Keen for Quinoa?

img_0446img_0445img_0447

Grains seem to be an easy addition to the diet for someone, like me, who is working to add more diversity to their pantry. Self-stable, easy to prepare, and hearty, there does not really seem to be a downside to adding more of them to my kitchen repertoire. I liked many of the dishes we made in class – especially the bread pudding – and I wanted to challenge myself this week to make 3 different kinds of dishes with the same grain. I decided on a dinner entree, a breakfast entree, and a dessert. I chose quinoa because it is so full of nutrients and because it is one of a few grains I have used more regularly in the past. I also find quinoa to be relatively easy to prepare in a batch, and fairly versatile for use in both savory and sweet dishes.

Recipe #1 Vegan Quinoa Crockpot Chili

http://everyday-reading.com/vegan-recipe-4-crockpot-quinoa-chili/

I love this recipe. It’s flavorful, easy, and is just so hardy and healthy. On top of that, it is a crowd-pleaser. My husband, who is a meat lover, liked the chili so much he said he didn’t miss meat at all.  I even fed it to my in-laws and they loved it too! The quinoa adds a nice texture that, although not identical to meat, gives this chili a richness that would be sorely lacking if omitted. As I am developing my confidence and intuition with cooking, I am also getting more comfortable with adding ingredients or “going rogue” with recipes, and this dish makes it easy to try a new spice or add a new vegetable because it is very forgiving. And, cooking doesn’t really get easier than something you can make in the slow cooker!

Recipe #2 Veggie Quinoa Breakfast Bowl

http://www.reclaimingprovincial.com/2013/03/06/veggie-quinoa-breakfast-bowl/

A nice side effect about preparing both this quinoa recipe and the chili one is that, while adding whole grains to my diet, I am also adding a good deal of vegetables! This was another yummy recipe, and one that could be easily played with to add new or different vegetables, spices, and flavors. The premise is simple – warm quinoa as a base for sauteed veggies, cheese, and that yummy, umami flavor you get with a runny egg yolk. This was also a hit with my husband, and I could see making this with easily with just about any vegetable you have around the house, even frozen ones. I added red onion to the recipe to add even more flavor, as well as a bit of coconut aminos in place of salt, but I would think a hot sauce like sriracha would work very well too.

Recipe #3 Chocolate Quinoa Pudding

http://thegreenforks.com/chocolate-quinoa-pudding/

I suppose it was inevitable that I would not luck out and go 3 for 3 with recipes this week. Unfortunately, this sweet “pudding” recipe was a bit of a disaster. Though I kind of liked the chocolate flavor of the end product, I would not call this dish anything resembling a pudding; at best, it was a chocolate soup, and at worst it was chocolate-flavored quinoa sludge. The intention is there – chocolate flavoring, natural sweetener (with the maple syrup and dates)- but the texture just did not work at all. I am not sure how the original author managed to get such a lovely pudding consistency, but even blending and blending (in a pretty nice blender, I might add) and using small amounts of the almond milk so it didn’t get too runny, this dish does not “set” at all and does not have a pudding-like consistency. It could all be user error, but I would not recommend this particular preparation of “quinoa pudding”.

Eggplant? Beets me!

I am glad I am being encouraged/pushed to try new produce options. I am bad about eating vegetables in general and when I do, they are usually the usual suspects. Carrots make for easy, fresh eating and broccoli – with it’s lush greenness and weight – always makes me feel like I am really taking care of myself when I eat it. Aside from these two, I would mostly get vegetables in my diet from meals prepared by others or at restaurants. I like vegetables – I do – but I am intimidated by them and don’t know how to prepare them quickly without adding fats or oils. Activities like our assignment this week help get me out of my comfort zone, which is excellent.They also encourage me to buy more produce than I normally do, which is pretty limited each week. I think it would be a good idea for me to purchase some bulk produce each week so I can add things easily to meals, especially easy side dishes (like the beets turned out to be).

I chose eggplant and golden beets for my produce this week.  Now, you may be thinking that these are not particularly unusual items, but for me, they are a stretch. I made 3 different recipes – an entree, a breakfast item, and a side – and my experience was a bit mixed. I think I learned from this exercise that I am not crazy about eggplant, but my like of beets was ramped up to a “love”!

Recipe #1 Eggplant and Tofu Stirfry

http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/eggplant-tofu-stir-fry


I get bonus points for this one – eggplant AND tofu, two things I very seldomly cook with. I learned from this experience that I am not too big of a fan cooking eggplant in oil. It seems like the eggplant becomes almost a sponge for the oil, sucking in the flavor and texture so much that it makes it a bit slimy and unpleasant. I think the Hoisin sauce I had might have also been too sweet, as the whole dish seemed not quite savory enough for an entree. My husband loved it, however, and I felt especially proud of myself when I used my own “kitchen intuition” to add cashews to the dish for some crunch. I did find that I liked using tofu and that I would be open to substituting this for meat somewhat regularly in the future.

Recipe #2 Roasted Lemon Golden Beets

http://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/252469/lemon-herb-roasted-beets/


This recipe was the “winner” of the 3. It’s a pretty simple idea – roasting beets in a bit of oil and spices, but the addition of lemon zest really makes the flavor pop in such a lovely way. I could see substituting beets now as a side for any occasion I want an option to roasted potatoes. The preparation was so easy and the result so flavorful. I think I am going to keep more lemons on hand in the future because lemon zest seems like a miracle ingredient to me now.

Recipe #3 Mixed Berry and Beet Smoothie

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/12355-mixed-berry-and-beet-smoothie

I’m not great about eating breakfast. I will often just eat a Kind bar or a cup of yogurt with some fruit. It works for me, but I could be more adventurous and certainly more intentional about adding produce to my morning routine. I thought an easy way to do this might be to try a beet smoothie (we got a new blender as a wedding present and it’s awesome). While I liked the added flavor of the beets, I would not recommend using raw beets (the recipe says you can use either raw or cooked) as they do not blend as well and it effects the texture.

Look, Honey. I baked!

So, to start things off, let me just say that I am not known for my prowess in the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, people associate me with food. I love to eat. If a new restaurant is opening the in Twin Cities, I am one of the first to be there because I love the new and the novel. This may be precisely why I do not cook much at home. It could also be because my family was the kind that rarely ate anything that wasn’t microwaved, didn’t fall lumpily out of a box, or wasn’t reheated to within an inch of it’s original state. I know that eating out or making quick, processed foods are not the best, but it always worked for me, especially when I was single and only cooking for one. Honestly, a meal of cheese and crackers at the countertop while binging Project Runway episodes was was my idea of a perfect evening.  I am happy to say, however, I am evolving a bit in the food department.

With my past in mind, you probably have an apt mental picture of what my pantry looks like. It’s stocked with numerous “quick” foods – canned soup, boxed macaroni, cereal – but also aspirational items, like pine nuts and premium pink baking salt, that disclose to the observer that I desperately want to know my way around a kitchen, if not for my own benefit, at least for my husbands. Ben is the kind of guy who can throw together a delicious meal from whatever is in our house, and I always feel guilty that I cannot return the favor when it is my turn to cook. I attribute his confidence and aptitude to being raised by a mother who believed that eating dinner out was akin to neglect, so he grew-up accustomed to meals prepared from scratch and was privy to the work that went into them.

I tried making two different recipes – one an entree and one a dessert – and I chose them because they could be made with what I had in my pantry. I struggled to have all the ingredients for even these relatively basic recipes, however. The brown sugar for the cookies had to be beaten out of the bag with a hammer, as it had hardened ages ago, to my surprise. The pasta dish involved spaghetti instead of linguine, and there was no fresh basil chiffonade because I am not yet the kind of person who would happen to have fresh basil. Having said all this, it was a lot of fun to cook, and I really did feel a certain sense of pride in what I made.

Recipe #1 Pesto Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes

Here is the recipe, if you would like to see it: http://www.popsugar.com/food/Pasta-Pesto-Roasted-Tomatoes-Recipe-9110458

What was special about this recipe is that it required me to both 1.) roast tomatoes and 2.) toast breadcrumbs. While I realize this is not that fancy, I would normally never do either of these things if I was making pasta. Generally, I am so hungry by the time I start cooking it is just a race to get some sauce onto a starch of some kind so I can get on with it. Roasting tomatoes gave them a lovely flavor and added a panache to my dish, but 20-25 minutes of roasting (once my oven is warmed up) seemed like soooo long to wait! I think I would do this again, though – it was worth it and meant I was at least eating a vegetable with my pasta. The breadcrumbs, however, seemed a little superfluous. They looked nice and added a textural interest, but they were very sweet and kind of felt out of place when I was eating the dish. I did feel very accomplished, however, toasting them and adding them to the pasta, and it felt like a nice gesture, like I was telling myself, “You’re good enough for toasted breadcrumbs. You deserve the chance to feel a little classy on a weeknight. In your sweatpants.”

Recipe #2 Chewy “Cafe Style” Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe: http://hostthetoast.com/best-chewy-cafe-style-chocolate-chip-cookies/

As a middle-schooler, I made chocolate chip cookies more often than I played Super Nintendo – which is A LOT. I would make a batch at least once a week, often to the delight of my family and the expansion of my pubescent waistline. I even won a “bake off” in my 6th grade Home Economics class with the recipe (which I took from the back of a Hershey’s Chocolate Chip bag but pretended was my own.) Now,  I know what you are thinking, “He said he never cooked!”. Cookies were the exception. You just had to follow the recipe, use lots of sugar, and eat a healthy portion of the dough (until that raw egg scare in the late 90’s). Cookies were always something I felt confident about, so I thought they would be a good option for my first homework assignment.

These particular cookies are “cafe style” because they are supposed to be larger than the average cookie and look “good enough for a display case”. The secret, according to the blogger who posted the recipe, is corn starch, melted butter, and the method of rolling and placing the dough. The recipe itself is pretty straightforward, though I felt tricked when I got to one of the later steps and realized you need to refrigerate the dough for an hour before baking (my husband nearly lost his mind when I told him it would be a wait- his cookie lust is legend.) The cookies themselves did come out pretty tasty, though, and I would do this recipe again. The only real confusion I had is when the recipe told me to make balls “roughly 1/4 of a cup in size”. I never understand this. To me, liquids and powders are measurable in cups, but dough is not. I see 2 sizes of cookie – “Cookie”, and “Big A** Cookie”, so telling me to use a cup as a reference point for how much dough to use is not helpful. Hopefully I will get better at this as I continue to grow in my cooking skills.