February 21, 2013

Warm and Creamy Quinoa Salad with Chickpeas and Mint over Chopped Spinach

This creamy quinoa is the best of sweet and salty. Cardamom, mint, and dates add the sweet notes, while feta cheese, chickpeas, toasted nuts, and onions give it a savory balance. I loved serving this hot, velvety quinoa over finely diced spinach leaves... Giving it all a stir in my bowl brought the flavors together and gently wilted the spinach to the perfect consistency. 

Best yet, dinner was on the table in about 25 minutes. I'm looking forward to keeping this as a weeknight staple, swapping out the dates for dried cranberries, raisins, or currants, and interchanging different nuts, beans, and cheeses. Enjoy a big warm bowl as a respite from the work week and the winter cold!

Ingredients: serves 2
1/4 cup pine nuts or cashews
1 T. butter
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1/4 heaping teaspoon ground cardamom
2/3 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 cup chicken stock (vegetable for vegetarians)
1 cup water (+  more as needed)
6 pitted dates, chopped
2 T. cream cheese
1/4 to 1/2 cup feta cheese (or goat cheese)
1/2 cup chickpeas
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/8 cup chopped fresh mint
salt + pepper to taste

2 T. olive oil
2 lemon wedges or 2 t. fresh lemon juice
4 cups finely chopped curly leaf spinach

Directions: Heat a small saucepan over medium heat and toast the nuts until just golden and fragrant. Set aside. Turn heat down to medium low and melt the butter, then stir in the garlic and cardamom for one minute. Add the quinoa, chicken stock, and water. Cover and turn to a boil, then add the dates and reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes or until the quinoa has softened and a white germ is visible around the outsides.

Meanwhile, divide two cups each spinach in two bowls. Drizzle with 1 T. olive oil each and 1 lemon wedge or t. of lemon juice each.

Then, into the quinoa stir the the cream cheese, feta cheese, then the nuts, chickpeas, red onion, and mint. Allow to warm through thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve atop the spinach in the bowls.

February 17, 2013

Chocolate-Mint Bread: A Healthy Answer to Thin-Mint Cravings

This year for Valentine's Day, Matt was on call at the hospital. This meant that when he quietly crept out of the house in the dark, early hours of Valentine's morning, I wouldn't see him again until two days later. Of course I wanted to leave him a treat that would make him think of me during his long, exhausting, and hunger-inducing shift.... A snack that would be like a giant Valentine's hug to both the stomach and heart.

Cue these delightfully moist, rich chocolate-mint breads. I baked them in small heart-shaped spring-form pans that I use for all love-related baking. The batter an easily be used in any size from cupcake to loaf. In fact, I used some left over batter to pop out a few cupcake sized breads that I ate warm out of the oven. I needed to taste test and make sure that they were as delicious as I hoped they would be!

You might be thinking, "chocolate-mint bread? You mean cake, right?" Nope. Bread it is. It's got the perfect hint of sweetness from a touch of sugar, as well as chocolate chips folded into the batter, but otherwise this bread is wonderfully spongy and dense like any other breakfast loaf... Oh, and I've been withholding the best part. It's healthy. 

What? I don't want to contribute to fatigue, weight gain, or clogged arteries in my husband? Surprise! Let's feed the man a snack he can really dig into and never know it's made without any fats from oil or butter.

Chocolate and mint are one of M's favorite flavor combinations. This bread is spot on. The chocolate flavor pervades, while the little bit of peppermint extract hits the right cooling note there at the end. Every bite is filled with the flavor of classic Thin Mint cookies, just in a soft, super-comforting texture.

And isn't that what love is? Comforting, cool, sweet, delicious, and good for you.

Chocolate-Mint Bread
1 cup plain unsweetened Greek yogurt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 T. pure vanilla extract
1/4 t. peppermint extract
1/4 cup milk (I used 2%)
1/2 cup white whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup minus 2 T. white flour
2 T. cornstarch
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting pan
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/4 to 1/3 cup each of semi-sweet and dark chocolate chips

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray or wipe pan of choice with cooking spray, then dust with cocoa powder. In a medium bowl stir together the Greek yogurt, sugar, eggs, vanilla and peppermint, and milk. Combine thoroughly. In a large bowl combine white-wheat flour, white flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make sure they are blended completely, then make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet. Stir to combine, making sure not to over-mix. Gently fold in the semi-sweet and dark chocolate chips.

Pour into the pan and even out the top with a spatula, then drop the pan on the counter from about 6" high a few times to release air bubbles. Bake 20-25 minutes for cupcakes or mini-loaf pan, and 45-50 minutes for a large loaf. Cool 10 minutes on wire rack in the pan, then release from the sides with a knife and cool completely on a wire rack. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap to store.

February 2, 2013

Pasta with Spicy White Clam Sauce

I'm going to apologize in advance for the rather gnarly-colored photo of this dish. I was in a rush to eat it (hungry, dinnertime, delicious, etc.) so I carelessly snapped a picture under the harsh lighting of my kitchen counter.

But it was oh-so-hot and tasty so I am sorry, friends, but the poor picture was worth the rush. I do hope that you make it despite lack of photo appeal. It was incredibly wonderful and amazingly easy. I'm very, very glad that I finally cooked this dish even though the canned clams had been sitting in my pantry for about two years now (don't worry, expiration date was like, 2019 or something!).

While growing up I'd get very excited when my mom would crank open a couple cans of white clam sauce to pour over linguine. There was something very luxurious about the buttery, white-wine-tinged, chewy clam laden sauce that I absolutely adored. I'd beg her for it. And then, just like that, I grew up and never had white clam sauce again. It also may have had something to do with the fact that my husband really does not enjoy dinners with fish in it. I felt unable to recreate my childhood classic out of fear that he'd starve at dinnertime.

Last week, I decided to risk his starvation. It had been far too long! Rather than open a can of sauce I cross-referenced a bunch of different homemade clam sauce recipes. It was too easy to be true, and all the ingredients were right there in my fridge and pantry. It's likely they're also in  yours. Simple canned clams steal the show here, but they are made truly divine with the backdrop of a velvety, savory white sauce.

Oh, and just in time for Valentine's Day, I should probably mention that clams fall under the "food aphrodisiac" category!

Pasta with Spicy White Clam Sauce: serves 4
12 oz. pasta of your choice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 large white onion, cut into 1" dice
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 t. crushed red pepper (or more to suit taste)
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/8 cup cream or milk
1 t. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 6-oz. cans chopped clams, drained with juice reserved
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup freshly sliced basil
1 t. salt
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until slightly more firm than al-dente (take about 2 minutes off the box-preparation time listed). Reserve pasta water.

Meanwhile, heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and saute' onions, covered, until golden and soft, 8-10 minutes. Push onions to one side of the pan and add the garlic and crushed red pepper. Allow both to bloom in the hot oil, 1 minute, then stir. Add white wine, cream, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice. Stir and bring to a rapid simmer. Add the pasta, then the reserved clam juice, and continue to simmer the sauce down a couple of minutes. Add pasta water to boost the sauce if necessary. Add the clams, Parmesan cheese, basil, salt, and black pepper. Stir, and adjust seasonings to taste. Serve immediately.


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