Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pumpkin Risotto

Every year, there are a few traditions we stick with: turkey at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, Jambalaya at our party in the spring and now it's pumpkin risotto around Halloween. We started doing this a couple of years ago when I was asked to make a risotto at a friends place for dinner. I know, I know, I said I only eat it a few times a year. But, I consider it a comfort food and eat it usually only when the weather is chilly.

I never knew you could eat pumpkin, the kind you carve up into a jack-o-lantern that is, outside of putting it in a pie. When we decided to use it in a risotto at Halloween, I think we left it too long and too late to buy one. We searched high and low but couldn't find a small pumpkin, so we always had to use a butternut squash. We started looking a little earlier and all we did this year was go to the farmers market instead of the grocery store and there they were. Seek and ye shall find!

Mrs. Urban Eater bought a few different squash members of the pumpkin family: Acorn, Orange Spaghetti, a small normal one (not sure what the name is) and what I believe is called a Sugar Pie. The normal one didn't have a lot of flavour when I made soup out of it, but the health benefits were still there (http://www.suite101.com/content/health-benefits-of-pumpkin-a153140). After we had the soup, the wife took the seeds and baked them. They will be used in salads or just simply to snack on. And don't even think about throwing the pumpkin seeds into the garbage. They are also quite good for you, as mentioned in the link above.

Ingredients

- 1 large finely chopped yellow onion. I actually had to use a Spanish onion this time as it was all I had on hand. 
- 1 clove chopped garlic
- 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
- 1 cup dry white wine
- About 6 cups of hot chicken stock or vegetable stock
- 1 pumpkin, butternut squash or whatever pumpkin you can get your hands on, peeled, cut into small dice. I only cut a certain amount in to small dice to add near the end of the cooking process and the rest I leave a little larger, less work that way.


- EVOO
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- 2 tablespoons butter, cold, cut into small pieces. I like to use the unsalted butter if I have it. This way I can control the salt content a little better.
- 1 tablespoon White Truffle Oil

Directions

1. Bring stock to a boil. Add the smaller diced pumpkin and boil for about 3 minutes. Pull out when done and put off to the side for later. Add the larger chunks and boil until fairly soft. Throw the stock and pumpkin into a blender to puree or I use an immersion blender to puree it in the pot. If you are using a blender, make sure to put a towel over the lid and start it on low so you don't spray it all over the place. Seriously, hot liquid can do a lot of damage.
2. Put oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, add onion and garlic, stirring occasionally until it softens and becomes translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.
3. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Do not let it brown. Add white wine, stir, and let liquid bubble away. Add warmed stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring occasionally, meaning every 10-15 seconds. Each time stock has just about evaporated or the rice quits falling back into the wake you leave when you pull the spoon through it, add more.
4. After about 15 minutes, add the diced pumpkin while continuing to add stock when necessary. In 5 minutes, begin tasting rice. You want it to be tender but with a bit of crunch (al dente); it could take as long as 30 minutes total to reach this stage. Remove skillet from heat and let sit for a minute, add remaining butter and stir. Add Parmesan and stir again, then taste and adjust seasoning. Drizzle truffle oil over top and stir again. Risotto should be slightly soupy. Serve immediately.

Yield: 3 to 4 servings.


When you are cooking with an almost flavourless ingredient like pumpkin (this type of pumpkin, not all of them are like this), make sure the stock is a little thicker after the pumpkin has been pureed. You could start with a little less stock when first heating it up and add more later if it is too thick. If it is too thin, the stock will have a lot less flavour. This is also why I added garlic to this risotto, to add a little more flavour. The next time, I will use a Sugar Pie pumpkin. They are supposed to be sweeter and have more flavour.

There are a few little tips I failed to mention on the last blog where I talked about risotto (Risotto 101).

First thing: I add the salt at the end so I never add to much. You have to remember everything gets reduced when you cook risotto. If you add salt at the beginning, you could overdo it because everything is very concentrated at the end of the cooking process. Salt really helps to bring out the flavour of all the ingredients when added just before serving.

Second thing: I let the person who is eating the risotto put pepper on it. I like to serve it with all the colours of the ingredients jumping out, not the black colour of the pepper. The one thing I like about risotto is the colour certain ingredients add to the dish. Feel free to add it before eating though. Pepper is very good for you (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=74) and always adds a nice background flavour to any dish.

Third and final thing: Always, ALWAYS have everything prepared before you start cooking. If you aren't prepared and have to start cutting things up while you are supposed to be stirring, you stand a chance of letting the risotto burn or cook beyond al dente. A good risotto is the result of patience and your undivided attention.

Little O's Menu

For her breakfasts, she is still eating yogurt, fruit and cereal. We have added canned pears from her Grandmas kitchen which Mrs. Urban Eater helped out with. I just cut them up into small dice and add to the yogurt mixture along with a little cinnamon. We are also giving her diced bananas again as well. She likes these placed in front of her so she can eat on her own or likes them in the yogurt. We made more apple sauce last night as well. She will eat this a lot, but in a different capacity. I think we will use it more as a secondary ingredient now instead of a main, maybe to help thicken certain dishes. She is starting to eat bigger chunks of food now but still likes some of the mushy stuff as she now has two little choppers on her bottom gums to utilize. I would rather see her use them to chew food instead of my shoulder after I pick her up.

Another thing we have started her on his diluted black cherry juice. We figured it was good for us, why not her too. I know she doesn't have gout or anything like this, but a little couldn't hurt. We dilute the juice about 4 to 1 and she drinks it all.

Today I have to head downtown to give Mrs. Urban Eater her Blackberry as she forgot it at home today. This means I may have to stop by our little favorite haunt, The Chick Pea (http://maps.google.ca/maps/place?rls=com.microsoft:en-ca:IE-SearchBox&oe=UTF-8&rlz=1I7SUNC_en&redir_esc=&um=1&ie=UTF-8&q=the+chickpea+calgary&fb=1&gl=ca&hq=the+chickpea&hnear=Calgary,+AB&cid=10762400345921496314). This is my version of fast food. Once in a blue moon, I'll slip and go for a burger, but this is way better. I always go with the Beef Donair and the wife goes with the Chicken Shawarma.

The last time I was in, I asked him about his where he gets his meat from. Their donair meat is made by a vendor as he no longer has the time to make it himself anymore. It was too much work, so he farmed it out to a company in Edmonton and they make it with his recipe. Everything else is done in-house.

The size of the wraps are a little big for my appetite, but the flavour is to die for. After you order, it's also quicker than any big franchise can dole out their "stuff" to you. We stand in line for about 5-8 minutes, eat and then leave in under 20 minutes. They have a quick turnover and you can always find a table. I highly suggest if you have a fast food craving, think again about going for a pre-formed burger full of all kinds of things you can't pronounce or a sandwich full of pre-packaged deli meat. Find a place like The Chick Pea, get to know the operators so you can feel them out and see if they are doing the right thing in regards to making everything in-house, and go there for your fix. Your body will be glad you took the high road.

Today's quote:

"I went into a McDonald's yesterday and said, 'I'd like some fries.' The girl at the counter said, 'Would you like some fries with that?' "


- Jay Leno (1950 - )

* I have been having some issues with this site I write this blog on lately. Some funny things have been happening, such as different coloured words or phrases, pictures which won't stay centered, things like this. I am trying to fix this as best I can. My apologies if it bothers you.


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark

Monday, October 25, 2010

It's Been A Halibut Day

I have been silent for the last 5 or 6 days as my parents have been visiting. I decided to be courteous instead of diligent and not write while they were here. The good thing is I was able to get quite a few chores done and was able to do the visiting thing as well. The bad thing is I wasn't able to really get on here to do anything at all and now have to find that little spot in my brain which houses all the creative ideas about food and everything which goes along with it.

The past few days, we have thrown around a few ideas about what our menu should consist of this week. We decided to start out with some halibut last night. We weren't very hungry, so it was also decided we would take it easy and go with smaller portions on smaller plates again. Little O still has to keep up with her eating more fish, so we thought it was a good time for her to try halibut again. She didn't take to kindly to it the first time. I believe it was the texture which threw her off a little, but I didn't think the taste of it turned her off so we're still in the good books there.

My step-father just laughs when he sees her eat due to the fact she chews her food, then waits with her mouth open for us to fill it up again. She doesn't complain much and usually stays focused on the task at hand, so it's fairly entertaining for him to watch. He's impressed with the fact we feed almost anything to her and she gobbles it down. Afterwards the brushing of her teeth was taken in as a funny deal as well for him. You see, he's a dentist and for her to just sit there with her mouth open and me shoving my finger around in there (gently) with a little toothbrush thingy on it, isn't a regular thing for him to witness. Normally, I believe he has seen kids squirm, scream and get mildly violent in the 40+ years of his practice. I think it's safe to say she's doing well with her side of the food deal we have in place: you eat what we give you.

Pan Seared Halibut Served Over Asparagus And Roasted Hubbard Squash

This recipe calls for a heavy, ovenproof cast iron skillet. Unfortunately I don't have one yet so I used a non-stick frying pan. Safety note: even well dried fish can cause the hot oil in the pan to splatter. You can minimize splattering by laying the halibut fillets in the pan gently and putting the edge closest to you in the pan first so that the far edge falls away from you. I learned this the hard way many years ago. Just thought I would pass it on to you now.

Ingredients

- 4 halibut fillets, dried well with paper towels and trimmed of cartilage at both ends. I bought a whole, small fillet (.666 kgs, 1.5 lbs) and cut it into four pieces. Remember to take into consideration the thickness of each piece. The fillet is thicker at one end than the other, so make sure to cut the thicker pieces to a smaller width than the thinner pieces. For example, I cut the thicker end pieces to about 1.5" in width and the thinner end pieces were around 3" and 4" wide. In other words, as the fillet gets thinner, the pieces get wider. This way they at least equal out in weight rather than thickness and you will be able to gauge the cooking process a lot easier.
- 16 asparagus spears, woody ends broken off
- 1 small Hubbard Squash, diced into 1/2" pieces
- EVOO
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
- sea salt and fresh ground pepper

Directions

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the squash onto a cookie sheet and drizzle a small amount of EVOO over top with a little salt and pepper. Toss and make sure all the pieces are flat and not piled up on the cookie sheet before you put it all in the oven. This will help ensure they will all cook evenly. Place in oven for 20 -25 minutes stirring at the half-way point.

2. Heat frying pan or skillet over medium-high heat and add enough EVOO to ensure the fish will not stick to the pan. Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of the fish. When the oil starts to smoke, swirl it around the pan and reduce the heat to medium. Carefully add the fish skin side down. I put the thick pieces in for a minute longer than the thin pieces.

3. Transfer the frying pan or skillet to the oven after the thick pieces have been on the burner for no longer than 1 minute. This method cooks the fish without the stress of flipping and searing both sides. Cook until fish is firm , but not hard to the touch. You could also use an instant-read thermometer which could be inserted into the thick part of the fillets. They are done when the temperature reads 140F degrees, the fish flakes loosen and the flesh is opaque when checked with the tip of a paring knife, about 9 minutes (thicker fillets may take up to 10 minutes).

4. Take another frying pan and fill with water to the half-way point. Bring to a boil. Pour a small amount of EVOO in the water and add the asparagus. Sprinkle a little salt over top the help keep the spears green. Boil for 4 minutes until done. If you time everything right, all three parts of the dish should be done at the same time.

5.When the squash is done, it will start to brown and will not be mushy to the touch. It will still hold it's shape when touched but will be easy to chew. Grate the nutmeg over top with a micro plane, toss and go to the plate with it. Use this as the base for the dish. Make a small groove in the pile and place the asparagus in it. This will help keep the fish in place as well.



Transfer the fish to the plate and serve immediately.

Serves 4.


This dish is quite a healthy dish, if you take it easy on the oil and keep the calories down to a minimum. Halibut is very good for you (as long as you don't have gout) and has loads of healthy properties (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=95). We eat it about once a month or so. With Olivia in the picture now, this may increase to once every week or two.

You want to spread you fish eating around a little. Alternate fish types as often as you can. We eat a lot of wild salmon cooked 4 or 5 different ways, but still keep our eyes open for new species and ways to cook them. Trout is another good option as it's health properties should be taken advantage of often.

When shopping, just look around you and see which fish/seafood you like to eat is sustainable. You may want to study this a little so you know what you are talking about if you are serious about eating more seafood. Check this site out - http://www.oceanwisecanada.org/. This is a foundation started by the Vancouver Aquarium which helps people understand which species of fish are safe to eat and are sustainably harvested. One of the big supporters and orginal resauranteurs involved with this foundation is Robert Clark of C Restaurant in Vancouver (http://www.crestaurant.com/chef.cfm). I haven't been to one of his places yet but plan on going in the near future. This is a growing trend which should have been started years ago. If you don't want to follow this way of eating seafood, at least try to use it as a guideline. Personally, I don't want to be eating Jellyfish a few years down the road because that's all which will be left to fish in our oceans. I try to follow this as much as I can, so you could say I use it as a guideline.

Little O's Menu

This weekend we had the halibut, as you just read. Our intent was to save a little for her to snack on for the next day or two. Well, we both finished our plates, looked at each other and then realized neither of us saved any for her. Good one, huh?? So, this week we will be having another halibut course so we can feed it to her. This time being more cognisant of how much is left on our plates before we finish.

O's appetite is increasing rapidly again. She is eating at least 6 times a day now. It is extremely important to make good and sure she is eating the right things which not only fill her up but are full of nutrients as well. If we do this correctly, she will not be filling up on empty calories. Everything which goes down her throat will be doing her a world of good.

This last week she has been eating a lot of apple and pear puree with yogurt, cinnamon and organic whole grain rice cereal. We threw in a couple of pieces of sprouted or whole grain bread for her to chew on as too. She is learning how to eat things on her own without our help now and is doing very well. This is great as she is trying to be more independent of us and try more tasks without our help.

Dinners have consisted of carrots, broccoli, Hubbard Squash and Butternut Squash soup with a little Parmesan mixed in. The usual fresh ground pepper and EVOO are added.  She also ate the the soup on it's own with a little Parmesan added in here as well. We have to be careful with the cheese as it contains salt. We use only a little in her dishes for the flavour and the fat content.

Foodie Happenings

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Vendemmia International Wines (http://www.vendemmia.ca/) fall 2010 wine tasting with a friend, John, who owns a few liquor stores and a restaurant in town. This was a great event to be at as there were 60 winemakers and distillers attending to show off their product lines.

We both decided to sample the higher end wines because there were over 200 different wines to try. This could have posed a disaster on a very large scale if we were just to try as many as we could. It was the right decision and we were able to try many great wines which I can use for pairings. They also had a few Grappas there to try, but I only did the one as I was on my way out the door. It could have been ugly, but my head and body will be better for it.

The Alberta Foodservice Expo (http://www.albertafoodserviceexpo.ca/) is on here in Calgary at The BMO Centre on the Stampede grounds yesterday and today. This is actually a food industry get together and the public is not allowed to attend unless otherwise with a food industry professional. I was invited by John, the same fellow mentioned above. This was a good show to go to as all the new things in the restaurant industry are showcased here along with different types of food which are new to the market.

I was impressed with how many organic exhibitors were in attendance. I think I spoke to every one of them and asked them question after question about what they do and where their products are available. Most of them are becoming mainstream now and have many industry contacts. I was happy to hear this and I know where to find them all now so we can keep serving little O the organic menu we think she should be eating.

One vendor was The Daybreak-Scheresky Mill (http://www.daybreakschereskymill.com/Daybreak_Mill/Organic_Mill_Info.html) from Estevan, Saskatchewan. They grow all of their product themselves and have quite the selection. They are a small operation, which I can live with as this should ensure quality. I will be looking for their products at Community Natural Foods in the near future. Another fellow I spoke to was Darrel Winter Of Winters Turkeys (http://www.wintersturkeys.ca/). I told him I would try one of his turkeys for Christmas this year. Looking forward to it as they looked nice and healthy. He has quite a large following here in town so I would think the quality shouldn't be an issue. We talked about brining the turkey but he strongly suggested not to do this. I agreed as a good turkey shouldn't need to be brined. If it's nice and juicy on it's own without any outside help, then why try to alter this.

Today's quote:

"Why does man kill? He kills for food. And not only food: frequently there must be a beverage."

- Woody Allen 'Without Feathers'


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark