Rice & Quinoa With A Crunch

As I was editing the photos for this post, I dawned on me just how much inventing I actually do when it comes to food. (Well, actually anything in my life really. More to come about votive candle holders I’ve been hand painting which will be up for sale soon.) The reason it came into light was because I had forgotten that I even came up with recipe and combo until I looked at the photos. Then I went scouring through all my little slips of paper where I jot down ingredients and amounts to find the notes for this recipe. I seriously might have forgotten about it all together had it not been for this blog which requires me to write shit down. Thank you, thank you, thank you for forcing me to photograph, catalog, measure and archive all my inventions. For decades, I had been coming up with food combinations which I made that one time only, and never or rarely repeated again. The top pretexts for no repeats; one, because when I see ingredients I don’t think about what I did last time, I see something new. Two, because apparently I don’t have as good a memory as I think. Three, without writing it down, there is no way of recouping exactly what I did. So, if I don’t have a recipe or even a hint of what I once did to go by, I might as well create something fresh.

There are some recipes that I do make over and over again. Like Boquerones Skewers, Stuffed Piquillos, or Salmon Burgers or Indian Spiced Rice. Quite frankly, it’s because I have this blog to jog my memory with images and recollections of a meal past. I now use it as my own personal recipe book. (I hope you do, too.) And so at this exact moment I’ve found another raison d'être to continue writing and creating. Not just for you all, but for me, too.

I wish I could recall exactly why I came up with this one, but it escapes me now. Maybe it was that I didn’t want to just serve rice, or just quinoa and figured why not put them together. Maybe I was riffing off my Glorious Grains - Moroccan Style. Whatever the guise, I’m glad I riffed because it was a fluffy, crunchy delight. And one I will now definitely make again. This, of course, got the two thumbs up seal of approval from my daily taste testers - JuanCarlos and Jill. or J to the second power as I like to call them.

The main line up: Basmati Rice, Quinoa, Pepitas, Slivered Almonds, Fresh MInt, Red Pepper Flakes and Chinese Chives.

The main line up: Basmati Rice, Quinoa, Pepitas, Slivered Almonds, Fresh MInt, Red Pepper Flakes and Chinese Chives.

Ingredients

1 c Basmati Rice
1 c Quinoa
1/4 c Pepitas, toasted
1/4 c Slivered Almonds, lightly toasted
1 c onions, chopped
1.5 T fresh mint, julienned
1/2 t red pepper flakes (adjust to your liking)
1/2 c Chinese chives, chopped*
3 T Olve Oil
1 t salt
1/4 black pepper

Instructions


1. Sauté onions in olive oil, add salt and pepper until softened.

Chopped onions ready to soften and give off their sweetness.

Chopped onions ready to soften and give off their sweetness.

2. Add rice and quinoa and let the grains lightly toast before adding 3.5 c water, cover and let simmer

until cooked.

The onions only need to softened, then in goes the rice, then quinoa so they can toast and absorb some of the sweet onion and oil flavor.

The onions only need to softened, then in goes the rice, then quinoa so they can toast and absorb some of the sweet onion and oil flavor.

Quinoa in the pot to get coated with oil and onions, too.

Quinoa in the pot to get coated with oil and onions, too.

3. Meanwhile, in a pan toast the pepitas and almonds separately. Be careful to only lightly toast the

almonds as these are delicate and can burn quickly and easily, which is why they need to done them separately.

Toasting the pepitas.

Toasting the pepitas.

3. Mix all the ingredients together and taste for seasoning. Serve immediately.

I know I’m known for making a vinaigrette and drizzling it over a dish, but after tasting it, it actually didn’t need a thing. I conferred with JC, and he agreed. Leave it just as it is. More evidence why it’s important to taste as you go. However, if you wanted to make this more of a salad type of dish you could add a lemon vinaigrette. It will change the texture of both the starches and the crunch factor, but I imagine it would tasty just the same. Try it my way first, then decide for yourself.

Everything ready.

Everything ready.

In go the pepitas.

In go the pepitas.

In go the almonds.

In go the almonds.

I may seem like a lot of chives, but it’s not. It’s actually the perfect amount.

I may seem like a lot of chives, but it’s not. It’s actually the perfect amount.

Mix it all up gently. I was going to add a vinaigrette but JuanCarlos tasted it and said it needed NOTHING else. So there you have it.

Mix it all up gently. I was going to add a vinaigrette but JuanCarlos tasted it and said it needed NOTHING else. So there you have it.

I guess it doesn’t matter why I came up with this combo, it only matters that it answered the call. And it definitely delivered on my hope for serving more than just rice or just quinoa. And the deciding factors were:

The red pepper flakes gave a hint of heat while the mint produced a fresh, vibrancy.

Heat

Heat

Cools the heat

Cools the heat

The Chinese chives provided that mild onion note.

Chinese chives. Longer and flatter.

Chinese chives. Longer and flatter.

It may seem like a lot but you need a lot to cut through the starch

It may seem like a lot but you need a lot to cut through the starch

And of course, the pepitas and almonds packed the crunch, which you know I love.

Crunch AKA Pepitas

Crunch AKA Pepitas

Crunch2 AKA Slivered Almonds

Crunch2 AKA Slivered Almonds

All in all, a great little side dish starch that fills the belly and the soul. I served it with lentils and sautéd grey sole.

A medley of flavors. Fluffy AND Crunchy. How great is that?

A medley of flavors. Fluffy AND Crunchy. How great is that?

Monday Night Dinner - Shared with Friends

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In today’s world of hustle and bustle, technology and device driven social contact, there is one aspect (well, probably many) of our new reality that makes me truly long for days of yore.
Connection. Real, soulful, personal connection.
I miss those times when getting together with loved ones was easy, almost expected on a regular basis. When weekends were spent visiting friends and family, and not traveling in a car for hours to watch a little league, or spent in front of a computer trying to catch up on work. Nowadays, it takes calendars, a team of coordinators, pie charts and graphs and law firm to find a date that matches up for everyone. When I was younger, we had our midday meal at my grandmother’s house every Sunday in Brooklyn. It was known and expected and it was a comfort and joy to gather all together. When we moved out to Long Island, everyone then drove out to us for the day. We were a family, and friends were always welcome to join.

I long for those days. I’m not saying every Sunday but I do yearn for time spent enjoying a meal with people I love in a chill atmosphere just so we can catch up. I fully recognize some of the reasons why this has become difficult. People move further away from one another. Jobs and schedules are more demanding. Kids have extracurricular activities that require more time and attention. But I guess this new paradigm of life is what irks me. We put so much more emphasis on things that cause us stress, and less on carving out time to hang with people we care about. I know I might get some backlash about the kids’ activity portion. It brings joy, etc. But when did sports and violin practice consume 75% of a kids free time? When do they have time to socialize and be kids? Now, that is a whole other topic. But, you all get where I’m going.

 

So given that long diatribe, it completely warmed my heart that when my friend Tecla’s dad was back in NYC visiting from Tuscany, JuanCarlos and I were top of his list to visit. High on the list!! We were tickled Parmesano Reggiano. We made a date for a Monday night and as we were deciding where to meet, it was a no brainer to invite them to our home. Unfortunately, our dear friend Scott, Tecla’s hubby, was unable to join us, and he was missed.

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A simple meal is all that’s needed, since the purpose of the visit was spending time together. We did add an appetizer and soup because we wanted the evening to last longer. More time requires more food. Well, at least that’s my thinking.

Here is what we served, and the elegant, simple table setting we served it on.

Appetizer & Soup

Eggplant rounds with roasted tomato & goat cheese

Sliced eggplant dusted with flour, quick sauté, then placed on a baking. Top each one with a spoonful of roasted tomatoes (sauce), a dollop of goat cheese, some thyme leaves and drizzle of olive oil. Bake until cheese melts.

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Seafood Soup

This is the perfect starter on cold night. A light fish broth chock full of shrimp, monkfish, calamari and beans.

Simply sauté garlic, onions and parsley. Stir in cannellini beans to add a bit heartiness. Then add fish stock and bring to low rolling boil and add the fish. Cover and lower to a simmer until the fish is cooked through.

The same wine we enjoyed with Tecla’s dad in Italy on a visit to the winery. Perfect with the pork and the cake!

The same wine we enjoyed with Tecla’s dad in Italy on a visit to the winery. Perfect with the pork and the cake!

Main Course
Pork Roast
Oven roasted Heirloom Carrots
Oven roasted Butternut Squash with Brown Butter Sage
Quinoa with scallions

 
Photo credit: Tecla Palli-Sandler

Photo credit: Tecla Palli-Sandler

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Roasted Pork
Roasted vegetables & Quinoa
 

Cinque colore salad with oil cured olives

I’ve taken the traditional tri-colore salad and amped it up with a few more colors by way of citrus fruits and oil cured olives. I used both the juices from the grapefruit and oranges then added lemon, lime and zest whisked with olive oil, salt, pepper for the dressing. Fresh, bitter, sweet, sour, peppery. This hit all the right notes.

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Dessert
Gluten Free, Dairy/Egg free chocolate tart. This is not my recipe. Nor did I make it exactly as the recipe stated, but this came out chocolatey, rich and delicious. I made a slightly altered version of Brandi’s Chocolate Espresso Fudge Cake. I didn’t have chocolate to shave over top so I created my own decoration with a random almond sliver swirl. I must have been channeling crop circles.

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Table Setting & Decor
It was a Monday night so there was not a ton of time for a formal table setting. It was more of a last minute task. So no time for ironing meant no tablecloth, and a need to display a napkin that no one would notice the wrinkles. Deep green colored velvet placemats kept with a winter warm theme. White dishes and gold charger popped nicely off the deep color mats and made it feel rich and elegant, but not pretentious. Just the right touch to make our guests feel special, yet not a lot work for me.

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The heartiness of my cabbage floral arrangement, plus elements from my Fall themed arrangement lasted long enough for me to arrange them at the end of the table with some candles to warm up the setting.

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Table setting with green velvet placemats, gold chargers, white plates and a soup bowl with gold trim.

Table setting with green velvet placemats, gold chargers, white plates and a soup bowl with gold trim.

There is nothing more satisfying than making a meal that nourishes the body and the soul, and sharing it!

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Tecla and her dad, Paolo serving up food stirred with love.

Tecla and her dad, Paolo serving up food stirred with love.

JuanCarlos talking about the state of… If you want to know, you’ll have to join us for dinner.

JuanCarlos talking about the state of… If you want to know, you’ll have to join us for dinner.

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We had such a great night. We all love food, travel, family, and living life richly. So conversation was a flow as we enjoyed a simple meal together. Cherishing the time we each carved out for one another in our busy schedules, and realizing that anything worth enjoying takes a little effort. I’m glad we all made the effort. And even happier that we were on Paolo’s list during his short visit. Our turn next… in Italy!!

I hope that with all the rush of the holidays you, too, can carve our time in your schedules to share a meal, laughter and love with the people you love. Dig in, fork first!

Paolo, aka Babbo, digging into chocolate heaven.

Paolo, aka Babbo, digging into chocolate heaven.

 

Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Spinach, Feta & Goat Cheese

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I love when we have friends and family stay with us.  It gives me even more motivation to cook and find some new dishes to test out.  Such was the case when my brother came to visit from L.A. for an extended stay.  He was in town to research and write a movie script which the timing of his visit just so happened to coincide with my mom's knee replacement surgery.  Lucky for me, he was able to do all the heavy lifting in helping her recup. He bopped back and forth from our house to my parents, where he did all the cooking while staying at their house. So naturally I wanted to give him a break when he was at ours.  He is most definitely into healthy eating and steering clear of wheat and bread.  Which was perfect, since so do I. We enjoyed a few good meals mixing up the proteins and sides but mostly keeping it simple.

With chicken on the menu for his last night in NY, I wanted to make it slightly more special than just oven roasted.  You can count on me to rev up the creative juices when the fridge is full with stuff that needs to be used.  Hence, "let me stuff chicken breasts with spinach, feta and goat cheese."  All of which were in some crazy abundance in the fridge that week.  (The goat was was originally destined for a tart idea that's been brewing. The spinach was supposed to have been a side dish. And the feta was one cheese that my brother asked for salads and for Greek inspired dishes. So that explains it.) 

Besides just enjoying his company, I double downed on my good fortune of having him around as he snapped photos while I prepared this meal. Among his many talents, add photographer with a keen eye. So while my hands were full or messy, he documented the prep work.  I'm telling you, as much as I love taking photos of what I make, it was a real treat to be able to just cook and not worry about cleaning my hands, taking the shot, then back to mixing, stirring or chopping.  I'm spoiled now.

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ingredients

4 chicken breasts
14 oz baby spinach*, sautéed
2 T shallots, minced
2 T garlic, minced
1/2 c goat cheese
1/2 c feta cheese
1/2 c white wine (I used Muga Rosé, as it was leftover)
Oil roasted tomatoes
Magic 3 (Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper)

* I used 20 oz of spinach which was more than enough for filling but I used the rest as leftovers the next day to make corn quesadillas with feta.

Instructions

Sauté the shallots, garlic in oil seasoning with salt and pepper.  Add the spinach, cooking until wilted, then set aside to cool. 

I chopped the spinach because I thought it would be easier to eat as well as insert into the chicken.   Photo credit: Robert Perri

I chopped the spinach because I thought it would be easier to eat as well as insert into the chicken.   Photo credit: Robert Perri

Clean, wash and thoroughly dry the chicken breasts.  Then cut a pocket into the thick middle of each breast. (Note: making sure your protein (chicken, meat, fish) is thoroughly dried ensures you will get a good sear.)

Photo credit: Robert Perri

Photo credit: Robert Perri

Stuff each one with spinach then add the goat and feta cheeses into the pocket.  Secure with a toothpick. 

Photo credit: Robert Perri

Photo credit: Robert Perri

Photo credit: Robert Perri

Photo credit: Robert Perri

Photo credit: Robert Perri

Photo credit: Robert Perri

Season the chicken with salt, pepper and olive oil, then sear them on both sides in a cast iron skillet.  Add wine and oven roasted tomatoes and then place in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chicken.

Photo credit: Robert Perri

Photo credit: Robert Perri

Photo credit: Robert Perri

Photo credit: Robert Perri

Photo credit: Robert Perri

Photo credit: Robert Perri

Photo credit: Robert Perri

Photo credit: Robert Perri

It just so happened that my sister, Jill, was also in town, which made it a nice send off.  It was too bad that my other sis, Alyssa, couldn't make it.  Since we were a party of four I needed some side dishes.  Pulling items out of the fridge, here's the list of extras.

And there you have a goodbye meal that felt like we were sending him back home with love.

Photo credit: Robert Perri

Photo credit: Robert Perri

Photo credit: Robert Perri

Photo credit: Robert Perri

He doesn't like his photo to be taken, so you will have to take my word for it that he enjoyed the meal with a smile.  Enough so that he ate some of the leftovers the next day before we drove to JFK. And just the other day he told me that he recreated this dish when he got home. A Winner.
I think this could also be a good brunch dish.  If you slice the cutlets in thick pieces, place them all on a large platter and pour the juices and tomatoes over top, it's an easy pick up and go dish for a buffet.

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Feeding the people you love is what cooking is all about.  Whether you are making a meal for someone coming into town or someone who is leaving, nourishing their bodies and souls is always better stirred with love.  A most wholesome gift indeed.

Glorious Grains Moroccan Style

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I think I might have a starch addiction. I am drawn to anything that provides that hearty, hulky texture.  Pasta, rice, potatoes, grains.  All these top my "I'll eat these anywhere, anytime" list.  Since I tend to consume all of the previously mentioned starchy delights a lot, I am always searching for different flavor combos to add to my repertoire.  I am not a huge fan of savory foods being too sweet, but I do enjoy countering tangy, sour, spicy flavors with cooling herbs and hints of sweet notes.  That's why this recipe, mixing grains of varied flavors and textures with herbs and other 'condiments', hits the bull's eye, satisfying those goals. Another great plus to this combo is that these grains pack a powerful protein punch.  Flavor, nutrients, festive looking... What more can you ask of your food?

When I first made this dish I was still eating wheat, so couscous was one of the 'grains' I used.  If you are not gluten free then go ahead, stir it in. For those who are gluten free, just eliminate the couscous as I do now.  You can add another grain or replace it by doubling up on one of the others already being used.  I used another 3/4 c of quinoa as a replacement.

What a heavenly and earthy mix. Also, notice my favorite little bowls that serve me so well for prepping dishes like this. If you want your own, check out   Miller Pottery

What a heavenly and earthy mix. Also, notice my favorite little bowls that serve me so well for prepping dishes like this. If you want your own, check out Miller Pottery

Ingredients

Simple, but perfectly balanced dressing line up.

Simple, but perfectly balanced dressing line up.

1 c uncooked Kasha (Buckwheat)
1 c uncooked Quinoa
1 c uncooked Couscous (eliminate to be gluten free)
1 c uncooked Millet
1/4 c chives, chopped
1/2 c chopped parsley
1/4 c mint, chopped
3/4 c dried apricots, diced
3/4 c Medjool dates, diced
1/2 c red onion, diced
1 c scallion, sliced
1/2 c almond slivers
(orange wedges would add lovely fresh component as an option)

Dressing
1/2 c lemon juice
1 T lemon zest
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1.5 t salt
3/4 c olive oil

 

Instructions 

Cook each of the grains separately, according to the package. 

Glorious grains. Millet, quinoa, kasha (which is also known as buckwheat)

Glorious grains. Millet, quinoa, kasha (which is also known as buckwheat)

While those are cooking, chop and prep all the remaining ingredients and have ready to mix together.   

Parsley, dates, scallions, red onion, almonds, dried apricots, chives, mint. Oh, these are going to love dancing together.

Parsley, dates, scallions, red onion, almonds, dried apricots, chives, mint. Oh, these are going to love dancing together.

Once the grains are done, drain and mix them together, adding the dressing before all the other ingredients.

Cooked kasha, milliet, quinoa.

Cooked kasha, milliet, quinoa.

Pour the dressing on first and let it all soak in.

Pour the dressing on first and let it all soak in.

Then add in all the remaining ingredients and toss until well combined. 

A bounty of textures, flavors and nutrients all in one big bowl.

A bounty of textures, flavors and nutrients all in one big bowl.

You see that big LOVE sign. That's right, stir this up with huge amounts of Love. (See below about the new sign.)

You see that big LOVE sign. That's right, stir this up with huge amounts of Love. (See below about the new sign.)

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This dish can be served slightly warm, room temp or even chilled.  Since it has a nod to Moroccan flavors it will pair with lamb or chicken dishes quite well.  I ate mine with ripe heirloom tomatoes and French feta cheese.  The rest of our gang enjoyed it with roasted chicken.

 

You may have noticed that my LOVE in the background of some my shots has grown.  Indeed, it has.  There are moments in my life that continue to remind me of the many blessings bestowed on me.  Friends are at the top of my list.  One of my best friends extended her love by sending me some of hers in the form of that huge swirl of emotion.  Thank you Dominique for sharing this with me and for your eternal friendship, support and of course, Love.  My heart grew 3 sizes that day!

Lunch 3 Ways, as performed by Roasted Vegetables

The Stars

The Stars

Yeah, yeah, I know that you know that I LOVE roasting vegetables.  Honestly, it's one of the easiest, most efficient and delicious ways to cook them.  All the work is done for you.  Place 'em on a pan with the magic 3 (oil, salt & pepper), slide into a 400 degree oven and done and done.   

Knowing this, you won't be surprised that I've come up with 3 more ways to serve up roasted vegetables. This was yet another time when we had a handful of unused items from a party that needed to be cooked up. As usual when I looked at these, I wasn't sure what their final use would be, but before they went bad they needed one last curtain call.  

The stars of this day's performance: Introducing the Carrot, The Vine Tomato, The Beet,  The Yellow Pepper and of course, Miss Fennel.

Destined for sweetness by way of roasting.

Destined for sweetness by way of roasting.

Adding the Magic 3, Olive Oil, Salt & Pepper

Adding the Magic 3, Olive Oil, Salt & Pepper

I added potatoes because JC loves these roasted

I added potatoes because JC loves these roasted


Lunch Performance #1 - The Stack 'em Up Sandwich

Place a few of the roasted tomatoes in a small food processor along with crushed garlic, pinch of salt and 2-3 T olive oil. Pulse until you get a chunky paste.

 

Place a few slices of your favorite cheese on one side of the bread and broil it until the cheese is melted. (I used Ojeva Negra, an earthy Spanish sheep's milk cheese.)

Add a smattering of the tomato-garlic 'jam' and begin stacking the veggies onto your sandwich. From here you can begin diving in or take it the next step and panini it.  This earthy, crunchy lunch was for JC since I don't eat bread.  Sucks for me.

The Full Stack

The Full Stack


Lunch Performance #2 - Quinoa Bowl

Cook up your favorite quinoa.  I used an organic multi grain one.  Ready up your roasted veggies and cut into bite sized pieces.

Once quinoa is cooked, arrange in a the bowl, top the quinoa with the tomato 'jam' and dig in.


Lunch Performance  #3 - Pasta Toss

I don't need to tell you that this was my favorite.  I'm such a pasta monster.  You can use whatever type of pasta floats your boat.  Semolina is still my favorite but I can't eat wheat anymore so I cooked up some brown rice elbow macaroni.  

While the pasta was cooking, I sautéed 1/4 c chopped shallots, 2 cloves chopped garlic and some left over grape tomatoes equally about 2/3 cup. (Again, any amount that you have will work, so don't worry so much about amount here.)  Once those were soft, I added all the other roasted vegetables that I chopped into bite sized pieces.

To add a bit more heartiness as well as creaminess, I added a can of baby cannellini beans with their liquid, and a touch more salt & good amount of crushed red pepper.

Then came the star of this show. Can you tell I like pasta?  In went the cooked elbow macaroni. Add whatever shape you like  and gently stir together.  

Plate it up in a nice serving bowl and grate some Locatelli cheese on top.  This was satisfyingly yummy.  Add a glass of red wine, and you'll have a Joie de Vivre lunch, for sure.

I hope you love roasting vegetables as much as I do.  They are so adaptable to so many dishes. Be forewarned, roasted and grilled vegetables will make encore presentations in the future... and often.  Why not, their versatility is not to be reckoned with.  Get your veggie on!

P.S. The roasted potatoes were not called upon for lunches, but did make their appearance as a side dish for dinner.  Plus a few were eaten right out of the oven while making the lunches.  Seriously, who could resist those crunchy bites.