Forcing the Season: Quinoa and Vegetable Salad

I’m not sure what it’s been like in your neck of the woods weather-wise, but here in Vermont it was an exceptionally chilly March. Temps this past weekend were more like the middle of the month more than the end of the month. Teens during the day, below zero at night, the only saving grace is it has been really sunny during the day. Wanting to shed my usual winter fare of heavy chilis, soups, and dinners, I decided to create a springtime salad dish one evening in an effort to force the season. And when I heard the forecast of a winter storm approaching, I decided there was no time like the present!

Cucumbers, tomatoes, and chick peas are my usual fare for grain salads, but I thought I would put a tabbouleh slant to things by adding some sad-looking parsley in the vegetable bin, plus some chives. Chives are my favorite alliums, and since my own chives are hidden under a pile of snow, it will be a few weeks before I can snip some. The parsley is optional; if you don’t have it on hand, leaving it out won’t ruin the recipe. Fresh mint would be delightful substitute, but only if you have it on hand.

I decided to buy red quinoa instead of the “regular” (what color would you call that, beige?) and either can be used in this recipe. I like it when I cook it in chicken broth, as it adds a lot of flavor, but since I didn’t have any on hand, I used water.

Perhaps the recipe worked; the winter storm that was to arrive ended up being just rain and the snow is slowly melting. I’ve heard the chirp of the red-winged blackbird and I can see grass outside my window—it’s not yet green, but it will be very soon!

quinoa salad

Quinoa and Vegetable Salad
Try your own version with different salad vegetables. Cooked chicken could be a wonderful substitute for the chickpeas—or an addition! For a little extra zing, top with some more fresh lemon!

2 cups of water
1 cup of quinoa
1 cucumber, peeled, sliced horizontal, seeded and chopped into half moons
1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¼ cup parsley, chopped (optional)
The juice from one lemon (or more)
¼ cup chopped chives
¼ cup feta cheese
Salt and pepper

1. In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the quinoa and reduce heat. Cook until the quinoa is done cooking (30 minutes, give or take) and all the liquid is dissolved. Let it cool.

2. Add the cooled quinoa to a mixing bowl, add the cucumbers, tomatoes, chickpeas, and parsley, if using. Mix well. Add the lemon juice, chives, and feta. Top with additional lemon juice if desired. Serve over a bed of lettuce or on its own!

Recipe Revisit: Spring Matzo Ball Soup

DSCN4285As I was trying to decide what I was going to write about this week, I decided to revisit the very first recipe I shared three years ago, my Spring Matzo Ball Soup, which I actually made for lunches this week. Chicken soup of any sort is comfort in a bowl for me, and adding dumplings, noodles, or in this case, matzo balls, makes it all the more comforting.

I took my original recipe and added and subtracted a few ingredients based on what I had on hand. I usually have some homemade chicken broth in the freezer, but you can certainly make this with boxed broth. I love the flavor of the added fresh dill, it tastes like summer to me, but of course, it’s optional, or you can use another herb. Carrots, celery, and onion are a classic soup combination, but I’ve also added turnip and parsnip if I have it on hand. And if you have some leftover chicken in the fridge, by all means throw it in!

Our early spring, along with our winter, has been terribly chilly, so a big bowl of this for lunch is what Mother Nature ordered!

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Spring Matzo Ball Soup
Since the matzo mixture needs to rest for at least 20 minutes, make that first before you start working on the soup. I like my soups less brothy, so you may want to use more.

5+ cups chicken broth
2 tsp. olive oil
I cup carrots, peeled and diced
1 cup celery stalks, diced
1 cup onion, diced
A splash or two of white wine (optional)
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
A few snips of fresh dill weed
Salt and pepper
Matzo ball mix (see recipe below)

1. In a large Dutch oven, warm the olive oil, and add the vegetables. Saute until soft.

2. Add in the broth, wine (if using), and tomato paste. Bring it to a boil.

3. When the matzo is ready, wet your hands and form matzo into round, one inch balls (about 7-8) and place on top of the soup. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes. Add the dill weed, if using, at the last minute.

Homemade Matzo Balls
I can’t take credit it for this, my good friends at Manischewitz can, as it is what I follow when I make matzo balls. They are the best!

2 eggs
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 c. matzo meal
1/2 teaspoon of salt (I usually leave out)
2 tablespoons water or broth
A little bit of fresh dill weed

Beat the eggs, blend the eggs with the oil, matzo meal, salt, and dill weed. Add broth or water, mix until uniform. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

Hot Peppered Pinto Soup with Garlic

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I love late afternoons in the winter following a snowfall. It’s just gorgeous!

I am one of those people who needs variety in my diet. While I tend to eat the same thing for breakfast, I just can’t eat the same thing for lunch every day. I get bored and tired. And forget about the same thing for lunch and dinner. When I make a big pot of soup for lunches, after about two days I start to rummage around the kitchen, looking for something else to fix for the remainder of the week, and the soup goes into the freezer for another time.

But this soup fits the bill; it makes just two servings, so it’s perfect for two solo lunches or one lunch for you and a friend! And it’s healthy and inexpensive, two other things I look for when cooking. If you want more, it’s easy to double. I decided to throw all the beans in the pot instead of leaving some whole; if you do this, just add a little more broth to thin it out. And of course, this can be vegetarian by using vegetable broth or water! I’ve been making this soup since it first appeared in Cooking Light magazine in 1996, so it’s an obvious favorite!

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Hot Peppered Pinto Soup with Garlic
This recipe originally appeared in the March 1996 issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Serves 2 (serving size: 1 1/4 cups)

Vegetable cooking spray (MVK’s note: I use two teaspoons of olive oil instead.)
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped green bell pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce (MVK’s note: Instead of the red pepper and hot sauce, I used 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne. Zowie!)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 (10 1/2-ounce) can low-salt chicken broth
1 (16-ounce) can pinto beans, drained

Coat a medium saucepan with cooking spray, and place over medium-high heat until hot. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic; sauté 3 minutes. Add chili powder and next 8 ingredients (chili powder through broth); bring to a boil. Stir in half of beans; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.

Place soup in a food processor or blender, and process until smooth. Return to pan; stir in remaining beans. Cook until thoroughly heated.

Happy New Year! May Your 2014 Be Bright!

“Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come
Whispering, ‘it will be happier…'”
Alfred Tennyson

photo

After the ice storm.

I’ve never been one to be superstitious, but I am beginning to believe in the unlucky Number 13. While this year has had the highest of highs (trips to Florida, Newburyport, Maine, and New York City; a springtime visit from my friend, Kats, from Switzerland; hiking all over the state; and MVK’s collaboration with Cooking Light magazine), it also has had some incredible personal lows. A special thank you to my friend, Catherine, and the Eater of the House who have allowed me to keep on writing in the interim.

So cheers and Happy New Year! I, for one, am excited to turn the calendar to a new year. And on Wednesday, I am going to make a double batch of my black-eyed peas and collard greens that I posted last January for good luck, just in case!

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Good Luck Peas
Just omit the ham for a vegetarian version and it will taste just as good! Spinach or Swiss chard can be substituted for the collard greens.

2 teaspoons olive oil
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
½ medium onion, finely diced
3 cups of collard greens, chopped
1 14 oz. can black-eyed peas
1 ¼ cup chopped ham (optional and gluten-free)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Warm the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and onion and sauté until soft.

2. Add the collard greens and sauté until they are wilted.

3. Add the peas and ham, if using. Stir and turn heat to low. Add salt and pepper and serve!

Week Night Dinner Series: Shrimp and Bean Salad

DSCN0419This is one of those delicious dinners that doesn’t take a lot of time to make and is what my nutritionist would call a “balanced” meal: a good protein, good fat, and good carbs.

I had been thinking for some time of creating a salad including the shrimp I had in the freezer and a can of beans I had in the cupboard. So one lazy Friday night when I didn’t feel like cooking, this came together nicely and actually fits into the “Speedy Gonzales” category of last week’s blog and the Work Night Dinner series I began in the spring!

Don’t worry if you have frozen shrimp; when I got home from work, I pulled some out and put them in a bowl of cold water and went about doing stuff around the house. When it was time to make dinner, they were defrosted. Of course, you can buy fresh or frozen cooked shrimp, and that would make it even easier and quicker! This recipe is a cut, chop, throw everything into a bowl, and stir. Dishes like these are the best because they’re so easy!

Helpful Kitchen Tip: I always buy my frozen shrimp raw, because I think the frozen, cooked shrimp can sometimes be tough, even though for convenience sake they’re great. But if you have raw shrimp, they are super simple to cook. Warm a little bit of olive oil in a skillet, add the shrimp, and any seasonings you’d like (wine, garlic, onion) or nothing at all, and let it simmer for about three minutes. When they turn pink, they are done!

This is a perfect summertime dish to share with friends, so make it soon before the coolness of fall is upon us!

Shrimp and Bean Salad
A lot of this recipe is based on how you would like the dish; if you want more beans, more shrimp, more lime juice, let your own creative dishes flow with this! My recipe is just a baseline, go crazy and add other veggies or spices to this!

2-3 cups cooked shrimp
1 can Great Northern or cannellini beans (or another white bean), drained and rinsed
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
About one cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
About ½ avocado, diced
Some scallions, to taste
½ jalapeno pepper chopped, if desired
A little bit of cilantro, if desired
The juice of about ½ lime, or to taste

In a large mixing bowl, add the shrimp, beans, cucumber, tomatoes, avocado, scallions, pepper and cilantro, if using, and stir gently. Add the lime juice. Serve!

I Went to a Garden Party…

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This happy yellow iris was given to me by my friend, Deb, a few years back. It greets me with its bright color every time I come home.

And a couple of weeks ago, I did just that! It was my longtime friend Chris’s birthday. She invited me over to her friend Annie’s house for a garden birthday dinner before heading out to hear music that evening. It was hotter than blazes that day, but we had a spot in the shade with some cool dishes to eat that was just perfect. Small salads that require no cooking and “finger sandwiches” were served alongside sun tea and white wine. It was the perfect dinner, and it got me thinking of garden parties and how much fun they are, mostly for the variety of food!

Annie served these “sandwiches” that were delicious, so of course I had to go home and recreate them. I always am looking for quick ideas for weekday lunches or dinner during the week when I don’t feel like cooking.

I’ve gotten in the habit recently of poaching a couple of boneless chicken breasts on Sunday or Monday for the coming week. This is great, so you have fresh chicken available to add to salads, make chicken salad, or to make these delicious sandwiches. Once the chicken is cooled from baking, I either dice or shred it so it’s ready to go.

I have no idea what to call these, Chicken Rollups? Chicken Cigars? Chicken Finger Sandwiches? Whichever name you select, it doesn’t require a “recipe” per se. Take one tortilla and add some pesto sauce. (My homemade recipe can be found here or you can use store-bought.) Cover it with some shredded chicken and some lettuce. Roll up like a cigar and slice in half. If you’re gluten-free, substituting Boston lettuce leaves for the tortilla shells would be perfect, you might need to use a toothpick to be sure everything stays in place.

As I was making these, I thought some shredded carrot would make a nice addition for some added crunch. Or maybe some nuts? But the pesto has such flavor and the lettuce adds a bit of crunch, you don’t really need to worry about adding anything else if you don’t want to. Serve with a side of fruit or another cool salad. These would be perfect to take along on a picnic, to the beach, or a short hike this summer.

Reminisce we did that evening, as we were with Chris ten years ago when she celebrated another milestone birthday. This year’s party was more intimate, but I admit, more fun. We celebrated until the temperature broke and then made our way home in the cool of the evening.

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Week Night Dinner Series: Bean Burritos

Sometimes, just sometimes, you are rewarded for waking before dawn.

Sometimes, just sometimes, you are rewarded for waking before dawn.

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding dinner is coming later and later with the terrific weather we’ve been having these days. So when I get in the house, I want to eat–STAT!

I created this one evening after mowing the lawn and was home alone for dinner. It’s quick and easy to make, and is basically cobbling together ingredients together, putting it in the oven, and eating! Just open up a can of black beans, drain and rinse, and in a large bowl add the beans and a dash or two of dried cumin for flavor. You can also add a little spritz of fresh lime juice if you have it. Take a flour tortilla shell, add a couple of tablespoons of grated sharp cheese (or slice off thin slices instead), add ½ cup of the beans, ¼ cup of frozen corn, roll, and place in a baking pan. Add a little more cheese on the outside, cover with foil, and heat at 350 for roughly 20 minutes or so.

I try to make these work night dinner recipes just five ingredients, but with this recipe there are lots of additions that could make this even more fabulous: avocado, lettuce, green scallions, salsa, and sour cream. If you want to bypass the beans and have leftover meat in the fridge, this would be terrific with leftover chicken, pork, or steak.

My recipe makes one burrito, so you can either whip up a batch for leftovers, or you can add some scallions and grape tomatoes to the remaining beans and have it for a  later meal as a side salad!

This photo doesn't really do the dish justice, but trust me, it's delicious!

This photo doesn’t really do the dish justice, but trust me, it’s delicious!

Bean Burrito for One
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
A dash or two of cumin
Fresh lime juice, optional
5 Tablespoons grated sharp cheddar cheese
¼ cup frozen corn
1 flour tortilla

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Take the drained and rinsed black beans and place in a mixing bowl. Add the cumin and lime juice, if using.

3. Place the tortilla shell on a baking pan. Add 2-3 tablespoons of cheese, ½ cup of black beans, and the corn. Roll and place seam-side down. Top with the remaining cheese.

4. Bake for about 20 minutes. Serve atop a bed of lettuce, with avocado, salsa, and sour cream on the side. Add green scallions if desired.