Quinoa Delight

quinoa on plateI recently came to understand that I have an intolerance for gluten.  I guess in this day and age, lots of us are discovering this.  Is it so prevalent because of the inception of GMO crops or is it something else?  Who knows.  All I know is that I have to change my entire way of eating, shopping and cooking.

Yesterday was my first gluten free day and I hit the grocery store with a gusto.  The gusto quickly became a whimper as I realized not only how many things are now off limits, but exactly what impact this change was going to have on our family’s food budget.  Wow this stuff is pricey!

For dinner last night, I prepared baked chicken breasts with a quinoa salad.  (pronounced keen-wa)  Now I’m sure that with the recent proclamation that this is a super-food, most of us have heard of it, but many have been hesitant to try it.  I was in that group.  It’s strange looking and that makes it less appealing.  I eat with my eyes first!

But I had to bite the bullet, so I did.  I followed all the instructions I’ve read on numerous sites.  Apparently the most important thing you do to quinoa is rinse it in cold water for 2 mintues first and foremost.  There is a coating on the seed which can make the dish bitter; rinsing gets rid of it.

Quinoa must be cooked.  It is not eaten raw.  The process is quite similar to rice, except these little guys will triple in volume and rice only doubles (slacker).

While that was simmering on the stove, I cut up a bunch of vegggies in my drawer.  I didn’t preselect, I just grabbed what looked good and cut it into small diced pieces:

  • Tomatoe
  • Radishes
  • Cucumber
  • Red Onion
  • Celery
  • Red Pepper
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots

By this time the quinoa had cooked and I fluffed it with a fork and left it to cool down.  It should be cooled before adding to the veggies so they won’t get soggy.

For the dressing, I cheated a little and just poured on a 1/4 cup of Kraft Greek Feta dressing we had in the fridge.  I have a couple of picky eaters and I didn’t want to go messing with lemon juice-olive oil- salt ratios at my first rodeo.

I put the dressing on last, after adding the cooled quinoa and mixed it all up.  At the last minute, I grabbed some of the fresh baby spinach I had (about a handful of leaves) and mixed that it.  It looked a little strange becuase it doesn’t “mix in” the way the other ingredients do, but it sure added a nice dimension to the flavour.

When it was all done, I had a taste testing with the kids in my care.  At first they looked at it with scrunched up faces and fear.  After they took their first bite?

quinoa close up banner

They wanted more!  Awesome!

To-die-for Banana Bread

it was gone so fast, this was the only picture I could get!
it was gone so fast, this was the only picture I could get!

If you’re like me, banana bread is either fantastic or bleh.  It’s definitely my favourite quick bread.  but I resent paying $7 for a loaf of the good stuff in a bakery  when I know I could make it for half that if I had a good recipe.  I have tried about a dozen different recipes and it seemed that no matter how I tweaked a bleh recipe…it stayed bleh.

Finally!  I have finally found the banana bread recipe of my dreams.  

I had actually been searching for recipes with which to experiment for kale, quinoa and couscous, (watch for this later this week!) when I happened across this awesome cooking blog called Foodess.com.

I made it exactly the way it is written in the recipe; didn’t change a thing, except to double it (I double most recipes, got a big crew to feed!)  The banana flavour was divine and the chocolate chips instead of nuts made it school-friendly (you can also add neither!)    It was had perfect moisture and texture:  the two previously unresolvable issues with other recipes.

Jen has a number of great tips to give new bakers, and I’ll share the most important two:  the chemistry of baking soda/powder requires you to put your batter in as quickly after it is mixed as possible BUT only into a fully preheated oven.  It is the soda/powder that cause your batter to rise so don’t mess with it.  Next, when the recipe says to mix gently or until the dry is just wet; that’s also for a reason! 🙂  For your best results, you want to always follow these two steps when making muffins and quick breads (see my failure note below).  Now, if you go to her blog, you can actually print the recipe on a recipe card like I did, but I’ve copied it here for you too:

Ingredients
  • 1 egg
  • 1½ – 2 cups mashed banana (about 4 large)
  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (optional)
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
 Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare an 8½- by 4½-inch loaf pan by greasing it or lining it with parchment paper (allowing an overhang on sides). Beat egg, mashed banana and melted butter in a large bowl until thoroughly blended. Stir in milk.
  2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to banana mixture and stir until just moistened. Gently stir in chocolate chips, if using. Sprinkle walnuts on top.
  3. Bake for 55-65 minutes, until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

By doubling my recipe, I managed to get a heavy (not dense though!) loaf and 18 medium muffins.  I did forget I should cook my muffins at 375 instead of 350, but they turned out okay.  The only issue was sticking to the paper liner, but that didn’t stop us from licking and nibbling every morsel off!

If you’re like me and you love banana bread, but are looking for the one recipe to keep in your recipe box, I would give this one 7 stars out of 5.  It’s already located in my Top 10 section!

Keep experimenting,

Danielle

The Simple Life: Biscuits & Gravy Sandwiches

It’s my birthday today and the only thing I’m making today is cupcakes from a mix! LOL But I just love these guys and their unique approach to manly-man-ness! Poetic is an understatement… Together, they are the Lord Byron of the Grill! I am still drooling after reading this particular entry, so I do hope you’ll enjoy.

Patrons of the Pit

A hard rain drummed over the tent fly, and the tempest howled through the pines. Rain, and a good amount of it, beat over the land in aafterfocus_1378088476699_edit0 relentless onslaught, like pitch forks and hammer handles, and then, after reconsidering, up and went side-ways for a while, courtesy of the gales. My camping crony and I were held up in the tent, as if we had anyplace else to cower at such times, trapped deep in the wilderness. The lightning cracked through the heavens, and exploded like warheads all around us. And the thunder rattled the very earth upon which we hunkered. It was getting a little sporty out there.   Just another day camping in Minnesota’s Canoe Country. It wasn’t always like this though. Why, in point of fact, just a few minutes ago, we were enjoying a rather lovely supper over a crackling, jack pine, fire. It…

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Jams, Jellies and Pickles – oh my!

My canning so far this year includes Strawberry Jam, Blueberry Jam and Pickle Spears
My canning so far this year includes Strawberry Jam, Blueberry Jam and Pickle Spears

I learned to can when I was 9 years old from a neighbour who took me under her very old-fashioned wing.  Sue (Mrs. MacCallum, as I called her then) was a surrogate grandmother who introduced me to the wonders of knitting, quilting and canning.  Looking back, I believe she played a more starring role in my current career teaching kids to craft and cook than I may have first realized.  A tip of the hat to you, Mrs. MacCallum!

Sue was amazing.  I remember hearing about this mysteriously patient man named “Job” all the time and wondering if he was related to Sue in some way.  She had depthless patience, never using an unkind word or criticizing when I would make a mistake.  She would laugh and make some crazy reference to my experimental nature and the importance of making mistakes so we can learn and do it better next time.  I’ve always remembered that and have tried to carry it with me throughout my personal and professional life.

Of course, it was her easy manner – so opposite my perfectionist mom – that would make me long to learn at her side.  My favourite was, and still is, making Jam, though I rarely eat it.  I love the process so much I spent two years making and selling jam at farmer’s markets along with my hand made art and craft items.  People tell me it’s actually hard to make good jam….I’ve always found it hard to screw it up!!

Ironically, I love to eat pickles and though the process is not tedious, I just don’t enjoy it like making jam.  And mistakes?  Oh yeah, I’ve made a few! Continue reading Jams, Jellies and Pickles – oh my!

Add some colour to your life this Fall

I love to do the grocery shopping.  I know.  Most think I’m crazy.

Mental state aside, today I was doing some grocery shopping because it’s been far too long since I have.  In our house, fruit fills more of our basket than any other grocery category.  Sadly, despite the abundance of home grown vegetables we receive, we never seem to receive offers of fruit so the grocery is our only option. Continue reading Add some colour to your life this Fall

Help I’ve got tomatoes!

Fall is my favourite season, by far.   I adore a brisk walk in the cool sunshine, the changing colours, Thanksgiving & Hallowe’en and of course, the bounty of Ontario produce!

Among my favourite veggies (or fruit if you’re one of those people) is the tomato.  I could eat tomatoes cooked or raw…..sliced, diced, cubed or whole….cherry, beefsteak, heirloom, roma…

..really I love tomatoes.

tomatoes galore
The cornucopia in our veggie drawer

Fortunately, approaching Fall is when all my friends, family and neighbours are trying to offload the outrageous abundance harvested from their own garden plants and I am always an enthusiastic recipient.

This year was no exception and we’ve received tomatoes from four different gardens.  We also received an enormous payload of field cukes which we will be working on tomorrow.

When I receive a gardener’s offer, I feel duty bound to eat every last scrap of what they’ve provided.  I don’t have a picky family, but they have their idiosyncrasies.  So, it’s often a struggle to come up with a variety of ideas that fit all the variables.  It’s even harder when you have one that won’t eat any cooked  vegetable except corn or broccoli, one who has more allergies than I can count and one who doesn’t care for ….. dislikes…. HATES tomatoes and mushrooms!

In an effort to use up the cukes and tomatoes, we made a simple yet delicious tomato/cucumber/onion/feta “salad” for dinner last night.  It was truly delicious to those of us who enjoy those and the other opted for a PB sandwich, I think!

Today, I received a request for chicken for dinner and when I combined that with ingredients at home and this abundance of very ripe tomatoes:  Chicken Cacciatore!  Yummy!

Cacciatore is like an Italian stew for lack of a better description and something I’ve eaten many times; but never made myself!

Mushrooms are a key ingredient in this dish, but as the only mushroom eater in my family, I had to remove them from the plan and sub in more peppers and tomatoes.  Even though they don’t necessarily change the overall flavour infusion, they do change the texture intensely, so if you enjoy mushrooms, definitely use them!  (button mushrooms washed and left whole are the best for this)

My recipe is so simple it’s barely worth repeating but here you go:

  • 1 Whole Chicken quartered (of course you can use pre-cut pieces!)
  • 2 each Red & Green Bell Peppers
  • 1 very large white onion
  • 3 to 4 cups (before cooking) of diced tomatoes (mine were very red and ripe heirloom tomatoes)
  • Fresh garlic (minimum 3 cloves fresh; 2 tsp minced)
  • Fresh rosemary (3 sprigs)
  • 1 tsp dried Basil
  • 1 tsp dried Oregano
  • couple of shakes each Salt & Pepper & Turmeric
  • Olive Oil
  • 2 to 3 tsp Paprika (I like Hungarian the very best!)

In one frying pan, I browned the cut up chicken in olive oil and garlic.  When browned, I removed the chicken and put it aside.  Using the same pan and the chicken juice/olive oil leftovers, I sauteed all of the veggies together.

Chunky cut veggies
Chunky cut veggies

As the tomatoes start to reduce it’s a little more like stewing the veggies, but you want this to happen!  It was at that point I added all the other spices on my list.  I only add the spices a little later so I avoid scorching them.  Paprika, especially, is not tasty when scorched.

I kept  the burner turned no higher than medium.  The slower the cooking the better the flavour.  I allowed this to stew for another 10 to 15 minutes before pouring the veg concoction into my covered casserole.  I then layered the browned chicken pieces onto the top and for a final touch (presentation only, not taste!) I cut thin slices of green and red pepper to topple on top.

I prepared the dish during the day and sprinkled a little parmesan and popped it in a preheated 375ºF for about 40 minutes before serving.  I also prepared egg noodles to complement the cacciatore.  cacciatore 4

Delicious!

I think this was definitely an experiment that worked.  Given the chance to do it again, I think I might try it in my crock pot and I will definitely add mushrooms!!

After all, they can pick them out if they don’t like them. 🙂

Keep experimenting!  Danielle

Lorraine, this one’s for you

potato salad
Today’s Red Potato Salad

Today, we invited a couple of families over for a back-to-school barbecue.  Unfortunately, the weather isn’t really cooperating with us, but that’s okay, we’ll make the best of it.

My friend, Lorraine, specifically asked me if I would make [my] potato salad for a side as it was so fantastic the first time she tried it.  I giggled thinking it had been the first time I had made it too and promised I’d do my best to duplicate it!   My main concern in duplicating is that I don’t think I’ve ever been able to recreate one of my concoctions and I rarely measure anything.  She had broadly hinted she’d love the recipe though, so I determined I’d keep track this time in the event it actually turned out again. Continue reading Lorraine, this one’s for you

My crazy, creative kitchen

My name is Danielle.  I’m not a professional chef, or baker.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever taken a cooking course since high school home ec.  But I am a good cook and a great baker.

I think it’s because I love to do it.  Oh, I love to eat, that helps.  

My taste varies across the globe.  I’ve attempted many foreign culinary styles: some fantastic, some not-so.  My favourites are Indian, Greek, Italian, Turkish and Lebanese.  Sadly, only my son shares my adventurous taste buds.  Most of what I make is much more “family-friendly”.

I love to experiment.  Because I’m not a chef, but am a curious chemist, I enjoy switching ingredients and modifying recipes just to see how they turn out.  It’s the curious, experimental process I hope to capture with my latest blog.  So, if you enjoy the process as much as the outcomes, join me.  🙂