Thursday, June 27, 2013

Avocado Quinoa Salad with Chickpeas

This is another favorite quinoa dish in our house, especially during the summer months.  If you like guacamole, then you are sure to love this hearty salad.  It's like guac, on steroids, with quinoa thrown in the mix.  You'll want to scoop it with chips, or with with spoon from the serving bowl.  Be careful to not give out taster bites before you're ready to eat or you may be taking an empty bowl to the table!

This is a perfect dish for a summer night with a bowl of gazpacho on the side, or just one of many "hearty sides" that make up a dinner.  Take it to a picnic and enjoy all the mmmms as people relish the goodness.  We haven't tried it, but I think it would be fabulous in a pita for a summer picnic dinner!

Adapted from this recipe.

Avocado Quinoa Salad with Chickpeas
serves 4-6 (8 cups)

  • 3/4 cup dry quinoa _ 2 cups broth
  • 2 cups packed spinach
  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained **
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 avocados, diced (about 2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • zest of one lemon
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • 2 tsp olive oil, OR **chickpea liquid
  • 1 tsp agave or honey
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
-- Make quinoa in the broth, once done, turn out into a large bowl to let cool
-- Pulse spinach and cinatro in a food processor unti small bits.  Add to quinoa bowl.
-- Add onion and chickpeas to bowl and stir.  
-- Mix dressing ingredients together and pour over quinoa, stirring well
-- Gently stir in tomatoes and avocados until everything is combined
-- Let sit/chill at least 15 minutes before serving

Monday, June 24, 2013

Pesto Quinoa with Corn and Tomatoes

This was such a great quinoa salad.  For people new to quinoa, this is a great starter.  It's simple and easy, and if the usually nutty flavor of quinoa turns you off, you can't taste it in this dish.  The pesto flavor balanced out the other sweetness of the corn and tomatoes so well.  With the added bonus of the chickpeas, it was a protein-packed main dish.

You could easily serve this as a side, or bring it to a picnic or potluck.  Omit the chickpeas if you'd like, too. My husband said it worked as a main dish, but it would work better as a hearty side.  From my perspective, it was a great, light, refreshing main dish on a hot summer night.  So, take note.  It's chick-food.  If you serve it to your man, have sweet potato fries and gazpacho and a chocked-full-of-veggies salad to go with it.

Got the idea over here and tweaked it.

Pesto Quinoa with Corn and Tomatoes
serves 4 main, 6-8 sides

  • 1 14/ c dry quinoa + 2 1/2 c water
  • 3/4 c pre-made pesto
  • 1 1/2 c corn
  • 1 1/2 c cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (for main dish)
  • salt and pepper to taste
-- Cook quinoa in water and turn out into a large bowl to cool.  
-- Once cooled slightly, stir in pesto
-- Add all remaining ingredient and gently stir
-- Eat immediately, or chill until ready to serve

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Nutrition: Quinoa

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a grain-like crop, surprisingly related to a common weed that I find growing in my garden. It is abundant in South America, particularly the Andean region, was held as sacred by the Incas, and has been regarded as the “mother grain.”

Quinoa has a relatively high protein content and contains a great balance of essential amino acids, classifying it as a “complete protein.”  The amino acid profile contains significant amounts of both lysine AND methionine--which are rarely both found in decent amounts within the same source of plant-based protein (this is the reason we typically must “complement” one type of plant-based protein with another, throughout the course of a day, to achieve a good balance--such as rice and beans).  

This pseudo-grain cooks like rice, is versatile, gluten-free, easily digestible, and a good way to naturally increase dietary consumption of protein, fiber, calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, potassium, and folate.  Quinoa is also naturally pest-resistant, due to a saponin coating on the seed.  This saponin coating deters birds and other pests from tampering with the seed during growth and harvest, and is typically washed off during the post-harvest processing to make it edible.  

Much attention has been brought to quinoa lately, and you may have seen it crop up in recipes or supermarket finds here & there.  The United Nations recently dubbed 2013 as the “International Year of Quinoa,” due to its potential to contribute to the eradication of hunger, malnutrition, and poverty.

I’ve typically purchased quinoa in bulk or in a large bag at Costco--both ways help reduce the cost and allow my family to include it as more of a staple in our diet.  However, it is also available in the grain section (near the rice) at most supermarkets, you may just end up paying more of a premium purchasing it this way.  

On this site, you will find several quinoa recipes to experiment with (and the next three recipes will all feature this wonderful super-food!).  


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Lentils with Italian Tomatoes and Spinach

This is a great week-night meal.  What I mean by that is that it takes nothing to put together and if you have the lentils already cooked it takes less than 20 minutes to go from dark kitchen to dinner on the table.  It may not be a meal that knocks your socks off, but it's tasty and deceptively filling.  My dear husband, who usually eats quite a bit, couldn't finish what was on his plate and I went to bed feeling still-stuffed to the brim!

We served these in pitas but they would have done well in whole wheat tortillas, too. If I'd had Gorgonzola or Feta in the fridge (items the inside of my fridge hasn't seen in 2 years) I would have sprinkled some on!  Great for a summer picnic, and keeps really well.  I served these with some roasted sweet potatoes and a salad.

Slightly adapted from this recipe.

Lentils with Italian Tomatoes and Spinach
serves 4-6

  • 1 1/2 cups dry lentils + 3 cups water/broth mixture
  • 1 med onion, chopped
  • 1 TBLS minced garlic
  • 2 tsp cumin, divided
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 can Italian diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 6 oz, or 4 cups packed chopped spinach
  • Pepper to taste
  • Whole wheat pitas or tortillas (GF options if going that route)
-- Cook lentils.  Or, if you already have 3ish cups of lentils hangin' out in your fridge, pull those out.
-- Saute onion in a little oil in a large skillet 8 minutes.  Add garlic and 1 tsp cumin and oregano.  Saute 1 minute.
-- Add cooked lentils, tomatoes, spinach, and 1 tsp cumin.
-- Cook, uncovered, until spinach is completely wilted. About 5 minutes.
-- Season with pepper to liking and spoon into pitas or tortillas

Monday, June 17, 2013

Super "C" Salad

The weekend is almost here and what better way to celebrate than with a fabulous fun salad with a lot of "C"'s in it!

I had a salad very similar to this back in Ohio at one of the local market's "Salad Bar".  It was set up like Whole Foods and I was with a friend and we had fun pursuing the "super salads", seeing which ingredient pairings we liked best.  There was a salad that caught my eye, but it had walnuts in it, and since I prefer breathing to gasping for breath, I passed and picked the salad with couscous and cauliflower.  I didn't notice much else initially.  It looked interesting, was a combination I'd never had, and wow was I surprised.  I couldn't get enough.  With each bite I was finding more and more depth to this "salad".  It was a super-salad, indeed!

So this is my recreation as best as I can get.  The original had whole chunks of fennel in it, and I had no idea what their recipe for the dressing was, but this is pretty close to an exact replication as far as I can remember.  Even if it's not, my taste-buds are happy when I make it.

As the name I've given it indicates, most all the main ingredients have a common denominator.  Couscous.  Chickpeas.  Cauliflower.  Celery. California golden raisins. Clementines. Except for the red onion and the dressing, everything starts with the letter C!

Serve this as a main dish with a side green salad, or serve it as a side salad.  Or, bring it to the picnic you're planning for the weekend.  It's good chilled or at room temperature.

Super "C" Salad  
serves 4 (2 cup portions) main dishes, or 6-8 sides

  • 2 cups cooked Israeli couscous (I used whole wheat)
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups small/chopped cauliflower florets
  • 3/4 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup packed CA golden raisins
  • 3 clementines/cuties (or 1 small orange), segmented and cut into chunks
  • 1/3 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 TBLS olive oil
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 3/4 tsp curry
  • 3/4 tsp cumin
  • 3/4 tsp tarragon
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • salt and pepper to taste
-- Once couscous is cooked, turn out into a bowl to cool off.  Once cool, add chickpeas, cauliflower, celery, raisins, clementine slices, and onion.  Mix well.
-- Mix remaining ingredients (minus salt and pepper) in a small bowl and whisk until combined.  Pour over salad and stir to incorporate evenly. 
-- Taste and season as desired.  Serve immediately, or if possible, after the salad has had time to sit a little.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Crock-pot Indian Spiced Lentils

What is it about easy meals that make them taste all the better?  I don't know, but this one is wonderful.  At least, I thought so. I will say the dear husband didn't love it.  He liked it.  Said it was ok -- but he said he thought the flavor combination was different.  I told him that was what Indian food tasted like.  Since he didn't veto it completely, it's now on a recipe card in my box.

So.  If you like Indian flavors, try this.  It's incredibly easy to put together and your house will smell so good while it's cooking.  I got the recipe from a friend who made it for a small dinner party and got rave reviews for it.  When I looked the recipe up on line, the reviews were dripping with equal food-love-gushing.

It may be odd that I'm posting a crock-pot recipe in the middle of summer, but I do more crock-pot recipes in the summer for 2 reasons.  1) It doesn't heat up my kitchen and 2) I'm out a lot more in the summer months running around with the boys, but I still want to eat good and healthy dinners.  Crock-pot dinners are the way to go!  This meal is especially nice since you can make the rice lentils way ahead of time...which I do.  Serve over 3-4 cups cooked rice

Slightly tweaked from this recipe.

Crock-pot Indian Spiced Lentils
serves 6-8
  • 2 cups dry lentils
  • 4 cups diced sweet potatoes, 1 lb
  • 1 large yellow or orange bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 1 TBLS minced garlic
  • 2 TBLS tomato paste
  • 2 TBLS lemon juice
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger (or 2 tsp fresh)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3-4 cups brown rice
  • opt: 8-10 oz frozen chopped spinach
-- Dump it all in the crockpot, cook on high for 4-6 hours

Monday, June 10, 2013

Knives (and cutting boards)

    When you prep for a meal, chances are you use a knife. Or two. Or three.  

    Prep for me usually involves slicing, dicing, and/or chopping.  My knives are an extension of my hands and I need them to work just as well, not only for efficiency sake, but for safety.  A dull knife is far more dangerous than a sharp one.  And let me tell you, a sharp knife is so much faster than a dull one.  Have you ever tried slicing bread with a dull knife?  How about a tomato?  It takes forever, right?  Statistics actually show that it can take up to twice as long to chop fruits and veggies with a dull knife than with a sharp one.  You can take your knives into any hardware store or nice kitchen store and get them sharpened.

    A common question is what type of knife to use for what items. When it comes down to it, it's all about personal preference. Some knives are designed for certain types of foods, like serrated knives are best for soft skinned tomatoes or bread. When you look at the typical knives in a standard chopping block you have:
  • a couple paring knives (I use my 3.5 in paring knife far more than my 4.5in).  Used for skinning fruits or mushrooms, or detail cutting.
  • a boning knife, which doesn't get used in our house  
  • a chef knife, which can be quite large and the blade is curved so the person wielding the knife can rock it and chop things quickly
  • a Santuko, either a 5 or 7 inch, it has little divots in the metal to help the knife not get stuck in harder-to-cut items, like potatoes or onions, it's the Japenese version of the Chef knife
  • a standard utility knife, very similar in shape to the pairing or chef, my mid-sized. It's my back up when my Santuko is dirty
  • a serrated knife for tomatoes, bagels, etc
  • a bread knife, which is serrated and larged than the tomato knife
  • a slicer -- a HUGE knife that comes out when I need to slice a watermelon. If it's supposed to do something else, I don't know what it is!
For me personally, I don't ever touch my chef knife. I don't know how to rock it to make it cut things quickly and I much prefer the Santuko. In fact, it's the knife I reach for when I'm prepping meals. From celery and onions to potatoes and peppers, it's my go-to knife. I have the 5-in, so it's smaller and I have better control over it. I also feel like it slices better than any of my other knives. For some, though, the chef is their go-to when prepping. If you don't have either of these knives, find a friend who does and prep dinner for her one night to figure out what feels better to you.

When looking to buy knives, the most important things to remember are these: 1) German steel is the best. It's the strongest and doesn't bend and 2) you want the metal to go all the way through the handle. Don't buy a knife set where the metal stops and the handle begins, you'll end up with a broken knife. Also, forged steel is better than stamped.

A wonderful little overview can actually be found here on Wikipedia. It covers much more. Another note while we're on knives. Cutting boards. Whether you prefer the good-old-fashioned wood board or the eco-friendly bamboo, both are porous which means bacteria can get stuck in their. Some feel that since bamboo is harder than wood (harder on your knives, too!) that they don't/won't harbor bacteria as much. I tend to believe that, but you have to weigh it out. With either wood or bamboo, they need to be cared for properly: washed well, oiled, and replaced when they get cut up or "fuzzy". Wood boards are best for fruits and vegetables.

Also, those wonderful BPA-free plastic flexible mats are some of my favorites for the sheer fact I can bend them and slide whatever I just chopped directly into a bowl or skillet.  Just make sure if you go this route, that again, you make sure to clean them well and change them out when they start getting really marked up. (Also know, though, they're not as kind to your knives as either wood or bamboo.)

If you cut meat, make sure you use a designated cutting board (preferably plastic so you can put it in the dishwasher) for meat only as to not cross-contaminate, and wash it very well with very hot water. If you chop a lot of onions and garlic, you may want to consider having a separate board/mat so other items not being cooked with the garlic and onion don't pick up the transfer of flavors.

Best bet? Have 2 boards. A wood/bamboo option as well as a plastic one. For those of us who only chop fruits and veggies, wood is probably the way to go as it's the kindest to our knives.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Peanut Noodles

You know those nights when either nothing looks good to you, or you're just not in the mood to cook, but you need to eat something?!  Usually, if the hubs isn't home, I reach for the flour and milk and whip up some pancakes for the boys.  If the hubs is home, then I reach for the pasta and the peanut butter!

When time is of the essence but I want something a little bit more than just pasta and sauce for dinner, this is my go-to recipe.  It's done in as much time as it takes to make the noodles, and the whole family loves it.  It's also nice because if I make it in the summer, like now, I chill it and it's great that way, too.

My boys love this dish.  All three of them.I do tend to add in some edamame for them, but Scot tells me it's a very filling meal without them.  Also, the picture makes it seem like I'm sparing with the broccoli.  I'm not.  I just figured you didn't want a picture with a bowl full of broccoli and no noodles to be seen. 

Peanut Noodles
Serves 6
Active time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes OR 1 hour for chilled version
Serving Suggestions:  As a lunch, or with bread and salad for a dinner.  For added protein, serve with a side of emadmae, or with the edamame sprinkled on top with the broccoli. 

What you'll need:
  • 1, 1 lb, box whole wheat thin spaghetti 
  • 1/2 cup natural smooth peanut butter
  • 1/4 tsp ginger powder
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/3 cup brewed black tea OR vegetable broth
  • 1 TBLS sesame oil OR 2 TBLS for the chilled version
  • 3 TBLS red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce OR tamari
  • 1/2 cup shelled peanuts (opt)
  • 1, 16 oz, bag frozen broccoli OR green peas

What you'll do:
  • Cook pasta according to package directions.  When it's done, drain, rinse with cold water and transfer to a large bowl.
  • If you plan to have the dish chilled, add 1 TBLS of the sesame oil to the pasta and stir to coat.  Chill for 30 minutes.
  • Steam the broccoli or peas on the stove top or in the microwave.
  • Meanwhile, combine in a food processor, or just with a whisk and bowl, the peanut butter, spices, tea, oil, vinegar, and soy sauce.  Puree or stir until smooth.
  • Mix the sauce in with the pasta.  
  • To serve, plate the pasta and top each portion with peanuts and vegetables.