heat and add the lemon juice and zest, as well as the salt and pepper, adjusting each to taste. Serve topped with the freshly made egg, and garnish with a heavy sprinkle of parmesan cheese and fennel fronds.

Serves 4

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Six recipes to make the best of UBC Farm’s seasonal produce

September 25th, 2012 § Comments Off on Six recipes to make the best of UBC Farm’s seasonal produce § permalink

If you’ve happened to pursue my short, but still growing, archives anytime recently you will have noticed the distinct lack of seasonal fall recipes. At the surface, this paints a pretty shameful picture for a food blogger. If I were in your place, dear reader, I would admonish me for staying stuck in the summer and failing to embrace all the delicious gourds and roots and opportunities for roasting, soups and more(!) that they represent.

Photo Kai Jacobson/The Ubyssey
But hold that tisking finger, at least for today (you may yet need it in the future). The reality is that I’ve been cooking up a storm over here, the main focus of which has been developing some simple, easy seasonal recipes aimed at students. These recipes were published today in an article over at the Ubyssey. Please check it out here:Six recipes to make the best of ubc farm seasonal produce!

My aim with this article was encourage students take advantage of the fantastic produce at UBC Farm – the same place I get most of my veggies from , which I’ll admit I’m always going on about – and to take the time to cook some healthy meals for themselves. The dishes themselves are pretty familiar autumn fare. The challenge was exploring methods different from how I would typically approach them, which would be more appropriate for students – namely, faster and using few tools. It was challenging, but also a lot of fun. Most importantly, the experience reminded me that even though I really enjoy taking a more involved approach to my cooking,it’s OK to take shortcuts and use the microwave sometimes. Who needs stove top oatmeal when you can sleep an extra 15 minutes?

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I feigned ignorance and brought the cookies anyway

September 7th, 2012language § 0 comments § permalink

“Yikes… it’s chilly today.” “Blergh, it’s so crowded on campus.” “Ack! it’s 8pm and it’s already dark!” These are just a small sampling of the continuous little realizations that have been popping into my head during this, the first week of September. And let us not forget “YIKES, Where the hell did August go?!” That one thought in particular has been pestering me most of all.

It’s a good question though. Reflecting on it reminds me to appreciate that my august was truly packed to the brim with great experiences: I tag-team hosted my first garden party with my mother, where I spent much of the night in the kitchen ensuring a constant flow of pizzas and cocktails for our 15 hungry guests; I harvested vegetables and enjoyed many lunches at the farm; I visited with friends, and said goodbye to one embarking on a big adventure; I rode my bike to work every week, conquering my fear of the 8th avenue hill in the process; I ate and drank new and inspiring foodstuffs. And that’s just to name a few.

With all that excitement, I found myself making the same few recipes again and again and again. Not that this is a bad thing, it’s just what I do when I’m busy or I’ve recently fallen in love with something new. First there was pizza, and then a heck of a lot of potato salad, and then finally these cookies.

The precursor to this particular obsession was passed on to me by a friend sometime in mid-July in the midst of a Batman movie marathon. I devoured half a plate of her cookies that night, realizing between bites that I was the closest I had been in a long while to my perfect cookie. Alas. Cocoa nibs, despite the glorious texture that they impart on baked goods, are just too damned expensive to use all the time… and back in July I was thinking that I wanted to make these cookies all. the. time. So I replaced the nibs with espresso, and every subsequent meeting, birthday and beach picnic became yet another opportunity for me to evolve my take on these cookies. I am sure that I have made them at least 5 times in the last 5 weeks.

These are not even a particularly summer-friendly cookie. The things about them that I most adore – the crumbly texture, the pockets of chocolate – lead to a lot of broken, half-melted cookies when you’re sitting out in the sun during a long afternoon potluck in the park. But even though they weren’t always pretty, each batch disappeared almost as quickly as it came together. Just once did I hesitate to make these cookies, after it briefly occurred to me that perhaps tiny, caffeine-loaded chocolate bombs might not be the most appropriate snack for a little kid’s birthday party. I feigned ignorance and brought them anyways.

Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies
Inspired by David Lebovitz and Clotilde Dusoulier.

These cookies turn out best when I am able to overcome some of my most engrained baking tendencies. First, they want to be very small, which goes against every basic cookie forming instinct I have; despite my best efforts, my spoonfuls tend towards the size of an ice cream scoop rather than a small teaspoon. Second, the cookies stay soft while baking and only firm up once they begin to cool. Trust your timer and don’t be deceived. If they turn out dry, reduce the cooking time by a minute for your next batch.

1 cup (140 g) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (25 g) Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tbsp finely ground espresso, or to taste
1/2 tsp baking soda
5 ounces (140 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped in small chunks
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (125 g) salted butter (for unsalted butter, add 1/8 tsp salt)
1/2 cup (100 g) dark brown sugar, loosely packed

Preheat your oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Melt half of the chocolate (70g) in a small heat proof bowl over simmering water. Remove from heat and let cool – I usually place it in the fridge for 10 minutes.

In another small bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa and espresso powders, and baking soda.

Cream the butter and brown sugar until just smooth, either by hand or using a mixer.

Gently fold the melted chocolate into the butter mixture by hand, followed by the flour mixture. Stir by hand until just combined, and then stir in the remaining chocolate chunks.

Scoop the dough onto the parchment using a small teaspoon, and flatten with your finger or the back of the spoon. If the dough becomes too warm, place the cookie sheet with the cookies in the fridge for 5 or 10 minutes to firm up. Bake for 10-12 minutes. The cookies will remain soft – let them set on the pan for a few minutes before removing them from the cookie sheet to cool fully.

Makes about 36 little cookies

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Some things are worth the garlic breath

July 27th, 2012

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When I discovered that our CSA box this week contained a head of fresh garlic, it seemed criminal to just chop it up and toss it in a stir-fry. No, no, no, that just wouldn’t do. Not long ago I spent an entire Thursday afternoon at the farm pulling weeds from that never ending sea of garlic you see down below. Having helped to bring that head of garlic in to being, I didn’t want it going into some second rate dish, I wanted it to be the center piece of something wonderful. I wanted to make raw garlic carbonara.

It’s a delightful thing, and I am extremely tempted right now to just give up the recipe and be done with it. Maybe employ a little peer pressure: “Don’t wuss out, come on, everyone one else it trying it. What are you waiting for?! You should be cooking!” But I don’t think that I can in good conscience lure you, my oh-so trusting reader, into this glorious, eye-watering garlic extravaganza without full disclosure of the risks.

You see, raw garlic carbonara was one of the first recipes I learned to make from my very first vegetarian cookbook, The Passionate Vegetarian. Up until that point the vegetarian meals I had begun cooking for myself had seemed bland. I feel differently about vegetarian cooking now, but at the time I was plagued by an internal, nagging mantra of self-questioning: “Where’s the bacon? where’s the meat? where’s the excitement?!” Then I tried this pasta. The raw garlic made for a different kind of spiciness, one that was pungent and totally in my face, and unlike anything I had eaten. I am going to go out on a limb here and claim that my very first bite was a transcendent experience. That’s right, transcendent. It set a whole new bar for the level of flavor I was comfortable with adding to a dish.

And so for 8 months or so, maybe a year, I happily made this pasta almost every other week. Then I met Dave, and things started to get serious, and one night I decided that I would cook him my favorite meal. If he loved it, I thought, it could be our favorite meal together and wouldn’t that just be swell? In my girlish enthusiasm, I added one extra clove, and then another, and by the time I was done I think I must have added the entire head.

Can you see where this is going?

It was an extra spicy, extra special dish, and Dave and I devoured it enthusiastically. Little did I realize the curse I had wrought on our romantic evening. Halitosis… garlic breath!. Probably the worst I have ever, and hopefully will ever, experience. I know now that there’s not much to do but wait it out – wikipedia confirms it. Still, that didn’t stop us digging through my cupboards in search of some magical, date-night saving home remedy: Tooth brushing? it added a minty freshness, but did nothing for the garlic; Parsley? it tasted real nice, but still nothing; Suck on a stainless steel spoon? it didn’t work after the first 5 minutes, and it certainly didn’t work after a second 5 minutes.

Not that it mattered, in the end. Dave and I both really do love garlic. I wish I could say that was the last time that one of my meals went a bit overboard with the allyl methyl sulfide compounds, but I am not very good at learning that sort of lesson. Some things, I’ve decided, are just worth the garlic breath.

And yet, I recognize that it’s not for everyone. Or at least, that it’s probably not the best first choice for impressing someone you hope to kiss soon afterwards. So the other day I set about trying to make this recipe it a bit more accessible. I settled on adding only a couple of cloves of garlic raw, and then I sauteed the rest. The sauteed garlic adds a bit of sweetness and nuttiness, and really rounds out the flavor of the sauce. It still has the spiciness of the raw garlic, just toned way, way back.

Garlic Spaghetti Carbonara
Adapted from the Passionate Vegetarian

If you’re feeling like a solid, garlicky kick in the nose, I wholeheartedly encourage you to skip the sautee and try this recipe with only raw garlic. The strength of raw garlic can be a wee-bit unpredictable, but I think 6 or 7 cloves is usually a good number. Don’t be a hero.

In addition to the garlic, I should note that the egg is also intentionally raw to start. In a pasta alla carbonara like this one, the hot pasta takes a bit of the edge off the raw garlic, and cooks the egg just enough to bring the sauce together into a creamy, glorious mess.

350g / 12oz whole-wheat spaghetti or linguine
2 tsp olive oil
2-3 cups spinach or kale, washed and dried and torn into bite sized pieces (optional)
6 to 7 cloves garlic (or to taste), peeled and chopped into large pieces
1 large egg, raw
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese
1 tbsp fresh basil
1 tbsp fresh parsley
dash of salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving a bit of the extra pasta water in the process, and set aside.

If your are sauteing some of the garlic and/or adding greens: Heat a tsp of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, about 3/4 of garlic, and saute until just soft but not yet brown, about 1-2 minutes. Remove the garlic pieces from the pan. Add your greens to the skillet and cook until they’ve just wilted, 1-2 minutes.

Combine garlic(s), eggs, butter, cheese, herbs, a dash of salt and a bit more pepper in a food processor. Pulse to combine until you achieve a thick paste.

Return the pot you used to cook the pasta to the stove and heat the remaining olive oil. Add the cooked pasta and the cooked greens (if using), stir over medium heat for about 2 minutes until the pasta is nice and hot. Remove from heat, and dollop the pasta with the garlic paste. Toss to combine, and if it seems a little dry, drizzle in some of the reserved pasta water. Top with a sprinkle of cheese, serve immediately.

Makes 3 – 4 servings

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Pink Rhubarb Gin (& Tonics)

July 18th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

I have been thinking about the rhubarb syrup in this cocktail recipe a lot over the last few weeks, ever since I first whipped it together in June. Not too sweet, with a wonderful sour tang, it just begged to be drizzled all over my favorite breakfast foods and late night snacks. That was until I drizzled it into a cocktail, and then another and another, until I forgot all about my many other plans. By the time I had perfected this beverage (and tested it once… or twice), not a drop of syrup remained. Oops.

I have been wanting to try my hand at this syrup again since then, but it was only just this week that I managed to get my hands on more rhubarb. I am sure that Dave is hoping I will use it to make him some sort of tasty pie, but he’s just going to have to wait . . . or at the very least harvest more rhubarb from his parent’s backyard.

You might be thinking that such a pretty pink beverage just screams “SUGAR“, but in this instance you’d be wrong. After a taste, no one would mistake this for anything but an adult beverage. It brings together the best aspects of a Gin & Tonic and a Pink Gin, but the rhubarb takes it somewhere entirely new. The syrup on its own is sweet, but not painfully so; mixed together with bitters and tonic you get something bright and refreshing, and surprisingly complex. It’s the sort of flavor that you want to sip and savor carefully, a quality that I look for in a cocktail. It makes me smile.

If liquor isn’t your thing, leave it out. This drink is just as nice without the gin. Mix it up with club soda to make a spritzer, consider stirring it into some homemade lemonade, or show more restraint than I did with my first batch, and try it poured over something else entirely.

Pink Rhubarb Gin (& Tonics)

Syrup adapted from the Rhubarb & Rosewater Syrup at 101 Cookbooks. Rhubarb is a rare item in our house, so this syrup recipe is for a small batch, only about 1 cup. That’s plenty for ten or so cocktails, but you can easily double or triple the recipe to your needs.

Rhubarb syrup:
2-3 large / 1/2 pound rhubarb stalks, chopped
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice

For the cocktails:
3 oz gin, or to your preferred strength
2-3 tablespoons rhubarb syrup, or to taste
squeeze of lime juice
tonic
angostura bitters
lime wedges


To make the syrup:
In a medium saucepan, combine the rhubarb and sugar. Stir well, and leave to sit unheated on the counter for about 45 minutes, giving the mixture an occasional stir to help the rhubarb give off its juice.

Add the water to the saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Stir until the sugar dissolves, and then continue to simmer for another 15-20 minutes, until the rhubarb just starts to break down. Strain into a bowl; you can use damp cheesecloth to achieve an extra clear syrup, but a fine mesh strainer works just as well for me. You may want to discard the leftover rhubarb because it will be a bit overly stewed, but we enjoyed it stirred it into some yoghurt.

Return your syrup to the saucepan, first wiping it clean of any residue. Stir in the lime juice, and bring to a simmer again. Simmer uncovered over medium heat for 15 minutes or so, until the syrup has reduced and thickened. Remove from heat and cool completely before using.

To assemble your cocktails: Split the gin between the glasses, then add 1-2 tablespoons of the rhubarb syrup and a squeeze of lime juice to each glass. Stir quickly to combine. Drop in a couple of ice cubes, fill to the top with tonic, and add a dash of the bitters. Garish with a slice of lime.

Makes 2 short cocktails, with lots of syrup to spare

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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.

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Garlicky Green Polenta

May 22nd, 2012language § 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.

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