Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kitchen-Quintessential Quinoa Cakes

I'm quite excited to share this incredibly delicious recipe with you folks!  I first learned of quinoa's existence when I was about twenty-two or twenty-three.  I had just embarked on my veganism journey and couldn't devour vegan cookbooks fast enough.  It was such a new, inspiring, and exciting world.  I had lots of experience with vegetarianism, but veganism was a new animal.  (Pun very intended!)  Two years later I went on to attend a unique and mostly unheard of culinary school in Manhattan based alone on this new eating lifestyle I had acquired.  If I might name drop a bit, Bethenny Frankel also attended the Natural Gourmet Institute of Health and Culinary Arts!  

But in the beginning it was all very new.  Tamari, tahini, miso, seitan, tempeh, Earth Balance...  Using flax seeds in place of eggs for baking, silken tofu replaced cream cheese in cheesecake, I started eating more falafel and whole grains.  And that brings me to quinoa.  The first time I made it I used it like rice for a stir fry.  It was strange.  It tasted just fine, but how odd this little seed was, with it's perfect presence of all nine amino acids, creating an almost perfect protein.  When it cooked it had these little tail-like strings that sprouted out!  

I only lasted as a vegan for a couple of years.  You might wonder what made me fall of the wagon.  Cheese.  Cheese Pizza.  I was sitting on a lonely bench in a gorgeous park along the bay here in Bellingham, maybe I was hungry at the time, I don't recall what exactly created the perfect moment for me to fall off of veganism.  I do know that there was a young couple sharing a pizza just down the way, and if you can believe it, another young man was just a bit further down the grass and he too was eating a pizza!  The speed and direction of the wind was just right in that the aroma from that hot, melty, salty, real cheese and possibly more pizza wafted my way and was just more than I could take.  I sat on that bench and pondered if quitting was really worth it? 

I guess I decided that it was because the next morning I went to a local cafe with my sister Tara and our friend Jessi and we all shared a huge plate of Potatoes O'Brien.  And, oh how it was laden with butter, camped out under a bed of melted cheddar, and smothered in sour cream.  I knew I was in.  There was no looking back at that point.  After two years, I was a 'normal' eater again.  I did continue on with my plan to attend a mostly-vegan culinary school, making up for it by sampling foie gras, fancy bleu cheese, and creamy chorizo grits at the James Beard House, where I interned.  For the most part, culinary debauchery followed.  In a way, I turned my back on veganism and without meaning to, turned my back on health...

Fast forward over five years and here I am.  Maybe I'll fill in the gaps for you one of these days.  But for now, the good news is that quinoa has made it's way back into my heart.  I've been using it again off and on, but this last weekend I tasted it in a way I never have before and boy did it leave a mark!  As many of you know, I belong to the most fabulous cooking group on the planet, Around the Table, we had our monthly dinner this last Saturday evening and the appetizer just so happened to be a little quinoa cake topped with a gorgeous and ultra-flavorful heirloom tomato salsa.  I'm eating a lot healthier now and I'll tell you why soon.  Tasting this gourmet, wholesome little delight just lit me right up and tickled my tastebuds.  I knew right then and there it was going to become a staple on our table.  And in this week alone, I've already enjoyed them three times!  I just knew I had to share them with you.

 These little cakes are thanks to a wonderful and lovely woman Caitlin, she's been in the group for about four months and is a fantastic addition in many, many ways.  I can't wait to see what other gems she pulls out of her apron!  These quinoa cakes are incredible.  They are tender, chewy, and satisfying.  They are great all on their own and I know they are wonderful on salad or topped with salsa!  Mo just made them and put grilled zucchini and a poached egg on top.  They are sinful dipped in a bit of ketchup or would be great with a light aioli or other sauce.  And, the really cool thing is they are kind of like crab cakes!  Texturally they remind me a lot of a good crab cake.   Anyway, the options are endless and because they are so easy to make I know you will be trying on all the options!  Okay, okay, enough yakking... just get to the recipe already I know you are begging!  

Quinoa Cakes
(adapted from a Food and Wine recipe)

1.5  C.  White Quinoa
2  C.  Water
2  Lg.  Eggs
1/2  C.  AP Flour
3-4  T.  Milk
1/2  C.  Cotija Cheese, crumbled 
1/4 C.  Curly Parsley, minced
1/4   C.  Shallot, minced
Salt and Pepper to taste

Measure out the quinoa into the baking pan you plan to cook it in, cover completely with cold water and soak for at least fifteen minutes up to an hour.  Pour into a very fine sieve and rinse throroughly.   Put back into pot and add two cups of water and a couple pinches of salt.  Put on high and bring to a medium boil stirring a couple of times, then put a lid on the pot and turn the heat all the way down to the lowest setting.  Keep an eye on the quinoa until all of the water is absorbed and the quinoa is very fluffy.  Let sit covered for about five minutes and them fluff a bit with a fork.  Add the remaining ingredients and combine gently.
Then using a large skillet, add a generous amount of canola or vegetable oil to pan fry, using about a 1/4 or 1/3 cup scoop if you have one, scoop the mixture into the pan making around four cakes total.  Cook on medium high until golden on each side, about four minutes per side, keep an eye on them and adjust heat as needed.  Set on a paper towel when finished.  
Enjoy right away or reheat later in toaster oven, etc.  I'm guessing they would freeze quite well also!  If you can't find cotija cheese, you could use a hard Italian cheese or no cheese at all.  Get the cotija though if you can.  The salty little crumbles make the cakes divine!

Let me know if you love them as much as I do!
Thanks for reading!  xx

Saturday, September 11, 2010


In this post, we are going to talk about bruschetta.  How much do you love bruschetta?  I am downright crazy about it!  The silly thing is that as much as I love it, I hardly ever make it!  Why, why, why?  Did you know it's pronounced brewsketta?  For more than half a decade I called it brush-etta, which put on the end of my name, giving my name a slight mispronunciation would be a crazy Rushella Brushetta.  Say it a couple times, it's fun!  Anyway, to me, the quintessential bruschetta uses tomatoes, basil, and olive oil.  There are recipes out there using beans, peppers, and the list goes on and on.  But, there is just perfection when you combine tomatoes, basil, bufula mozzarella, olive oil, balsamic vinegar.  It's as though they were all made to go together.  A close relative, the panzanella salad is also a personal favorite!  

I'm definitely not an authority on Italian cuisine, but to make really memorable bruschetta, I believe some special care is required.  First of all, you have to select a proper bread.  You don't want a light, airy french loaf with a thinner skin.  You want to look for a hearty, dense, crusty Italian loaf, a pugliese or rustic country variety.  Also, you want to slice the bread in 1'' slices, the difference between crostini and bruschetta toasts are that crostini is thinner.  Also, I read that that bruschetta comes from the Italian bruscare,  which means to cook over coals.  After rubbing garlic on the slices and drizzling them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, it would be a fantastic idea to grill them lightly.  That black searing adds so much flavor and character, of course I don't have to tell you that!  I know this step is well worth the effort, but honestly, I rarely do it.  To cheat, you could turn your oven on broil for the last seconds.  Also, the tomatoes.  Choose ripe, flavorful ones.  Be sure to seed them before you dice them up.  I've seen some recipes call for good, canned tomatoes.  This would be a good option in the winter.  I think you can still sneak in some good summertime bruschetta with fresh tomatoes though.  It would really be the perfect way to say farewell to the season!

If you want, you can always add red onion, capers, olives, or whatever else you think would taste great in the topping.  I like to keep it pretty simple with diced tomatoes, basil chiffonade, bufala mozzarella (diced the same size as the tomatoes), olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and a balsamic reduction syrup to finish.  I always used to eat this with the topping fresh, but lately, have been putting it back in the oven for a bit to meld the topping and melt the cheese slightly. 


I don't think a recipe is needed here.  Just add ingredients to your preference.  I always use about equal parts tomato and mozzarella.  The basil and lemon juice is to taste, as well as the salt and pepper.  Toast the bread at 325-375 depending on your oven, until just crisped and slightly golden, then turn the broiler on and just let them get a bit blackened and then remove.  The broiler step is not necessary though.  And then just eat up!  Aren't you crazy about bruschetta, too?


Friday, September 10, 2010

Holy Mushroom Soup

You know, there really isn't that much to say about this soup.  It's just really darn good.  It's pretty simple and straight-forward yet it yields a really dreamy mushroom soup.  If you put the texture issue aside, this soup is really like mushroom meets silk or satin and ends up in a bowl together.  It's so luxurious and smooth.  If you pureed it then it would really be smooth.  I think I'd miss the tender slices too much though if it were blended!  Also, notice those little oil spots floating on the surface?  If you've read other posts on soup here, you know how much I adore them.  They make for an amazing mouth feel and give soups a richness they often need in my opinion.

This soup is comprised of three main flavors.  Mushrooms.  Butter.  Sherry.  Think of them as a trinity.  A heavenly trio:  savory, rich, intoxicating.  Sure, there's some onion and herbs in there, but when all is said and done, and you sit down to a bowl of this glorious soup, that first spoonful will blast you with mighty and bold flavor.  The taste of mushrooms so pure and intense, it's like they take the stage, the big shiny star, and those big red velvet stage curtains behind?  Yeah, they are made from butter and trimmed with sherry tassels?


And the texture, oh, the texture.  I realize that there are mushroom haters out there.  Maybe even quite a lot of them.  And I'll admit, this soup would be a mushroom nightmare for them.  But if you even remotely like mushrooms, trust me, you'll like this soup a lot.  And if you love mushrooms?  You will want to marry this soup.  There is just something about the silky broth, the buttery smoothness, and the thin and tender mushroom slices. Am I allowed to say that it's succulent?  We enjoyed it on a Sunday afternoon.  Can't you just tell that that is Sunday afternoon light below?  Soft, lazy, beckoning.  And now that fall is practically knocking on our doors, it's  really, really time to start making lots and lots of soup.  Sunday Succulence, anyone?  Recipe below.


Holy Mushroom Soup
(think it comes from Epicurious under a different name)

1/4 pound unsliced white mushrooms
1/4 pound unsliced cremini mushrooms
4 oz. dried porcini mushrooms (makes it amazing, didn't have this last time, still incredible!)
1 large onion, tiny dice
1/2 tsp. dried and crumbled tarragon
1/2 tsp.  dried oregano, Mexican oregano if you can find
4 c low-sodium chicken stock
1/4 c flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 T dry sherry
couple splashes heavy cream 
4 T unsalted butter

    start by chopping onion in as small as dice as possible.  heat up a pan over medium-high heat and add two Tbsp of butter.  once melted and bubbling hot, add diced onion.  stir.

  immediately start THINLY slicing the fresh mushrooms. about as thin as you can manage.  either blend dried porcinis into a powder or pain-stakingly chop them up as fine as you can.  assemble these ingredients into a bowl along with the salt, pepper, oregano, and tarragon.   once onions are translucent add this mixture.  sautee for about five more minutes until mushrooms are tender. 

  add remaining butter and once it has melted stir it into mixture a bit.  then scatter the flour over the mixture and stir carefully.  let this cook together, stirring occasionally for about four or five minutes.  brown bits will accumulate on pan surface.  this is good.  makes for a nutty, deep flavor.  then slowly pour in about one cup of chicken stock making sure to stir well and gather up any bits stuck to the pan.  let this simmer for a bit and add rest of stock.  bring up to a simmering bubble.

  add cream and sherry.  return to a simmer.  taste.  can be made ahead and kept in fridge until ready to serve.  just reheat.  this is DELICIOUS.  garnish with thinly sliced scallions (green onions).  cutting them on the bias makes them gorgeous. 

serves 6. 


Happy Fall, everyone.  I can't wait to share it with you.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Happiness in a Bowl

Albert Einstein said, ''A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?''  I mostly agree with that.  There's a lot of happiness in a bowl of fruit.  What is better than a bowl of fresh sliced golden orange Elberta peaches?  Or a dish of cold, juicy watermelon?  What is more quenching and cleansing after a bout of naughty eating than a dozen pink, glistening segments of grapefruit?  What would a pie be without apples?  Or shortcake with out strawberries?  Is there anything sweeter or more romantic than a gorgeous cherry clafoutis?  Well maybe, especially if your name is Bananas Foster?  Speaking of bananas,  I go bananas for perfect honeydew, something so rare I'm almost more likely to be hit by lightening.  Sweet, crisp, plumpy red grapes?  

Did you know fruit is one of the best ways to start your morning?  Eaten on an empty stomach it quickly travels through (we're talking half an hour folks!) and serves to clean out your intestines?  It doesn't even really digest.  It cleans.  It cleanses.  It also hydrates your thirsty and restful body after a nights sleep.  It's best to eat first thing because if you combine it with other food it will get caught up in the stomach for about three or four hours and will putrefy instead of giving you it's true goodness...  I know, kind of gross and scientific, not at all what I go for with this blog, but, I find it important that you know that.  I was doing really great at eating a big bowl of fruit every morning before consuming anything else.  I felt so good!  So light.  So clean.  Try it.  It works.  It's like starting the day with a giant bowl of happiness.  In the words of my beloved Ina Garten, ''Who wouldn't love that?''

In fact, at this moment I can smell peach cobbler starting to do it's thing in the oven.  My fingers smell like butter.  Many of you bakers are very familiar with this occurrence I know.  You can wash your hands with water, but the aroma and essence of butter remains!  Okay, back to fruit.  And, I have an introduction to make.  I've never introduced you to my husband.  Maybe it's this adorable picture of him just as he is starting to whistle that's inspired me?  My whistler's name is Ethan.  We're coming up on our 3rd anniversary in a couple days and I thought, why not?  You should know of the man who eats my peach cobblers, picks me blackberries to make pie, and tells me my cooking is better than any restaurant...  We've had our struggles lately, I hear it's somewhat common in the beginning of this crazy thing we call marriage.  Anyway, if you could sends us floating hearts and stars, in the way of warm thoughts and wishes we could use them!  We're going to make it, no worries!  He's starting to think about making me dinner once a week.  I'll keep you posted.  

Okay.  Fruit.  One morning I got the impulse to make a very flavorful fruit salad.  We've all heard of the salt and watermelon connection.  Or the sweet, citrus-y syrup concoction.  Perhaps you've seen those cups of fresh fruit spears sprinkled with chili powder often served from taco trucks?  Well, I kind of combined all of those together to make a syrup from turbinado, honey, cayenne, lemon and lime juices and zests, and a good hearty pinch of salt of two.  It was sweet, sour, tart, salty, earthy... it was alive!  It was almost too much!  I couldn't decide if I loved or hated it?  But I had to have more.  Talk about a wake up to the tongue.  The cool thing is that it can really be adjusted to taste of course.  Add some water to dilute.  Just make it as you wish.  It's not scientific, and, you can combine any old combination of flavors you like.  A drizzle of honey and a oven-dried lime zest sugar dusting is delightful.  When I'm feeling nostalgic about fruit, I always recall a layered fruit salad my mother used to make with melons, grapes, strawberries, and a luscious yogurt and cream cheese mixture.  I could practically jump in that trifle bowl and set up shop.  If I was miniaturized of course.  

As summer draws to a close, I'm already missing the massive variety of fresh fruit we've come to expect and love.  I'm also already pining for sunny, sparkly days at the lake.  A place where I enjoyed many delightful dips.  One was at midnight, the night enchanted and magical, a skinny dipping adventure on my best friend Mo's birthday.  Imagine: Perseid meteor showers shooting golden streamers here and there, silky smooth black water, more than a handful of kindred spirits, a big wide sky lit with thousands of bright stars, American cheese and bologna sandwiches on 88 cent white bread, champagne, gourmet cupcakes, floating firewood housing dainty tea lights?  I mean isn't that right out of a dream or novel?  To me, that's summer.  Friends, fruit, skinny dipping, living.  It's cool outside, and I can feel fall in the air.  It might be a few weeks away still, but it's coming.  And I'm okay with that.  I love fall.  Maybe even more than summer.   But, man.  It's been a good summer.  Okay, I have to go.  The cobbler calls.  Oh, one more thing...

I'm feeling a bit needy.  Needy for comments!  I'm wondering if you all would mind helping to make this the most commented on post of all time!  I know there are readers in Canada, France, and Italy and lots of other places!  Who are you?  And all of you crazy Americans... say hi!  I'd love it dearly.  Almost as much as skinny dipping.  xx

Best Potato Salad Ever

I am a crazy, crazy fan of potato salad.  Not just any potato salad, good potato salad.  We all know there are a lot and too many very mediocre, even poor potato salads out there.  You've had them, I've had them, we've all had them!  Bland, commercial ones that taste like plastic and preservatives, potatoes too firm, not enough sauce, too much sauce, under-salted, uninspired, and the worst, plain old forgettable.  Potato salad should be such a delectable side dish that you know you shouldn't eat too much of it because there is a main star to save room for, but yet you just can't help eating way more of it than you should because it's so irresistibly delicious!  It should scream summer and picnics.  You should look forward to potato salad not just put up with it!  Heck, I turn it into the main dish.  With a fresh, side salad?  Yes!  So, being the potato salad lover that I am, I've done quite a lot of reading up on the dish.  Since first researching, I think I've learned quite a lot and know the ways around making an utterly magical potato salad.  And... I think I've created the perfect classic potato salad.  Wanna hear about it?

To me, the perfect potato salad has all the right textures and flavors.  I've made lots of recipes, one from the Pioneer Lady that called for mashing all of the potatoes.  Another that requires dousing the drained, hot spuds in a tangy vinaigrette.  And somehow, after combining the secrets and techniques of all these great recipes, I've put them all together and this is what I've come up with.  

To get the right texture, some strategic care must be given to the potatoes.  I prefer using waxy, smooth Yukon golds.  The bigger the better.  I dice them all up into about 1'' cubes and and cover with cold water and some salt.  Then after bringing them to a boil and letting them simmer, I take out about quarter of them when al dente, then half of what's left when they are creamy but still a firm.  Then, I cook the remainder until they are very, very soft in order to mash them. All the while draining each batch, and sprinkling them while still hot with a vegetable oil-based vinaigrette with cider and white wine vinegar, paprika, minced garlic, sugar, parsley, and of course salt and pepper.  This way, the potatoes soak up all of the wonderful spices and flavors and result in a potato salad with much more depth and character.


You're going to have to bare with me, here.  We're just getting started.  If you love potato salad like I do though, it will be worth your time I promise!  I should have mentioned that before you even get your potatoes on the stove you should very thinly slice one or two large onions depending on yield you're going for.  You will be caramelizing them in a half or whole stick of butter until they are as brown as they can get and reduce to a piddly little ball of what I like to call, onion jam.  Onion jam is loaded and loaded with sweet, robust flavor and will take this potato salad into galaxies it only dreamed of!  Now, I love potato salads with just a vinaigrette, but, in order to create the perfect potato salad with all the right elements, there just has to be a creamy factor as well.  So,in addition to the vinaigrette, we'll be combining a less than usual amount of mayonnaise and sour cream.  This will add the creaminess we are looking for, it's really just combining the two styles which I think go very well hand in hand.

Then, to finish you've gotta have boiled eggs.  Three to six depending on the size of the salad, or, however many you prefer.  My perfect potato salad also has to have pickles.  And I want them crunchy.  To add sure crunch and a bit of class, I go with cornichons.  They are dainty, flavorful, and crunchy as can be.  They are perfect.  I slice them into little disks.  A good amount of them.  And for some freshness, celery.  The key is to mince the celery very well.  It's there for flavor and crunch, but shouldn't overwhelm or stand out too much.  Also, I don't care for raw white onions in a potato salad and sometimes scallions can get slimy, so tah-dah... chives, and dried are just fine.  This may seem like a lot of work, and truthfully, it kind of is.  It's definitely a bit time consuming of a process, but oh-so-worth-it.  IT'S INCREDIBLE.  

I'm a little leery giving you a recipe and here is why.  I've only made this version a couple times and haven't jotted down the exact measurements yet.  The next time I make it, I'll jot it all down and share it with you.  I can tell you though that you can do it!  It's much more about intuition than anything else.  I would say if you used about 3 and a half pounds of potatoes, you would want to make about a half cup or a bit more of the vinaigrette, standard 2/3 to 1/3 oil-vinegar ratio.  I use vegetable oil because it allows the other flavors to stand out as they should, use olive oil if you prefer.  I prefer Wessons.  Add minced garlic to taste, a few pinches of sugar or honey, a good amount of paprika, you want the liquid to be a medium orange color, it adds a nice color to the potato salad.  Dried parsley, salt and pepper finish it out.  For the mayonnaise and sour cream mixture, maybe another 1/2 cup?  Add some whole grain mustard as well, maybe a tablespoon.  Caramelize one large onion and add the melted butter that comes with it.  Then slice up a stalk or two of celery, and then the right amount of cornichons, the chives and celery add necessary freshness.  It's also best at room temperature or slightly warm.  Due to the fats, and I know, there's a lot of them, eating it straight from the fridge isn't recommended.  

I enjoyed some time at Barnes and Noble today and made my way through the latest issue of Fine Cooking.  And, to my glee, there was a whole spread of potato salad.  It was actually pretty genius.  It broke potato salad down into all the elements.  Based on three and a half pounds of potatoes, it told you how to cook them (not my method), then to choose a creamy dressing or vinaigrette which they offered recipes for, then lists of enhancements.  Check it out if you can.  They also suggest making the creamy dressing with 1 part mayo and another part either sour cream, yogurt, creme fraiche, or buttermilk.  Then you can select up to six of the following to aromatics and flavor-boosters to enhance your dressing: anchovies, chipotle in adobo, horseradish, ginger, lemon or lime zest, turbinado sugar or honey, garlic, or orange zest.  There are many more you could think up as well.  Then, you get to pick your mix-ins, up to six again, and no more than four cups total:  artichoke hearts, bell peppers, dried apricots, peas, chickpeas, red onion or shallot, celery, radicchio or endive, granny smiths, sugar snap peas, mushrooms, fennel, raisins, green beans, sweet corn, scallions, tomatoes.  Again, you can probably think of many more mix-ins!  Also: pine nuts, almonds, or walnuts.  Don't forget proteins: bacon, eggs, smoked salmon or trout, turkey, chicken, pancetta, shrimp.  Can't leave out cheese: cheddar, feta, blue!  And then for real flavor: capers, cornichons, pepperoncini, fresh herbs, olives, jalapenos, etc!  There really are so many options.  Some of their favorite combos that I thought looked good were:

-Corn, Bell Pepper, and Cheddar: creamy dressing with lime, garlic, oregano, and cumin. Fresh corn, red bell peppers, cheddar cheese, scallions, and cilantro (I would never use cilantro, parsley instead and also a few jalapenos!)
-Bacon, Pickle, and Caraway: vinaigrette dressing with grainy mustard and caraway seeds, then sweet onion, bacon, dill, and parsley.
- Shrimp, Tarragon, and Celery: creamy dressing with lemon and tarragon, shrimp, celery, and chives.
- Pancetta, Peas, and Mixed Herbs: creamy with buttermilk and lemon juice, peas, sugar snaps, pancetta, mint, basil, and chives.

I think a creamy based version with curry powder, green beans, raisins, and peas would be interesting?

Sorry for the long potato salad article here, it's just that potato salad calls for such verbosity, doesn't it?  I really hope I've opened your eyes to the possibilities and perfection that can be in potato salad. If you wouldn't mind, tell me about your favorite version of the dish?  I've love to hear about them!