Breakfast Quinoa — Take I

Every kitchen-minded friend of mine has one or two key ingredients that they just can’t imagine surviving without — and I’m no different. Fresh garlic, olive oil, avocado, kale… Those are definitely some of my favorites, but there is one thing I am even more loyal to — and that’s quinoa.

I remember the first time I heard about quinoa. I was a newly recommitted Weight Watchers member (for possibly the 3rd or maybe 4th time) and I was on a mission to find some new-to-me healthy, whole grains that didn’t involve the words “brown” or “rice”. And after searching high and low, I finally came across a small package of this mysterious new ingredient. And it didn’t take me long to become attached, finding recipes to eat this for every meal — dinner, lunch, and even breakfast.

So when I heard about someone using quinoa in place of oatmeal, my interest was piqued. After some trial and error, I found success with this recipe. Fun fact? This recipe was even featured by FitSugar during their “Get Fit for 2010” challenge — go me! And while that may have been well over 2 years ago, that recipe is still going strong in my kitchen.

This is also a great recipe to make ahead for a week full of healthy breakfasts. I usually whip up a batch of this on Sunday afternoons, so all I have to do is add my fruit of choice and the yogurt, or almond milk, before sitting down to breakfast.

Summertime Breakfast Quinoa

Ingredients:

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and picked clean of any debris
1 cup water
1 cup juice, cider, or nectar — I prefer something fresh-squeezed, or a no sugar added variety
2 tbsp walnuts, chopped
2 tbsp chia seed
1 cup blueberries, rinsed
2 fresh plums, pitted and diced
2 cups of plain yogurt, or almond milk

Directions:

Bring the quinoa, water, and nectar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Let cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 10-15 minutes.

Remove from the heat and let the quinoa cool completely. Carefully mix in the walnuts and chia seed and divide the mixture among 4 bowls.

Top each bowl with an equal amount of fruit and 1/2 cup of the yogurt or almond milk just before serving.

Additional Notes:
There are plenty of seasonal variations that work with this recipe as well — proving that something this good never goes out of style. Keep tuned here and I share a few more of my favorites over the next few months!

What is your favorite “go to” recipe that you enjoy all year-long?

Homemade Almond Milk

Making the decision to start eating “clean” wasn’t one I made lightly — I gave consideration to the foods I already have in my pantry and knew I didn’t want to throw anything away without cause, and I also started thinking about the cost going forward. Being on a fairly limited budget, creativity will be key. Luckily, I’ve become quite fond of the bulk foods aisles at my favorite grocery stores.

Another thing I was trying to be conscious of was my tendency to try to take on too many new recipes and goals at one time — often leading to frustration and a full garbage can of things that didn’t come out as I had hoped or expected. So this time around, I wanted to start with one new staple recipe. Once I’ve fully incorporated that into my routine, I will try something else.

Since dairy is one of the things that I’ve noticed that I’ve become more sensitive to lately, this homemade almond milk seemed a fitting place to start. While it may seem like an overwhelming and inconvenient thing to make on my own — I’ve actually found this version to be creamier and tastier than anything I’ve tried out of a “tetrapak”. While I haven’t given up cheese entirely, or a splash of milk in my coffee some mornings, I have started to reach for this more than anything else. It’s a keeper.

Learning whole foods at Whole Foods

Almond Milk
From: Whole Foods Market Healthy Cooking Class with Chad Sarno
Makes: 4 – 6 cups
Prep time: 5 – 10 minutes, plus soaking time for the almonds

Ingredients:
1 cup raw, whole almonds, soaked (please see note)
4 -6 cups cold water, filtered
1 tsp vanilla extract, optional
1 tsp date paste, optional

Directions:
Place the soaked almonds in your blender. Cover with the cold, filtered water. Add the vanilla and / or date paste –for sweetness — if desired.

Blend on high until almonds are fully pulverized.

Line a strainer or sieve with cheesecloth and pour the milk through, into a pitcher. Once all the liquid has passed through, carefully gather up the edges of the cheesecloth and squeeze remaining liquid through the strainer into the pitcher.

Just a little bit messy!

Promptly store in your fridge. The milk should be used within 2 – 3 days — just make sure to give it a quick stir before using.

Any amount you won’t use right away can be frozen. I highly recommend the medium Ziploc “twist & lock” containers for this, they are easy to stack and stay pretty well sealed. Just be sure to leave some room at the top to allow for expansion — and make sure to use within 1 – 2 months after freezing.

Additional notes:
The biggest key to making this work is the soaked almonds. To best soak the almonds, place them in a bowl or large measuring cup — my 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup works great. Cover with cold, filtered water and place in your fridge for at least 12 hours. 

I prefer to soak them for 2 days, rinsing them every 12 hours or so and replacing the water. Just remember, the softer the nuts — the easier the blending.

I’m not a big fan of waste, so I’ve been “dehydrating” the leftover almond pulp to use as almond meal in other recipes — like Elizabeth’s Paleo Crunch.

Straining the almond pulp

To do this, I simply spread the pulp out on a cookie sheet and let dry out in my oven — on the lowest temperature — for 1 – 2 hours.

What is your favorite whole food staple? Any favorite recipe?

Crockpot Wednesday: Chicken Tikka Masala

This one day, on Twitter… (If only I had a dollar for every time a great kitchen idea and story started with that sentence — well, I’d be more than a few bucks richer.)

But really, on this specific day there was a great discussion going on that was dedicated to that versatile, yet often under-rated and under-utilized, appliance that resides on so many kitchen countertops. There was no shortage of recipe ideas exchanged between this dedicated group of Twitter fans, and in time it seemed only right that we begin to share the slow cooker-based recipes we try out — from the classics to the experimental, there is sure to be something out there for everyone.

I’ll admit, my slow cookers — yes, I have two — are typically reserved for stews, soups, or my grandpa’s applesauce. They aren’t something I look to use when I’m trying out a new recipe, particularly when I’m exploring a new cuisine. But then one night, on Pinterest (I swear I’m not making this up), I saw a pin mentioned by my friend Jen for Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala from the blog, Cooking Classy. Now, I’d never attempted to make Indian food at home — in fact, I’m pretty sure I can count the number of times I’ve eaten Indian food on my two hands. But somehow the fact this dish was done in the slow cooker just made it seem possible. So I did a quick check of my cupboards, made my grocery list, and got to work.

And just as Jen had promised, I was not disappointed. The delicious smell warmed my house for two days — I actually found myself taking the dog out more often than normal, just so I could walk back in to the smell — and every last bit of the dish was gone. No more fear of tackling Indian food at my house!

Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala

From: Cooking Classy
Makes: 6 servings
Cooking time: 8 hours, plus 20 minutes

Ingredients:
5 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 large yellow onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp freshly, finely grated ginger
1 – 29 oz can tomato puree
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp garam masala
1 tbsp cumin
1/2 tbsp paprika
2 tsp salt, or to taste
3/4 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 – 3 tsp cayenne pepper — this will depend on how spicy you like things, so measure to taste
1 jalapeno, stemmed, sliced in half and seeds removed
2 bay leaves
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tbsp cornstarch
6 cups basmati rice, prepared and kept warm
Chopped cilantro, for serving

Directions:
In a large mixing bowl combine the onion, garlic, ginger, tomato puree, yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, garam masala, cumin, paprika, salt, cinnamon, ground pepper, and cayenne pepper.

Stir until fully combined. Pour half of the sauce mixture into your slow cooker. Add in the chicken pieces and cover with the remaining sauce mixture.

Lay the jalapeño halves and 2 bay leaves on the top of the mixture.

Cover the slow cooker and cook on low heat for 8 hours — or high for 4 hours, but my suggestion is to stick with low and slow.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the heavy cream and cornstarch.

Remove the jalapeño halves and bay leaves from the top of the chicken and pour the mixture into the slow cooker. Stir gently. Add the jalapeño halves and bay leaves back to the chicken and allow the mixture to cook 20 additional minutes.

Remove the jalapeño halves and bay leaves. Serve warm over the rice and sprinkle with chopped cilantro for a garnish.

Other #CrockpotWed picks this week:

What is your favorite slow cooker recipe?

Black Raspberry Jam Tea Cakes

It has been a fairly mild winter in New England, so mild that I can count the number of times I’ve needed to turn on my heat on one hand. It also helps that I’ve been in a bit of a baking frenzy, and somehow managed to turn a small corner of my kitchen into my office.

All it really takes is a spark of curiosity, and before I know it I’m buried in a new cookbook with a notebook and pen in hand and my laptop less than an arm’s length away. And sometimes my experiments work out well, like these mini cakes — a perfect treat for a mid-morning coffee break.

Mini Black Raspberry Jam Tea Cakes

Adapted From: The Best Quick Breads by Beth Hensperger
Makes: 8 mini loaves, or 12 muffins
Oven: 350 degrees
Baking time: Approximately 20 minutes

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 – 2/3 cup black raspberry jam, preferably with seeds
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Directions:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour your mini loaf pan, or muffin tin.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, almond extract, and butter. Carefully add this mixture to the dry ingredients and beat until the batter becomes smooth and fluffy.

Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Cover each loaf, or muffin, with spoonfuls of the jam, dotting it over the surface of the batter. Insert a butter knife straight into the batter and gently swirl a few times to distribute the jam slightly through the batter.

Bake in the center of the oven until a cake tester inserted into the cakes comes out clean, about 20 min. Rotate your pan halfway through.

Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the cakes and place them on a cooling rack. Sift the powder sugar over the top of the cakes.

The cakes can — and should — be served immediately.

Additional notes:
Because I had some extra buttermilk to use up, and the first batch went so well, I decided to make a second batch using some chocolate hazelnut spread I had hanging out in my cupboard. While this was a little bit more difficult to distribute through the cakes, the flavor was exactly what I had been looking for — warm, chocolatey, and not too sweet.

What jam, or other spread, flavor do you want to try in this recipe?

Fresh Greens and Grain Plate

First things first, I’m a Midwestern girl. I like steaks, burgers, bratwurst, kielbasa, blood pudding, Chicago-style hotdogs, and proper Italian beef sandwiches. But sometimes I like to change things up. Eat a little lighter. Pretend I’m a vegetarian for a day. Go to an extra yoga class. You get the picture.

On these days, my favorite place to head is the Life Alive Café in Central Square for a nice big helping of their Green Goddess plate. However, sometimes my wallet isn’t quite in the mood to take this trip. My mission was obvious: I needed to figure out how to recreate this amazing, garlicky plate of goodness at home. And since I’d like to keep my good karma in the black, it’s only right that I share my final recipe with you.

Fresh Greens and Grain Plate

Serves: 2

Ingredients:

2 cups brown rice, cooked and warm

6 oz extra firm tofu, rinsed and cut into 1” pieces

2 broccoli crowns, washed and cut into small florets

3 kale leaves, washed and torn into equal sizes pieces

4 tbsp nama shoyu soy sauce

2 tbsp Annie’s Naturals Gingerly Vinaigrette

8 garlic cloves, finely minced

2 tsp ginger, freshly grated

1/2 avocado, sliced

Directions:

Place tofu, broccoli pieces, and kale in a stockpot over a medium-low heat. Let steam 10 minutes or until greens are vibrant in color.

In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, vinaigrette, garlic, and ginger.

Divide rice between two dinner plates and serve the steamed mixture on top.

Pour an even amount of the soy sauce mixture over each plate. Top each dish with 1/2 of the avocado slices.

Enjoy!

Additional Notes:
The reason I left the name a little bit more on the vague side is that I fully intend on trying this recipe out with every single grain I have in my cupboard: quinoa (yeah, yeah — I know it’s not technically a grain), black rice, cous cous, and amaranth.

As for the vegetables used, these are at the top of my “favorites” list so I will keep them as the base from now until the time I develop an allergy to garlic. However, I’m not above adding other vegetable to the mix — grated carrots, fresh-picked asparagus, or even eggplant.

This is a dish that just begs to be played with, tweaked, and redone as much as possible with whatever happens to be in season and is local to you. So play with it. Have fun. Screw it up. Make it better. Just remember to share what works for you. Please.

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