Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Tale of Two Quinoas (Quinoa Pilaf and Breakfast Quinoa)

A friend of mine asked me about quinoa when she saw that make it for Adam.  I had been thinking of posting about this mystery grain, so the timing was perfect.

Quinoa has been slowly gaining some exposure lately, even though it's actually been used for about 4,000 years.  It's a "super grain" (well, it's actually a seed) that is so full of nutrients that the Incas considered it a food from the gods.  It's one of the few plant products that is a complete protein, so it's incredibly healthy.  As a vegetarian that is very important.

I was introduced to it through a coworker who liked to bring in healthy foods for us to try.  I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant.  What was it?  It looked weird and I wondered how "nuts and granola" it would taste.  I'm all for healthy eating, but I'm not about to eat bird seeds.

It was delicious.  It wasn't like anything I had before, yet it was very homey.  The texture was similar to firm-ish orzo or larger couscous. It wasn't mushy, like rice can be, but it wasn't hard.  It almost had a bit of a "pop" when I bit into it.  It was love at first bite and I ran out to buy a bag.

But I was still hesitant to make it.  I'm not the best with sides.  Rice or potatoes is the best starch you'll get from me.  I'm always saying how I need to find new dishes to make.  So, after a few weeks on my shelf, I took it down to figure out how to make the dang thing.

I first followed the recipe on the side of the bag.  I'm actually going to list the recipe here as a good "base" recipe to start with.  It's my go-to recipe when I'm making it for lunch and then will switch out some of the ingredients.  That's the beauty of quinoa; you can make it sweet, savory or a combo of both.  It takes on whatever flavors you're in the mood for that day.  Want it Italian?  Add chopped tomatoes, oregano, basil, garlic and some Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.  Want it Mexican?  Add onions, jalapenos, tomatoes and cilantro.  I love adding chickpeas one day, zucchini another day.  I just had it for lunch with mushrooms, carrots and onions.  I've made a sweet morning breakfast deliciousness that my friend Heather sent me once and it was awesome.  Look for later in this post for that recipe, too.

One of the things to know about quinoa is that nature provides a bitter protective coating on it to keep the insects away.  Great for the survival of the plant, not so good for our taste buds.  So you must rinse the quinoa in cool water until the soapy coating comes off.  It takes only a minute.  You can also find some brands that already rinse their quinoa, which is a great step-saver.  I buy Earthly Delights from Costco , which rinses theirs.

To cook quinoa, it's very similar to cooking rice.  It's a 2 to 1 ratio, meaning 2 cups of liquid to 1 cup quinoa.  Bring the quinoa to a boil and then reduce and cover for 15-20 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.  Let stand for 5 minutes, fluff with a fork and enjoy the deliciousness!

One trick to knowing if your quinoa is done is this nifty little "tail" will uncurl from the grain.  Not sure why it's there, but if you don't see it, it's not done.

So, give quinoa a try and find a new healthy way to have a protein packed meal!

Quinoa Pilaf

1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 carrots, chopped
1 cup quinoa
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Rinse quinoa, if not pre-rinsed.  Heat oil in saucepan over medium-high heat.  Cook onion for 5 minutes or until translucent.  Add carrot and cook 3 minutes more.  Stir in quinoa and broth, bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook 15 minutes to 20 minutes, or until quinoa is tender and fluffy.  In a bowl, toss quinoa with walnuts and parsley.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

Heather's Breakfast Quinoa

2 cup almond milk
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
zest of med orange
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Fresh berries, such as blueberries and raspberries
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup chopped almonds (optional)

Combine everything, but the fruit and honey in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed. Let stand a few minutes...then add your fruit and drizzle with honey.  Top with almonds, if desired.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tuscan Bean Soup

I'm a sucker for a good soup.  I love finding everything I need in the pantry and even if not, I love how you can swap one ingredient out for what you do have.  They are warm, delicious and often time, low-cal enough to let you gorge on one extra bowl.

Abe's been feeling sick, along with much of the household, so homemade soup was in order.  I didn't have time to defrost some chicken to make him his favorite Greek lemon rice soup, so vegetarian it was.  That way I could have a bowl too!

I found this recipe on and adjusted it because I did not have 3 cans of chick peas.  I ended up liking the creaminess that the great northern beans added, so I am sticking with that.  You can swap them for any white bean that you have in your pantry.  The vinegar adds a lot of depth and I used the full 2 tablespoons.

It was delicious and Adam gobbled his up.  I can't wait to eat the leftovers for lunch today!


Tuscan Bean Soup
Serves 6

2  tablespoons  olive oil
2  cups  finely chopped onion
8  garlic cloves, minced
4  cups  water or broth
1  teaspoon  minced fresh or 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
3/4  teaspoon  salt
1/4  teaspoon  black pepper
1  (15 1/2-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
2 (15 ounce) cans Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
1  (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1  to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6  tablespoons  (1 1/2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Handful of fresh spinach leaves (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the water and the next 5 ingredients (water/broth through tomatoes), and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.

Place 4 cups soup in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth, making sure to open top vent and covering with a clean dish towel.  Return all pureed soup to pan. Stir in the vinegar, add spinach, if using, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Spoon 1 1/2 cups soup into each of 6 bowls; sprinkle each serving with 1 tablespoon cheese.

Calories: 373 (22% from fat)
Fat: 9.1g (sat 2.1g,mono 4.5g,poly 1.6g)
Protein: 15g

Friday, February 18, 2011

Greek Chicken Casserole

I'm not much of a casserole girl.  I get images of my mom's version of the dish with cream of mushroom soup and some rice, which was very popular in the 70's.  I remember a friend of mine, who was newly married and feeling quite grown-up, making me dinner in her new apartment.  I was still living at home and was very impressed with my young friend's homemaking attempts.  Until I ate the dish, which was her attempt at recreating that famous dish.  Oh my.  Let's just say that I didn't feel well the rest of the night and she never made us dinner again.

This dish isn't really a traditional casserole, but has the same ease and one-pot wonderfulness.  You can go from oven to table, especially if you have a pretty Dutch oven or nice casserole dish.

The flavors were good and Abe really enjoyed it.  Jimi, much to be expected, liked everything except the tomatoes, and spent a good part of the meal making an impressive chopped tomatoes pile on his plate.  That boy, I can't sneak tomatoes into his diet to save my life.

I didn't have anchovy paste, so I used chopped olives instead.  The original recipe called for 1/4 cup of water added, but I found the recipe to have a lot of liquid at the end and didn't seem necessary.  Add it if you want, but if you don't, make sure you add the juice from the tomatoes
I got this recipe from


Greek Chicken Casserole
Serves 4 (serving size: 2 thighs and 2 cups potato mixture)

1  tablespoon  olive oil
2  cups  chopped onion (about 1 large)
2  tablespoons  dried thyme
1  to 2 teaspoons black pepper
10  garlic cloves, minced
6  cups  (1/2-inch) cubed red potato (about 2 pounds)
2  cups  (1-inch) cut green beans (about 1/2 pound)
2  tablespoons  anchovy paste or finely chopped olives
2  (14.5-ounce) cans no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup water (optional)
8  skinned, boned chicken thighs (about 1 pound)
1/2  cup  (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese

Preheat oven to 375°.

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the thyme, pepper, and garlic; sauté 1 minute. Increase heat to medium-high. Add potato; sauté 8 minutes or until potato begins to brown. Stir in green beans, anchovy paste, tomatoes and water, if using. Remove mixture from heat. Nestle chicken thighs into potato mixture. Top with feta cheese. Cover and bake at 375° for 45 minutes.

Calories:  488 (23% from fat)
Fat:  12.6g (sat 4.2g,mono 4.9g,poly 2.1g)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mexican Corn Nachos

Yesterday was the 2nd Thursday in the month, so you know what that means......  Nacho Night!

Last month I wrote about how Jimi and I decided that once a month should be a night of nachos and how dh chose the date.  So this time I had Jimi pick a random number and that would be the nachos we ate.  How adventurous with things like Duck Confit Nachos on the list (I so would've had him choose another number with that one)!

The nachos were fabulous!  I was a little nervous about eating corn on chips, but hey, the chips are made from corn, so the flavors blended well.  It had just a little kick of spice, so I wouldn't feed them to the littlest ones.  Jimi vouched for the older kids and said it was a winner.  If you can't find queso fresco, you can use feta or even mozzarella.

I got this recipe from my Food Network magazine.


Mexican Corn Nachos

Preheat oven to 475.

Spread 8 cups of torilla chips on a rimmed baking sheet or in a shallow dish.

Cook 4 cups corn with 1 teaspoon each cumin and cayenne in a skillet for 7 minutes.  Stir in 1/2 cup mayonnaise and some lime juice (I used 1/2 large lime, use whole lime if it's small).  Top the chips with 3 cups  queso fresco and the corn.  Bake for 7 minutes, then top with sour cream, chopped avocado and cilantro.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Lentil and Macaroni Soup

I know what you might be thinking.  Lentils and macaroni?? What the heck kind of combo is that? It sounds like something that a college student throws together when they don't know how to cook.  Believe me, I did too.  But something about it made me want to try it and I'm glad I did.

This soup is a great healthy comfort food that is filling, but not full of calories and fat.  It's perfect when you're watching both your waistline and your wallet as the ingredients are cheap and stuff we usually have on hand.  Each serving, which is a hearty 2 cups (an entire soup bowl!) is only 200 calories and 3 grams of fat!

I got the recipe from newest recipe book that my mom got me, Good Housekeeping's Soups and Stews.  Yes, she has gotten me another one (2 actually) since the last blog entry. That woman knows my weakness and keeps me supplied.  I made a few adjustments to make it suit my taste.  I added a bit of lemon to brighten up the flavors and put in some bullion to add some depth.  The original recipe called for Swiss chard, but I only had spinach on hand, and I think it worked very nicely.

Serve with some crusty bread for a healthy and hardy meal!


Lentil and Macaroni Soup
Serves 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium carrots, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed with garlic press
1 can (14 ounces) whole tomatoes in puree (or crushed tomatoes in juice, if unavailable)
1 can (14 ounces) vegetable broth
3/4 cup lentils
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon vegetable bullion (if you don't have, add a bit more salt to the soup)
6 cups water
1 pound fresh spinach
3/4 cup elbow macaroni
1 cup fresh basil, chopped
Lemon juice
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

In a nonstick 5-to-6-quart Dutch oven (or large soup pot), heat oil over medium heat until hot.  Add carrots, onion and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and golden, about 10 minutes.

Add tomatoes with their puree, broth, lentils, salt, pepper, thyme, bullion and water; heat to boiling, stirring to break up tomatoes with side of spoon.  Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until lentils are almost tender, about 20 minutes.

Stir in spinach and macaroni; heat to boiling over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to medium; cook, uncovered, until macaroni is tender, about 10 minutes.  Stir in basil.  Serve with Parmesan cheese, if you like, and 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice.