Festive Quinoa Salad

It occurred to me after I made this that it features a pretty awesome color combo: red + green! And so I decided to name it Festive Quinoa Salad. I started with a base of quinoa and added dried cranberries, orange zest, goat cheese, pecans, and asparagus spears. The cranberry and orange combo also give it a very holiday feel for me. It's good served either hot or cold, so we usually pack the leftovers for a lunch. The dressing, which uses olive oil, white wine, and orange juice, adds a nice punch of flavor. (Oh, and I promise, this is the start of more regular postings for me--at least until the baby arrives!)


1 cup quinoa
1/3 c cranberries
1/3 c toasted pecans
1/2 cup chopped, sauted asparagus spears
4 oz. goat cheese
zest from 1 orange
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp white wine
1 tbsp honey or agave nectar
orange wedges, for serving


Cook the quinoa according to seller's directions. Toss thoroughly with cranberries, pecans, asparagus, crumbled goat cheese, and orange zest. For the dressing, combine olive oil, wine, and agave nectar, then toss with the salad. To serve, squeeze the juice from one orange wedge over the finished salad.

Serves 4


Salted Caramel Macarons (and why I've been gone so long!)

It's been awhile, hasn't it? We've had an eventful summer filled with big....or I should say HUGE life changes. Number one among these changes is a beautiful, exciting little miracle that made me sick for three months and unable to cook or even smell food, forcing the blog to take a long hiatus. You guessed it, we are expecting a baby! In 3 months our daughter will arrive and we could not be more thrilled. In addition, our family has moved from the fabulous city of Chicago to the fabulous town of Portland. Now that we're settled I expect to be back in the kitchen creating and capturing recipes to share with you once again. This one for salted caramel macarons was inspired by a little restaurant in our new town. Since I wasn't able to be at the restaurant to enjoy them, my husband generously decided to recreate them with me at home. After making these I have to say that fresh-baked macarons are the only way to go! The salted caramel was a bit tricky, but this is a great recipe to practice on because its fairly forgiving--ultimately the caramel gets mixed with butter and confectioner's sugar to make the buttercream filling, covering up any mistakes in consistency.


For the buttercream:
  • ½ cups Sugar
  • ½ cups Plus 3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, Divided Use
  • ¼ cups Heavy Whipping Cream
  • ½ teaspoons Sea Salt
  • 1 cup Powdered Sugar
For the shells:
  • 3 Egg Whites. Aged 1 Day At Room Temperature
  • scant 1/4 c. Granulated Sugar
  • heaping 3/4 c. Almond Meal
  • 1 1/2 c. Powdered Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Cocoa Powder For Color
  • 1 teaspoon Sea Salt For Garnish

For the buttercream:
  1. Heat sugar on medium heat. Stir constantly with a whisk as the sugar begins to melt. Once the sugar begins to boil, stop stirring, just swirl the pot a few times
  2. As soon as all the sugar has melted and becomes a dark amber color, add in the 3 tablespoons of butter and stir until melted. Take the pan off the heat and wait for 3 seconds before pouring in the cream slowly and whisk until smooth.
  3. Stir in sea salt. Let it come to room temperature before using it to make the buttercream. You now have salted caramel! The caramel can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Let it come back to room temperature before using it with the buttercream. 
  4. When ready to make the buttercream, mix the salted caramel with a hand mixer for about 3-5 minutes — you will notice it becomes lighter in color. Mix in the remaining 1/2 cup of butter. Then add in powdered sugar and mix until fluffy, scraping the sides occasionally. 
For the shells:
  1. In a large, dry bowl, whip the egg whites on medium high speed until foamy, about 4 minutes. Slowly add the granulated sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form, but do not over beat.
  2. Sift almond meal, powdered sugar, and cocoa powder into a bowl. The cocoa powder is optional for color — if you don’t want to use it, add 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar to replace it. Add this mixture into the meringue. Fold together using a spatula just until incorporated. Try not to use more than 50 strokes/folds.
  3. Transfer the batter to a piping bag and pipe silver-dollar size rounds onto baking sheets prepared with silicone mats or parchment paper. Sprinkle some sea salt on top of each shell for decoration. Let the shells sit for 30-45 minutes for the surfaces to dry out a bit. Bake at 300°F for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the pans for a moment. Transfer shells to cooling rack once they are cool enough to touch.
  4. Match shells up in size. Once cooled completely, pipe the buttercream onto the bottom of one cookie, and sandwich another on to of it, pushing the filling to the edges. Store in airtight container in the refrigerator. Enjoy!
Original recipe from Tasty Kitchen


Bruschetta, Two Ways

Friends, I am ashamed by this extra-long hiatus. I'm not sure whether I should apologize to you, to the blog, or to myself for taking such a long break from cooking. But between a job interview, traveling, and an illness that left me incapable of thinking or even looking at food, this last month has been rough (don't worry, I'm better now). I've got a bunch of recipes up my sleeve that I'm excited to share, but for now I'm doing a little throw back to these bruschetta that I made last summer. I thought it would be a perfect way to kickoff this extra hot weather we've been having. It's bruschetta two ways: both ways are topped with goat cheese, but one uses grape tomatoes and basil as a finishing touch, while the other uses sauteed leeks.

1 baguette, sliced into 1/2" thick rounds
1 pint grape tomatoes
3-4 sprigs fresh basil leaves, chopped
1-2 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tblsp balsamic vinegar
2 leeks, washed and sliced thin
10 oz. semisoft goat cheese
1 clove garlic, finely sliced
2 tblsp butter
For the tomato version: Chop the grape tomatoes into quarters, then toss with olive oil and vinegar. Add chopped fresh basil and salt and pepper to taste. Let marinate while you prepare the crostini. 
For the leek version: Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add about 1 tbsp oil. Once the oil is heated, add the freshly washed and sliced leeks, still wet. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper. Reduce heat to low and cover the skillet with a lid. Sautee for roughly 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and checking for doneness. Once the leeks are fully softened, remove from heat and let cool slightly.
For both: Make some garlic butter by sauteeing the 2 tbsp butter with sliced garlic over low heat in a shallow pan for 3-4 minutes. Remove garlic slices and brush the baguette rounds with garlic butter using a pastry brush. Spread each slice with goat cheese, then bake in an oven set to 350 degrees until the baguette just begins to turn golden. Remove from oven and top with the tomato or leek mixture. Serve warm and enjoy with friends. 


BBQ Tempeh Sandwiches with Homemade Coleslaw

Ok, so I've strayed from my pattern a bit with this post. This is an honest post. This is a normal-food post. See those potato chips? They're not hand-cut or homemade. The BBQ sauce came from a bottle, and the bun came from a store. The coleslaw? It's not a secret family recipe, its just regular, old-school coleslaw. I'm calling this an honest post because this is the way we normally eat. As in I'm not whipping up homemade sauces and starting from scratch on every ingredient all the time, for every meal--because really, who has the time? I would love to have the time--to spend all day every day experimenting with food and flavors--but there's this day job to deal with. And since the two new recipes I worked on last weekend need a bit more tweaking before getting posted, I decided to give you a normal weekday meal instead. Except this one is appropriately timed for Memorial Day, one of the biggest BBQ/grilling days of the year. And actually, as easy as this meal was to prepare, it felt sort of indulgent, because, as vegetarians, BBQ is something we have basically resigned ourselves to foregoing. And then there's the coleslaw--since I've never actually had homemade coleslaw, I figured it was something that is just hard to make at home. I couldn't have been more wrong! If you've got mayonnaise, vinegar, a knife and a cabbage, you can make coleslaw. So if you've been assigned to bring a side to this year's Memorial Day cookout, try it out!


Travel and a Recipe Edition 1: Nicaragua

I'm really excited to share the first of a new series that I'm starting here on the blog: travel and a recipe. A huge part of my cooking involves borrowed elements from other cultures, especially from friends of mine who are from somewhere else--from Bulgaria to Venezuela to Mexico. I've decided that I should incorporate this sort of "culinary exploration" into my travels, as well.The idea is to expand my horizons by trying something totally new and different wherever I go. This cocktail isn't particularly exotic, but it does incorporate some Nicaraguan staples: lime, ginger, jamaica, and rum (Flor de CaƱa, to be specific, which is part of the Nicaraguan fabric of life, and a top-notch rum, to boot).

Nicaragua is a hard place to pin down: part expat surfer haven, part fishing community, part poor and resilient (its the 2nd poorest country in the Western hemisphere, behind Haiti), and splashed with a generous dose of neon-tropical color and baseball fanaticism. The locals where we were staying lived in cinder block houses where the doors or windows were merely bare holes to let the tropical air in. Farming, for them, is not the romanticized vision that many Americans have of a peaceful, agrarian lifestyle: farming is a way to survive in a country where roughly 40% of the population is un- or under-employed. We saw mothers washing clothes in buckets outside and little girls scrounging through the brush for firewood. We saw men milking their cows in the morning. The country is fertile, with fields that are filled with rice and mangos and coconuts and plantains. However, I got the distinct impression that tourism, not fruit, will be the key export that lifts these communities out of poverty. 

This is not to say that life in Nicaragua is rough. Rather, I was impressed by the kindness and happiness of everyone we interacted with. We were lucky enough to spend 2 hours chatting with a taxi driver that was willing to listen to my choppy Spanish and reciprocate with a wealth of information about Nicaraguan life. His message was roughly this: it can be hard to make ends meet, but family is paramount and our country is warm and beautiful. Warm and beautiful indeed.

Now a couple of comments on the recipe: you may already be familiar with jamaica juice from your local Mexican taco joint. If not, its basically a sweet, red juice made from hibiscus flowers. You can find mixes at most Mexican grocery stores. As for the ginger syrup, I made mine by combining 1 cup shredded ginger root, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup water and bringing it to a boil. Boil until the sugar has dissolved, then reduce to a low simmer for 15 min. Strain the syrup through a sieve and store in an airtight container in the fridge (I transported mine to Nicaragua in a Ball jar). Of course, to prepare the cocktail simply combine all ingredients over ice and stir well. Garnish with a lime slice and sip outdoors on a warm summer night. 


Pasta Carbonara with Sauteed Ramps and Garlicky Croutons

In my last post I shared my first experience cooking (and eating) sunchokes, a little delicacy that I was lucky to find in my CSA box. This week my CSA box exposed me to another new food: ramps. These guys have a much lovelier countenance than the sunchoke--dare I say I find them beautiful? Small, tender white bulbs with soft quirky roots; smooth, purple-hued stems; and clean, flat, emerald leaves. Yes, these are decisively more attractive than the sunchoke, and in my opinion, more versatile and tasty as well. Recipes abound for pickled ramps, ramp biscuits, fried ramps, roasted ramps, ramp pesto (just check out this article). In the end, however, I wanted to do something that would really let the ramps themselves shine (after all, I had never had them before). I settled on ramps with a simple, light pasta: vegetarian pasta carbonara. To compensate for the flavor lost by omitting meat, I added soy sauce and smoked paprika for depth of flavor (thanks to Gilt Taste for the tip). Since the leaves can be a bit stringy, next time I think I will finely chop them instead of sauteeing whole. In addition, since we only had a few ramps, we took the rest of the pasta base and added fresh grape tomatoes and roasted asparagus for a nice, light spring pasta.


Lemon Risotto with Spinach and Roasted Sunchokes

Have you ever had a sunchoke before? I'd heard of them but didn't really know what it was all about until I got a few in my CSA box last week. So I did some research and quickly became absorbed in the ruse of the sunchoke. That's right, this deceptively cute twist of a root has some serious strategery up its knobby brown sleeves.  Thankfully, I am here to shed some light on this tale of culinary and agricultural subterfuge! First thing to know: this tuber is also known as Jerusalem artichoke, but it is not actually an artichoke at all! Rather, it is the root of a type of sunflower that is grown throughout the US. Second thing to know: it may look like ginger root, but it tastes like a cross between potato and jicama. (Oh, the artifice!)  Eaten raw, it has a nice crunch and freshness like that of a jicama or water chestnut, but once baked, has the soft texture of a potato but with a slightly nuttier flavor. But despite its tricky affront, this funny-looking root actually has good intentions. First and foremost, it contains inulin rather than starch. Inulin is a polysaccharide which, unlike starch, cannot be digested by human enzymes. This means the digestive work is left to the bacteria in your gut, which is why inulin is considered a "prebiotic" that helps encourage healthy flora in your digestive tract as well as aiding in calcium absorption (hence the addition of inulin to organic yogurts). Plus, the limited human digestion of inulin means it won't cause blood sugar spikes like other carbohydrates. To top off these healthful effects, sunchokes are also full off potassium, iron, fiber, niacin and thiamine. Ok, so you're about to let the poor awkward guy off the hook, aren't you! But this whole limited human digestion issue has other, um, side effects. All those little bacteria working overtime to digest the inulin in your gut can lead to gas and abdominal pain. Which is why some people do not even consider the sunchoke to be human food, but rather something best left to its previous device as fodder for pigs or future use as biofuel. (Disclaimer: neither my husband nor I experienced these unsavory side effects, and sensitivity to inulin can vary widely among individuals.)

Curious that something like this has been propelled to the heights of haute-cuisine isn't it? 

Anyhow, I've devoted so much time to the sunchoke that I forgot to tell you what I really wanted to say, which is that risotto is super easy to make, in fact it has perhaps the highest deliciousness-to-effort ratio I can think of. And if you're unsure about whether or not to trust the sunchoke, you can just start with a few slices topping your risotto, or substitute with something else entirely (like fingerling potatoes or roasted parsnips).


Heritage General Store

A couple weekends ago I got a chance to stop by Heritage General Store, a new cafe in Lincoln Park that serves Stumptown coffee and Mast Brother's chocolate. 'Nuff said, right? To top it off they have a welcoming, light-filled space where you can sip your espresso while taking care of the bike repair that you will inevitably need if you spend enough time cruising the lakefront bike path (not that I would know anything about, um, crashing into pedestrians or anything like that). Of course, there's an Intelligentsia not too far away....but for my money's worth, Stumptown is better. That's right, I said it. So call me a bad Chicagoan. Anyhow, if you're in the neighborhood, swing by on a Saturday morning and try some espresso and a maple pecan chocolate bar (yum!).
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