QUINOA TABBOULEH – Super Food, Super Good!

QUINOA TABBOULEH

QUINOA TABBOULEH

Up until a couple of years ago I had never heard of quinoa. Suddenly it’s everywhere and all the cool people are eating it. Well, I may not be “cool”, but I AM room temperature and like to know what’s going on.

What’s going on is the revival of an ancient grain called quinoa (pronounced “keen’-wah”). It’s high in protein and lacks gluten (which has become the bad-boy of the food world these days). It also cooks really fast – it’s done is 10-15 minutes.

I decided to make tabbouleh, replacing the traditional bulgur with quinoa. Excellent!

Quinoa Tabbouleh is one of those multifaceted dishes that makes for a light lunch coupled with a hearty yeast roll, a substitute for a green salad, or a tangy side dish to accompany your entrée.

Even better, it’s easy to make and can be prepared well ahead of time. One less thing to do during that hectic count-down period when you’re trying to have everything done at the same time. (Don’t even think of talking to me during crazy-time!)

NOTE:  An easy way to chop parsley is to put washed parsley in a cup and snip away with your kitchen shears.

Chop parsley using kitchen shears

Chop parsley using kitchen shears

QUINOA TABBOULEH – makes 6 cups

  • 1½ cups uncooked quinoa
  • 1¾ tsp sea salt
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¾ cup lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • ¼ tsp ground pepper
  • 2 cups tomato, chopped
  • 1½ cups parsley, finely chopped (measure before chopping)
  • 1 1/3 c cucumbers, chopped
  • 4 scallions, sliced

Cook quinoa by bringing 3 cups water and quinoa to a boil, then simmering covered until water is absorbed (about 10-15 minutes).  Stir every few minutes, keeping an eye out so it doesn’t burn. Let cool.

Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate until serving. It will keep for days.

 

 

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SPINACH PIE – Popeye Approved!

SPINACH PIE

SPINACH PIE

Spinach is one of those really-good-for-you foods that I tend to put off making. Why? Because I hate cleaning it. If you’ve ever bought fresh spinach, you know what I mean – it’s very muddy. Even when the store does its best to sell clean bunches, I always find dirt in there. Consequently, I wash each leaf under running water, getting in every nook and cranny – after all, I don’t know what’s in that mud.

I admit it – I’m a wee bit overly cautious. (Okay – paranoid!)

I realize life would be easier if I used frozen, but I worry they didn’t clean their spinach very well. Running water over frozen spinach is almost pointless.

All that being said, whenever I do make a spinach dish, I’m glad I did. It’s delicious, healthy, and I always feel I’ve done a noble thing when finished. Then I chide myself for not cooking spinach more often.

My Spinach Pie is a lovely combination of spinach, raisins, and olives, topped with mozzarella, and encased in a hearty crust.

You may be fearless (or less paranoid) when it comes to spinach, but cringe at making a yeast dough. I’m here to tell you, yeast doughs are easy as…(wait for it)…pie. HONESTLY! They’re a piece of cake. (I’ll stop now.) So take a deep breath and I’ll walk you through this Spinach Pie recipe that everyone loves.

NOTE: I prefer to use canned black olives with jalapeños for added kick, but the plain ones are fine.  You can also use kalamata olives, if you like.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: There are 3 olive oil amounts listed separately. The grand total is 5½ T, but I listed them in the amounts to be used for different purposes. The olive oil used to grease the rising bowl, casserole dish, and brush on the dough are not included in this total.

SPINACH PIE

Crust:

  • ¾ cup water, approximately 100º Fahrenheit
  • 2¼ tsp dry yeast
  • 2¼ cups all purpose flour
  • 1½ T olive oil
  • ½ T salt

Filling:

  • 1 lb fresh spinach (stems are included in this weight)
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed
  • ¼ cup onions, finely chopped
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1   4-oz can black sliced olives (with or without jalapeños)
  • ¾ cup raisins
  • freshly ground pepper
  • ½ lb mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 3 T olive oil

Stir yeast into water and let proof for about 5 minutes.

Put 2 cups flour, the 1½ T olive oil, and salt into your food processor. Turn it on and slowly pour the proofed yeast water through the pour spout.  Let run until the flour is incorporated. The goal is for the dough to form a ball. Add more flour tablespoon by tablespoon until this happens. Then, run the machine about 45 seconds to knead the dough.

Note:  If you don’t own a food processor, you’ll have to mix and knead the dough by hand. You can use the time it takes to knead the dough to think about how to save up for a food processor.

Press the dough ball into an olive oil greased bowl, then flip the dough so the entire ball is greased. Cover with a tea towel and let rise for 1 hour.

While dough is rising, prepare the filling (which can also be done ahead of time). Remove and discard the spinach stems. Thoroughly wash spinach leaves, shake to remove excess water, then grab handfuls of leaves and slice. Don’t worry about the size or shape of the sliced leaves – once cooked, the leaves wilt.

In a large pot heat the 1 T olive oil. Sauté the onions, garlic, and cayenne pepper for 5 minutes. Add in the olives, raisins, ground pepper, and spinach. Cook until the spinach is wilted and the liquid boils down a bit. (If you’ve never cooked fresh spinach before, you’ll be amazed by how much the spinach wilts – see photo.) There will still be some liquid – don’t worry about it.

Raw spinach wilts down to nothing.

Raw spinach wilts down to nothing.

Mix the mozzarella and 3 T olive oil together in a bowl.

Preheat oven to 400º Fahrenheit.

When dough has risen, take two thirds of the dough and, on a well floured board, roll into a rectangle large enough to cover the bottom and sides of an 8″x 10″ casserole dish (or comparable size). Liberally grease the casserole dish with olive oil, then carefully place dough. Brush dough with more olive oil.

Tilt the pan containing the spinach, allowing the liquid to drain away. With a slotted spoon, remove the mixture and spread evenly on top of dough. Then sprinkle on cheese.

Roll out the remaining dough into a rectangle large enough to cover top. Lay this piece in place, and roll the edges of the bottom and top dough together. The filling is now completely encased.  You can brush the top with water, milk, or an egg wash, if you like. Make 3 slits in the top dough.

Bake at 400º Fahrenheit for 35 minutes.

 

 

 

 

VALENTINE PRETZELS – Feel The Love!!!

valentine pretzels

Yikes! Valentine’s Day is fast approaching.  There are so many people to whom you’d like to give a little something, but your wallet may still be reeling from the holidays. What to do?

How about baking homemade treats that are sure to make you the most popular Valentine around? Oh, I can hear the excuses now: “I don’t know how to bake.”  “I don’t know what to make.”  “I don’t have time.”

Thank goodness you came to me.

If chocolate, caramel, and salty pretzels sound good, then I have a fool-proof recipe for you that can be put together in minutes: VALENTINE PRETZELS!

A popular version of this recipe uses small pretzel twists. The problem is the candy melts through the holes. So I looked in the cracker aisle and found the perfect solution:  a new product from Keebler (and, no, they’re not paying me) called Town House Pretzel Thins with sea salt. Not only are they the right taste and construction – THEY’RE HEART SHAPED!!! Products are pictured below to aid in your search.

IMG_1356

VALENTINE PRETZELS

  • Keebler Town House Pretzel Thins – sea salt flavor
  • Rolo candies (or other caramel filled candy)
  • pecan halves, lightly toasted

You’ll need one of each per Valentine Pretzel.

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit.

Place crackers salted side down on ungreased cookie sheet, so that they’re curving downwards.  I place the crackers salted side down so that your tongue gets bathed in salt as you bite into the chocolate and caramel. Don’t worry if you forget – they’re still delicious!

Top with unwrapped candy. Bake for approximately 4 minutes, until candy is soft but still retains its shape. Remove from oven.

Press one pecan half into each softened candy, firmly enough that the pecan embeds into the candy, but not so hard that the caramel comes squirting out.

Let cool either on the counter or briefly in fridge.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fast And Easy FETTUCCINE PRIMAVERA: Molto bene!!!

Fettuccine Primavera

FETTUCCINE PRIMAVERA

Think “fettuccine” and the word “fattening” probably comes to mind. Well, if you want fettuccine alfredo, then “heart attack on a plate” is an appropriate leap. But the high calories and cholesterol come from the butter and cream, not the pasta. The noodles themselves are only about 210 calories per 1½ cup of cooked fettuccine.

Fettuccine Primaverde is one of those dishes I make when I want something light and/or fast. Washing and chopping the veggies is the longest part – cooking is done in about 5 minutes. If you make the pasta noodles (which I do), then it takes a bit longer. The last time I made Fettuccine Primaverde I used leftover fettuccine pasta from the night before, so I enjoyed the benefit of homemade noodles without the effort. Dinner was ready in 20 minutes!

This recipe makes enough for 3-4 people, depending on how large the portions are. If you purchase the pasta, cook the amount you’ll need. If you’re making the pasta, use 1½ cups flour and 2 eggs.

FETTUCCINE PRIMAVERA – makes 3-4 servings

  • 3 T butter
  • 3 T olive oil (I use extra virgin)
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 12 mushrooms (about 7 oz), coarsely chopped
  • 10 stalks asparagus, sliced into 1″ pieces
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1/3 cup kalamata olives
  • ½ cup vegetable stock (I use homemade: Homemade Vegetable Stock)
  • about ¼ cup Romano cheese, shredded
  • 1½ T pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 3-4 servings fettuccine pasta, cooked

Melt butter and oil together in 10″ skillet. Add in garlic and cayenne pepper. Sauté for 1 minute.

Add in mushrooms, asparagus, and red pepper. Sauté about 2 more minutes.

Add in vegetable stock and olives. Bring to a low boil. Let cook another couple of minutes. Test the asparagus – when it can be pierced with a fork, but is NOT mushy, it’s finished.

To serve, pile fettuccine pasta in a bowl or on a plate and ladle veggies over it. Sprinkle on cheese and pine nuts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Life Sends You Lemons…Make LEMON ZINGER CUPCAKES!

Lemon Zinger Cupcake

LEMON ZINGER CUPCAKE

My friend, George, thoughtfully bestowed upon me a bagful of lemons from his garden. As most of you know, once nature’s bounty has been picked, there’s only so long before those fresh and flavorful fruits and veggies turn into mushy fodder for the compost heap. So I needed to come up with some ideas to take advantage of these luscious lemons.

There were the usual options of lemon cream pie, lemon bars, the obvious lemonade, and, of course, as self-proclaimed Queen of Freeze, I realized I could have just frozen the juice in ice cube trays and dealt with the dilemma later.

Then it came to me:  Lemon Zinger Cupcakes.

I knew exactly what I wanted:  a delicate cake crumb that packs a lemony wallop. I tried a couple of recipes that I found online, but they were rubbery, sticky, and didn’t have the lemon punch.

So I set about creating my own lemon cupcake recipe. I’ve been baking my whole life – how hard could it be? Oh – it be hard! Believe me, creating a cupcake recipe isn’t exactly….well, a piece of cake. With cooking, you can change a recipe by adding this or that in the amount you want. Baking is a whole different world! There’s a science to baking that must be respected or your recipe will be a dismal flop.

For the past week I’ve been learning about what makes a cake wet, dry, sink in the middle, rubbery, and have an even crumb rather than tunnels. The flour has to be in the right proportion to the sugar, the eggs to the fat, and the eggs and liquid to the sugar. Then there’s the baking soda versus baking powder dilemma. Finally, with a lemon cupcake, I needed to get the most flavor I could without over-wetting the cupcake. Yikes! So much to learn!!!

Since I was creating this Lemon Zinger Cupcake recipe to post on my blog, I wanted it to be user friendly. My criteria was:

  1. Use melted butter rather than softened. Who can remember hours ahead of time to remove the butter from the fridge? Most cake recipes use softened, but I tested the same recipe with melted and softened – there was no difference.
  2. Use salted butter. This is what’s in most of our refrigerators. When you buy unsalted, you have to buy at least 2 cubes – what do you do with the other if you normally don’t bake?
  3. Use all-purpose flour. Not everyone keeps cake flour around. There was no difference in my taste test.
  4. Use whole eggs rather than yolks or whites. It’s wasteful to throw out the unused part, and you can only freeze whites – unused yolks have to be used within a day or two.

I was a woman on a mission! So this past week I took one for the team (because I’m that kind of gal) by baking and sampling batch after batch of evolving LEMON ZINGER CUPCAKES recipes. But it was worth it because I finally came up with exactly the texture and flavor I wanted. I topped them with a vanilla buttercream frosting. While some people choose a lemon frosting, I think the buttercream better complements the powerful lemon zing.

Sliced Lemon Zinger Cupcakes

Sliced LEMON ZINGER CUPCAKE

It should come as no surprise that my freezer is loaded with lemon cupcake rejects to be used in some future recipe. They all tasted good, but the texture flavor wasn’t what I wanted for this recipe. Waste not, want not!

Speaking of freezing, cupcakes – frosted or not – freeze really well. Honestly! My LEMON ZINGER CUPCAKES recipe yields 9 cupcakes, which is kind of a skimpy number. If you need additional, double the recipe, then freeze the extras (if any). Don’t try to triple or more – the batter needs to be baked as soon as it’s mixed.

LEMON ZINGER CUPCAKES – makes 9 cupcakes

  • 1¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp baking soda (NOT powder)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 6 T salted butter
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 T lemon juice
  • 1 T lemon zest, packed in the measuring spoon (don’t be stingy)
  • ¼ cup milk (I used nonfat)
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • optional (but not really necessary) for extra zing – ½ tsp lemon extract

NOTE:  Ingredients must be at room temperature.

Mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.

Melt the butter. Remove from heat just before it’s completely melted – it will continue to melt. (You don’t want butter too hot or it will cook the eggs.) Pour into the mixing bowl of an electric mixer. Add in the sugar and beat at medium high for 4 minutes.

Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well with each.

Add and mix in the lemon juice and zest (and lemon extract, if using).

Add in about half the flour mixture and VERY GENTLY mix in. It’s okay if there’s still flour unincorporated. You don’t want to over mix cupcakes or they’ll be tough. You can use your electric mixer, but keep it at the lowest speed and beat for just a few seconds.

Add in the milk and vanilla, and VERY GENTLY mix in.

Add in the rest of the flour and (you guessed it) VERY GENTLY mix in.

Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.

Fill muffin cup liners 2/3 full with batter. Put a little water into the empty cups so they don’t scorch.

Bake for 13-16 minutes. DON’T OPEN OVEN DOOR BEFORE 13 MINUTES! Test for doneness by lightly pressing center with your finger. If it springs back, it’s done. Do this fast – you don’t want the oven to cool from the open door.

When done, take pan from oven and let sit for 1 minute before carefully removing cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

VANILLA BUTTERCREAM FROSTING – makes about 2 cups, enough for above recipe plus extra

  • ½ cup salted butter, softened
  • 4 cups confectioners sugar (I never sift, but you can, if you want)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5-6 T milk (I used nonfat)

Put the butter out to soften when you start the cupcakes (or earlier, if you can remember). Cut it in small pieces to soften quicker.

Cream together the butter and sugar at medium high speed of an electric mixer. Add in the salt and 2 T milk, and beat at medium high. Continue to add milk one tablespoon at a time, beating well with each addition, until you get the consistency you want. If you add too much milk, the frosting will be too thin, especially if you’re piping it. If this happens, just add more confectioners sugar. If it gets too thick, add more milk.

You can freeze leftover frosting. It’s always nice to have some extra on hand.

NOTE: I decorated the cupcakes with yellow sprinkles and a lemon coated almond.