not the captain’s salmon patties

I remember the summer they opened a Captain D’s in the parking lot of the local home improvement mega-store.

For those of you unfamiliar with Captain D’s, well then, thankfully, you have been spared thus far. Captain D’s is, was or posed as a fast food seafood restaurant chain. Yes, you read that right – a fast food seafood restaurant. Chain. In the parking lot of a home improvement store. In Northwest Ohio.  Yum.

Construction on the place continued through the Spring and early Summer and we speculated and talked and wondered and doubted and finally decided that we would scrape together some money and go there when it opened. It was such a strange sight, a small building decorated like a seaside cabin complete with buoys and fake lobster traps, wooden posts falsely aged to look like old piers tethered around the parking lot and to complete the mood a large, plaster figure dressed like the man on the fish stick box waited to greet guests at the door. It fit in perfectly with the corn fields and Tractor Supply Store across the street! I remember feeling all tingly inside at having our own small piece of the coast right there in Defiance, Ohio.

It took us some weeks, perhaps even months before we could afford to go there but we finally did. It was seafood designed to at once please the natives and mask an undeniable lack of freshness – everything was thickly battered and deep fried. Everything. “Do you want hush puppies with that?”

Oh, hush puppies. Delicious little balls of salty, greasy, corny goodness and by far our favorite part of the seafood meal. I don’t remember much about eating the food, but I do remember that we were violently ill for the next 48 hours. My brothers swore off seafood for life (a bad hush puppy will do that to a fellow) and I still cringe inwardly when I hear the words “hush” and “puppy” in the same sentence. “Crab fritter” and “popcorn oysters” do the same thing. Lesson learned.

The recipe I’m sharing this week is for Salmon Patties, a sort of peace offering to my memories of Captain D’s. My mom makes these and even my brothers eat them, if that tells you anything. They are everything they should be; flavorful, light and terribly easy to throw together. The fish is not masked with a lot of fancy ingredients or pasty batter, nor is it flaunted and overbearing, it just IS, and it’s great.

Salmon Patties

1 can pink Alaskan salmon

1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp dried parsley

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

2 eggs lightly beaten

4 Tblsp oil or lard for frying

Empty your can of salmon into a mixing bowl. If you want, remove the bones. This isn’t a necessary step, but I know some people who are a little unnerved at the thought of eating fish bones. Break up the fish with a fork before adding your bread crumbs, salt, pepper, parsley, garlic powder and eggs. If you wanted, you could throw in a little minced onion or celery, but I like mine Pure. Mix everything together and then heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the oil and scoop some of the salmon mix into the skillet. I use a large spoon and ‘shape’ them into patties in the pan. You will probably have to cook them up in two or three batches, but it will be worth it. Let them cook on even heat for 6 minutes or so, until they’ve gotten a nice, brown crust then flip them over and let them cook a few minutes more. Once the flip side has a nice crust you are ready to fish them out and serve them with tartar sauce, cocktail sauce or even – dare I say – hush puppies! Enjoy!

 

baby food for non-babies (aka adults)

The biggest development in our small world these past days are the two stubby teeth in the mouth of our seven month old. With these tiny pearls has come the desire to ‘taste and see’ with an emphasis on the ‘tasting’ part – our son is biting everything. Everything. If it’s a thing – be it his dearest mama’s finger or the head of his beloved stuffed cow – he’s biting it.

I try to stay ahead of the game and offer a variety of baby teeth-friendly items for him to chew on and sometimes I’m even on top of it enough to give him actual foods to chew. Yes indeed, lovely readers, we have entered the bewildering world of baby food. Once upon a time I thought it was going to be rather simple – you take food, you make it into a paste, you insert it into the infant’s mouth. Rinse and repeat.  Not so. Turns out that while my little one will *bite* anything, he is a little more particular about the things he will actually eat. Go figure.  Before he was born, I stocked up on organic baby food in those adorable jars, tucking them away in the very back of the pantry, hardly believing that I might have a little person someday to eat them. When the time came and I excitedly opened one of the mini jars, warmed it to the perfect temperature and then dumped a decent-sized spoonful into Bru’s open mouth. He acted as though I had forced him to eat dirt. The gagging, the eye twitching, the entire body convulsions that followed this and subsequent organic Gerber meals convinced me that jarred baby food – no matter how lovingly gathered and hopefully offered – were not his thing. He wants Big People Food. Lesson learned. The End.

Of all the Big People Food we’ve tried since, without a doubt his favorite is stewed apples with coconut cream and exotic spices. I know, right – I’ve unwittingly produced some sort of infant gourmet. Honestly though, I can’t blame him. I tried the baby peas and the word that stuck in my mind was, “Yuck”.

If sterile, one dimensional, Little People Foods are at the far side of the infant menu, this creamy concoction has brought us up close and personal with delightful Big People Food. It’s awake, it’s alive, it’s deep and reminiscent of apple pie filling…oh, so tasty

 

Little Bear’s Big People Stewed Apples

 

4 cups peeled, cored and sliced apples of your choice (can be substituted for 3 cups of readymade, unsweetened apple sauce)

1/2 cup water (omit if using applesauce)

1/2 cup coconut cream

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp  ground cardamom

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

optional maple syrup to taste

 

In a large saucepan, stew down the apple slices with the water on low heat until they reach the desired constancy. I like mine a little chunky and it doesn’t matter for Bru because they’re going to be pureed anyway, so I usually let them cook 15-20 minutes. If you are using applesauce, simply pour into a pan and warm on medium. Once the apple slices are softened and melting, or the sauce is warm, add the coconut cream, spices and maple syrup if you want it sweetened. Stir well and let simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Serve at the perfect temperature.

There are several variations that we’ve played around with and they’ve earned a full stamp of approval from everyone who’s tasted them. The first is to add 1/2 a cup or more of fresh cranberries cut in half to the apples while they are stewing down. This adds a delightful tang that makes the little bear pucker up but come back eager for more until the bowl is empty. Something the Big People enjoy is spooning the warm, stewy goodness over ice-cream after the Little Person has gone to bed. It’s a delightful reward after the sun has set… Enjoy!

 

 

smothered chicken… and I mean *really* smothered chicken, but not with gravy because I’m on a fancy diet

This is one of my all-time favorite recipes. Ever.

“Smothered in what?” I hear someone from the peanut gallery holler and I understand completely – it *does* sound rather violent. Let me explain; traditionally and in its simplest form, Smothered Chicken is chicken that has been simmered in and then served under or ‘smothered’ in a seasoned gravy. And when I say ‘smothered’ I mean, of course,  ‘comforted to death’. Isn’t that nicer? Let’s call my recipe “Comforted Chicken”.

I am a girl who loves her gravy and given free reign and unstoppable arteries I would consume it on everything from oatmeal to ice cream (eew). But, happily, I am reigned in by my vow of health and well-being and so am constantly on the look-out for delectable dishes that won’t comfort me to death. This is one of them. It’s my loose adaptation of Smothered Chicken; chicken simmered in a silky, tangy, lemony-oniony Sauce. It is easy, satisfying and tasty. And when I say ‘tasty’ I mean, of course, ‘lip-smacking, plate-licking, go-back-for-thirds GOOD”.

I like to serve this dish with a side of wilted spinach and maybe a whole-grain pilaf. YUM. I’ve got myself all worked up for it… good thing I’ve got some chicken in the fridge because I think I need some comforting…

 

Comforted Chicken

6 chicken thighs or an equal amount of breast meat

4 onions

2 cloves garlic

1 lemon

1 cup chicken stock

2-3 Tablespoons butter, olive oil, coconut oil or other cooking fat

salt and pepper to taste

We’ve discussed the slicing of onions in previous columns and decided that ‘thinly’ is one of the most vague cooking instructions available. All the same, I am going to ask you to do it. Slice your onions thinly. Use your own good sense and just get them into slices. We can do this. Tears will ensue, but it’ll be worth it in the end. Once the onions are dealt with, slice up your garlic and then put a large skillet on medium heat. Once the skillet has heated up, add your fat and the onions. Let them brown up a little, stirring frequently to avoid any burning. Throw the garlic in with its cousin and then lower the heat. You want the onions and garlic to simmer *without burning* until they are all very limp, very translucent and almost saucy on their own – just this side of caramelized. This will probably take about 5-6 minutes.

The chicken has been patiently waiting for its turn in the pan and now is the time. Squiggie the onions around so that you can fit the chicken pieces, skin down, in the skillet. Let the skin brown against the bottom of the pan before flipping them over and adding the chicken stock. Let it simmer for 10 minutes or so. Boneless pieces cook faster than bone-in so be aware of that if you’ve substituted. If you want to speed the process up, you can cover the skillet with a pot lid.

Now it’s time for the lemon. You thought I had forgotten, didn’t you? Lay the slices around in the skillet and then let the whole thing simmer for another 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom. If it seems that the liquid is getting too low, you can always add a little more broth – but not too much! The goal is to have the sauce work itself out as the chicken is cooking. You may need to lower the heat and just be a little more patient.

When the chicken has cooked thoroughly (use a thermometer to check – I always have to) you are ready to serve your masterpiece. It’s going to smell like heaven… oh boy! The onions will have melted away into savory goodness that will blend with the lemon and make a sauce that you will lick off your plate. It makes even I, the Gravy Queen, say, “Gravy? Who needs gravy when you have a sauce like THIS?”  Enjoy…

 

i promise to eat lunch

I do the same thing every year; sit down a couple of days before the new year begins and write out my resolutions. I completely ignore the fact that last year’s resolve got me about two weeks into January and set my sights on a three-week victory this time.

What am I resolving to do, you might ask? Probably the same sort of things that you are: eat healthier, get more exercise, read more,  dance like no one is watching, love like I never got hurt (wait, isn’t that a country song?), write a New York Time’s best-selling children’s book and retire to a farm on the coast of Maine… that last one may just be me. Other resolutions include getting a full night’s sleep and not forgetting to eat breakfast and lunch.

Speaking of eating, I do have some thoughts about that; I want to eat healthier. Not just follow some crazy health fad I read about in the doctor’s waiting room, but genuinely eat more nourishing, health-giving foods. You know what that means, don’t you? No more recipes for bacon chocolate chip cookies in your charming local newspaper! No siree, you’re getting the good stuff and only the good stuff from here on out. Foods that will have your innards glowing with health and vitality.  You might just explode with goodness (let’s just not and say we did, eh?).  We won’t be able to KEEP from succeeding in at least that one resolution.  Are you with me?  Here, I’ll say it for you, “Yes we are!”

Good deal, let’s start then, shall we? I don’t know about you, but I forget to eat lunch *almost* every day. It’s a terrible fault, but it’s one that I am working on. It’s so annoying to me to have to stop and make something to eat. It’s like going to the bathroom, a big fat bother and an interruption, I feel like I’m wasting time. Now, if I have to make lunch for Alex I’m fine – I don’t mind cooking for him, but if it’s just for me I get all huffy and red in the face and usually, conveniently, forget. Alas – no more! I’m resolving to eat lunch and a healthy lunch at that, every day if I can help it.  This recipe is one that I whipped up in a moment of red-faced huffiness the other day and then quickly devoured; it was so good I didn’t even mind that I had take time to eat it.

Chunky Tomato Bisque  – The Quick and Healthy Version

28 oz can of diced tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp butter or olive oil

1 tsp fresh basil, chopped (you can use dried basil, too)

1/2 cup full fat coconut milk

salt and pepper to taste

That’s it! Round up the usual suspects and heat up a soup pot on low. Add the oil and then the garlic. You want to stir the garlic so that it doesn’t scorch. Scorched garlic equals nasty – remember that. Several precious minutes will pass, but that’s ok, it’s going to be worth it. Once the garlic is nicely browned but before it gets crunchy, open your can of tomatoes and pour them in along with the basil, coconut milk and some salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, let cook for 5-10 minutes and then – viola – lunch is served, preferably with a grilled cheese sandwich or a salad if you’re *really* resolved.

Let’s talk for a moment about the ingredients. By using organic ingredients, you can boost the soup’s health benefits to hulk-like proportions. Non-organic ingredients = weak and nerdy Dr. Bruce Banner; Organic ingredients = crazy big and green raging health machine – and nobody has to get angry. Don’t be tempted to go with skim coconut milk, either. Coconut fat is what is giving this soup staying power and another great dose of healthiness, plus it makes it nice and creamy and rich… yum.  We need fat, so long as it’s the right kind!

Well, my friends, we’re all in this together – here’s to another great year! Enjoy…

before he hits repeat

Someone – please stop my brother.

The youngest one of us (who is also usually the most jolly) has been needling us to anarchy for weeks now.

“Can I play Christmas Music?”

“Let’s turn on some… Christmas Music…”

“Who’s for a little bit of … Christmas Music!!?”

“Oh good – I’ll sweep the floor… andplaychristmasmusic…”

He thinks if he inserts these words quickly enough into a normal, every day, inconspicuous conversation that we the old ones will be duped into saying, “Oh sure – wonderful idea!”  He thinks wrong.

As my brother must learn, there are rules. There is protocol. There are expectations and reservations and limitations that keep time from happening all at once and becoming a Horrific Mess. The End. And since I am so much older and so much more experienced and so much wiser, I see that these boundaries are what give the holidays their extra glimmer. If we go around playing Christmas music all helter-skelter any ol’ time – we will wear it out and the world might end, or we might start another Black Plague, or at the very least we will all be sick of the sound of it by the time Christmas actually rolls around. We, the old ones, must preserve the sanctity of the holidays from they, the jolly ones. *steps off soap box*

At any rate, the fact is that the holidays are approaching at a frighteningly swift pace, and I can’t believe it. I’m still dawdling around wondering when the trees will reach peak color. How did I get so far behind? Keep up, Ann! In just a few days the Christmas music will start and reality will set in and I must be prepared.

A huge part of the holidays, for me at least, is the food. Yay food! The oldest brother said to me several weeks ago that he was planning on loosing something in the neighborhood of 20 pounds in preparation for the holidays. I have no idea how far he’s come towards that goal, but I admire his gumption. November and December have a cruel way with waistlines, and it’s terrifying and mystifying and wonderful all at once.

The recipe I’m going to share this week is a little secret weapon in the food-fight that will begin in mere hours. It’s a veritable bomb of comfort and joy that utilizes handy leftovers as well as several other ingredients that aren’t Holiday specific at all, just in case you need to call a time-out and recoup your losses.

 

Turkey Soup with Quinoa and Spinach

otherwise known as ‘Holiday Pause Soup’

You will need:

3-4 quarts of turkey (or chicken) broth

1/2 pound turkey meat (which could always be increased or decreased to your preference)

10 oz frozen spinach

1/2 cup quinoa

1/2 medium sized onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, diced

salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp butter or olive oil

Optional other leftover ingredients such as corn, chopped roasted veggies, etc.

 

Dice the onions and garlic and then sauté them in your butter or oil in a large soup pot. When the onions are translucent and limp, add your quinoa and let it brown for a minute or two. Then pour in the broth and cap it. Let the quinoa simmer in the broth for half an hour or so before adding the rest of the ingredients. I think a little pureed squash or sweet potatoes would add such great texture and taste fabulous! Let this boil until the spinach is cooked, about 10 – 15 additional minutes and then you are ready to serve. It’s a clever way to change the outfit of heavy holiday foods and add some much needed yule-tide greenery to your dish.

Well, gentle reader, so it begins. Are you ready? Make sure to double up on your vitamin C and get enough liquids in the midst of all the merry making. Honor the things that make this time of year precious and don’t be afraid to take a pause every now and then to reset and recharge. Have a bowl of soup, count your blessings and go forth and be merry!

 

spinach and basil pesto with almonds

Well, I do believe I have done everything within my power to put off having to write.

I have washed the dishes (something of a chore when you’re nine months pregnant and the kitchen is about nine hundred degrees),  I have dried the dishes. I have filled my water bottle, drank the contents and refilled it – several times. I have meticulously removed the pregnancy beard from my pregnant double-chin and watered all the house plants.

It’s hard to write about food when any day, any hour you might be launched into labor and find yourself giving birth to a tiny human being. In all honesty, it’s rather hard to do anything but fidget around and… wait.

Fortunately, the need for sustenance has not disappeared with my interest in the world at large – we still need to eat, and in spite of the fact that my mom has been invaluable in the area of preparing and providing meals for us, there are times when I find myself needing to actually cook something on my own. Yesterday afternoon was one of those times. I made pasta with fresh spinach pesto sauce that I whipped up in my little blender contraption and it was actually quite good.

I used the last of the spinach harvest that had been stashed away in the fridge as well as the leaves from the basil plant that lives on the kitchen window sill. Mixed with some parmesan cheese, almonds (since I didn’t have pine nuts), garlic and olive oil, it made a delicious sauce for the pasta and the extra will no doubt be used as a spread, dip or topping for homemade pizza.

Spinach and Basil Pesto

makes roughly 1 pint of sauce

1 large handful of fresh spinach leaves, torn

1 equally large handful of fresh basil leaves

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1 handful of unsalted almonds

3 Tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (since the oil is a big part of the recipe, don’t skimp – use the good stuff, you won’t regret it!)

1/4- 1/2 lb pasta, cooked and strained

The actual production of this sauce is ridiculously simple, everything gets thrown into the blender or food processor and then blended or processed until it’s a creamy, delicious sort of mess one wants to eat by the spoonful. You might find yourself ripping off hunks of bread and sopping up the pesto right there and then and making boxed macaroni and cheese for the rest of your family (who will never know what they’ve missed). I will warn you that the possibility of having small bits of spinach and basil cling to your teeth exists and that you should plan accordingly lest the rest of the family get an inkling about the sudden menu change.  This is one of the many reasons why I advocate having a mirror somewhere in the kitchen to use for last minute face checks so that one doesn’t head into the fray with, say, chocolate cake batter smeared on the corner of one’s mouth, or the remains of devoured pesto crying out from the in-betweens of one’s teeth.

In the end, who ever ends up eating this will not only get a shot of heart-healthy, iron-fortified, garden-fresh spinach, but a good dose of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory power from the basil and garlic. Almonds add satisfying textural interest as well as a bit of protein. This is a healthy green food that makes the fact that you’ve eaten two servings of pasta a little less reprehensible, at least in my book!  You can toss the pasta with as much pesto sauce as you like then top it with cheese and – viola, lunch or dinner is served.

If you do happen to have any remaining when all is said and done simply store in a jar in the fridge. The oil may thicken up a bit but a few minutes left on the counter will return the pesto to it’s former, creamy state. Enjoy!

wilted beet salad

One summer, when I was much younger, my family stayed on a farm way out in the country for a couple of months. We had been living in an expansive trailer park that was more like a factory farm of metal boxes lined up on cement. Going from that broiler oven to being surrounded by luxurious fields, a huge yard filled with trees and secret places to hide away in and visit with fairies and other imaginary friends was nothing short of miraculous. I was enchanted – there were raspberry bushes and strawberry patches and mulberry trees, swings and chickens and a *gigantic* woodpile that was reborn into a magnificent fortress that my brothers and I defended form the wrath of the two angry geese who patrolled the back yard.

One day I remember Jan (for that is the woman of the place’s name) telling me that men don’t often notice cobwebs behind doors, but most women do and that’s why you must be careful to always dust behind the doors. We were preparing for a Tea that she was hosting at the farm and she and my mother were busy cleaning and cooking and getting things ready for the afternoon. I was so excited, being under the age of ten and longing desperately for the prestige and privilege of a grown up woman, I had been included in the Tea. Mom and Jan were always willing to involve me in their womanly activities, letting me sit up with them at night and talk about the deep things in life over tea while the lightning bugs filled the fields like fallen stars and crickets serenaded us from under the porch windows. I felt grown up in all the ways that mattered to me at the time and it satisfied me tremendously.

I don’t really remember how the Tea that we were preparing for came off, my young mind fixed on one dish in particular that was being mixed together in the big, old kitchen and everything else remains a happy blur.  This was the first time I had a Wilted Salad. I haunted the kitchen even then, feeling that room contained all the important business of the house. Jan mixed together a warm salad of greens, bacon, vinegar and sweetening and it tasted like heaven to me.

Over the years we have repeated her recipe, adjusting it and adapting it to different greens and not always saving it for special occasions! This is an excellent side dish to throw together for any summer dinner. It tastes like that sweet and tart time in life when I was so young and yearning to be so much older.

Wilted Spinach and Beet Salad

3 red beets (with or without their greens)

1 lb  raw spinach

1/4- 1/2 lb bacon (depending on how much you like)

1 medium onion, sliced

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1-2 tablespoons of honey, brown sugar or maple syrup

Firstly, cook the beets and their greens if you have decided to use them. I like to boil mine in their jackets. Once they are cooked, slip them out of their coats and chop them into bite-sized pieces. If you are using the greens (which should be boiled with the beets until tender) chop them up too.

In a *big* skillet, fry up your bacon until it is crisp, drain most of the fat away then add the onions and let them cook until they get slightly clear. Add the vinegar and sweetener and let it all simmer together for several minutes before dumping in your chopped beets and their greens. It’s really starting to smell good now!

Wash your spinach and drain it,  then pile it on top of the dressing in the skillet and cover for about five minutes. The heat will start to wilt your spinach and then you can begin to mix everything together. Turn off the heat and stir until the dressing has completely covered the spinach. The spinach shouldn’t be soggy and cooked, just wilted.

Serve immediately and Enjoy!

Only Tuesday – again

I found a stick of butter I didn’t know I had hiding in the very back of the freezer, and as I held its frozen self in my hand I realized that everything was going to be ok. It wasn’t the end of the world after all – it was only Tuesday. I laughed a little to myself, then burst into tears and when I was done crying I couldn’t remember what I needed the butter for in the first place.

Welcome to cooking with a woman entering her 30th hormonal week of pregnancy. I am growing and slowing and laughing and crying all at the same time. It is taking me longer to get up our stairs and I am completely winded when I finally reach the top. My appetite is enormous and while the rest of the world seems to be enjoying their spring greens, I am plotting how to inconspicuously add potatoes to the menu.

Comfort food – that’s what I want. I imagine it must sound insane to those of you not in the throws of prenatal life, but I just want pasta for dinner. Pasta and sausage – preferably with a side of potatoes and bread and butter, please. I would drink heavy cream if I thought for one minute that I could get away with it and pour gravy on my oatmeal. Maybe it’s because I spent the first few months not being able to stomach anything but grapefruit slices and sour candy. Who knows!  The problem to be solved is how to cook hearty, but healthy. How to mix Spring green with my cravings for Winter heaviness, in short – how to eat potatoes more often and yet not gain several hundred pounds in the process.

I think I may have found at least one solution, one of my family’s favorite meals that we lovingly called “Poverty Dinner”. There really is nothing ‘poor’ about it other than being inexpensive and easy to make. It’s a tasty, filling sort of one dish meal that worked perfectly with the first greens that braved the uncertain glory of Spring.

 

Poverty Dinner

4 potatoes, washed and cubed

1/2 lb lean ground beef

1/2 onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

several good handfuls of washed greens; spinach, baby kale, swiss chard, etc.

2-3 Tablespoons of oil or butter for cooking

salt and pepper

 

Potatoes and ground beef, comfort food at its finest, mixed with vitamin-packed greens fresh from the garden or market, making a simple meal that can be cooked up after a day in an office or in the field.

I like to use my big cast iron skillet for this. Heat the frying pan over medium heat and then add the oil and the potatoes then cover. Let the potatoes cook for a little while before adding the garlic and onions so that they don’t get too overdone by the time the potatoes are tender. Once the potatoes are feeling a little giving, break up the ground beef into the pan and stir well. Keep an eye on it to make sure that the ground beef gets cooked thoroughly. Another way to do this, although it changes the ‘one-dish’ nature of the meal, is to let the potatoes cook all the way and then remove them to cook the beef. Either way, you may need to add a little bit of water to the pan to keep the beef moist while it’s frying. If you’ve kept everything together, return the cover and let the potatoes finish cooking. Otherwise, return everything to the pan and reheat.

Now – here’s the super healthy part you’ve been so patiently waiting for. Once your potatoes, onions and beef are completely cooked, heap the greens on top. There will be a little bit of water clinging to them from washing which will help steam them. Cover and reduce the heat to low. In a few minutes the greens will have wilted and steamed and completed your meal. Season with salt and pepper as you desire and you’re ready to go!

Enjoy!

Cooking with Quinoa

There has been a lot of talk about Quinoa. It first appeared as a food that would put those who ate it in the “Health Nut” camp but has recently become more of a mainstream curiosity.

Quinoa (pronounced ‘Keen-wah’) is a funny little food – at first glance people are tempted to call it a “grain” when indeed it is a “seed”. A very small seed and prominent member of the Goosefoot species of plants. I’m sure most of you have fought valiant battles against quinoa relatives who love to pop up in the fertile soil of your garden year after year. Back home we called them ‘ironweeds’ or ‘pigweeds’ or even ‘lambs’ quarters’ and when young they actually make a tasty and nutritious substitute for spinach at the dinner table – but that’s beside the point.

Quinoa is an ancient food from Peru and surrounding areas. The Incas considered it to be a sacred crop which caused their new Spanish neighbors to hold quinoa in distain. It was even outlawed for a time and the natives were forced to grow the more European wheat. What the Spanish didn’t know and what we are now finding out is that the Incas had good reason to hold their quinoa dear. Though it be tiny and a relative of plaguing weeds, quinoa has an impressive resume. Full of fiber, magnesium, iron, calcium, as well as being a complete protein in its own right, quinoa is gluten free and easy to digest. It’s also a smart plant, having a built-in defense system which causes it to be distasteful and even gastrically upsetting when eaten before the outer coating has been removed. The crop is easier to protect from critters that would sneak in and steal it before harvest. Most quinoa sold in the grocery stores has already been processed to remove the coating so when you purchase it (which I sincerely hope you do!!) it’s ready to be cooked and enjoyed.

How do we enjoy it, you ask? I have read that it can be considered ‘an acceptable substitute for rice’, but other than giving you a good idea of the broad range uses, I don’t think it does quinoa justice. I have found it to be so much more than ‘acceptable’ and so much more than a ‘substitute’!

My mom taught me to cook quinoa with a basic ratio of two parts liquid to one part quinoa and I have never had that fail me. Adding one cup of quinoa to two cups of slightly salted boiling water or stock, letting it cook until the water has boiled down to the level of the quinoa (8-10 minutes) and then putting the heat to low and covering it to ‘steam’ for 10 or so minutes more will give you a delightful, 2 cups (roughly) of cooked quinoa to serve plain as a side dish or to use in another recipe. The portions I just described will serve about 4 people.

Cooked quinoa is tender but still has a nice texture to it. It isn’t lumpy or soupy or mushy but can be ‘fluffed’ with a fork and the seeds will be separate. Another way you can tell is that the slim white ‘tail’ on each seed becomes loose, giving them an artsy look, as if they are wearing hats adorned with long feathers.

Once you have the basic recipe down and are ready to have some fun with it, there is certainly fun to be had! My latest quinoa craving has been satisfied by adding sautéed onions and chopped raw kale to the quinoa as it is cooking. So easy, so healthy, so very delicious. Another favorite method in my house is to start out by sautéing fat slices of sweet leeks in a bit of olive oil before adding chicken stock and then the quinoa. Oh. My. Word.

Add quinoa to soups instead of noodles or rice, use plain cooked quinoa in casseroles and and quiches. You can even cool it and sprinkle the seeds on salads. Your possibilities boarder on being endless and you will certainly not be doing any harm to incorporate this amazing food into your diet!  So go forth and enjoy…

 

Not Your Mother’s Tuna Salad

 

I don’t make tuna salad like anyone else I have ever known, not even my own mother. I don’t remember having tuna salad sandwiches much growing up, probably because my small herd of younger brothers considered it to be a ‘Girl Food’ and disliked tuna in general unless it was thoroughly hidden in a thick casserole of egg noodles, creamy white sauce and cheese.

I moved from my family’s home to my husband’s without a lot of thought thrown towards cold salad sandwiches, I was more intent on trying to impress my dearly beloved with good roasts and fluffy pancakes. One day, early on in the marriage, he requested tuna salad for dinner. Thinking back on it now, I do believe it was the first food he asked for as a married man and I remember my wifely heart sinking a little.

“Tuna salad – really?” I didn’t even remember how to make a tuna salad.

“Oh yeah, tuna salad. With pickles and artichokes…” My husband licked his lips and wandered out of the kitchen, leaving me in dumb bewilderment. Pickles and artichokes? In a tuna salad? But how? What’s an artichoke?

Let me remind my dear reader that this was slightly before the Great Revelation that he didn’t really care for Butter – something which he very neatly announced at dinner one evening and nearly made me choke on my own life’s breath – so I wasn’t yet *fully* acquainted with my new husband’s eating preferences. There’s so much adjusting that goes on in those first few months, it’s a little dizzying and love truly makes the dance worth while.

I got out my mixing bowls, some cans of tuna and anything else in the cupboard I thought seemed appropriate. In the very back I found a can of quartered artichoke hearts, and hidden in the far reaches of the refrigerator I found a half-eaten jar of pickles, some mayo and then I had at it.

Fifteen nerve-wracking minutes later (give or take a few) and I was serving Alex the strangest tuna salad that ever was seen on this or any other planet and let me tell you what – it was awesome. I’ve been making tuna salad a’la Alex for over a year now, almost monthly as it is one of his most favorite things to eat, and we’ve tweaked the recipe into a true Gaylor Family Heirloom.  Are you brave enough to try it?

 

Tuna Salad with Pickles and Artichokes

2 cans of white tuna (packed in water) – drained

2 spears kosher dill pickles, chopped into small pieces

1/4 cup finely diced onion

4-5 quarters of canned artichoke hearts, chopped

1/2- 2/3 cup mayonnaise  (make sure to use the real stuff – no Miracle Whip!)

1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning  (generic, salt-less blend available at the grocery store)

*anything else*

This includes (but is surely not limited to):

Chopped tomato, diced celery, chopped sweet pepper, chopped olives or avocado chunks. Instead of the seasoning, you could use a tablespoon or more of your favorite salad dressing – Italian, Caesar, French, Balsamic… the sky’s the limit. We’ve tried about every combination of additions and find it hard to make something that isn’t tasty.

Dump ALL of your ingredients into a bowl and mix them together well. I usually add the mayonnaise last because depending on what else we’ve tossed in I might need a little more or less. We are not ones to like our tuna salad on the sloppy side, so I tend to go light on the mayo, but that’s just us.

There are about as many methods of consuming this food as there are of preparing it. We like to eat it late at night, squeezing too much between two slices of homemade bread – what a mess! Or we eat it on top of a green salad, or stuffed in a hollowed-out tomato, or scoop generous bites of it up with crackers while watching movies. It’s an easy, satisfying sort of meal that I would never have truly appreciated had it not been for my husband’s rather odd request. So there you go!  I suppose there isn’t anything “too strange” to try, at least in the kitchen…