Creative Quinoa – Goin’ Crunchy!

COOL NEW USES FOR A POPULAR GRAIN

Quinoa Crunchies

A few weekends ago, Mark Bittman, NY Times food writer, wrote a fabulous article about new uses for Quinoa. I decided to try the recipe for Quinoa Crumbs with some leftover cooked Red Quinoa I had tucked away in the fridge. Bittman had a variety of flavor options including Smoky Paprika, Sesame Nori, Pumpkin Seed Spice and more. I decided to be daring and create my own flavor blend and used Maldon Sea Salt and  Zahtar Spice Blend, which ended up quite yummy.  Continue reading

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Join a Fun Virtual Cooking Club from the Ocean House

Jerusalem DinnerThis fall, I decided to do a first and take a cooking class. Not just any cooking class – one at the Ocean House in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. Now if you haven’t been to The Ocean House, you don’t know the significance of this. The Ocean House is a legendary vacation destination, which was demolished and painstakingly rebuilt to its former glory. When in western Rhode Island it is a must see. Check out the website and you will understand.

 Taylor Swift lives down the road and stops by every once in a while. Just sayin’.

Anyhoo, it was a blast. And not only was the class fun, instead of holding it at the resort, it was held at the Pink House. A friend, who grew up in Watch Hill, told me the home was formerly owned by Mick Jagger. She said that they were always on Rolling Stone watch in the summer. Yup, I cooked in his kitchen. (I will now pause for that to sink in.)

It was fun. I am confident Mick knew I was there and wished he were back in Watch Hill. I could feel it in my soul.

But I digress;  this isn’t about that experience (which by the way is a definite Do Again), it is about a virtual cooking club.

You see, the other day Janice McEachen, the Food Forager for The Ocean House, (cool job, huh) contacted a bunch of us to see if we wanted to start this virtual cooking thing.

I said, “Yeeeees!” And we were off.

Cardamom Onion Ckicken It was determined that our first dish would be from the Jerusalem cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, which I had just purchased. Janice decided our first recipe would be Chicken with Caramelized Onion and Cardamom Rice. It looked good, so off I went to the grocery store.

Now, if I am going to make a special dish, I don’t want it to be for just the husband and me, so I invited my friends Tami and David over as my official taste-testers. I also decided to try other recipes from the book, since I did own it, and chose the Swiss Chard with Tahini, Yogurt, and Buttered Pine Nuts and Clementine and Almond Syrup Cake. Sounds good, huh.

Well, it was.

Swiss Chard with Tahini Yogurt Sauce As a group, we decided that the rice and cake were the big winners. The rice was wonderfully flavored with spices and herbs and the cake was moist and sweet, yet not cloying. The chicken was a little bland, but Janice thought that if the thighs had been marinated with the spices overnight the flavors might be more pronounced. I thought brining the thighs might benefit the recipe as well.

The only other problem I had was that some of the directions for the recipes were incorrect. The Swiss chard recipe told me to squeeze the water out of the chard until dry, which made the vegetable too dense and flavorless. The picture showed a much more moist vegetable than what I ended up with  by following the directions exactly. If I made this recipe again, I would just remove most of the water.

Clementine Almond Syrup CakeAlso, the cake, batter is more of a cake paste and cannot be “poured.” I don’t make cakes often since I am more of a salty gal, rather than a sweet, (My dessert is usually another glass of wine.) so I was freaking out about this misdirection and assumed I had ruined the cake. Well, I hadn’t; it was the star of the meal.

While eating this meal was wonderful, what was even more fun was discussing this experiment via the Facebook page with everyone else who had participated. Now, this is a new group, so there aren’t a lot of us yet, but I must say, it was fun and worth doing again.

Check out the links and Facebook page provided. If you like trying new recipes and discussing your trials and tribulations in the kitchen, try it out. You will find me there!

Honey and Sriracha Glazed Chicken Thighs

 Honey Sriracha Glazed ChickenWell, the floodgates have opened and am I excited! Do Again suggestions are coming in from all over the country, from followers and I couldn’t wait to share the Honey and Siracha Chicken from my Texas/Wisconsin  friend, Myra (Hey, girl!). She told me about a spicy chicken recipe that she and her husband love. It is ridiculously easy, spicy, and cheap. And, with Super Bowl Sunday coming up, I couldn’t resist trying it. I mean really, all it has for ingredients are chicken, honey, and Sriracha. Who can resist that? Not me!

 The chicken is just spicy enough with just a hint of sweetness. I was tempted to tinker with it by adding additional ingredients such as soy sauce, but found that Myra’s recipe was perfect. Although, a sprinkling of sliced scallions is always a nice addition in my book. In fact, my husband, after tasting it, immediately said it was worthy of doing again and has requested that I make it for the big game using wings instead.

 Serves 4

  • 4 bone-in, skin on, chicken thighs
  • 4 tbsp. honey
  • 4 tbsp. Sriracha

Preheat oven to 400°

SrirachaMix the honey and Siracha in a large bowl, until blended. Place the chicken thighs in and marinate for one half hour.

Place the chicken thighs on a foil-lined, rimmed cookie sheet. Make sure you do this step, otherwise you will be scrubbing your pan for a very long time. Not fun. I found out the hard way. Place it into the middle of the oven and cook for 10 minutes. Baste the chicken with leftover sauce from the bowl, and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. To make sure the chicken is done, pierce it with a knife or skewer. If the juices run clear, then they are done.

That is it!

PS: Myra said her husband, Jake, likes to have some extra Sriracha on the side for dipping. Personally, I think he is dipping crazy; but to each his own. I like spicy food, but that is too much for me. Of course, he plays rugby, so he can handle just about anything.

 

 

 

Eggplant Parmesan – Providence Style

Eggplant pretty

Everyone has a recipe for Eggplant Parmesan, so why should you even look at mine? Well, mine is  different. I learned mine from an Italian lady from Providence, RI. they know Italian cooking there.

Mine uses egg instead of breading, so it isn’t doughy – something I hate about most eggplant parms. Also, my eggplant is sliced very thin, so it is lighter in texture. AND mine  only uses Parmesan cheese  (um – it is called eggplant parm – right?) instead of heavy mozzarella or provolone. Plus, even though it is fried, it probably has less calories and is healthier for you. Oh yeah, it tastes great too!

This is probably one of my daughter’s favorite meals. She hovers around to stove while I make it just waiting for the first piece of eggplant to come out of the oil. Many times I have to fight her off with a spatula because she tries to devour all of my fried eggplant before I can transform it into the final dish. That is how good this recipe is.

It may look like it takes a lot of time, but if you prep your space properly, it only takes about 10 minutes to fry the eggplant and then just a few more minutes to assemble the whole thing and you are done. Easy-peesy, lemon-squeezy.

Oh yeah, it is gluten free as well.

Serves 4

  • 1 eggplant, sliced thin (1/4-inch) with the skin left on
  • course salt
  • 2 eggs
  • marinara sauce (mine is homemade – if you use store bought get the best brand you can afford)
  • parmesan cheese

salted eggplantPlace the thinly sliced eggplant in a colander. As you layer the eggplant, sprinkle course salt over the slices. This will remove moisture from the eggplant and make them more pliable. Do not skip this step – it is important.

Let the eggplant slices sit in a sink for about 15 minutes. You will see water droplets all over the slices when they are ready. Rinse the eggplant and pat them dry.

While the eggplant is sweating, mix two eggs, 1 tbsp. of water and a pinch of salt into a shallow bowl. Then place about 2 inches of vegetable oil into a frying pan – I like to use a cast iron pan. Heat on high. You will be able to tell when the oil is at the correct temperature when you drop a small piece of bread into the oil and begins to sizzle and cook immediately.

Fry stationNow set up your frying station. If you look at my picture, you will see that I have my egg wash next to the frying pan with the dry eggplant slices next to the bowl as well. On the left I have placed two paper towels, with four more ready off to the side.

When the oil is ready, dip three to four eggplant slices into the egg wash.  Let the eggwash drip off the slices and then carefully place them into the oil. They will cook quickly, stay at the stove ready to flip them over after about 1 to 1 ½ minutes. The second side will take even less time.

Remove the slices to the paper towels and blot to remove the excess oil. They should be golden brown with little lacy eggy crunchies on the edges. Yum!

Cooked eggplantRepeat this process until all of the eggplant slices have been cooked. You can reserve the slices so that you can assemble the dish later, or just do it immediately. First, place a think layer of marinara in the serving dish, then top with eggplant slices to cover. Then repeat this process until you either get it to the thickness you desire or all eggplant slices are used up.

Or you can make individual towers for a fancier presentation.

Top the dish with a thin layer of sauce and then sprinkle the top with a thin layer of Parmesan cheese. Place the dish in a pre-heated 350° for about 15-20 minutes.

Eggplant ParmLet the dish settle for a few minutes after it comes out of the oven so that it is easier to slice. Serve warm.

In any case, I firmly believe that once you try this method for making Eggplant Parmesan you will never go back. Oh yeah, this method is great for making Zucchini Parmesan as well.

Enjoy!

Cabin Fever “Strikes” Big Time

Game Faces

Baby its cold outside and I am BORED. Two days of snow and no football this weekend while we all gear up for the Super Bowl – time to find a fun, warm, indoor activity to while away the hours. Why not go bowling?

About two months ago, the husband and I decided to go to Hard Rock Café at Foxwoods for lunch and afterwards took a stroll through their maze of corridors hoping to find something interesting to do. Having heard that there was a bowling/club establishment there, we went on the hunt.

 High Rollers is tucked away on a lower level of the casino near the Grand Pequot Hotel across from David Burke’s steakhouse. Look for the escalator to get to both.

Glitzy BowlingEven though we suck at bowling, we think it is fun. But, when there is a glitzy club-like atmosphere with chandeliers, dim lighting, and huge HDTVs scattered throughout, bowling is transformed into high entertainment.  After a good look around, we decided to come back with the kids to try the place out full-on.

The day of our test drive, the front area was filled with football fans. A huge TV was showing a Patriots game and all of the leather lounge chairs were filled with waitresses bustling around refilling glasses and serving food.

As we ventured deeper into the lounge, we found the U-shaped bar only half full, so decided to eat there. The service was friendly and the menu was creative, yet the food selections were still familiar enough that you knew you were in a bar.

I had the grilled salmon sandwich and homemade tater tots with truffle dipping sauce. Everyone else chose pizzas for their meals.  My sandwich was a little bit dry, but the tater tots were delicious. The pizza was a hit and Katie especially liked the spinach and artichoke pizza with boursin.

Waiting for a TurnAfter lunch, we moved over to our bowling lane, taking our refreshing adult beverages with us. Each lane is equipped with a computerized scoring system, leather couches and armchairs, and coffee table. The luxurious drapes and sparkling chandeliers add extra glitz while also providing an intimate environment, which is a nice thing to have when you aren’t exactly an amazing bowler.

What was especially surprising though was how reasonability priced both the food and bowling was. I expected to pay much more because of the surroundings and personal servers, but we didn’t. Thus, this joint is definitely worthy of Doing Again.

PS: There are also fabulous club-like bowling alleys like this in BostonCenter City Philly and just a little north of Center Philly as well. Having been to both of these places, I can attest to their worthiness as well.

Enjoy!

Heather

Raiding the Fridge – Wheat Grain Salad

Per doctor’s orders, I hadn’t been able to eat a real meal for the past two days. Did lose 5 pounds but was hungry enough to eat my cat. Now that I am finally allowed to eat again, I wanted something fast; so I raided the fridge. . . the cat was too fast for me to catch.

This is what I found – wheat berries, roasted beets and shallots, roasted sweet potatoes, leftover duck breast, garlic sautéed mushrooms, goat cheese, swiss chard quick pickles, walnuts, and  salad dressing. And this is what I made! It tasted pretty good.

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Rainbow Chard Quick-Pickles

Last week I made a Spicy Asian Pork Soup that used rainbow swiss chard. After finishing the soup,  I just couldn’t throw out the stems – they were just too pretty.

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Aren’t they just gorgeous?

But what do you do with chard stems besides saute them?

Well, when you have leftover pickle juice, you pickle them!

In my fridge, I had leftover spicy pickle juice from some pickled green beans. ( I like to keep pickle juice on hand for a variety of things, deviled eggs, quick pickled beets -you might be surprised how handy it can be) I just dumped the juice into a medium-sized pot and brought it to a boil.

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Then I tossed in the chard slivers and simmered it for about 5 minutes. I then poured the juice and chard into a wide-mouth canning jar, let it cool, and placed it into the fridge.

It was that easy.

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What can you do with these, you ask? You can top a salad with them to give it a little zing or  put it on top of a pulled pork sandwich or fish taco. Or a hamburger. Or hot dog! Or. . .

I bet you could think of even more ideas.

So, next time you are cooking, think outside of the box. Don’t throw out ingredients like swiss chart stems, make them into something new – like PICKLES!

ENJOY!

Spicy Pork Swiss Chard Soup with an Asian Twist – multiculturalism at its best!

IMG_1876Here is my first attempt at making diet food for this Biggest Loser challenge my husband has joined. I found this recipe in the January edition of Bon Appetit. The original recipe called for Sichuan peppercorns, mustard greens and rice noodles and I didn’t have any of these items. Thus, I decided to forage in my pantry to see what alternatives I had for these critical ingredients. Fortunately, I had a beautiful bunch of swiss chard, pequin peppers, and udon noodles. I figured they were close enough and began cooking.

 I like the taste of spicy food – I also find it makes me feel full longer – but if you don’t want to use pequin peppers, feel free to alter this recipe to your tastes. Also, I personally feel that any good pasta would work for this soup, so don’t let the Asian noodle concept keep you from making this recipe. Finally, the first time I cooked this dish we left the noodles long, which made the soup difficult to eat. Simply breaking the noodles into 2-3 inch lengths made a huge difference to our dining experience.

This dish is ridiculously easy, cheap, and now one of my husband’s favorites. So far he has lost 2 pounds and I am taking credit for a lot of it, thank you. Me and my soup.  Guess that means it is a definite Do Again. Let me know what you think of it! Of course, I have only lost 1 pound so . . . oh well.

** Helpful hint for mincing the ginger and garlic at the end of the recipe. Check it out, it will make your life much easier!

Serves 4

  • 1 small bunch udon noodles, broken into pieces
  •  ½ lb. ground pork
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
  • 3 tsp. peeled, smashed and minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1-2 pequin peppers, crushed, or ¾ crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds, coarsely chopped, or ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 bunch – four stalks of swiss chard, leaves removed from stalks and chopped  (about 4 cups)
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tsp Thai fish sauce
  • 1-2 pequin peppers, crushed – if you like real spicy food like me!

Cook the noodles according to the package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Mix the pork, garlic, ginger, black pepper, hot peppers and cumin seeds into a medium sized bowl and mix together with your hands. Pour the olive oil into a medium saucepan and heat over a medium flame. Place the pork mixture into the skillet and brown the meat stirring occasionally to break it up into small pieces.

Add the chicken broth into the pot with the meat mixture and simmer for about 10 minutes to allow the flavors to combine. Then place the chopped swiss chard leaves, scallions, soy sauce, fish sauce and peppers in the broth and cook over a medium heat until the chard has wilted.

Place cooked noodles in the bottom of a soup bowl and pour the soup over.

 

HELPFUL HINT!

When I need to mince ginger for recipes, I trim off the skin and slice it into thin discs – about the thickness of a quarter. Then I lay DSCN0237the disks on my cutting board and place my chef’s knife with the flat side facing down (see picture) covering the slice completely. I then slam my palm onto the top of the knife. This smashes the ginger (once again, see photo) and makes it crazy easy to mince. This technique can also be used to smash garlic as well.

Enjoy!

The Biggest Loser and Food Trends for 2014

Food Trends for 2014

Food Trends for 2014

Monday evening the husband came home with an announcement. He had joined a Biggest Loser contest at work and was going on a STRICT diet. What?! I have to cook diet food? For two months? This was not in my plan. I mean, just like many others, I did a fine job of binging over the holidays and feel the need to cleanse my system to shed a few pounds, but a full-on diet? I have never done that. So I got researching.

To try and accomplish this task of revamping our diet, I went out and purchased the January edition of Bon Appetit magazine. The cover, with an asian pork noodle soup and the tag line “the new healthy” got my attention. Inside, I focused on the  section that made several predictions for what is going to be trending this year. It appears that we are going to be eating a lot of greens, grains (other than wheat), fish, and local, rather than industrial, meats – such as pasture raised chickens and grass-fed beef. Oh yeah, the gluten-free  and nut milk movement is going to increase as well.

Time magazine though has a different twist on the food trend theme. They are predicting that kohlrabi is the new kale. I remember my grandmother growing this veggie on her farm in western North Carolina. It is a strange-looking vegetable that is usually pickled or used raw like jicama. I grew it a few years ago and had trouble figuring out what to do with the suckers. I think I waited too long to harvest them because many were the size of a toddler’s head and had a thick skin that was difficult to trim. Maybe I should give it another try. We’ll see; I am not convinced that this trend is going to go mainstream.

The most interesting food trend I have heard so far though comes from Joel Stein, a Time magazine columnist. He is predicting, with assistance from Alvin Roth, a Stanford professor in economics, that veganism is going to take over the world and all meat eaters may become officially repugnant. They point to current issues with factory farming and health concerns over red meat as to why these offensive meat eaters are losing ground in popularity.

In the article, “The Future is Now. . .ish”, Roth states, “We already don’t eat whale. We think whales might be smart. The next question is cows.” Well, I for one can vouch that cows are smart. Well, some cows. On the farm, I saw cows, especially Bertha and Bossy do some highly intelligent stuff. I mean, Bertha was a wiz at algebraic calculations and Bossy built a two-stroke engine that was solar powered. Now that is talent! Fortunately for them, we never ate Bossy nor Bertha – just their offspring, who weren’t quite as intelligent. Chalk this one up to survival of the fittest.

A peek into my fridge.

A peek into my fridge.

Thus, with all of this food trend insight, I shuffled off the the grocery and farmer’s market to load up on my hip, cool foods. Once home, I laid them out on the counter and began to formulate my plans for healthy, yet delicious meals for the week. I am going to make that asian noodle soup, pan-sauteed flounder, tofu veggie noodles with teriyaki, and a farro/beet/goat cheese salad (beets are hip right now too). I am also eating a lot of clementines, fruit smoothies, and hot tea with lemon. I will post some of these recipes later this week.

My question to you is – What are you eating right now? I can always use some new ideas!

Oh yeah, and Joel Stein. . .  I plan on remembering all of your predictions for 2014, so you aren’t off the hook. Especially the one about the “obese, polygamist, vegan President on steroids who keeps a brain-dead clone of himself around for spare parts.” Somehow I don’t think that one will fly.

Creative Cheesy Creations

Grilled Cheese with Balsamic Cherry Spread

Grilled Cheese with Balsamic Cherry Spread

This isn’t so much as a recipe, as it is a way of thinking. I love grilled cheese sandwiches. You know this if you have read about my experience at The Spotted Pig and my rendition of the $17 Grilled Cheese Sandwich (which is now $18 by the way!). Because of this undying love for all things cheesy and melty, I refuse to settle for a pedestrian grilled cheese sandwich. I want adventure! Therefore, the other day when the craving hit me, I threw open the fridge with gusto and went rummaging.

Thanks to my generous sister-in-law, Julie, I had a plethora of cheeses and other tasty treats to experiment with.

So, I got creative and made a cheese mixture from what was available. I grated the onion gouda and blended it with some remnants of my herbed goat cheese spread and a few glugs of heavy cream and a dash of salt. Mushed them all together and made a spreadable paste. But I wan’t done yet. I dug deep into the recesses of my holiday leftovers and found the Balsamic Cherry Spread Julie had brought for Christmas and became inspired. After prepping my soon-to-be grilled cheese sandwich, I schmeered a bit of the cherry goodness on top of the cheese to create a new masterpiece.

My husband doubted my creative genius and went for a sandwich sans cherry. Poor guy; he knew not what he had done. But, then he made the mistake of asking for a bite of my sandwich.  Being the loving wife that I am, I complied. Must say that he regretted this  once he took a taste of my delectable delight and swooned. That’s okay. I will experiment with dried cherries and balsamic vinegar to re-create this spread so that he can have a whole sandwich next time.

So, I guess what I am saying is –

Be brave like Pocahontas! Dig deep into that fridge or pantry and try out weird combos. You may have to eat come duds, but every once in a while you get a “ta-dah!!!”

So, now I have to figure out what to do with carrot pickles and leftover duck breast. Hmmm. . . .

Cheers!