Quinoa Fruit Bars

This recipe is a make-over for quinoa, transforming the unglamorous side dish into a sweet and hearty dessert bar that doubles as a to-go breakfast or quick energy snack.  For those of you who have never tried or heard of quinoa, you are in for a treat.  For those of you who have only use quinoa as a side dish for your dinner, you are also in for a treat.  This nutritious grain is much more versatile than I originally thought.

Up until this point, I had only used quinoa, an ancient grain from the Andean highlands of South America revered by the Incas, as a quick grain option.  It’s very easy to cook and has a rich, nutty flavor.  It is one of my favorites. Then I rented from my local library The South American Table cookbook by Maria Baez Kijac.  This book is a collection of 450 recipes from South America, a culinary jewel often overlooked by cooks in the US who are generally more familiar with Mexican recipes.

I wanted to use quinoa in a different way other than relegating it to the side lines and figured that Peruvian or Bolivian cooking would guide and inspire.  After all, Peru and Bolivia were the geographic centers of the Incan empire where quinoa was the “mother of grain.”   I adapted this recipe slightly from a Quinoa Bars recipe in The South American Table by adjusting the spices moderately and taking out the anise seeds, since I don’t like licorice flavor.

Quinoa Fruit Bars uses quinoa like flour, making a “cake” that holds and binds the dried fruit and nuts.  Orange juice and spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg add an autumn holiday flavor.  These bars are moist and versatile.  Since quinoa has no gluten, these bars are an excellent gluten-free baked good option, just use rice flour instead of all purpose). Make variations of these bars by substituting other dried fruit or nuts.  Cut up the leftovers into ready-to-go bars for a quick breakfast or snack. Store at room temperature in covered Tupperware containers for 3-4 days.

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Quinoa Fruit Bars
adapted from The South American Table
makes 24 bars

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place 1/2 cup of raisins in a cup of warm water for 15 minutes to plump them.

2.  Toast 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts (or other nuts) in a small saute pan over medium heat, about 4 minutes.

3. In a medium sauce pan, over medium-high heat, add
2 cups water and
1 cup rinsed quinoa (See How to: Cook Quinoa for preparation instructions)
Cover the pot and cook 12-15 minutes until all the water has been absorbed.  The quinoa will be light and fluffy.

4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the following:
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup all purpose flour (for gluten-free use rice flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 -2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped dates (or dried apricots, cherries, etc.)
plus your toasted nuts and plumped raisins.

Mix these ingredients together.

5.  Add the quinoa to the dry ingredints.  Mix to combine.

6.  To the dry ingredients mix in the following:
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup fresh orange juice, and
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

7. Pour the batter into a 13 x 9 inch pan that’s been lightly coated with cooking spray.  

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Buen Provecho!

Scottish Oatcakes a la Game of Thones

Skip the woman’s gibber-jabber and get the recipe: Oatcakes with Apple Compote

I’ve been MIA for a few months now because I have trouble lifting my face out of George R.R. Martin’s epic series A Song of Ice and Fire.  Mainstream, out of the fantasy-genre-loop people, like myself, learned of the series from the HBO hit TV show named after the first book, A Game of Thrones.

Martin has been called the “American Tolkien” for his epic masterpiece that so far is 5 books; I’m on Book #4, A Feast for Crows.  Aside from the brilliant plot twists that keep me up so late I feel like a college student again, Martin has absolutely delicious and thorough descriptions of the food the characters eat.  Usually this kind of description is something I gloss over in my hunger for story.  Ironically enough, I first noticed how often Martin writes about the food as I was participating in a food/body cleanse, in other words, I noticed how often he writes about food while fasting.

For the cleanse itself, my husband and I had a liquid meal for both breakfast and dinner.  Lunch was our only solid meal of the day, and let me tell you, when you only have 1 meal a day that you can chew and feel all the textures and complexity of tastes, your tongue riots in delight and seeks out that window of pleasure each day.  Flavors seem to magically multiply a hundredfold when they are in such scarcity.

Here’s how a typical evening read would go:

It’s evening and I’ve had my bowl of raw, blended butternut squash and spinach puree enhanced with filtered water.  I can only stomach half of the soup because the flavor has a bitter uncookedness about it that makes me gag.  To forget my half eaten watery squash-spinach soup, I seek escape.  Curled up on the couch with a book to distract my mind and stomach from its hunger, I read this, “They broke their fast on black bread and boiled goose eggs and fish fried up with onions and bacon…” (311) or this “The eight soon-to-be brothers feasted on rack of lamb baked in a crust of garlic and herbs, garnished with sprigs of mint, and surrounded by mashed yellow turnips swimming in butter….  There were salads  of spinach and chickpeas and turnip greens, and afterwards bowls of iced blueberries and sweet cream” (445) or this “Jon was breaking his fast on applecakes and blood sausage…” (515).  All quotes are from the first book, A Game of Thrones.

It’s torture.  Martin’s tantalizing descriptions of meals and feasts only reminded me that all I could have was water.  And so, I drank.  Water helped me persevere through his meticulously detailed food descriptions.

One of the most common food items in Westeros, one of the fictional settings of the series, is oatcakes.  Many characters break their fast (translation eat breakfast) on oatcakes which are a grain staple of choice in Scotland.  With a little research, an idea here, another there, I came up with my own version of oatcakes.  PS the recipe is at the beginning of the post.  I’m so flatter that you decided to read my gibber-jabber in lieu of just seeking the recipe.

Start with your dry ingredients:

Fluff these together until mixed.

Now we’ll add our wet ingredients.  The baking soda needs something to react with, so I’m adding buttermilk which also helps with soft chewiness in baked goodies.  This is 1/4 cup of buttermilk and 1/4 cup of water.

I got a little excited which is why the measuring cup is so close and slightly out of focus.

Next, pop a stick of butter, 1/2 cup in the microwave for 30-45 seconds until melted.  Then add it to your mixing bowl.

Mix it all together.  It should have a sticky, thick, but well integrated consistency.

Now lay it out flat with a rubber spatula.  Aim for about 1/2 inch thickness.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Oatcakes are a rustic, everyday food item in Scotland; your edges do not need to be absolutely straight edged.  It’s not like we’re feeding a queen here.

At this point, you can score the dough,  by lightly running a knife over the batter to mark the portion cuts enough, just a gentle line here.

Then, bake at 350 degrees for 13-15 minutes until GBD, golden, brown, and delicious.  For impatient people, like me, once they come out of the oven they fall apart easily.  When allowed to cool, they stick together better.

While the oatcakes bake, make your apple compote.

Using a paring knife, peel the apples by starting at the stem and moving just underneath the peel in circles until you get to the end.  Don’t worry if you lose your flow, just place the knife under the skin again and keep circling around and around.

Core the apples by chopping chunks away from the center.

Then rough chop them into 1 inch pieces.  Place them in a saute pan over  medium high heat.  Add lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon.  Cook for 8-10 minutes until apples are softened.

Note about apples: I recommend you use Gala apples because they are soft and some pieces will begin to disintegrate and create liquid apple gravy as you cook them, while other pieces will remain intact giving you the best of both worlds: chunky and creamy.

In the final shot here, I used Granny Apples which are, like any grandmother, hardy and built to last.  Every piece maintained its chopped form, and I didn’t get any of the oozing apple gravy I got the previous week I made the compote with Gala apples.  It was still a taste of fall on my mouth, but i most definitely will always make this compote with Gala apples.  

Chilaquiles Verdes

Not Chee-la-qwee-les.

It’s Chee-la-kee-les, and for every Mexican grandmother or mother in the world, there exists a different recipe for them.  What are chilaquiles?  Fried tortilla strips (or triangles) cooked in salsa often mixed with other meat, eggs, or vegetables.  Not only are they a great way to use up old tortillas (though new ones are fine too), but allegedly they cure hangovers too.  Not that I would have any experience with that.

There’s a spectrum for how people like their chilaquiles.

Very soggy–soggy–somewhat soggy–somewhat crispy–crispy–very crispy.

And yes, there exists shades of gray between each of these categories.  I like mine somewhat soggy, otherwise I’d just be eating chips and salsa.  If you want crispier options, see the note at the end of this post.

Printable Recipe: Chilaquiles Verdes

You’ll need some Salsa Verde first.  Click the link if you don’t know how to make it, but the printable recipe also explains how to make fresh Salsa Verde in step 1.  Basically pulse tomatillos, onion, garlic, cilantro, salt, and jalapenos until it liquifies but not so much that it becomes one uniform green salsa; we want to be able to see the bits and pieces.

Next, prepare the tortillas.  I’ve got 12 here, approximately 3 per person.

Cut them in half.

Then make strips from those halves about 1/2″ wide.

If you prefer triangle over oddly shaped rectangles, you can do that with your tortillas.

Heat up 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil over high heat.  Add half of the tortillas strips.

Move ‘um around to make a single layer.  As best you can.

Now DON’T TOUCH for 3-4 minutes.  They are frying up, edges start crisping, but some parts stay soft.  After 3-4 minutes, move them around with a wooden spoon and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes.  Cook longer for crispier tortillas, but you may also have to use more oil.

Drain them on a paper towel and sprinkle on salt.

Repeat with another 1/4 cup of oil and the rest of the tortillas.  Set the just barely crisped tortillas aside until the last moment of cooking when we will put them in at the end to maintain those bits of crunch.

Now, let’s attempt to make chilaquiles healthy.  It is not an oxymoron.  We’ve got zucchini.

And a sweet bell pepper.  This is a gypsy pepper.

We’ll saute this yumminess for 3-5 minutes.  Please use the same pan you fried the tortilla strips with, unless you like to do dishes.

Add the Salsa Verde and swish it around to coat everything.

Cook for another 3 minutes so some of the excess water can evaporate out.

When you are ready to serve, add the tortilla strips.  This way parts of the strips will retain their crispiness integrity, but the softer parts will soak up the Salsa Verde.

Coat the tortilla strips with vegetables and Salsa Verde.  Cook a couple minutes until heated through.  Eat as needed to alleviate hangovers, I mean to use up leftover tortillas.

Variations: Add tofu, cooked meat, scrambled egg, or top with a fried egg for a more substantial meal.

Note at the end of the post: For crispier chilaquiles, use tortilla chips or broken tostada pieces, or fry the tortilla strips in smaller batches and in more oil.  Don’t mix the fried tortillas and salsa until the absolute last minute you want it, unless you like your chilaquiles very soft.

Lemon Curd

What would you do if you had over 120 lemons freshly picked from your backyard tree?

Yes, my husband is known for his extremes, 20 lemons obviously was not enough, and he had to get 5 times as many as I would have.  So, yeah, we’re kind of overwhelmed with lemons here in NorCal.  Most of them Kris juiced and made 2 trays of lemon juice ice cubes, but there are still so many left.

So many lemons!!

Well, since we both left for a few days, upon returning, I noticed that many of them had started to grow mold, so I tossed out about 15 of them.  Throwing away some of them didn’t really make a dent in the amount, so I figured the only way to use them up would be a recipe requiring a lot of lemon juice.  Note to self (and Kris) let’s not harvest immediately before we go on trips.

Some friends of ours invited us for a Sunday Brunch, so I thought I’d try my hand at making lemon curd and bring some strawberries to accompany it.  This recipe comes from a Northern California Cookbook called California Fresh Harvest A Seasonal Journey Through Northern California by the Junior League of Oakland-East Bay, Inc. This book has recipes from a lot of famous California chefs, including Alice Waters, among others.  For my first try at a recipe from this book, Kris and I are vastly impressed, read it’s absolutely delicious.

Hints (from my mistakes): zest the lemons before you juice them and to help aid the straining process use a wooden spoon.

Ingredients:

Lemon Curd Ingredients

1 and 1/2 cup sugar; 1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 10 of our small lemons); 1 stick of butter; zest of 6 lemons (hint: zest before you juice, otherwise you’ll make my stupid mistake); and 8 eggs (4 whole eggs, plus 4 yolks)

Step 1: Break 4 eggs into a bowl.  Then separate the other four.  Add only the yolks and save the egg whites for an omelet another day.

4 whole eggs plus 4 yolks

Step 2: Combine the eggs, sugar and lemon zest in a medium saucepan.

Yum!!

Whisk to combine.

Add the lemon juice and whisk to combine.

Step 3:  Cook the eggs, zest, sugar, and juice over medium low heat.  Stir constantly with a wooden spoon to prevent sugar from burning on the bottom of the pot.

Step 4: Once the mixture is warmed, never boiling or simmering, cut the butter into chunks and add to the pot.

Step 5: Continue to stir the curd, while it thickens.  You have to stir constantly to prevent burns on the bottom.  Once it’s able to coat the back of your wooden spoon, it’s ready.

Step 6: Strain the curd into a bowl.  It’s thick and the zest will clog up the bottom, so lightly move a wooden spoon in the strainer to speed up this process, or you could just stand there for 1/2 hour while gravity does it for you.

Straining gets rid of all the zest and thick chunks because we want light luscious lemon curd that’s smooth and silky.

Thanks for the flavor, but that's all we need you for

Step 7: Place your bowl inside a larger bowl containing an ice bath.  This will help quicken the cooling process.  Oophs…I forgot the picture, but in the above one you can kinda see my bowl within a bowl set up.  Just be careful not to get water into your beautiful, smooth lemon curd.  When it is lukewarm, place plastic wrap over the curd (to prevent a yucky film from forming on top) and place in the fridge until you need it.  The curd will thicken in the fridge as it continues to cool, and you’ll be left with what looks like a lemon pudding that tastes so tangy and sweet at the same time.

Here’s how we ate it the next morning.  Kris made waffle-cakes (we don’t have a waffle maker since ours broke from overuse), I put lemon curd and fresh cut, first harvest strawberries on top.  I love weekend breakfasts!

Other uses for lemon curd: eat it plain with fruit, place it in a tart and cover with fruit, fill a pie crust with it and add meringue on top or fresh whipping cream, put it between layer cake, the possibilities are endless.