Girl + Fire = Food



Friday, September 24, 2010

Quinoa Cereal

Quinoa is one of those magical protein-rich foods that dates back to the Inca civilization of pre-Hispanic Peru. The first time I had it I couldn't stand it. But that's because I was trying to make some sort of stew with spinach and it failed in every which way.

I finally learned how to cook it properly (hint: don't drown it in chicken broth like I did the first time) and now it has replaced rice in my kitchen. It basically cooks the same way: 1 part quinoa to 2 parts liquid. And since I usually make it to pair with meat, that liquid could be water or any number of broths. But when I decided to boil it in milk, that's when I realized what a great breakfast cereal this could be.

In a word: delicious. And a single bowl has so many nutrients, you may never die should you eat this regularly. Ok, that's a lie, but the health benefits are laid out in plain English on The World's Healthiest Foods.

A single serving is a quarter cup. Boil that up in the morning with your favorite type of milk (I like unsweetened almond milk), throw in some fruit, and you have breakfast:

Though I'd never seen a recipe call for this preparation, I know I couldn't be alone in my breakfast-y application. The very first time I made this, I went searching for other like-minded folks and found Sarah of Food Cite. Like me, she is trying to avoid death by cooking quinoa as often as possible.

Quinoa Cereal
yields 1 serving

1/4 cup quinoa
1/2 cup milk (rice, almond, cow, etc.)
Sugar or honey (optional)

1. Rinse the quinoa until the water runs clear. This helps remove some of the bitterness.

2. Place quinoa and milk in a small sauce pan and bring to boil. Simmer uncovered until all liquid is absorbed (about 5-10 minutes).

3. Serve piping hot and steam your pores at the same time. Or cool to a non-lethal temperature and sprinkle or drizzle in your sweetener of choice (if using, I find the almond milk has just enough natural sweetness).

This goes especially well topped with a sweet mango. Or bananas. Or blueberries. Pick a fresh fruit. You really can't go wrong.

The recipe doubles and triples really easily. Simply keep the 1:2 ratio of quinoa to liquid. Cooking time will increase as well. 2 cups of quinoa in 4 cups of milk will take about 15 minutes.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Rosti Tuscan Kitchen Pizza Challenge

The bloggers,
picture courtesy of Rosti Tuscan Kitchen
Last week a few of LA's food bloggers were invited to Rosti Tuscan Kitchen to create something new for their Pizza of the Week menu feature. The guest list was intimidating; a bunch of people whose blogs I adore and then little ol' me:
Some of these bloggers are real chefs, not just novice food enthusiasts like me. And up for grabs was the bragging rights of having your pizza featured on Rosti's menu for the first week in October plus free pizza for an entire year. Surely the pros had this, right?

All the fixings
We were each given a disc of pre-rolled dough and the ingredients were laid out on a long table for us to mix and match. Among the offerings were mozzarella, pesto, bell peppers, smoked gouda, hazelnuts, meatballs, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and my new favorite: caramelized onions. We could also use anything else they might have in the kitchen, so I opted for pancetta. Like bacon, pancetta makes everything better.

Greg, gloved and ready 
to make pizza
The intimidating crowd of food experts were actually really cool, down to earth, welcoming people. I got to sit right across the table from Greg, whose baby artichokes recipe was one of my recent experiments. We grabbed our ingredients and went to work on our naked pizza dough.

Some of the pizzas made were absolutely beautiful. While I just threw mine together and made it look like a standard pie, most everyone else took the time to make art.

Kim shows off her beautiful pie
Then it was time to taste and judge. Given my dietary concerns, I was very careful to eat the least amount of crust possible but still get the full flavor of each slice. They were all delicious in different ways. Erika made a paste out of figs and goat cheese for hers. Kim used the anchovies and balsamic to make an interesting sauce. Lynne topped hers with shrimp. There was a lot of joking around the table and many compliments to each pizza.

Finally the votes were tallied and the winner was announced. In third place was Lucy's with butternut squash, gorgonzola, and sage. Greg came in second with his onions fried in balsamic vinegar creation. And the person to get a year's worth of free pizza with a pesto and honey balsamic combo! I couldn't believe it. Apparently I produced a crowd favorite:

The Balsamic Pesto Pie, photo courtesy of Erika Kerekes
Many thanks to Rosti Tuscan Kitchen for inviting us all to play with their menu and to my fellow pizza-making comrades for voting my pizza numero uno. (Bad pun.) It was a fun afternoon!

The pizza will be on the menu the first week in October. I'll post the recipe in the days leading up to that. For now, become a fan/like Rosti's Facebook page and check out more pictures from this event.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Time to Lose the Wheat and Eggs?

Dear body, please forgive me for eating bread.

I was diagnosed with a mild wheat allergy about two years ago. Not gluten, but wheat. Which meant I could still eat other gluten-laden offerings like barley and beer. (I might be in denial.)

There is also a complication with eggs. At one point I was allergic to yolks. Now I'm supposedly allergic to whites. For the longest time, I simply avoided both. But I was making quickie muffins for a movie night at my house, so I threw in just one whole egg in with the gluten-free bake mix.

The truth is, I'm not really sure what is wrong with me. Have I had eggs? Bread? Ok, yes...there was tuna tartare in these cute little edible cups and I couldn't resist. But I've never had a reaction last this long. For all I know, I'm just fighting a stomach flu bug.I need to see a doctor. I need to concentrate on eating more fruits and veggies. And meat. And cheese. And all the other wonderful things in this world that, luckily, I CAN still ingest. (Like tequila.)

And I need to find baking recipes that don't require eggs OR wheat-based flours. If anyone has recipes or information on wheat- AND egg-free meals, I'd be delighted. At this point, I can use all the help I can get.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sweet & Spicy Poblano Pepper Jam

Remember back when I was afraid of canning? Well I got over that fear right quick after the public jam. And I couldn't wait to try it with peppers!

Well, peppers and other fruits. Despite my cultural roots, there might actually be such thing as too many peppers. I didn't want to burn my tongue right off. So I seeded and chopped up a pound of jalapeños and poblanos, and then added pluots, figs, kumquats, basil andbecause I wanted the jam to be a deep, dark red colorblueberries. It made a beautiful rainbow of flavors in the bowl.

I also didn't want a particularly sweet jam, so I held back on the sugar. The pectin I used was a "no sugar needed" variety. But because I've come to learn that sugar is both a preservative and responsible for color vibrancy, I did add 2 cups of it. Just to be on the safe side.

The experiment paid off. It looks like any sweet berry jam but with just enough heat. As one friend described it, "it's like a party in your mouth! You're expecting it to be sweet, but the spice hits you...then the sweet follows!" Which is exactly what I was aiming for. I swear.

My family can't get enough of this. They'll use it on toast, in fruit salad, as a meat topper, etc and so on. I like it as a snack, on top of pieces of truffle cheese or even queso fresco.

Sweet & Spicy Poblano Pepper Jam
yields 2 pint jars

1/2 pound poblano peppers (also called ancho chile peppers)
1/2 pound jalapeño peppers
5-6 medium figs
2 pluots
1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup kumquats
2 tablespoons basil chiffonade
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 packet of no-sugar-needed pectin

1. Remove the seeds from the peppers. Chop the peppers, figs, pluots, and kumquats into similar-sized pieces. (Note: use gloves when dealing with the peppers! I touched my lip hours after I'd made thishours after I'd washed my hands several times overand still managed to have burning lips for a while.)

2. Put the peppers and fruits into a large pot with the pectin over medium high heat and bring to a full boil. This should take 5-10 minutes. Stir to incorporate the pectin, and continue stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.

3. After reaching a full boil add the sugar and basil, stirring to incorporate. Boil hard for about a minute. Remove from heat.

4. Skim off the foam if it bothers you. Transfer the jam to sterile jars and proceed with water bath or vacuum sealing.

5. Refrigerate after opening.
Be sure to hide the jars from over-zealous relatives who will eat it all without sharing it with you. Or, to avoid this awkward situation, triple or quadruple the recipe.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sun Dried Tomato & Mango Chutney

I love love love sun dried tomatoes. They remind me of happy summer days. Pair them with goat cheese, and you'll pretty much have me eating right out of your hand.

I wanted something easy for Labor Day weekend and found this wonderful Mango Chutney incorporating my beloved tomatoes and another favorite: mangoes. It sounded like a party waiting to happen.

Within 45 minutes I could have savory tomatoes and sweet mangoes ready to top any of the millions of varieties of grilled meats this weekend? Color me happy!

I followed the recipe almost exactly. But I can never leave well enough alone (and aren't recipes, like most other rules, really just suggested guidelines?). Instead of using crushed red peppers I opted for using whole dried peppers. That added another dimension of kick. And since my family is made up of Mexican, Puerto Ricans and Indians, food without spice is almost not worth serving.

Note: you can always remove the seeds from the peppers in order to lessen the heat. Or use the recommended crushed flakes.

Served over pork. Mmmm.

Sun Dried Tomato & Mango Chutney
adapted from Southern Food
Yields about 3 cups

2 cups water
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped sweet onion
2 cups coarsely chopped mango
1 cup chopped dried tomatoes
1 cup raisins
1/2 teaspoon crushed dried red pepper flakes (or as many whole/seeded dried red peppers)
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons white vinegar

1. Combine the first 6 ingredients in a 3-quart saucepan; bring to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes, or until tomatoes are softened.

2. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most liquid has been absorbed.

3. Cool and pack in air-tight containers. May be kept in the refrigerator 2 to 3 weeks or frozen for up to 12 months.

Enjoy at your next barbecue with grilled meat, as a burger topping, or simply as a side dish. And happy Labor Day weekend!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Caramalized Figs & Goat Cheese

I've been on a caramelization kick lately. For years I thought I didn't like onions, until I had caramelized onions in a grilled cheese sandwich, courtesy of the Grilled Cheese Truck. I fell in love. Then there were the caramelized scallops, also delicious. Finally I decided to play with fruits.

The story is typical: I had a friend coming to lunch and green figs on-hand, so I scoured the recipe logs for something to do with them. That led me to Gourmet Recipes' Goat Cheese & Caramelized Fig Bruschetta. I decided to cook the figs, per the recipe. But instead of putting them on cheese and bread, I flipped it: sweet figs as the base, topped with cheese. We were having pizza, so no additional bread was necessary, though the almonds made a nice topper.

Make sure the figs are firm, otherwise they will fall apart when cooking. Mine were beginning to get a bit soft, so halving them was a better route than slicing into various pieces.

I made this a second time for my parents, and we decided that the sauce could benefit from some brandy. Alcohol is completely optional (I've made it both times without), though it would make a lovely addition.

Caramelized Figs with Goat Cheese
Yields about 4-6 servings, depending on fig size

1 lb figs (about 20 small to medium sized figs)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon of brandy (optionaloriginal recipe called for vodka, use your taste buds to guide you)
Creamy goat cheese
Slivered almonds

1. Stem and halve the figs.

2. Melt butter and sugar together in a skillet over medium-low heat. Once all the sugar has dissolved, add the figs cut side down. Fry for about 30 seconds on one side, then flip over to for about 10 more seconds on the second side. Work in batches to avoid crowding the pan.

3. Remove figs to serving plate. Top with a small amount of goat cheese and one sliver of almond each.

4. If using alcohol, add it to the skillet. Reduce the remaining sauce to a syrup-like consistency. Pour over figs and cheese. Serve warm.
Dessert: quick and easy.