Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

My family does birthdays well. Yes, there are thoughtful gifts and spending the evening with each other, catching up, the irreverent conversations… But where we really excel is the food! This weekend we celebrated my mom’s birthday with a Greek themed menu. Her husband made a lamb stew, my aunt made a baked feta cheese appetizer with olives and roasted red peppers, a garbonzo bean and kale dish with tons of garlic that was amazing, I made tzatziki sauce, a lemon cake, and this quinoa salad. There was pita bread and plenty of wine too.

This salad, as made here, is vegan and gluten free. You could easily add some nice feta cheese to it, or make it with couscous instead of quinoa. But, don’t think for a minute that because it has the vegan and gluten free labels that it’s lacking anything – its not!

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

With the sweetness of the apricots, the nutty bite from the quinoa and pine nuts, tangy freshness of the lemon juice and herbs, deep richness of the spices, this dish hits all the right notes. It is complex and light, rich in flavor and texture, and an excellent accompaniment to any cuisine from around the Mediterranean. This dish would be at home among Moroccan, Egyptian, Greek, Turkish, even French and Italian tables!

Is that enough gushing about a single recipe for you? I thought so. Looks good, doesn’t it? So, without further ado, the recipe:

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

makes a large bowl, serves about 16 as a side

  • 2 cups quinoa, uncooked
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped
  • 3/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 Tbsp scallions (green onions), chopped
  • 2 Tbsp fresh mint, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • salt and pepper to taste

Rince the quinoa well in a fine mesh strainer under running water. Toast/dry the grain in a large pot, stirring frequently until nutty smelling. Add the water and bring to a boil. Cover, and reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is cooked (about 15 minutes). Remove from heat, and fluff with a fork every now and again until cool. (You can do this part hours ahead of time!)

Once the quinoa is cool, combine it with the apricots, pine nuts, and fresh herbs in a large bowl. Separately, combine lemon juice, olive oil, spices, salt and pepper. Adjust the seasonings to suit your taste. Pour the liquid over the grain mixture and toss to coat. Taste, and add anything you want more of!

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Roasted Broccoli

Maybe you didn’t like broccoli as a child. Perhaps you harbor a secret aversion to the cruciferous green vegetable, but don’t want to admit to it because you’re a “grown up” now and your supposed to eat your vegetables without whining. Maybe you’ll only eat it when drowned in a cheese sauce or cut up so small in stir-fry that its not worth picking it out. Or maybe you really do like broccoli but have gotten bored of it.  Are you tired of steaming it, adding a little butter, salt and pepper and having it lay there next to the starch and the protein on your plate? I was! Ho hum. Broccoli.

But, ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you about roasting broccoli! Roasting brings out the best of so many things (chicken, pumpkin, potatoes, red bell peppers, garlic, etc.) and as it turns out, broccoli is no exception. The green stalks get brown and crunchy, the texture inside is al dente perfection, and you’ll find that you eat twice as much as you were expecting.  (Or maybe that was just me.)

With a recipe this simple, you can toss it in the oven and almost ignore it. By the time you’re done preparing the rest of the meal, the broccoli is done and you’ve got yourself an easy, healthy, and did I mention really delicious, side dish.

Roasted Broccoli

serves 2 (as a major component to the meal) to 4 (as a side)

  • 2 medium/small sized heads of broccoli (or 1 large one)
  • 2-3 large garlic cloves
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan or pecorino cheese (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with foil (you don’t have to, but it makes clean-up easier).

Cut up the broccoli into largish florets and heap in a pile on the cookie sheet. Roughly mince the garlic and add it to the broccoli. Add the pepper flakes, and zest the lemon directly onto the pile of goodness. Drizzle the whole thing with olive oil and toss to coat. Spread out the broccoli into a single layer and put in the oven.

Roast, stirring once or twice, for about 25 minutes or until the broccoli is browned on a bit more than the edges and is just fork tender. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with cheese. Serve immediately.

Posted in Sides, Vegetables | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Christmas Morning Muffins

Yes, I know it’s a little late for Christmas recipe posts. I know that the presents have been given (and maybe exchanged), the leftovers have been eaten, the tree taken down, and the decorations packed up until next year. But, you can relive the lusciousness of Christmas morning whenever you make these muffins!

I made these muffins a few weeks before Christmas, and I said to myself, “Self, these are Christmas morning worthy muffins.” And so they are. They’ve been vetted by my family, who didn’t wait until the scrambled eggs were cooked to dig into them. Pretty soon we were all gathered around the kitchen island, mimosas temporarily forgotten, with muffin crumbs on our lips. Yes, they’re that good!

Now, I do admit that the recipe is a bit fussy. And that it relies heavily on a food processor. And that it isn’t the fastest muffin recipe you could whip up for a spur-of-the-moment breakfast. But trust me; its worth it.

These muffins are so full of cranberries that they are jewel like when you break one open to butter. The nuttiness of the ground pecans adds an amazing depth of flavor. The pecans in the streusel topping add just the right amount of crunch. These are a special occasion muffin if there ever was one!

Cranberry Pecan Muffins

makes 12-16 muffins, depending on how full you fill the cups

adapted (very slightly) from Cook’s Illustrated

Streusel Topping

  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, softened
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup pecan halves

Muffins

  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 1/4 cups pecan halves, toasted and cooled
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1/2 cup whole milk (half and half works find too, if that’s what you’ve got!)
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1 tbsp confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and line a 12-cup muffin tin with papers. (Have a few extra papers and another tin standing by if you decide to stretch the recipe, or that 12 make the tins too full. I ended up with 15 the first time I made these. The second time, I made 12 and the streusel didn’t stick as well.) Adjust the oven rack to the upper-middle position in the oven.

For the Streusel

In the food processor, combine flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, butter, and salt. 4 or 5 pulses should do it; the mixture should resemble coarse sand. Add the pecans and process until they’re coarsely chopped. Put the mixture in a small bowl and set aside until needed. (No need to clean the food processor bowl; you’ll just get it dirty again.)

For the Muffins

Whisk together flour, baking powder 3/4 tsp. salt. Set aside.

Process toasted pecans and granulated sugar for 10-15 seconds, until the pecans are ground and the mixture resembles coarse sand. Add pecan/sugar mixture to a large bowl and whisk in eggs, butter and milk. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and whisk until just combined and no streaks of flour remain. Set aside for 30 minutes. (The batter will thicken.)

In the food processor, pulse the cranberries, remaining 1/4 tsp. salt, and confectioners sugar until coarsely chopped, 4 or 5 pulses should do it. Gently fold the cranberries into the rested batter.

Scoop batter into the prepared muffin tins, and sprinkle the streusel topping over them. Press the streusel lightly into the batter so it’ll stick.

Bake for 17 to 18 minutes (I told you this was fussy, didn’t I?) or until the muffin tops are golden and just firm. If you’re baking them in two tins, be sure that they are both on the upper rack of the oven, so as not to burn the bottom ones. Cool muffins for 10 minutes on a wire rack, IN the tins! After 10 minutes, remove from the tins and cool at least another 10 minutes before serving.

Eat the first one standing over the counter before the rest of breakfast is ready. I give you permission.

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Seared Scallops with Cumin Lime Sauce

I’ve been making this quite often this summer. My only reason for not posting the recipe sooner was that it is such a quick recipe, and the results so tasty, that I kept forgetting to take a picture before I started eating. And really, who wants to see a plate of half-eaten scallops and a fork?

With these scallops, I’ve (re)discovered cumin. Again. Its currently my favorite spice. It seems that everything to which it is added is enhanced! Its kind of a miracle spice. Cumin goes equally well with Indian veggies and curries, American chili, Mexican tacos, European soups, or in a rub for meats. Pair it with citrus (as it is here), with herbs (cilantro is its best friend, especially with Asian flavors), with smokey flavors (paprika, chili powder, garlic) . . . As far as I’m concerned, the possibilities are as boundless as your imagination. But I digress.

This super simple scallop recipe has quickly worked its way into my standard cooking rotation. Make it once and you’ll see why.

Seared Scallops with Cumin Lime Sauce

serves 2

  • 8 large sea scallops
  • lime juice from 1/2 a large lime (or a whole one if its small)
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup water or broth
  • 1 tbsp. cold butter

In a small bowl, combine first set of ingredients and let marinate for 15 to 30 minutes.

Heat a non-stick skillet large enough to hold all the scallops in a single layer over high heat, adding about 1 tsp. olive oil. When oil shimmers (but before it starts smoking) gently place the scallops in the skillet. Sear on the first side for 1-2 minutes. Turn the scallops gently, and sear for an additional 1-2 minutes. You should get a lovely brown sear on each side, and the scallops should still be a little underdone at the centers.

Remove scallops from pan and set aside. Off the heat, deglaze the pan with the water and stir until all bits left in the bottom of the skillet are incorporated. Add the left-over marinade to the skillet. Finally, add the cold butter and stir until melted.

Serve scallops with sauce. I’ve taken to pouring the sauce into a little ramekin for dipping!

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Oatmeal Craisin Mac Nut Cookies

Every once in a while I come across a really good cookie. One that is the perfect size, perfect texture (slightly chewy, a little crisp around the edges), the perfect combination of flavors and textures, and is a breeze to whip up! This cookie hits all those marks. The combination of sweet-tart craisins, the buttery crunch of the macadamia nuts, the sweet of the chocolate, and the nutty chewiness of an excellent oatmeal cookie. Oh, I’m in love!

Because what’s not to love about these little morsels? If you make this single (half of a regular sized cookie dough) batch, you’ll not be overwhelmed by sheer quantity of cookies, leaving you free to share a few and enjoy the rest yourself. Of course, if you’re bringing them to a party or sharing them with a larger group, double it!

If you don’t have macadamia nuts handy (but look, because they really make the cookie!), I would use pecans. If you’re feeling lazy and don’t want to deal with the chocolate drizzle, you could toss the chocolate chips in the dough or just leave them out entirely. I can attest that they don’t suffer from lack of chocolate, they’re just that much better for it!

Oatmeal Craisin Mac Nut Cookies

makes about 30 cookies
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
 
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. table salt
  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup craisins
  • 3/4 cup macadamia nuts, chopped and toasted until fragrant
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1-2 Tbsp. butter

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until smooth. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the butter/sugar mixture. Stir in the oats, craisins and mac nuts.

Chill the dough. You can either put the whole bowl in the fridge for a few hours (or overnight), or if you want cookies sooner, spoon them onto cookie sheets and chill them in either the fridge or freezer.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Spoon the dough into small balls and place about two inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. The cookies should be about the size of a rounded tablespoon. Bake them for 12 to 14 minutes (your baking time will vary, depending on your oven, the size of your cookies, and how cold the cookies were going in), taking them out when golden at the edges but still a little undercooked-looking on top. Let them sit on the hot baking sheet for five minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over very low heat, melt 1/2 cup of chocolate chips. Add 1-2 Tbsp. butter to help it along. Stir frequently to make sure the chocolate doesn’t burn.

When the cookies are completely cool, drizzle with the melted chocolate.

Posted in Sweets | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Fried Oatmeal

So, lately I’ve been on an oatmeal kick. I’ve been eating steel cut oats (3:1 water:oats ratio) about half the time these days for breakfast. However, they take a while to cook and are better when made in a slightly larger batch. Which means I’ve got leftover oatmeal. What, oh what, to do with leftover cooked oatmeal? Fry it, of course!

Well, sauté it lightly in butter in a non-stick skillet is a more accurate description. This is after you’ve spread it thinly in a pan and put it in the fridge the morning before. Once nicely golden brown, top it with your favorite (or available) fruits and nuts, and a drizzle of honey. Delish!

Here’s mine, with apple banana, blueberries, toasted pecans, and honey.

(I know this isn’t really a recipe, but if you need help telling you how to cook oatmeal, slice bananas, or toast nuts, I’d be happy to elaborate further.)

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Artichoke Hummus

I’ve been making hummus lately, and I may never go back to the store-bought version! Granted, some boutique store-bought hummus is very good, but do you really want to spend $6 for a tiny little container of it? If you make it yourself you get as much as you want for far less money AND it tastes great! And, did I mention that making hummus is one of the easiest things you can make? It is!

This version combines some of my favorite flavors into a creamy, lemony, slightly spice spread. Artichokes, lemon, chickpeas, tahini, garlic . . . how could you go wrong?

Artichoke Hummus

makes about 3 cups

  • 1 (14 oz. can) garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed (some liquid reserved)
  • 1 (14 oz. can) artichoke hearts (not marinated!), drained
  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • zest from 1 lemon (about 1 tsp.)
  • juice from 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
  • 3 Tbsp. tahini
  • 2 Tbsp. reserved garbanzo bean liquid
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste
  • olive oil to taste

Blend garbanzo beans, artichoke hearts, garlic and lemon zest in a food processor until combined, about 15 seconds. Add tahini, lemon juice, and garbanzo bean liquid. Process until smooth, adding more liquid if necessary. Add salt, black and cayenne peppers. With processor on, add several seconds of olive oil. Taste, and adjust seasonings, pulsing for a few seconds after each adjustment to taste again.

Serve room temperature, with a drizzle of good olive oil, a dash of cayenne (or paprika) for color, and chopped parsley if desired.

Pita bread, naan, pita chips, crackers, bread, vegetables, and fruit all make excellent dipping instruments for hummus. Or, wrap it up with some slice cucumber, fresh herbs, and feta cheese for a quick and healthy snack!

Posted in Appetizers, Vegetables | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Vegetarian Chili with Sweet Potatoes

This week I discovered that I had an excess of kidney beans in my cupboard. How did I end up with them? I don’t really use them for much, and don’t remember buying most of the cans. Odd. But, faced with kidney beans, I decided that the obvious solution was to make chili! I don’t keep ground meat around, nor did I want to go to the store, so I opted for a vegetarian chili, using just what I had on hand.

What I had on hand was: purple sweet potatoes, a carrot, some bell pepper, onion, garlic, canned crushed tomatoes, and various spices and other flavor boosters. In addition to the kidney beans, of course! I also had made up a small batch of polenta the evening before and figured that the chili would be perfect on top of it. (It was.)

This is a very easy recipe and it also happens to be really quite good for you! It has lots of protein, tons of fiber, a good amount of vitamins A and C, and is low-fat to boot! Oh, and did I mention that it’s delicious? I’d hate for you to not make this because it seems too much like “health food” and therefore couldn’t possibly be tasty. Trust me. The good for you part didn’t really occur to me as I was chopping vegetables and measuring spices; it just sort of turned out that way.

Vegetarian Chili with Purple Sweet Potatoes

serves 6

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 purple sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2″ dice (about 2 cups?) (you could use any kind of sweet potatoes that you have on hand or access to easily)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, finely diced
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp coriander
  • 1 – 2 tbsp semi- or bitter-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • juice from 2 limes (about 1/4 cup)
  • sour cream
  • cilantro

Chop and dice up all your veggies and get out a large pot. Heat the olive oil in the pot on medium-high heat, then add the potatoes. Saute for about five minutes, then add the onions, carrots, and bell peppers. Continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes.

Lower the heat and add the garlic, crushed tomatoes, spices and chocolate. Simmer for about 15-20, or until you can easily pierce the potatoes and carrots with a fork. Add the kidney beans and lime juice and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes. Taste, and adjust for seasoning (mine needed a little salt).

Serve over seared polenta, and top with sour cream and fresh cilantro.

P.S. – This is great left-over too!

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“Gourmet” Salsa Chicken

This recipe comes upon request from my cast and crew of “The House of Blue Leaves” at Hawaii Pacific University Theatre.

I’ve been making this dish for two actors to eat onstage instead of the “veal with oranges” that the script calls for. Our budget won’t allow for veal, nor do I want to be cooking it on a regular basis. So, instead of veal with oranges, I’ve been making salsa chicken with carrots and onions. Only it’s classed-up a bit.

I marinate the chicken before cooking it and, in lieu of simply covering the chicken with salsa and baking it (which I do too), I’ve been searing it first for more flavor. After three weeks of smelling it onstage, I made a big batch for the entire cast and crew for a between-show meal yesterday. It got rave reviews, and requests for the recipe. I promised that I’d actually write down what I’ve been doing, so here it is. (The next time I make some, I’ll take pictures too!)

This is not a fussy recipe. Feel free to play with it. Chicken breasts could be substituted for the thighs here; cooking in the salsa will keep them nice and moist. You could also add other vegetables if you like. Bell peppers would be a nice addition to (or substitute for) the carrots. You could add frozen peas if you want to up the vegetables even more. Pearl onions might be nice too . . . You get the idea.

“Gourmet” Salsa Chicken

serves 4-6, doubles easily

  • 4 chicken thighs, halved
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. dried oregano
  • 2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin seeds (optional)
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne (optional, if you like it a little spicy)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1-2 carrots, cut into about 1/2″ pieces
  • cooking oil
  • 2 cups salsa (use whatever brand and style you like)
  • chicken stock, as needed
  • 3/4 cup grated cheese, whatever you like (a “mexican” blend works, or a nice sharp cheddar, some manchego and feta would be nice too)

Combine seasonings in a small bowl. Toss chicken with seasonings and cover, refrigerated, for 1 – 4 hours, depending on your schedule. Meanwhile, chop the onion and carrot. You should have about equal parts of each.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and get out a baking dish large enough to hold all the ingredients.

Heat a cast-iron skillet with about 1 tbsp. of cooking oil (for this recipe, I just used canola oil; nothing fancy) over med-high. Sear the chicken for about 1- 2 mins per side, or until it just starts to brown. Place seared chicken in the baking dish. Work in batches if necessary; you don’t want to crowd the chicken or else it won’t sear.

Once all the chicken is seared, add the carrot and onion to the same skillet, with more oil if necessary. If any of the marinade from the chicken is left, add it too. (I’ve been known to toss the vegies into the same bowl and coat them with the left-over marinade.) Saute until the onion just begins to turn translucent, then add it to the baking dish along with the chicken.

Pour the salsa over the chicken. Add enough chicken stock to just moisten everything if needed (the liquid should not quite cover the chicken). Cover, and bake for 15 mins. After 15 mins, uncover and raise the heat in the oven to 350. Bake for another 20-30 mins, or until the chicken is done. About 10 minutes before taking the dish out of the oven, sprinkle it generously with cheese. (If you broil it for just a minute before serving, the cheese will brown up nicely!)

Serve with spanish rice or polenta.

Posted in Poultry | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A Public Service Announcement

Hi Folks,

I don’t usually do this, but so much of what I feel about the food culture in America – what it is, what’s wrong with the way it is, what it should be, and what we can do about it – is argued very articulately in this NYTimes article by Mark Bittman.

From the article: “Real cultural changes are needed to turn this around. Somehow, no-nonsense cooking and eating — roasting a chicken, making a grilled cheese sandwich, scrambling an egg, tossing a salad — must become popular again, and valued not just by hipsters in Brooklyn or locavores in Berkeley. The smart campaign is not to get McDonald’s to serve better food but to get people to see cooking as a joy rather than a burden, or at least as part of a normal life.”

Let’s all make cooking a joy again! I know I do . . .

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