24 April 2010

Quinoa Bowl with Honey-Cumin Lemon Vinaigrette




My Easter Break was kind of an unhealthy one.  A trip to Poland for a conference (oh, pierogis! oh, vodka!), Easter dinner, leftovers from Easter dinner, and 2 days of birthday celebrations, while all wonderful and packed full of delicious foods shared with great friends, left me feeling hungover and kinda sluggish.  I had to get back to the grind last week, and I needed something to kick my brain back into gear for science-time.  Enter: quinoa.

Quinoa is one of those "superfoods."  It's full of awesome goodness.  It makes my brain juices flow.  Not a real neuroscience term, but the metaphor works.  It's food for my brain.  It helps me write about brains.  There's something oddly lovely in that.



Quinoa Bowl with Honey-Cumin Lemon Vinaigrette

Quinoa
Potatoes, cubed with skins left on (if using a thin-skinned variety)
Onion, diced
Garlic
Sea salt to taste
Freshly-cracked pepper
Olive oil for frying

Dressing:
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tea cumin
1 tablespoon honey, or more depending on preference
Dash of sea salt

Garnish:
Zest of 1/2 lemon

Cook quinoa in water or stock according to package instructions.  Meanwhile, fry up potatoes and onion in some olive oil until potatoes are beginning to brown.  Add salt, pepper and garlic and continue until potatoes are crispy.

Whisk all dressing ingredients together and set aside.

Assemble bowl - quinoa and vegetables go in, then pour some dressing over top.  Serve sprinkled with lemon zest.


18 April 2010

Best-Ever Mac and Cheese


So I grew up on a farm in Ohio.  Not exactly the Midwest, but close enough.  As a result, I believe in home cooking.  Generally, my food philosophy is that good food begins with good ingredients and not with a box.  I didn't always feel this way.  In undergrad, I found the ease and quick-preparation abilities of boxed foods to be a delight.  But I was young and I didn't know what I was doing (and not just in the kitchen), so please forgive me.  In the years hence, I have seen the err of my ways and have really grown into a much better cook.  Hooray!  Seriously, because I cannot believe that I missed out on making this awesome stuff for all these years.  I'd like to go back in time and slap myself in the face for ever making any mac and cheese from a box when I could have been making this.

This is the mac and cheese of your dreams.  The side dish of your holiday dinner fantasies.  The coup de grace of boxed mac and cheese mixes.  This made me feel like I was at home on the farm, at my grandmother's dining table.  I really can't say enough good things about this.  Make this.  Do it.




Martha Stewart’s Creamy Mac-and-Cheese
Adapted by Smitten Kitchen, and then by me from the Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The Original Classics

225g (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
6 inches of a French baguette, torn into 1/4- to l/2-inch pieces
1.3 litres (5 1/2 cups) whole milk
60g (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for water
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
500g (about 18 ounces or 4 1/2 cups) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
225g (about 8 ounces or 2 cups) grated Gruyère cheese
500g (1 pound) rotini pasta

1. Preheat oven to 190°C/375°F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place the bread in a medium bowl. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Pour the melted butter into the bowl with the bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.

2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.

3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.

4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and most of both cheeses (leave about 100g cheddar and 50g gruyère aside for later); set the cheese sauce aside.

5. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.

6. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese, and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Cover with foil if the top gets browned too soon. Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.

Serves 12

14 April 2010

Snickerdoodles



I'm an American.  As much as I forget sometimes, I'm always reminded when I bake a cookie like the snickerdoodle.  The first time I made them for my friends "over here", I got some very interesting looks.  People in this country, so sadly, have never heard of the snickerdoodle.  The classic American cookie, with its ridiculous name, got lots of laughs (and mmmmms, and ohmahgods) from my new British friends.

I've always had a great snickerdoodle recipe, and honestly, I have no idea where it came from.  I wish I could say that I found it in my grandmother's cookbooks - but she didn't have any.  I wanted it to be hand-written on an index card in the back of one of her kitchen cupboards, but it wasn't.  Grandma died when I was still too young to learn anything culinary from her (except for the importance of keeping one's man steadily supplied with cookies - that one, I learned very well).  I found this recipe somewhere on the interwebs, years ago, and I'll be damned if I can remember where.  It yields a slightly crisp outside edge, and perfect softness on the inside.

They are best right out of the oven, still warm, standing with your boyfriend in your kitchen.  Yeah, I'm single, but the only thing I can imagine that would make these better is if they were eaten in boyfriendland.  If I had a boyfriend, I imagine he'd fall in love with me instantly upon taking his first bite.  Seriously, if there's any man out there who doesn't appreciate a woman who has mastered the art of the snickerdoodle... well, I don't want him anyway.

**ooh, I almost forgot to tell you - these make awesome gifts.  Stick 'em in a tin or a glass canister, and they make a lovely hostess gift.

Snickerdoodles

2 3/4 US cups (310 grams) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 US cup (227 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 US cups (310 grams) granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Coating:
1/3 US cup (70 grams) granulated white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (190 degrees C) and place rack in the centre of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. 

In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugar until smooth (about 2 to 3 minutes). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and mix until you have a smooth dough.

Mix together cinnamon and sugar coating.

Shape the dough into 1- to 1 1/2- inch round balls.  Coat in cinnamon-sugar mixture and place on the prepared pan, spacing about 2 inches apart.

Bake the cookies for about 8 - 10 minutes, or until they are light golden brown around the edges. My oven is finicky and bakes much faster, so keep an eye on them. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

13 April 2010

Cabbage and Leeks in Lemon Cream Sauce with Pulse Spaghetti


Dear Reader (if indeed I have a reader),

I am so sorry for not telling you about this sooner.  Yeah, this blog is still pretty young, but I feel as though this should have been the very first thing I ever posted.  The world needs to know about cabbage braised in lemon-cream sauce.

I can just hear the 13-year-old version of myself getting all icked-out by it, but my grown-up pallete thinks this stuff is just HEAVEN.  I swear it's awesome, and kinda just-right for this in between winter/spring thing that's happening in the UK.  The weather has been nice.  Some days are actually SUNNY, if you can believe it.  But the veg is still very wintry - cabbage is still in season here (I secretly think winter vegetables are the only things that can grow on this island), but my taste buds are tired and requiring some summery, lemony brightness, even though the nights still have a considerable iciness to them.

So let's rewind for a second.  A few months ago, I picked up some pulse spaghetti at Tesco.  It's a spaghetti made from chickpeas, lentils and peas, and I was so excited to find something this healthy at Tesco (seriously, a chain grocery store?) and for relatively cheap.  The first time I tried it, I just made a standard tomato-and-fake-mince thing.  It was awful.  The flavours didn't balance well and it left me feeling let down.  The health of the pasta was lost in the haze of... something that tasted just WRONG.

But hating waste as I do, I stuck the rest in the cupboard and hoped for some inspiration.

I've been drained, working on... well... seemingly everything.  Life is at a crux right now.  I had zero fire when I entered my kitchen tonight.  Nothing I wanted to make.  A fridge full of veg but no ideas.  Almost instinctively, I grabbed the cabbage and started chopping.  A bowl full of chopped cabbage, and I still didn't know what to do with it.

Then my eyes hit that weirdo pasta in the back of the cupboard.  Toss it all with olive oil and parmesan?  Maybe.  Out came the pasta.  Then I remembered that I had a container of cream in the fridge, and also some leeks.  I had fresh lemons from making lemon yogurt cupcakes.  Normally I never would have thought to add pasta to the comforty creamed cabbage I fell in love with over at Sassy Radish, as I normally have this with boiled brown rice... but the stuff was already boiling happily away.  Ok, I'd give it a try.  Threw in a little spinach at the end for some colour and voilà!  Something yummy.  So yummy, in fact, that I have a little bit of a hard time believing it, based on my first experience with this pasta.  But it really, really WORKED.

Cabbage and Leeks in Lemon Cream Sauce with Pulse Spaghetti
adapted from Sassy Radish

pulse spaghetti (sorry, don't ask me how much)
about 1/4 of a plain white cabbage, sliced into thin strips
1 leek, chopped
vegetable oil (or other neutral-tasting oil) for sautéing
sea salt & cracked pepper to taste
juice of 1 lemon
single cream (enough to cover the stuff, I'm so bad at measurements sometimes)
handful of spinach, destemmed, rinsed and roughly chopped
parmesan cheese for serving

Cook pulse spaghetti according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, saute cabbage and leek in a large pan in some vegetable oil.  Season with salt and pepepr, and allow the veg to soften and brown slightly.  Add cream and lemon juice, and let the mixture simmer until the cabbage is completely cooked-through.  Add more salt if needed.

Add pulse spaghetti and spinach.  Stir to incorporate and simmer just long enough for the spinach to wilt.  Serve with a dusting of parmesan cheese and freshly-cracked pepper.

12 April 2010

Flax Seed Crackers

Did you know you can make your own crackers?



Have you ever read the ingredients list on the back of your favourite boxed crackers?  I did, and no matter how much I loved those little guys, I could no longer eat them.  Pre-packaged food is not only filled with way-too-much sodium, but seriously... what are some of these things?  That handful of Wheat Thins contained, in addition to over 200mg of sodium, lotsa things that I felt had no place in a humble cracker: 3 different kinds of sugar, fake colouring, preservatives.  Things that will hook you.  Things that aren't good for you.

Now, I feel a little bit guilty saying those things I just said about the health of my food.  Because I am known to make some of the most ridiculous desserts.  It's one of my favourite things to do.  But I also believe in doing things the from-scratch way.  I know what goes into my food.  No preservatives.  No fake colours.  Just honest-to-goodness yummy-ness.  And I manage to stay pretty fit, so it seems to work for me.

Last year, I threw myself into the cracker task.  I had never known anyone to make their own crackers.  For some reason, it just seemed like something you could only ever find in a box... it had never occurred to me, in all my baking years, to attempt crackers.  So, I tried a few different recipes.  I had successes and failures.  This is a success story.

I went through a phase last year where I would buy up every ingredient I could find in the flour section of the farmers' market in Atlanta.  I wound up with an abundance of flax meal - flax seeds that had been ground up into a powder.  I bought it before I realised that I had no idea what I would do with it.  I searched for recipes, and while I don't believe in miracles, I found this gem of a recipe from the Flax Council of Canada's website.  Unfortunately, the measurements on the website kind of don't make any sense.  So I've fixed it below.

They were great.  Step aside, Wheat Thins, you crappy unhealthy cracker imposters!  These are my new favourite little cracker.  They make a great snack just by themselves.  Also, they are very nice when topped with a thin slice of swiss cheese, tomato and cracked pepper.  Or Nutella and toasted pine nuts.  Just be careful... they are a bit fragile, unfortunately, so they don't "dip" well.  But they really make up for it in flavour, and (of course) bragging rights.  Seriously, everyone will think you're a culinary goddess, since you have just kicked Nabisco in their, erm... crackers.




Flax Seed Crackers
adapted from the Flax Council of Canada

1/4 cup flax seed
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp butter, softened
1/2 cup whole milk
sea salt to taste

In a bowl of a stand-up mixer, add flax seed, ground flax, flour, baking powder, salt and margarine or butter. With the paddle attachment, mix on low speed until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.

Stir in milk and mix until mixture forms a soft dough.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill 10 minutes.  Preheat oven to 160°C (325°F).

Divide the dough into quarters. Turn out onto a lightly floured board. Roll out very thin to a rectangle 2 mm (1/16 inch) thick.

**a little trick: after you've rolled out the dough, sprinkle some sea salt over the top and use your rolling pin to lightly press the salt into the dough.

Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet and use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to score into squares.  Mine were about 1" x 1", but you can make whatever size or shape you like.

Bake 20 minutes until crisp and golden.  Allow to cool for a few minutes before removing from pan to cool completely.

Repeat with remaining 3 quarters of dough, each in a separate batch.

Yield: about 50 crackers (in 1-inch squares.)