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!

Monday’s Photo: The Great Mosque (cathedral) of Cordoba, Spain

Kris and I went to Spain for our honeymoon in 2009.  We focused on the southern state of Andalucia.  One of my favorite stops was Cordoba, a city whose prestige traces back to Ancient Rome.  Cordoba during the 10th and 11th centuries was a bustling religious center for Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.  It is the birthplace of several influential Islamic and Jewish philosophers.  The Great Mosque of Cordoba, now a cathedral, shows the mixing of Islamic and Christian influences in Spain.  Wondering around the old Jewish Quarter, we saw the prolific Jewish cultural and religious tradition that ultimately was forced to go into hiding, expulsion, or conversion after 1492.

These are 3 of my favorite photos from Cordoba’s Mosque/Cathedral.

 

Please forgive the Mondays’ photo on a Tuesday. 😉

Chicken Soup for the Soul- Yucatan-style

 

“Have you been taking your vitamin C?  Flu season is coming.”

Get ready to keep telling your mom (or anyone else who cares about you) that you are taking care of your health and getting plenty of Vitamin C.  I don’t know how Vitamin C became the panacea for all health-related maladies, but it is the most prescribed “medicine” from my mom.  Got a cold?  Take Vitamin C.  Feeling low energy?  It’s because you haven’t been taking enough Vitamin C.  Runny Nose?  Vitamin C, to prevent it from getting worse.

Of course, there’s also making sure that you are eating well and adding vegetables whenever the opportunity arises, like in this recipe, a chicken soup for the soul, Yucatán-style.  In Spanish it is called sopa de limón or sopa de limo.

The Yucatán Peninsula geographically looks like a foot kicking a soccer ball off the Southeastern shore of Mexico.  Though most of the Yucatán Peninsula are 3 Mexican states (Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo), it also contains northern parts of Belize and Guatemala.  It is considered the eastern heartland of the ancient Mayas.  Many American tourists know it for the resort town, Cancún and the Mayan Riviera.  More cultural and historical tourist destinations include the beautiful colonial city Mérida and the famous Mayan ruins, Chichen Itza and Tulum.  Yucatán food is full of flavor and Mayan influence.

This soup is both healthy and fast.  It’s even faster if you use part of a store-bought rotisserie chicken.  It has vegetables like carrots and celery.  But don’t stop there.  Add zucchini if you have it or pre-cooked butternut squash.  Corn kernels would be a tasty addition as well.  It also has plenty of Vitamin C in the form of fresh lime juice.

Some people believe in substituting lemon juice for the lime juice.  For me, these two citrus are not interchangeable, close, but not equal.  Lime juice gives the soup a sharper sweetness and tanginess.  Lime juice is also more authentic.  If you can, please for me, use lime juice, but I’ll still love you if you use lemon juice.

Get the recipe: Yucatan style chicken soup

This recipe is part of a 3-2-1 series.  3 meals, 2 people, 1 chicken.  Stay tuned for 2 more recipes for 1 store-bought rotisserie chicken. Buen Provecho!

Monday’s Photo: No Poodles Allowed

I know.  It’s Tuesday, not Monday, and I have been missing for about a week now with zero, zip, nada.  I’m actually in the process of making a career transition from working in secondary education (high school) to working in higher education (post-secondary).  I will let you know how things work out.  In the meantime, please enjoy this photo from Granada, Spain.  In my humble opinion, it means, no poodles, but any other kind of dog would be fine.

P.S. Doesn’t it look like the poodle is wearing high heels?

Feeling Discouraged? Bake Bread

Has it been one of those days?  The kind when discouragement is your companion all day long.  When anxiety seems to follow you like a cat that’s been run over looking to you for a place to die.  It may be your health.  Worries over someone else’s health.  Your job or lack thereof.  Maybe your closest relationships have been on edge.

Everything needs a breath of faith.  A booster shot of peace.  Some days when we are fixated on hoping some problem will resolve, we need a reminder of the power of process.

My recommendation: bake bread.  The real kind.  Yeast, water, a little sugar, flour, salt, oil.

There is something visceral about baking bread.  The feeling of taking basic ingredients and transforming them.

Its inherent creativity gives us a sense of accomplishment.  Baking bread is not an instant gratification, the entire process reminds us to be patient; we can’t control things.  We have to let things take their course.  The good thing about bread baking is its course takes a couple of hours, whereas we have no clue with life’s other problems.

Start with the yeast.  A simple creature, easily overlooked.  These drab brown-grey granules are the size of sand.  But when we give it a little coaxing, we awaken it.  Yeast needs 4 basic things: sugar, warmth, darkness, and, most importantly, time.

First, by dissolving the yeast in warm sugar water, we start the initial prompting.  The yeast eats the sugar and emits carbon dioxide in the form of bubbles fizzing to the surface.  If the yeast is good, the bubbles will form a beige film on top and you’ll start to detect that quintessential yeast smell.

After about 10 minutes, we add ordinary staples.  Nothing special.  In fact, they are all quite bland on their own, but that’s what baking is, a creative act of combining ordinary items into something warm and comforting.

Kneading follows.  It is the process of mixing it all together, creating a round ball of dough.   Here’s the one act of baking bread that requires work.

Then we cover it with a dark kitchen towel and leave it alone.  We have to trust that it will rise, but we have no power to hurry this process.  The change is subtle at first, invisible, but after the rising time, we see proof of abundance, the dough has doubled in size.

Finally, we bake it, and the final transformation occurs.  From the oven we take out a symbol of comfort and sustenance.  In about 2 hours’ time we have a warm, fresh loaf of bread, a reminder of what can happen when we let something naturally run its course.

Perfect Black Bean Goodness

Perfect Black Bean Goodness, the ultimate comfort food.  Did I mention that it’s vegetarian?  Most black beans are made with some combination of pork: fat, sausage, bacon drippings, etc.  On top of the rich meaty taste of the beans, the pork flavors them during cooking.

And cook they will.  For an hour plus.  Making beans requires forethought, something I’ve generally lacked, and patience, something we are all improving upon.  In any case, making beans is an essential kitchen skill.

Beans are probably the most economical of meals.  But their cheapness is only one of their many fine qualities.  Make a large pot of beans and you have dinner for the next few days.  Moreover, leftover beans only get more and more flavorful, something not every dish can flaunt.

This recipe is a combination of cooking knowledge from 2 amazing women.  My mom who’s sofrito method I use, and Ms. Dragonwagon who has an ingenuity at making healthy and richly flavorful vegetarian recipes.  (See my note at the end of the post for specifics on what changed and what stayed the same)

OK, OK, gimme the recipe: Perfect Black Bean Goodness recipe

Start with a little forethought.  Cover the beans with water and soak overnight or all day while you work.

Drain the beans and place them in a large dutch oven.  Add water until they are covered about a 1/2 inch, about 8 cups.

Here’s what we’ll need for our first round of flavor.  1 entire onion, 6 cloves, 1 head of garlic, 2 bay leaves, and some fresh oregano (It’s from my herb garden).

Take the 6 whole cloves and stud the onion.  Push them into the onion like nails- that is what cloves look like.

Add all of this to the pot.  Yes, the skins is on for the onion and the garlic head.  Trust me on this.

Bring to a boil, then lower to medium-low and cook 1 hour.

After an hour, add chopped sweet potatoes and rough chopped carrots.  Lots of orange color=lots of beta carotene.

After an hour an a half of cooking, fish out the whole head of garlic and clove-studded onion.  Set aside the garlic and discard the onion.  Here’s what they should look like, a mess.

Make the sofrito.  We’ll need another diced onion, 6 cloves minced garlic (not shown), about 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, and 2 diced bell peppers.

Cook these ingredients in large saute pan with a little olive oil.

Add in 1 diced chipotle pepper in adobo sauce.  Oh…I love this stuff.

Saute these aromatics 4-5 minutes.

Add in half a can of tomato paste.  (Use a 6-ounce can)

And coat all of the sauteed vegetables.  Cook another 3-4 minutes.

Add the sofrito to the beans.  Also add more flavor in the form of 1 1/2 tablespoons of ground cumin smoky goodness, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, zest of one orange, and salt to taste (1-2 teaspoons).

Remember that cooked head of garlic.  This is the true secret to giving these beans a depth of flavor.  Squeeze out all the garlic pulp onto a plate and stir into the beans.  It will be very messy, and you will be utterly tempted to lick off pieces of garlic pulp on your fingers; go ahead, my full support is behind you, just don’t “taste” it all.

Cook another few minutes for all the flavors to get friendly with each other.  Serve with rice.  Trust me this stuff only gets better with time.

Recipe Notes: This recipe was inspired by my mentor-vegetarian, Crescent Dragonwagon, from her Black Bean Feijoada recipe.  I followed her process for the preliminary cooking of the beans, using a clove-studded onion and entire head of garlic with its cooked puree added in afterwards.  This method has completely transformed how I cook beans.  I also kept the orange zest and chipotle, a classic combination.  I changed her process based on how my mom taught me to make beans which is to combine the aromatics (onions, garlic, bell pepper holy trinity) in a separate saute with tomato paste.  I also didn’t add any of the soy-meats to make it a feijoada.

2 baking disasters

Let’s start with a confession.  I am not a baker.

Here’s a more positive spin: I am a wannabe baker.  I love the result, hate the process.  For me, baking is like taking a hike up a mountain in a straight jacket.  Love the view, hate the climb.

Baking is everything that I am not: methodical, precise, sweet, scientific.

I have a few baking recipes that I’ve posted.

Triple Caress Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies
Double Tree Hotel Chocolate Chip Cookies
Zucchini Bread from the Ancient Spice Routes
Persimmon Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Half of these, I might add, have been adapted from cookbook geniuses like Crescent Dragonwagon and David Lebovitz.  That’s why the recipes are good- because the adjustments I made are superficial – some extra spice or vanilla, a variation in process.

The truth is, I can open my refrigerator door, grab 10 random ingredients and have a 3 course meal, appetizer, salad, and entree ready in 45 minutes.  But I become weak in the knees when it comes time to make dessert.

This is where my local library and its 2 aisle-long cookbook collection comes in handy.  Recently I checked out Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: from my home to yours.  It’s considered a classic.  (Don’t worry I didn’t know that fact until a month ago and I didn’t know Dorie Greenspan from Dora the Explorer)

Let’s just say that learning to bake is like learning to drive a clutch, it’s punctuated with stalls and re-starts.  Here are my two most recent baking disasters.

Disaster #1

For baking attempt #1 I tried making, for the first time ever, a cake from scratch.  Really they were cupcakes since I was taking them to a friend’s work site for her birthday. Some muffin paper cups with Snoopy holding Woodstock’s hand and “It’s good to have a friend” written on them may have also influenced my decision to make cupcakes.

The recipe called for 1 egg and 1 egg yolk.  Eggs, God help me, are for binding all the ingredients as they cook; eggs are the glue of baking.  I know this, but for some reason while I was mixing the ingredients, a bout of amnesia hit.  Really, I was being cheap.

1 egg yolk?  What am I going to do with the leftover egg white?  I can’t just toss it.  Throwing out food is sacrilegious.  I ixnay the 2nd egg.  Instead I substitute 1/4 cup of buttermilk, wrongfully thinking that the extra buttermilk, in addition to the already 1/2 cup the recipe called for, would make the cupcakes super moist.  1 egg, that’s equal to about 1/4 cup of buttermilk, right?

The result: A fragile batch of brown crumbs holding together like a pair of awkward, desperate teenagers caught kissing under the football stands.  These cupcakes shattered at the slightest bite.  We resorted to eating them over the sink because of how crumbly they were.

The lesson: I gotta learn the basics of baking before I go all mad scientist creating something else.

Disaster #2:

Also came from my measly attempts to emulate one of the cooking world’s matriarchs.  This time I was making Dorie’s recipe for pastry cream.  Kris’ uncle was in the Bay Area and came over for dinner.  The plan was to macerate (fancy word for coax the juices out of) a few nectarines, bake up some puff pastry (obviously from a box), and top it off with some homemade pastry cream.

Pastry cream is the ambrosia they put inside chocolate eclairs.  In order to get it out, people either (A) lap it out from the eclair-shell with their tongue, French-kissing style or (B) dig their finger into the eclair-shell, pull the cream out, and gratifyingly lick it off their fingers.  I am part of the B-category of eclair eaters.

I halved the recipe since there was only 3 of us, and I didn’t want this custard-temptress hovering in my fridge.  Still recovering from the previous baking disaster, I decide to follow the ingredient list and recipe scrupulously.  This recipe, halved, called for 4 egg yolks.  This time I heroically decided not to balk at all the extra egg whites.  (At least with 4 I could make an omelet.)  Even the tempering went well.  (Tempering is when you SLOWLY mix hot milk into raw egg yolks, all in an effort to avoid scrambling the eggs)  I have no trouble tempering because I paranoically do it 1/2 cup of milk at a time.  Making homemade custard-based ice cream was how I learned a slow, patient tempering.

Here’s where I went wrong.  I missed reading a sentence (or two…or three) in the recipe.  I was supposed to return the liquid to the stove and cook it a little longer to ensure that the pastry cream would solidify into a luscious custard after a stint in the fridge.

Instead, as soon as I finished tempering the milk into the egg yolks and sugar, I let it cool slightly, then unwittingly covered it and put it in the fridge.  Of course I took a taste of the liquid custard, and of course it tasted like heavenly bliss, and in an hour, it’d have the texture of pudding.

Except later, when I pulled it out of the fridge, it was still the liquid custard I had put in an hour prior.  It had failed to thicken because I missed the crucial step of warming it all up one last time.  Dessert was still fabulous, though next time, when I correctly make the pastry by reading and following every precise direction, it will be delectable rather than laughable.