Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Spring vegetable and quinoa frittata

The air in our household has been saturated with stress and tension for the past few months. Mike and I are both committed to several working positions that keep us busy all week, some nights and even weekends. Recently it had become glaringly apparent that one or both of us were in desperate need of a vacation. It was Mike's birthday a couple of weeks ago and, as having new jobs means having a few extra dollars to spare, I decided to splurge on a couples spa package on nearby Pender Island. Due to how busy we were, Mike seemed very resistant to leave the home office for the weekend but I forced him into it.

Bright and early Saturday morning, before the sun had broken over the horizon, we packed our light overnight bags, rain coats and hiking shoes into the car. About ten minutes into the drive to the ferry I could already sense some of the week's tension being left behind. Unfortunately, it was a rainy morning but we proceeded to the ferry terminal and boarded the 8 am boat headed for Pender island -  a tiny, simple island nestled between the British Columbia mainland and Vancouver Island.

We arrived at the Island at 11 am on the dot; five hours before we could check into our room at Poets Cove. We drove around and explored the island, stumbling upon a small hike which led us down a cliff and along the island's shore line. The path ended on a beach where we encountered crabs, sea anemone and were followed by an adorable and curious sea lion.

We had a delicious lunch at the only cafe we could find on the Island then headed back to Poets Cove. We were delighted to find that our room had a patio which directly overlooked the ocean. I was most excited about the heated floors in the bathroom. We donned our swimsuits and crept out into the chilly evening air to the outdoor hot tub set in front of the ocean. The last of our worries melted away as we snacked on some goat cheese from a nearby island and some spicy crackers which we washed down with a lovely red wine.

The next morning we awoke, peaceful as can be and went for brunch which was the highlight of the trip for me. The brunch was a buffet and at first glance appeared ordinary. Eggs, pancakes, hash-brown potatoes and what appeared to be a giant omelet. I piled the items on my plate and further down the line found individual home made yogurt cups, cheeses, fruit and baking.

My first bite was of the scrambled eggs which tasted unbelievable. Mike had had eggs on the ferry the morning before which had looked the same as the eggs at the buffet; they tasted completely different. Clearly these eggs came from happy local free-range hens. The hash-browns were nicely browned and seasoned delicately with fleur-de-sel. Next I tried the omelet. I delightfully discovered that this frittata-like dish was filled with quinoa and cheese. It was perfectly chewy, flavorful and decorated with mushrooms and peppers. It was incredible. I knew I would be trying to make it when I got home after going back for a second serving.

Also amazing was the little yogurt cup which was made with the most creamy, silky yogurt I have ever tasted. Stirred-into the yogurt was a light mixture of oats and it was topped with a fresh berry compote. Drooling yet? All I can say is that having the brunch at Poets Cove is reason enough to visit Pender Island.

After the brunch that I could not stop talking about, we relaxed further at the spa in a steam cave that smelled of eucalyptus, watched the clouds melt away in the sky in the hot tub and then succumbed to Swedish relaxation massages. 

The weather had improved somewhat, so after our spa session we rented a kayak and paddled to the base of Mount Norman for a short hike. We failed to find the summit as we encountered several confusing forks in the paths. Time did not permit us to explore every direction so we worked our way back to the base, jumped back in our Kayak and paddled furiously back to the rental station.
The remainder of the day was spent driving around and exploring the little nooks and crannies of the island before snacking on a quick dinner back at the cafe.  We headed tentatively to the ferry around 7 pm where we watched a beautiful sunset and would you believe encountered a small pod of orcas? It was definitely magical; surreal. A much needed and enjoyed break from the busy life of Vancouver.

Back at home I am trying to replicate some of the amazing food I had while on Pender Island. Every bite I had on the island revealed the commitment that those Islanders have to sustainable, organic and healthy food. All of the ingredients were so flavorful, smooth, delicate, intense and just plain amazing. The frittata/omelet/quiche (whatever it was) was my favorite. I tried my own version the next day but was not able to make it quite as good. Nonetheless I am posting this recipe for my first try. Maybe you have some suggestions? I may come back and update the recipe next time I make this.

Spring vegetable and quinoa frittata
Spring seasonal: peas and asparagus

1 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 cup shelled peas
6 button mushrooms, roughly chopped
3 thick spears of asparagus, sliced with a mandoline
4 free-range eggs
2 tbsp milk
3 tbsp goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup white cheddar
1/2 cup quinoa, cooked
Sea salt
Chopped chives to garnish

1 - Preheat oven to 350F.
2 - Warm a pan on the stove to medium heat, melt butter and stir in garlic, mushrooms and chopped asparagus.
3 - Cook vegetables for about 5 minutes, stir in peas then cook another minute or so. Remove from heat and let cool.
4 - Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Stir in the cheeses, cooked quinoa and cooled vegetables.
5 - Season generously with sea salt then divide mixture among greased ramekins (about 5) or pour into a large ovenproof skillet.
6 - Place ramekins in a baking dish and place in oven. Cover ramekins with a large metal baking sheet.
7 - If using a skillet you can start the cooking process on the stove top or place directly in the oven, covered.
8 - Keeping the eggs covered allows them to puff up and brown evenly on top.
9 - Bake about 20 - 30 minutes (may be more or less depending on the size of the ramekins or whether you use a skillet).
10 - Check the eggs often and remove from oven when nicely browned on top.
11 - Serve garnished with fresh chopped chives.

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