Quinoa Rainbow Salad

This salad is perfect in terms of ease of preparation and nutritional value.  I’ve already expounded upon the nutritional value of Quinoa in a separate post (read post here) so I won’t go into that again here.  This salad recipe is an adaptation of a recipe on the Food52 website.  It’s a work in progress and changes depending on what vegetables I have on hand.  However, this is the version that I love the most because with all the different vegetables, it really is a complete nutritional meal in one dish. It’s also wonderfully textured with the crunch of the peppers and nuts balanced against the creaminess of the Quinoa. The lemon gives a nice pop of freshness against the earthiness of the kale.  Finally, it’s a rainbow of colors which just makes it beautiful on the plate.

Because it’s also good cold, it’s perfect for carrying to the office for lunch or eating straight from the fridge at night after a long day in the office.  Because this recipe can be made in 30-40 minutes, it’s also possible to make this salad from scratch on a weeknight.  If you decide to do it on a weeknight, you can save time by skipping step 2, starting with step 3 and then completing all the other prep work while the Quinoa and kale cooks.

Serves 4 as a main course:

Qty Item
1 Red Bell Pepper, finely diced
1 Orange Bell Pepper, finely diced
2 Scallions, white and green parts finely minced
1 Chive, finely minced
1/8 – 1/4 cup Feta, crumbled
Zest of 1/2 Meyer Lemon or regular lemon
1-2 tblsp Meyer Lemon juice or regular lemon juice
1 tblsp Walnut Oil or other oil such as olive oil.
1 cup Chicken Stock or Vegetable Stock
3/4 cup Water
1 cup Quinoa
1 bunch Lacinato Kale (a.k.a: Black Kale, Dinosaur Kale, Cavolo Nero), sliced or hand torn into 1 inch strips.
4 tblsp Pine Nuts, lightly toasted
Salt and Pepper to taste
  1. In a large bowl, combine the diced bell peppers, scallions, and chive.  Add in the feta, lemon zest, lemon juice and oil. Mix lightly then set the bowl aside.
  2. Rinse Quinoa under cold water.  For maximum flavor, toast the Quinoa in a dry pan over medium heat until the Quinoa is dry and starts to give off a nutty aroma. Stir it and watch it closely as you toast it so that it doesn’t stick to the pan, turn brown or burn.
  3. In a 3 quart pot, combine stock and water (or use all water if no stock is available, but then salt the water generously so that it taste like the sea) and bring to a boil. Then add the Quinoa to the pot.  Stir it once or twice then reduce the temperature so that the liquid is just at a simmer. Cover the pot and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. After the 10 minutes have passed, most of the water (90%) should be absorbed.  At this point, dump the sliced kale on top of the simmering Quinoa and put the lid back on the pot. Let it simmer for an additional 5 minutes.
  5. After the 5 minutes have passed, remove the lid and check to see that all the liquid has been absorbed and the kale is fully steamed, wilted and bright green. If that is the case, remove the pot from the heat, but cover it and let it continue to steam for another 5 minutes off heat.  If that is not the case, let it simmer until all the water has been absorbed before proceeding.
  6. After 5 minutes have passed, the kale should be completely wilted and the Quinoa should be tender, but firm.  Empty the pot into the bowl containing the other ingredients, add in the toasted pine nuts, and gently mix them all together (toss as you would a salad).  Season with salt and pepper to taste, adding more lemon juice, if you prefer. then serve.
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Quinoa: an Introduction

Quinoa is not a grass, but its seeds have been...

Dry Quinoa

I am knee deep in the middle of a love affair with Quinoa. I know it’s a bit weird to be so enamored of a food, but I’m not the only one. Quinoa has many devoted followers in health food circles, and, more recently, has become quite the trendy food among a more diverse group of diners looking for a nutritious and easy to prepare “grain.”  In fact, Quinoa cooks in less time than rice and has a higher nutritional content, making it perfect for busy cooks.

Quinoa should definitely be in your cabinet. So let’s take a closer look at it:

Quinoa (pronounced like “keen-wah”), although considered a grain, is technically the seed of a plant that is related to the beet, chard and spinach plants. It is native to South America – particularly the Andean countries such as Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia – where it has been grown since the time of the Incas.  It was a dietary staple of the Incas until the Spaniards came and, in an attempt to destroy native culture, decreed it illegal under punishment of death to cultivate Quinoa.  Cultivation survived, and today, there are several varieties available in the U.S., the most common being white, red and black.

Quinoa, regardless of the variety, is extremely good for you, and is sometimes referred to as a “Super Food.”  Quinoa is high in protein, and the protein it supplies is complete protein, meaning that it includes all nine essential amino acids that the body is unable to produce on its own.  Quinoa is rich in calcium, iron, magnesium (which regulates blood pressure) and manganese (an antioxidant).  It contains healthy levels of B vitamins and vitamin E.  It also contains a healthy dose of dietary fiber.  It’s low in calories and is gluten free.  Because of its high protein content, it is an excellent source of proteins for vegetarians, vegans or anyone wishing to cut back on their meat intake. (Click here for more on the health benefits of Quinoa).

Because Quinoa is a seed, it tends to sprout in moist situations.  For maximum freshness, ensure there is no moisture in the quinoa you are purchasing or storing until you are ready to use it.   If stored in a cool dry place, it will keep for several months.

When preparing Quinoa for cooking, it is best to wash the seeds first by placing them in a mesh strainer and running cold water over them until the water runs clear after passing through the Quinoa. The basic method for cooking Quinoa is adding 1 part Quinoa to 2 parts boiling liquid.  Stir briefly then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover.  One cup of Quinoa usually takes about 15-20 minutes to cook.  You will know it’s done because the water will be absorbed, and the seed will be translucent but still a little firm.

When cooked, Quinoa seeds are fluffy with a slight crunch.  They have a very subtle nutty flavor. If you want to enhance the nutty flavor, you can dry-roast the quinoa for 5 minutes in a skillet after they have been rinsed and before cooking them.  Like rice, Quinoa is very versatile.  You can use it in much the same was as you would use rice – pilafs, chilled salads, soups, and stews. My favorite preparation is a very hearty vegetable salad. (click here for Quinoa Rainbow Salad recipe).

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Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken Pot Pie is an excellent way to repurpose any chicken meat salvaged from making stock or to use up any leftover roasted chicken (click here for a Roast Chicken recipe).  Besides, who doesn’t love a nice hearty chicken pot pie – especially during this time of year when its so cold and miserable out.  Until about a year ago, I found the idea of making my own intimidating.  However, while the ingredient list is a bit long, the process is actually not that complicated.

While they are a little too time consuming to make from scratch on your average weeknight, they freeze and reheat well so make them during some weekend when you have time and then freeze them for reheating during the week. It is for this reason that I recommend storing them in individual serving sized ramekins without the top crusts.  When you are ready to reheat them, pop the frozen pot pies into an oven preheated to about 400 degrees for about 15 minutes then add the top crusts and continue cooking until the crust is golden brown and the filling bubbles.  If the crust starts to get too dark before the filling bubbles, cover the top loosely with foil.  Serve with a nice side salad and you’re good to go for dinner. Read the rest of this entry »

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Because Naked Breasts Aren’t that Interesting

Now, now, this is a cooking blog so this post is not actually about a woman’s breasts, but what to do to make otherwise boring chicken breasts more interesting.  The easiest way is to finish off the sautéed chicken breast with a sauce.  And the key to a good pan sauce is chicken stock. Chicken stock is the real focus of this post, because as the great Chef Escoffier said “Stocks are to cooking what foundations are to a house.”  With chicken stock on hand, you can easily make sauces to give a little boost to otherwise simple preparations of meats; you can make rich soups; you can cook grains in it instead of water to give the grains a little more flavor; and most importantly, you can make those rich braises where the meat practically falls off the bone.

There are basically two types of chicken stock – the delicious kind you make yourself and the crappy kind you buy at the supermarket.   OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh.  If you’re really in a pinch, the commercial varieties will do, just don’t tell anyone and do it knowing that you’ll eventually have to answer to your god for the crime.  Seriously, making your own chicken stock is easy and something you only need to do every couple of months so it’s well worth the effort to do it yourself.

The following is a basic recipe for chicken stock. It makes about  2 1/2 quarts of Chicken stock.  Store it in small freezer safe containers (1 and 2 cup sizes tend to be the most useful) and freeze it until you need it.

Chicken Stock

makes approximately 2 1/2 quarts

Qty Item
3 1/2 Lbs Chicken parts and bones (I like to use a mix of necks, feet, parts of the carcass and an old stewing hen, if available)
3 quarts Cold Water
4.5 oz onions, roughly chopped
4.5 oz carrots, roughly chopped
2 oz celery, roughly chopped
1 Garlic clove, crushed
1 bunch herb stems (4-5 thyme stems with the leave removed, 2-3 parsley stems with the leaves removed, 1 small rosemary stem with the pines removed, 2 Bay leaves)
4-6 whole peppercorns
  1. Trim the chicken parts of excess fat and skin and rinse them under cold water for a few minutes (or let them soak for a few minutes) to remove any blood or debris.  Place the chicken parts in a stock pot (or any pot large enough to hold all the items) and cover with the 3 quarts cold water or as much water as is necessary to cover the chicken.  Bring the water to a boil.  As the liquid comes to a boil, a foam/scum will rise to the top.  Continuously skim off this foam until it stops rising.
  2. Once the foam stops rising, lower the water temperature to a simmer.  Add the remaining ingredients and continue to let it simmer for about 2 hours.  Keep an eye on it every 10 minutes or so to skim off any foam/scum that rises to the top.
  3. After about 2 hours, strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl.  Discard the vegetables.  Set the chicken parts aside. At this point, you can cool the stock and prep it for storage, or you can pour it into another pot and continue to boil it down to concentrate the flavor.  I usually boil it down further until about 2/3 of the original amount remains so that I can have a richer tasting stock.  I then usually add a few pinches of salt.

Now that you have some stock on hand, you’re ready to dress those breasts.  And what goes better with chicken than a nice sherry mushroom cream sauce. This Chicken Breast with Sherry Mushroom Cream Sauce can be made in 30 minutes.

While I don’t recommend using the really meaty parts of the chicken, if you did use parts with some meat on them, you should reserve the meat and use it for chicken salads, or this absolutely fabulous Chicken Pot Pie.

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Chicken Breasts with Sherry Mushroom Cream Sauce

Here’s a 30 minute meal that everyone should have in their arsenal.  It does contain cream so it’s not the most heart healthy dish out there, but you can reduce the amount of cream and the sauce still works pretty well.

Qty Item
1-2 Boneless Chicken Breasts
1/4 tsp Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp Pepper
1 tblsp Flour
1 tblsp Canola or other Vegetable Oil
1 Shallot, diced (or 1/2 small onion, very finely diced)
1/4 – 1/2 lb. Mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Sherry
1/4 cup Chicken Stock
1/8-1/4 cup Cream
  1. Preheat oven to 325.
  2. Using a mallet or the bottom of a frying pan, pound the breasts to an even flatness. Sprinkle the Salt and Pepper on the breasts and dust the breasts lightly on both sides with flour.
  3. Place a sauté or frying pan that is large enough to hold the chicken without over-crowding over medium heat.  Once the pan is warm, pour in about 1 tablespoon of canola or other vegetable oil.  Once the oil is hot, add in the chicken breasts and sauté on both sides until each side is golden brown.  When the chicken is golden brown on each side, remove the pieces from the pan, place them on an oven safe platter, cover them loosely and place the platter in the oven.
  4. On medium high heat, sauté the sliced mushrooms until the moisture cooks out of the mushrooms and the mushrooms are soft and brown.  Then add the diced shallot and sauté until the shallots are soft but not brown.
  5. Add the Sherry to the pan and stir to scrape up the caramelized bits in the pan.  Let the Sherry cook on medium high heat until the Sherry is reduced by half.
  6. Add the chicken stock and the cream and let it all simmer on medium high heat until the sauce is reduced by about half and the sauce lightly coats the back of a spoon.  Season the sauce with Salt and Pepper to suit your taste.
  7. Reintroduce the chicken (along with any juices that have collected on the platter) into the pan with the sauce for a minute or two and serve.

Note: When sautéing chicken or any meat, it’s important not to crowd the pan with the meat.  If the meat is too close together, it will steam rather than sauté.  When the chicken is sautéing, it’s good if brown caramelized bits collect in the bottom of the pan, but don’t let the pan get so hot that the bottom blackens.  If the bits go from brown to a charred black, clean out the pan or switch pans before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.

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T’is the Season… for Meyer Lemons.

It’s that time of year again when Meyer Lemons start appearing in grocery stores in New York.  What are Meyer Lemons, you ask?  My understanding is that Meyer Lemons are native to China and are a cross between a lemon and a mandarin.  They were introduced into the U.S. early in the last century by Frank Meyer (thus, the name “Meyer Lemons”) and are now most prolific in the U.S. in California.  If you haven’t ever tried them, stop what you’re doing and go get some immediately as they are truly wonderful.  The flavor is still lemon-like, but sweeter and less tart.  If I were more poetic, I would attempt to describe its perfume, but since I’m not at all poetic, let’s just say it smells lovely.  The skin is thinner and smoother than a regular lemon, and as you can see from the picture, they are a beautiful sun gold color.   Anywhere that you would use a regular lemon, you can sub in Meyer Lemons for a more complex taste.

I didn’t create this salsa recipe, but I use it and modify it regularly (one of my favorite modifications being the use of Meyer Lemons rather than regular lemons).  I know roasted lemons sound weird, but the roasting mellows out the acidity of the lemons.  The salsa is great as a topping for grilled fish or chicken, or as a dip for shrimp. While the salsa is easy to prepare, it does require some resting time so, like most condiments, its best to make it ahead and store it.

I mostly use it on top of a broiled fillet of white fish such as trout.   Just rub the fish with salt and pepper and a little oil then broil for 5-10 minutes depending on the size of the fillet.  Finally, top with a spoonful or two of the salsa.  Round out the meal with some steamed or roasted vegetables and some rice, if you’re craving a starch.The original recipe can be found in John Ash’s cookbook “Cooking One on One: Private Lessons in Simple Contemporary Food from a Master Teacher.”

Meyer Lemon Salsa

(makes about 2 cups)

Qty Item
1/2 Lb Meyer Lemons, skins scrubbed to remove any dirt or wax
2/3 cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup Scallions, finely chopped, white part only
1 Tbl Sugar
2 Tsp Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper (or dry chili pepper flakes)
1/4 cup Fresh Meyer Lemon juice (about 2 lemons worth)

1.Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2.Cut the lemons in half and pick out as many seeds as possible without destroying the lemon. Lightly coat the lemons with a tablespoon of the oil. Place the lemons cut side down in a baking dish (lined with aluminum foil for easier clean-up) and roast uncovered for 25 minutes. Remove, cool and cut the lemons (including the skins) into 1/4-inch dice.

3.In a bowl, combine the lemons, the remaining olive oil, scallions, sugar and salt and stir gently. Cover and set aside for at least 3 hours so the flavors can marry and mellow. The flavor of the lemons will change over the course the rest period.

4.Adjust the seasonings with additional salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.

5.Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze in an airtight container.

Note: you can adjust the sugar and salt to suit your taste and the ripeness of the lemons.

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Condiments to the Rescue

Keeping a variety of condiments on hand is the key to being able to whip up a variety of meals without a lot of fuss on a weeknight.  I’m not just talking about your diner standards such as ketchup and mustard – although keeping a good dijon mustard on hand is always a good idea.  I’m talking about pestos, chutneys, and, if you want to get fancy, preserves.

While some pestos can be made in as little as 20 minutes, most require a little more time.  I find it easiest to prepare some whenever I have some free time and good quality ingredients and then freeze them for later use. The key to making a good condiment (as is the key to making anything), is to use ingredients that are in season and locally grown, if possible. The flavor will hold up better to freezing.

Condiments can very quickly transform a simple grilled fish into something still simple, but divine. It’s also a good way to extend the life of a seasonal delight such as Meyer Lemons (see Meyer Lemon Salsa recipe here).  The following are two condiment recipes that I love and generally keep in my freezer. Read the rest of this entry »

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