Welcome back! Since January is nearly through, so we don’t need to get into New Years resolutions, full re-caps of the holidays or any of that. However, I will say that my fairly extended time away from the blog has been good – full of family and happiness, new projects, dreams and goals and a nice break from the (self-imposed) pressures of showing up here with something valuable to say at least once a week. Eeek!
Not surprisingly, January is flying by. It’s as if the hub-bub of the holidays gets us into this crazy mental zone of go-go-go! that frankly, it is hard to stop. By now many of us have deserted our New Years’ resolutions, or decided not to make any. Despite the astonishing pace of Januaries, they can certainly lack momentum. Perhaps the Holiday Hangover is to blame? I always struggle with the concept of the ‘resolution’. Maybe I’m stubborn. Maybe I’m lazy. Either way, things seem to happen in their own time any way, so why get fussed about January 1st?
We’re now less than a month from Valentine’s Day. I don’t care what you may say about Valentine’s Day – I love it. I’m a sucker for love, what can I say?! I love the surge of pink and red everything and the profusion of hearts. I love its silliness, whether or not its a consumerist cash grab, I also love that it’s a day to stop, consider love, and celebrate it. Keep your eyes peeled for a treat or 2 in honour of the sweetest holiday on the calendar in the next couple weeks.
Another exciting circle on my calendar that is sneaking right up before Valentine’s is the 3rd anniversary of this blog! Craziness! Hard to believe. When it all began I had no idea I’d manage to keep it going this long, but I’m so glad I did. I guess this means I should come up with an anniversary post and/or recipe … add that to the to-do list. (more…)
I’ve been in a bit of a cooking rut. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I really notice it. Cooking is so much fun and is such a great creative outlet, that when I hit a dry spell, it’s rather uncomfortable. Luckily, it feels as though the fog is lifting, and I’m re-invigorating my creative juices and to the relief of those I feed, I’m busting out some new material.
But enough about that. We’ve touched on quinoa here a few times, so let’s talk pilaf. We’ve all been to a wedding or other catered buffet type event and come across a warming tray filled with savoury-looking rice with peas (and possibly tiny cubes of carrot or niblet corn) in it labelled “rice pilaf”. Most commonly made with rice, and most recognizably a Middle Eastern dish (and that label alone encompasses a huge variety of cuisines), pilafs, by many names and variations, are part of a great number of cultures’ menus. At the very simplest, pilaf, is a grain dish, cooked in a flavoured liquid like stock or broth, with added ingredients like nuts, fruit, meat, herbs or vegetables.
The beauty of dishes like this, is that the combinations are endless and the rules for what to use essentially don’t exist. Don’t have dried cherries, but you do have dried cranberries? Use them! Out of red onion, but your garden is over run with scallions? Go for it. No quinoa in the cupboard? Do it with rice instead. Mix and match, play around and devise your own combinations of flavours. Myself, I like to keep the fruit tart and not too sweet and I am a nut for fresh herbs, so I like a lot of basil and mint in this dish. But you may not like fresh mint, you might prefer parsley. And that’s okay. So much of the enjoyment of cooking, and one’s development as a home cook comes from experimentation. With a dish like rice or quinoa pilaf you honestly, can’t go wrong, I promise. Even your “worst” will still be edible. So get to chopping and tasting and stirring and play creatively with this dish. Let me know how it goes in the comment section, I’d love to hear what you come up with, or what you think you might try. Enjoy!
Quinoa Pilaf with Feta
1 C quinoa
1 1/2 C chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 C dry white wine*
8 stalks of asparagus, trimmed and julienned
1/2 a medium sized red onion, thinly sliced and rinced
1/2 C toasted pecans, chopped
1/2 C dried cherries, chopped
3/4 C feta cheese, crumbled
2 small cloves of garlic, minced or grated
grated zest of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 C mixed basil and mint leaves, julienned
juice of a lemon
2 Tbsp olive oil
sea salt and pepper to taste
*if you don’t wish to use wine, by all means, substitute it with more stock or water.
Bring the stock and wine to a boil in a small saucepan. Once boiling, add the quinoa and stir. Reduce the heat to minimum and cook, undisturbed, for 15 minutes.
Remove from heat, stir and move the quinoa to a large bowl. Stir well to help cool the quinoa, then set aside.
Prepare other ingredients and add to the cooled quinoa. Stir well to incorporate everything together. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.
I apologize in advance for not having a photo of the finished dish or any step-by-step photos like usual. I made this dish to take to dinner at my brother’s house and I was in a bit of rush to get things finished and get out the door. I’m happy to say that the end product was delicious and everyone enjoyed it. I’m also happy to have nabbed some pictures of the fiddle-heads themselves, like the one shown here.
I confess: this was the first time I had ever had fiddle-heads! We came across them at the vegetable market; a vibrant emerald pile of tightly coiled spirals in a tray of cool water. If you have never had them, try them! Who knew that these little coils of fern frond would be so delicious. They have a very “green” taste to them, not unlike broccoli, but more delicate. They are not as “unique” tasting as asparagus, but they definitely have their own personality.
If you are familiar with the concept of terroir then the related saying “If it grows together, it goes together” shouldn’t seem like a stretch. In this case, I’m referring to the combination of mushrooms and fiddle-heads. Admittedly I was not, in this case, as committed or as organized as I could have been, sourcing local wild mushrooms to go with the local fiddle-heads but from the point of view of complimentary flavours, these forest floor dwellers go very nicely together. Enjoy!
Quinoa with Brown Mushrooms and Fiddleheads
1 1/2 cups of quinoa
1tablespoon of olive oil
1 to 1 1/2 cups of fresh fiddle-heads*, trimmed of the tough stalk (about 30)
1 lb brown cremini mushrooms (or a mix of your favourite mushrooms – wild ones would be nice!)
3 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
3 fresh sage leaves, minced
1 bay leaf
pinch of salt
squirt of lemon juice
zest of 1/4 of a lemon
Cook the quinoa is cooking in 2 1/2 cups of water until fully cooked. Move from the cooking pot to a large bowl, stirring to cool the quinoa and spreading it up the sides of the bowl. Allow to cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Saute the fiddleheads and mushrooms with the thyme and sage and the bay leaf. Toss over medium heat until the mushrooms are cooked and the fiddle-heads are tender when poked with a fork or sharp knife. Discard the bay leaf, add the scallions. Add the salt, lemon zest and juice, tossing to combine. Stir the vegetables into the cooled quinoa. Serve immediately or chill and serve. Enjoy!
* if you can’t find fiddle-heads, asparagus or even broccoli, in very small florets would be a nice substitute.