Quinoa Greek Salad

We’re being teased in Seattle now…..it happens every year in Feb and I always fall for it. We get a few days of sun and the thermometer creeps up toward 50 F (10 C) and the crocuses are poking up and you allow yourself to think “…mmmmm, feels like spring!” and everyone is a little perkier and smiling more… and then… WHAM, you’re right back in blustery, grey, chilly, rainy Seattle winter. PSYCH! I fell for it again. (I’m sure my snow-covered friends in Eastern Canada have absolutely no sympathy for me). So today, being one of those Winnie-the-Pooh days but with my brain pining for warm, sunny breezes, I couldn’t get into typical winter food so I made one of my all-time favourite summer salads.

This is a great use for leftover quinoa. I didn’t have any leftover, but I really wanted the salad so I made a fresh batch but let it cool in the fridge a bit while I chopped the rest of the salad.

And alright…I get that I should not be complaining about the weather here. I realize how blessed I am when I can take oregano out of my own garden right now…I had to search around for some tender new growth since the older stuff is looking pretty ratty, but it was there!

I didn’t measure the veggies for this salad and you really don’t need to either. If you like lots of cuke add lots…only like a bit of olive, only add a bit. You could make this heartier by adding a can of drained, rinsed chick peas or adzuki beans and it’s a dinner on its own. Or serve it as a side dish with grilled lamb chops (ooo, that really sounds like summer!). Had this been dinner for 3 in our house, Bob and I would eat the salad as-is of course, and serve Evan a small “just-take-one-bite” amount, plus the quinoa plain and warm, with sliced cuke and cubed feta on the side, along side some grilled meat (me and Ev) or fish (Bob and Ev).

But since it was just me, for lunch, I had it with some awesome olive bread from Essential Baking Company. I realize that’s kind of redundant, having bread with a grain, but whatever…it was soooooo good!!

Quinoa Greek Salad

1 cup uncooked quinoa (about 3 cups cooked)
cucumber, seeded and diced
tomatoes, seeded and diced
kalmata olives, pitted and sliced in half
crumbled feta cheese
~1/2 cup mild sweet onion
~1-2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano or 1-2 tsp dried
olive oil
red wine vinegar (you can make more or less dressing depending on how wet or dry you like your salad. I usually keep my oil:vinegar at 1:1)

Cook quinoa according to package directions, or use leftover quinoa.  If making fresh, put cooked quinoa in salad bowl, spread out a bit and pop in the fridge while you chop the rest of the salad. If using leftovers, take it out of the fridge and let it come to room temp while prepping the rest. Combine cuke, tomato, olives, onion and feta with quinoa and toss.  In a small measuring cup whisk together about 1/8 cup olive oil and 1/8 cup vinegar along with chopped oregano and a good grind of pepper. Pour over quinoa salad and serve at room temp.

Banana Bread

If I’d bubble-wrapped the bananas I brought on my annual girls cross-country ski weekend we’d be having a different conversation right now, but bubble wrapping bananas is just this side of nuts. Bananas definitely don’t travel well. Plus, they can’t have have more than one or two brown spots for me to eat them fresh. Bob is more forgiving and doesn’t mind a bruise or two and Evan?….he won’t eat them, period. Fresh, that is, banana bread is a different story entirely.

I’ve been making this banana bread for more than 20 years…I still use my stained and spotted hand-written recipe, copied from my mom’s before I headed to Montreal for university. I don’t think either of us uses Crisco anymore though!

You can make this with or without eggs and you can’t really overmix it. For the eggless version it’s definitely best if the butter is pretty soft so that it ends up kind of whipped up when mixed with the sugar and egg substitute. The final batter will be pretty thick but it rises well.

It will make one standard loaf or three mini loafs. I tend to make the smaller loaves because one or two slices are the perfect size for E’s lunch box, and to make it last longer I’ve been making it with eggs lately, which prevents me from eating it!! The egg thing is interesting and a novelty for me. Until a couple of years ago I’d never cracked an egg…weird, I know, but with a severe allergy there was a) no need and b) paranoia about dealing with raw egg. Disposable nitrile gloves solved the latter problem and it’s been fun.

Banana Bread
I usually use white whole wheat flour for this, or a mix of all purpose and white whole wheat. For the egg substitute, I’ve used EnerG egg replacer, or any of the sour dairy products listed and all work fine. Applesauce also works well (same amounts as below). If you use EnerG egg replacer, be sure to give it a good whisk so it gets foamy and well mixed before adding it to butter/sugar. Also, overripe bananas (particularly those that have been frozen and thawed) give the best flavour. You can also throw in 1/2 cup of nuts if you’re inclined, or chocolate chips (yum) at the end.

Preheat oven to 350˚

3/4 cups sugar (1/2 white, 1/2 brown)
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs (or 4 heaping tbsp yogurt/sour cream/buttermilk)
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 large bananas, mashed (about 1.5 cups)

Beat together sugar, butter and egg/substitute for 3 minutes at high speed (or med on stand mixer). Fold in mashed bananas.  Sift together flour, baking soda, powder and salt. Fold into wet ingredients. Pour into buttered/sprayed loaf pans and bake 45-60 min or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool.

Penne with Mushrooms and Spinach

Once again the day got away from me and I found myself at 5:30pm staring into the fridge trying to figure out what to make for dinner but didn’t really feel like cooking. Sigh. But instead of turning to old standbys grilled cheese or soup and toast I managed to pull together a pretty decent pasta dish without a huge amount of effort.  Don’t get me wrong, we love grilled cheese and Pacific Natural soups are a staple in our house (Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato is awesome) but I really wanted pasta and also had this bag of mushrooms that needed to be used up.

I figured I could make a similar wine-y broth to the farfalle I made recently.

This came together in about 20 minutes thanks to bag o’ mushrooms (sliced) and bag o’ spinach. The most work was slicing the shallots. And it was really yummy, with a deep mushroom flavour.

To make it Evan-friendly, because he would balk at a bowl of pasta with all that ‘stuff’ in it,

I scooped out some penne that had been simmering in the veggies and broth and added some grated parmesan so he’d get all the flavour without the ‘bits’. I figure, it’s the same meal, just adjusted a bit, which I’m okay with. I mean, we can avoid being too accommodating but still be considerate of his finicky palate, right? Everybody wins. Then I put some of the braised veg on the side, which he didn’t try, but that’s ok.

Penne with Mushrooms and Spinach

Truth be told, I didn’t measure anything when I made this so you may want to add more or less liquid to deglaze and braise depending on the amount of mushrooms and spinach you use. The one third – two third ratio of wine to broth works well and just add more if 1 cup total volume is not broth-y enough. Remember that the mushrooms give off a lot of liquid too though.

1 8 oz bag sliced crimini mushrooms (roughly 1/2 lb sliced)
1 6 oz bag baby spinach
1 large shallot, sliced (about 3/4 cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup chicken or vegetable stock
fresh parmesan cheese, finely grated
salt and pepper to taste
cream to taste (optional)
Pasta (we used Trader Joe’s whole wheat penne)

In a large skillet on med-high, saute mushrooms and shallots in a bit of butter and olive oil, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Deglaze by adding the wine and broth, then dump in the spinach, a good grind of pepper and salt (to taste), then cover and reduce heat to simmer for 7-8 minutes.

When spinach is very wilted, stir to combine and add pasta to the skillet…more or less depending on the pasta to veg ratio you like. Add a drizzle of cream if you want, and let it simmer a bit longer until some of the liquid reduces. Stir in 1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan and serve immediately.

Braised Brussels Sprouts with Dijon Sauce

I’ve always wanted to like Brussels sprouts. I’ve tried them different ways over the years and never really liked them, which bugged me because it’s the only (well, aside from turnip, which I’ve never been a big fan of either) vegetable I don’t like. So just before the holidays I saw Smitten Kitchen‘s recipe for braised Brussels sprouts and thought, “This is it, this will be the one I like, finally!”

It wasn’t until I saw Brussels sprouts in a cute little mesh bag at the grocery store that I remembered I wanted to try this recipe out. I forgot to weigh the bag to let you know how many go into the recipe but I’m guessing it was about a pound. Enough to cover the bottom of a 12″ skillet. If you were really Type A you could count the number of sprouts in the skillet photo….oh nevermind, I’ll do it for you: 46.  23 whole sprouts.

And OMG, I was right about this being “it”. They were delicious. I think the Dijon paired with the bitter sprout is absolutely the right combination and adding a small bit of cream mellows it all out. Bob’s never been a big fan of Brussels sprouts either and was quite impressed with them. I even had seconds, willingly! So this is my go-to method and opens another vegetable door. Yay! I think we’ll even grow them this year.

Braised Brussels Sprouts with Dijon Sauce
Adapted, barely, from Smitten Kitchen

1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced in half, lengthwise
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup broth (chicken or vegetable)
2 to 3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tbsp heavy cream (oh go for it! It’s only 2 tbsp in the whole dish)
1 tbsp smooth Dijon mustard

Trim the ends of the sprouts and cut them in half, lengthwise. On medium-high heat add the butter and oil (using both allows for higher cooking temperature without burning the butter) and place the sprouts cut side down. Add a good grind of salt and pepper. Cook until the bottoms are golden brown, about 5-6 minutes.

Add the shallots, wine and broth, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook until sprouts are fork tender, but not mushy. About 15-20 min.

When cooked, lift the sprouts and shallots from the braising liquid and place in a serving dish. Add cream to the skillet and simmer for a few more minutes, then whisk in the Dijon. Pour over the sprouts and serve immediately.

Eggless chocolate brownies

I’ve been on a quest to make a decent brownie without eggs. It’s been tricky…they’ve either turned out really flat or too dry and crumbly. But then I came across the ” (Gluten Free!) Black Bean Brownies That Don’t Suck” recipe over at Dinner with Julie, AND my sister-in-law sent me a black bean brownie recipe as well. Brilliant! Must be meant to bean. (OMG, I am so sorry). The beans add some much needed ‘heft’ to the eggless brownies I’d tried in the past that tended to just fall apart and since I don’t need to avoid gluten, I decided to play around with adding some flour as well for extra structure.

They don’t have a whole lot of sugar compared to other brownies and I even decided to use white whole wheat flour to see if they might possibly edge toward *gasp* healthy. Leaving out the eggs means you need to replace that liquid plus their binding property; plain yogurt, sour cream or buttermilk work well. One heaping tablespoon per egg. Adding baking powder allowed them to rise a little higher than without and voila! I think I’ve hit on something pretty good, but then I’ve never had a ‘real’ brownie for comparison. Let me know what you think if you make them.

Ok, Bob says they’re good. Especially with the chocolate chips stirred in. At his request, the rest of them are now tucked in tight waiting to be taken out of his reach. Hello annual girls’ XC-ski weekend!

Eggless Chocolate Brownies

1 19oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup cocoa
2 tbsp buttermilk or sour cream or plain yogurt
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325˙F.
Put the black beans, sugar, melted butter, cocoa, buttermilk, vanilla and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine initially, scraping down the sides. When well combined, let it go for a while, until quite smooth.  Measure out the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl and go and check your e-mail for a few minutes while the food processor does its thing.

Pour pureed wet ingredients into the mixing bowl with the dry and stir well to combine. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour into a buttered (or sprayed, or tin foiled) 8″ X 8″ baking pan. (I used an oblong dish that was 10X5 because my square pan is 9X9 and is too big for this recipe). Bake for 25-30 min or until a toothpick comes out relatively clean (a few crumbs sticking is a good thing), but not wet. If you can, wait until they have cooled completely….