Friday, May 10, 2013
What?! A candy-coated popcorn snack bar that's actually GOOD for you?! Are you kidding me?! Does such a thing even exist? Yep. :)
Salty and sweet, and yes, healthy, this snack covers all of the bases. It's got all-natural carbs, healthy fats, and protein, Omega-3's and -6's, etc., is an abundant source of energy, and heck, it even fights germs (i.e., the honey, walnut oil, walnuts, almonds, and cashews). It's sort of like Cracker Jack's healthier, badass cousin. :)
Unlike other kinds of candy-coated popcorns, this one doesn't have tons of refined sugar, artificial ingredients, or boatloads of saturated fat. For example, if you read the label on a box of Cracker Jack, you'll see the following ingredients: sugar, corn syrup, popcorn, peanuts, molasses, salt, corn &/or soybean oil, and soy lecithin. Note that popcorn is listed third, after sugar and corn syrup (!). Or, check out the label on a can of Poppycock, another candy-coated popcorn that tastes very similar: Mixed nuts (almonds, pecans, cashews), corn syrup, sugar, butter (cream, salt), popcorn, brown sugar, salt, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, soybean oil, or soy lecithin. Popcorn isn't even one of the top ingredients. It's listed fifth, after mixed nuts, corn syrup, sugar, and butter. Wow, that's a real eye-opener, eh?
These popcorn bars are really easy to make, so why not make a healthier version and enjoy a guilt-free snack instead? :) Plus, it also makes a great gift for the holidays or other special occasions!
Popcorn Snack Bars
8 c. plain, freshly air-popped popcorn (about 3 Tbsp. popping corn kernels)
Directions: Preheat toaster oven to 350ºF. Pour plain, freshly air-popped popcorn into a large heat-proof bowl. Pick out and discard any unpopped kernels. (After all, you don't want people to swallow whole kernels or break their teeth!) Set aside. Spread almonds onto an aluminium-foil covered toaster oven tray and bake in the toaster oven until golden brown and fragrant, about 10 minutes, opening the oven after the first 5 minutes to stir them a bit. (Nuts burn easily, so watch them carefully as they toast.) Transfer the nuts to a separate heat-proof bowl and let them cool for about 5-10 minutes.
While nuts are cooling, preheat (a regular) oven to 350ºF. Then, add honey, maple syrup, and salt, to a large sauce pot, stirring once to combine, and then simmer, undisturbed, over low heat. (Watch it carefully so that it doesn't boil over.) Cook until honey dissolves, about 5 minutes. Stir in the walnut oil in the last 30 seconds. Remove from heat, then stir in the vanilla and baking soda, the latter of which will cause the mixture to foam. Quickly add nuts and stir until fully coated with syrup. Then, using a heat-proof spatula, immediately transfer nuts and any remaining syrup to the bowl with the popcorn and mix together rapidly until the popcorn and nuts are completely covered in syrup. Then swiftly transfer the mixture to 9" x 13" baking tray lined with parchment paper. Using the heat-proof spatula, firmly press the mixture into the baking tray, evenly distributing it across the tray. Make sure there are no gaps anywhere and that the mixture is of a uniform thickness. Bake in oven for 7-8 minutes, or until bars have solidified and become golden brown. Let the bars fully cool, then refrigerate for 1 hour to further solidify. Cut into 10 uniformly sized bars, slicing once lengthwise (down the center of the 13" side), and then four times crosswise (equidistantly down the 9" side). Serve and enjoy!
Yield: 10 (2 3/5" x 4 1/2") bars.
Chef's Notes: It's best to consume these snack bars within 1-2 days of making them. Otherwise, they'll become sticky and will crumble fairly easily while you're eating them. And that'll make for some very messy eating. More popcorn will probably hit the floor than your mouth. :) If you're not going to eat them right away, then be sure to store them in an airtight container to keep them fresh.
After the syrup has finished cooking, do not delay any of the steps immediately following, from the moment you remove it from the stove top up until the instant after you've just pressed the syrup-coated popcorn and nuts into the baking tray. Otherwise, the syrup will begin to harden and will make the popcorn and nut mixture difficult to handle.
This is a super-easy and delicious high-protein snack that goes well with all sorts of condiments, particularly hummus. The various types of seeds, plus the homemade za'atar, which is made with fresh herbs as opposed to dried, is what gives this recipe a particularly vibrant flavor.
I brought these into my kung fu class, and they disappeared pretty quickly. I even saw some people go back for seconds. :)
This is yet another recipe from The Athlete's Cookbook. Not only is this recipe rich in protein, but it's packed with antioxidants as well. Since it's important to get protein into your system within 15 minutes of finishing a workout, it also makes a great post-exercise recovery snack too. Just be sure to ingest some carbs along with it, (in a 4:1 carb to protein ratio), to replenish your depleted glycogen stores.
Included at the bottom of this recipe are vegan and Paleo adaptations of this snack as well.
Nothing like fresh, warm crackers straight out of the oven. CRUNCH! :)
Za'atar Crackers with Sesame, Cumin, Caraway, & Nigella Seeds
Cracker Dough Ingredients:
1 c. almond meal
1 large egg
1/4 c. ground flaxseed, plus another 1/8 - 1/4 c. for dusting
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. water
1/4 c. brown or white sesame seeds
2 Tbsp. nigella seeds
1 Tbsp. caraway seeds
1/2 Tbsp. cumin seeds
Za’atar Spice Mix:
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano, finely minced and then densely packed
1 Tbsp. ground sumac
salt, to taste (omit if the sumac you purchased already contains salt)
Directions: Preheat oven to 375°F. Place all za'atar ingredients and all dough ingredients, minus the whole (sesame, nigella, caraway and cumin) seeds, into a food processor and pulse until all of the ingredients are fully incorporated and form a dough ball. Add whole seeds and pulse until just combined. Remove dough ball from the food processor and place onto a flat, clean surface that’s been covered in parchment. Place another piece of parchment on top of the dough and press down on top of it with a rolling pin until flattened. Then proceed to roll out the dough with the rolling pin until it’s 1/8” thick. Peel off top sheet of parchment paper and cut into 1 - 1 1/2” wide strips. (If you’ve rolled out particularly long strips, it’s a good idea to also make a horizontal cut across the center of the flattened dough, so that the dough strips aren’t too long and unwieldy to transfer to the baking tray.) Line a 11” x 17” metal baking tray with parchment, then dust it with 1/4 c. ground flaxseed. Slide a long spatula underneath each strip of dough and transfer it to the baking tray, spacing them evenly apart. (Depending upon how you’ve rolled out the dough, you may have to bake them in batches or use two baking trays.) Place the crackers into oven and bake for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve and enjoy!
Yield: About 30 (1 1/2” x 4 1/2”) crackers.
Chef’s Notes: You can also prep the dough in advance and either chill or freeze it until you’re ready to make the crackers. Also, please note that za'atar typically contains sesame seeds. However, since I've already included them as a cracker dough ingredient, and didn't want them to be pulsed into oblivion along with the fresh herbs in the za'atar, this is why the sesame seeds are supposed to be added later as a separate entity, along with the other seeds.
Adaptations: To make this recipe vegan, either use an egg substitute like Ener-G Egg Replacer or prepare the following homemade egg substitute: Pour 1 Tbsp. flaxseed into a small bowl, add 2-3 Tbsp. water, and stir until well-combined. Allow mixture to sit for about 10 minutes or so, or until it puffs up a bit and forms a gel. This mixture will take the place of the egg as the binding agent for the crackers.
To make this recipe Paleo, simply omit the salt and the baking soda. Your crackers will be a bit flatter without the baking soda, but if you'd prefer your crackers to be a bit thicker, then roll them out to the desired thickness, which after baking, will remain about the same.
Out of all of the seafood on the planet, shrimp definitely has to be one of the most popular. It's also cooks fast, so it's perfect for those times when you're in a rush but still want to make a decent, healthy meal. And when I say fast, this dish can be made in under 20 minutes flat, and that counts kitchen prep and cooking time. (Yes, it's really that quick, especially if you're a fast chopper like me. :-D If you're a bit pokier &/or are a bit challenged in the knife skills department, then maybe add another 5-10 minutes to the process. Lol.)
When I send Erik on grocery runs, it appears that all he can find around here are pre-cooked, cocktail-style shrimp, at least in generic grocery stores. Next time, I'll have to send him to Grand Mart, an international grocery store which has all kinds of fresh seafood. And I'm almost positive, they'd have fresh, raw shrimp. Anyhow, if you're in a pinch (like us), you can certainly use pre-cooked shrimp, which'll make this recipe even quicker to prepare. That way, then all you have to do is warm them through. So, this is why my recipe lists pre-cooked shrimp. :) However, feel free to use raw shrimp, if it's available to you. (This is frequently more challenging to do if you live in a land-locked area). You lucky people who live in coastal areas, not only can you get shrimp so fresh that it's literally straight off the shrimp boats, but you also don't have to pay an arm and leg for seafood like the rest of us. :)
Some of you who follow my Twitter account and Facebook pages may've noticed that I haven't been very active on social media lately. That's because I'm trying to meet an impending book deadline. :) And of course, it's also why I don't have time for the usual flowery preambles to my recipes on this blog. So, in the interest of saving time, let's just skip straight to the recipe, shall we? :)
Festive, Italian-Style Shrimp & Red Bell Peppers in Garlic Sauce
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. red onion, peeled and diced
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced (about 2 cloves)
1 c. red bell pepper, diced
1/2 lb. (8 oz.) pre-cooked shrimp (or use raw, if it's available to you)
1/4 c. scallions, cut crosswise into 1/4"-thick rounds
1/4 c. Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely minced
1/8 c. (2 Tbsp.) extra virgin olive oil
1/8 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 c. fresh thyme leaves
Directions: Whisk together marinade ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Place shrimp into a resealable, zip-top plastic bag, then pour in marinade. Seal bag and massage the marinade into the shrimp from the outside of the bag. Set aside. Then, heat 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil in a large (12-13") sauté pan until it glistens and sizzles. Then reduce heat to low, add onion, garlic, and red bell pepper, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add marinated shrimp and cook for 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Stir in scallions and parsley cook for 5 more minutes. Serve and enjoy!
Yield: 2 servings.
Monday, May 6, 2013
This was today's breakfast, although it could also be served for lunch or dinner, or even as a snack. Of course, this recipe is yet another selection from The Athlete's Cookbook. You'll probably notice that there have been a plethora of avocado recipes here lately. That's no coincidence. It's been an avocado kind of week. :)
Unless you've been living under a rock for the last couple of years, you've probably already seen 5 zillion articles plastered all over the web (and other forms of media) about how the avocado is one of the world's most amazing superfoods. :) Avocados are particularly rich in healthy monounsaturated fats and vitamin A, both of which have a myriad number of health benefits, many of which are of particular use of athletes. For starters, Vitamin A supports muscle tissue growth by helping to create essential proteins in the body. It also helps boost testosterone, which plays a key role in increasing muscle mass and bone density. Vitamin A also has another athletic benefit: it helps oxygenate your blood by supporting red blood cell formation and transporting iron to your red blood cells. And of course, if you're trying to improve your VO2 max (how much oxygen your body is able to consume and use while exercising), you'll want to take full advantage of this benefit.
And here's another major health benefit: Avocado oil significantly boosts the absorption of beta-carotene and lycopene, two very important carotenoids (i.e., one of the major classes of phytonutrients) containing high levels of antioxidants, both of which are not-so-coincidentally found in copious amounts in this recipe. :) (If you need a hint as to exactly where these carotenoids are located, then check out the ingredients in the homemade pico de gallo. :-D For example, tomatoes, for one, are rich in both lycopene and beta-carotene.)
So how does this carotenoid absorption process work, exactly? Well, one notable distinction of carotenoids is that they are fat soluble (i.e., they can be dissolved in fats). This is important because, when fat-soluble nutrients are dissolved, this make it easier for them to be stored in the liver and fatty tissues of your body and then utilized for various life-critical functions.
In a study done by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the carotenoid bioavailability of salad, (which consisted of romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and carrots -- all high in carotenoids), was shown to be significantly higher (by 200-400%!) when ingested with full-fat, as opposed to reduced-fat, dressing. So, in other words, in order to reap their full benefits, it's best to eat carotenoid rich foods with a bit of fat, particularly healthy, full-fat selections like avocados or olive oil. And it doesn't take a lot of fat either; as little as 3-5 grams of fat will do the trick.
Thus ends today's mini nutrition lesson. :) And now onto the recipe.... Enjoy!
Baked Egg in an Avocado Topped with Homemade Pico de Gallo
1 Haas avocado, pitted, peeled, and halved
2 large eggs, at room temperature
salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Pico de Gallo Ingredients:
1 c. vine-ripened tomatoes, diced and drained of liquid (about 1 extra large tomato)
1/8 c. scallions (about 1 large scallion)
1 Tbsp. jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced (or for less heat, 1/2 Tbsp. jalapeño or 1 Tbsp. green bell pepper)
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 tsp. (mild) Mexican chili powder
1/16 tsp. (dash) salt
1/16 tsp. (dash) ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, finely minced
Directions: Preheat oven to 425°F. Using a spoon, scoop out a small amount of avocado from each avocado half. Nestle the avocado halves into a small baking dish so that they stay upright. Crack an egg into each avocado half, then season with salt and pepper, to taste. Place the baking dish into the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until cooked as desired. While eggs are baking, make the pico de gallo. Combine all ingredients into a large bowl and set aside. (Or, for faster prep, do this step in advance and then refrigerate mixture in a covered container until serving time.) Remove baking dish from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before serving. Top each half with pico de gallo and serve.
Yield: 1-2 servings, depending upon appetite. :)
Chef's Notes: IMPORTANT: Do not cook the avocado in the oven for longer than 25 minutes, or else it will taste bitter. You could say that the egg baking on top of the avocado acts as a kind of "heat shield." :) Haas avocados are one of the few kinds of avocados that can be cooked for a short time without being rendered inedible, so be sure to specifically use Haas avocados in this recipe.
Alternate Preparation: This dish could also be made in a toaster oven. To make this recipe Paleo, simply omit the salt.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
This recipe has a distinctly American flair (all 15 pieces - lol), and was inspired by summers spent in New England. It's an ideal dish for picnics, BBQs, or festive summer parties. This is the type of recipe that makes me want to throw an outdoor dinner party. :) I'm picturing Japanese lanterns strung across the deck, glowing through the dusk just as the sun's beginning to set, with a table full of fresh and brightly colored summertime foods, and maybe a grill going in the background. Now, add a sangria in one hand and a plate of shrimp and avocado salad in the other, and you're all set. :)
Since I'm in a rush to get out the door (yes, yet again), I'm going to have to curtail the usual detailed exposition, and cut straight to the recipe. Hopefully, things will slow down a bit after The Athlete's Cookbook wraps, allowing me to compose posts in a less hurried fashion. (OK, who am I kidding, right?! Smoothies for Athletes is due in July. Lol.) Anyhow, enjoy!
Shrimp & Avocado Salad
1 lb. pre-cooked shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut into bite-sized pieces (about 26-30 large shrimp)
1/2 c. red bell peppers, diced
1/2 c. orange bell peppers, diced
1/2 c. yellow bell peppers, diced
1 c. cucumbers, peeled and diced
1/2 c. scallions, (white and green parts), sliced crosswise into 1/4" rounds (about 4 large scallions)
1/4 c. celery, finely diced
1/4 c. cornichons, finely diced (these are the sour mini pickles, not the sweet kind, i.e., gherkins)
1 c. avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced (about 1 Haas avocado)
1/4 c. nonfat plain Greek yoghurt
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. fresh dill (fronds only), finely minced and densely packed
1/2 Tbsp. fresh tarragon, finely minced and densely packed
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 Tbsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt (or to taste)
Directions: In a medium-sized bowl, thoroughly combine all marinade ingredients. Set aside. Next, add all of the salad ingredients, minus the avocados, and toss until all salad ingredients have been coated with dressing. Add avocados, and gently combine until coated. Cover, and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to meld. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Yield: 4-6 servings as a main course and 8-10 as a side salad.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
The inspiration for this recipe comes from Sicily. Roulade is a French word that's derived from the verb, rouler, which means "to roll," and rotolo (from the verb, rotolare), of course, is its Italian equivalent. Italians also commonly refer to this dish as involtini. Although roulade can be made with a variety of meats, chicken and beef are probably most common. (When it's made with beef, it's typically referred to as braciole.)
Turkey roulade, or rotolo di tacchino al forno in Italian, is admittedly less common, but of course, it's a lot leaner than chicken, so of course that's one of the reasons I've decided to use it. That, and I need to make another turkey recipe for The Athlete's Cookbook. ;)
Instead of using one large skinless boneless turkey breast, I decided to use turkey cutlets, which are a lot easier and far less time consuming to prepare. That way, there's no need to butterfly chicken breast fillets and then pound them into oblivion with a mallet just to get them to the proper thickness. :) They're already pre-cut and ready to be rolled. And how nice is that?! Also, by using cutlets, the end product turns into something else entirely, i.e., mini roulades, which I thought would be a bit more fun to prepare, as the dish then becomes an appetizer instead of a meal. Not only that, mini roulades are the perfect finger food to serve as party hors d’œuvres. Just put them on a serving platter, supply a few toothpicks, and you're ready to go!
Even better, they can be made in advance and then either frozen or refrigerated for future use. Then, all you have to do is reheat them just before serving. Or, if you're really feeling lazy, they could also be served chilled, straight from the fridge, or at room temperature, if so desired.
Turkey Florentine Mini Roulades (Rotolo di Tacchino al Forno)
10 boneless skinless turkey breast cutlets, in long strips (about 1.2 lbs.)
1/2 c. ground flaxseed (for "breading" the turkey)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (for drizzling on top of the roulades)
1/8 tsp. salt
1 c. part-skim ricotta
1/4 c. Parmesan, shredded
1 tsp. freshly grated lemon zest
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/8 c. roasted and salted pistachios, shelled and slightly crushed
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/16 tsp. (pinch) ground nutmeg
3/4 c. fresh baby spinach leaves, finely minced and densely packed
1 Tbsp. Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely minced and densely packed
1 Tbsp. fresh basil, finely minced and densely packed
Directions: At least 30 minutes before cooking, remove turkey cutlets from the refrigerator and let rest to reach room temperature. Preheat oven to 375°F. Using a spatula, thoroughly combine all filling ingredients into a large bowl and set aside. Spread a large sheet of wax paper onto a clean surface. (This will be used for prepping the cutlets.) Place ground flaxseed into a large shallow bowl, then dip a cutlet into the bowl, gently pressing the cutlet into the flax seed to thoroughly coat it on both sides, and transfer onto the wax paper, spacing them evenly apart, lengthwise. Repeat this process until all cutlets have been "breaded." Next, place about 2 Tbsp. or more of the filling into the center of each cutlet and, using a knife (or your fingers) spread the mixture lengthwise along the cutlets, leaving about a 1" border on each end. Lifting up from the (long) end that's closest to you, roll up each cutlet (i.e., away from you). (Finished product should resemble jelly rolls.)
Securely tie each roulade crosswise with kitchen twine so that it holds its shape. (Or, see the Chef's Notes section below if you'd prefer to take a shortcut and forgo this step.) Here's how to do this (or you can just watch this instructional video instead): Grasp the kitchen twine with both hands, placing the short end in your dominant hand. From the end of the roulade that's farthest away from you, slide the kitchen twine under the bottom of the roulade, moving it towards you about a third of the way down the roulade. Grasping the short end of the string, tie it into a tight double knot on top of the roulade. Next, while grasping the long end of the string in both hands, slide it underneath the roulade another third of the way down. Be sure to give yourself enough slack. Then while still holding the string in your hands, lift up the free end of the kitchen twine, lace it through the loop of string you're holding in the other hand, and then tug the free end upward, pulling it tight. (If your roulade is unusually long, you can repeat this step again until you get closer to the other end of the roulade.) Pull the string down lengthwise, towards the end of the roulade that's closest to you, and while still holding the string in your one hand, roll it over (crosswise) onto its opposite side, and wrap the string over top of the roulade, lengthwise, to the other side. Then roll it over one more time and lift the string up to meet the other loose end, and tie it in a double knot. Repeat the process until all roulades are tied.
Season the roulades with 1/8 tsp. salt (or to taste), sprinkling from a good distance above to evenly distribute. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil to help brown the roulades. Transfer roulades to a 7" x 11"x 1 1/2" glass baking dish and cover with aluminium foil. Roast for about 25 minutes, or until the juices run clear and meat is no longer pink on the inside. Then open oven, pull out rack with baking dish, and remove aluminium foil. Continue to bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then transfer to a large cutting board. Using poultry scissors, remove kitchen twine from turkey. With a sharp knife, cut roulades crosswise into 1/4 - 3/8" thick rounds, about 5 rounds per roulade. Place onto a large serving platter, providing toothpicks on the side, and serve warm or at room temperature.
Can be made a day in advance and chilled in a covered container in the refrigerator.
Yield: Approximately 50 mini-roulades.
Chef's Notes: So, now that you've learned how to lace poultry, here are the rolling instructions for lazy people. :) --> Some people swear by metal poultry lacing pins, using them as a needle to lace the twine, but in truth, all you really need is kitchen twine or if you're really pressed for time, nothing at all. That simplifies things considerably. No fuss, no muss. To be 100% honest, I made these roulades without using any twine at all and as you can see from the above photo, they stayed in one piece when I sliced them into rounds. If you take the easy way out, just be sure that you roll the roulades really tightly, tuck the ends under, and tightly nestle them next to one other when you put them into the glass baking dish, so they don't start to unravel.
IMPORTANT: Some people like to use toothpicks to help them secure the roulades while they tie them together, but if you do this, just make sure that you remove the toothpicks before placing the baking dish into the oven. For future reference, toothpicks can actually be placed into the oven, but they must first be soaked in warm water for 10-20 minutes, in order to prevent them from burning, or worse, starting a kitchen fire. Personally, the idea of using toothpicks in an oven makes me rather nervous, so I'd rather just use the kitchen twine and avoid potential kitchen mishaps. On that note, it's VERY IMPORTANT that you use kitchen twine (sometimes also called cooking or butcher's twine) and not generic household string, because the latter will set on fire if placed into the oven. So please be aware of these fire hazards!
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Below was today's lunch, and wow, was it was deceptively filling! I could only eat 2 cakes, and let me tell you, I have a sizable appetite. Just ask my friends and family. :) Thank goodness I work out a lot. Lol.
Today's my kung fu and gym day, so I don't have a lot of time to wax effusive about this recipe right now. Also, I'm pressing full speed ahead to meet the rapidly approaching deadline for The Athlete's Cookbook, which, of course, will include this recipe. Suffice it to say that this dish turned out well. Plus, I was able to type up the recipe in time and also complete the photo session without making myself late for class. Bonus. :) OK, enjoy the recipe.
"Polenta-Style" Quinoa Cakes with Wild Mushroom Ragù
Quinoa Cake Ingredients:
1/2 c. quinoa, uncooked, thoroughly washed (to remove saponin), and drained (makes 1 c. cooked)
2 c. water (for cooking the quinoa)
1 c. almond meal, plus more for flouring surface for the cakes
1 c. Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/4 c. chèvre (soft goat cheese), crumbled
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (for sautéing quinoa cakes)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c. shallots, peeled and finely minced (about 2 shallots)
1 1/2 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced (about 1 1/2 large cloves)
1 c. generic mushrooms, thinly sliced and then cut into bite-sized pieces
1 c. portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced and then cut into bite-sized pieces
1 c. shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced and then cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, finely minced
1 Tbsp. fresh sage leaves, finely minced
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1/4 c. marsala wine (or sherry, if unavailable)
1 Tbsp. fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/4 c. unsweetened organic soy milk
Directions: Make the quinoa cakes: Bring 2 c. of water to a rolling boil in a large sauce pot. Add quinoa and cook for 10 minutes. Allow to rest for 10 minutes (to cool to room temperature), then fluff with a fork. Drain into a mesh sieve and rinse with cold water under the kitchen faucet. Transfer cooled quinoa to a food processor, followed by all remaining quinoa cake ingredients, minus the olive oil, (which will be used later to sauté the cakes). Process until the quinoa is completely pulverized and all ingredients are fully incorporated. Dust a large plate with a generous amount of almond meal. Then break off a large chunk of dough about the size of a large matzo ball (about 1 3/4" in diameter) and roll into a ball with the palms of your hand. Then, with the palm of your hand, gently flatten the dough ball so that it's about 1/4" high, then shape and smooth the outer edges into a seamless disc. Place dough disc onto the almond meal "floured" plate. Repeat this process until all dough has been used up and you've made 8 uniformly sized cakes. Set aside.
Next, make the ragù: Heat olive oil on high heat until glistening, about 20-30 seconds, then reduce heat to low, add shallots and (fresh) garlic, and sauté for 2 minutes. Then add all of the mushrooms and immediately season with salt to help accelerate the moisture extraction process. Turn up heat to medium. Next, quickly add black pepper, rosemary, and sage and cook for 10 minutes, or until liquid has evaporated to a thin layer on the bottom of the pot, stirring occasionally. Stir in marsala to deglaze. Cook another 5 minutes, or until liquid has once again been reduced to a thin layer on the bottom of the pot. Add thyme and soy milk and continue to cook until liquid has been reduced by at least three quarters, about 5 more minutes. In the final 1-2 minutes of cooking, add parsley. Remove from heat and set aside.
Grill and assemble the quinoa cakes: Heat olive oil in a square grill pan on high heat until glistening, about 20-30 seconds, then reduce heat to medium-low, place 4 quinoa cakes into the pan and cook about 3 minutes per side. Place onto a clean plate and set aside. Then repeat the process for the next batch of 4 quinoa cakes. Divide up cakes into equal portions, transfer to plates, then top with ragù and serve.
Yield: 8 quinoa cakes, approximately 1/4' thick and 2 1/2" in diameter.
Chef's Notes: It's important to thoroughly wash quinoa to remove the saponin, which creates a bitter taste. This makes a huge difference in flavor and palatability. I've heard people say that quinoa tastes bitter, but really, it's because whoever prepared it for them probably didn't wash it first. :)
Also, be sure to thoroughly clean the mushrooms to remove any debris. The best way to do this is to soak them in a bowl of cold water for 15-20 minutes, then rinse them under cold water, washing them by hand.
You can buy almond meal at many, if not most, generic grocery stores these days. (Or at least you can in major cities.) I know for a fact that Whole Foods carries almond meal. It's a fairly neutral tasting "flour," which makes it the perfect canvas and/or binding agent for many different dishes, including this one. :)