Garlic Parmesan Quinoa

So many of you asked for the recipe for this quinoa, so here it is!

I started making quinoa because I was looking for an accompaniment to one of our favorite fish dishes, and the hubs and I were trying to eat healthier. Plain quinoa is okay, but honestly it’s not my favorite. At some point I wondered, can I make quinoa RISOTTO??? I tried it a few times myself and it was fine, but then I found this original recipe on Pinterest. The recipe uses similar technique to what I was doing, but her recipe was more polished and flavorful. You can check it out for yourself; I was true to the recipe except for these changes:

*I do not stir the garlic in the oil. I just keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t burn. I do tilt the pot a little just to get it to cook evenly. I also don’t necessarily MINCE the garlic; I chop or finely chop it.

*When adding liquid is when I deviate most from her recipe:
– First add 1/2 cup white wine to ‘deglaze’ the toasted quinoa. I’ve used a variety of whites, but chardonnay is my favorite for this recipe. I just use a cheap one like Turning Leaf (around $10) because I don’t drink chardonnay much on its own. I always hope for a buttery, rather than oaky, chardonnay. Let the quinoa absorb the wine for at least a minute (and stir!) before adding the rest of the liquid.
– … Then add the rest of the liquid ( 1 1/4 cup). As long as I have it, I use chicken stock for this whole amount (I love Meijer Naturals). A few times (like tonight) I didn’t have enough, so I make up the difference with plain ol’ tap water. (NOTE: please do NOT try to substitute only water for the liquids; even if you use 1/2 c wine plus 1 1/4 cup water, the result will not be nearly as good.)

Then I let it come up to a boil; once it’s boiling I cover and simmer for 15 minutes. I have an electric stove/oven which runs hot, so you may have to adjust this time. After you make it a handful of times you’ll find your timing sweet spot. 🙂

Then I add the freshly grated parmesan cheese. Let’s face it, I likely use more than 1/2 cup because I love cheese. I never actually measure, I just eyeball it. I also have been adding a bit of crumbled goat cheese (probably only a tablespoon or so) for that extra creaminess and light earthy flavor.

At the very end I stir in some chopped green onion that I pull right out of my garden! (Did you know that green onion is SUPER hearty and easy to grow?? I never even planted this; I don’t know how long it’s been in the garden, but I sure do love using it all the time!)

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This quinoa is everything you want a ‘starch’ to be and more! It’s satisfying, it’s nutty, it’s creamy, it’s got a bit of texture still, it’s delicious – and it’s full of protein! Healthy! Plus, it’s easy!! Probably only 20-30 minutes from start to finish.

I make this once a week with our favorite fish dish, Salmon Florentine (which I have also changed up a bit since I originally wrote the recipe). It’s for sure one of my family’s favorite meals! (I won’t lie; at least once a week for lunch, our 2 year old C goes to the fridge and says, “I want salmon Mommy!” Yeah. I’ll take that!)

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Quick Tip – Peeling Garlic

For awhile I’d heard this rumor that if you put a head of garlic in between two stainless steel bowls and shake it violently, it would remove the skin.

Sounds a little unreliable, don’t you think? Like, too good to be true?

I finally did try it, and guess what? It worked! And it’s so simple! Just put that garlic in between the bowls, and shake it like a Polaroid picture (Shake it! Shake, shake it!)… Okay, not really – more like a bartender shakes a drink mixer.

I did have to do this 3 times before it removed ALL the skin. So each time I separated the bowls to check on the garlic, I put the skin in one bowl and the garlic cloves in the other:

Separate the peel from the cloves, throw away the peel, and start again

Separate the peel from the cloves, throw away the peel, and start again

After 3 shaking sessions about 10-20 seconds each, I ended with this beautiful sight:

All cloves were free of peel!

All cloves were free of peel!

Now, if I only need 1 or 2 cloves, I probably wouldn’t use this method as it takes more time and effort than it’s worth; you should definitely wash the bowls to remove any residual oils or small pieces of peel. But when you need lots of cloves (I was studding a beef roast with them) it’s definitely a time saver. And it keeps your hands clean of that sticky garlic residue!

Plus, who doesn’t love a built-in workout? 😉

Semi-related articles: How & When to Plant Garlic and 5 Ways to Grow Garlic (because I want to this year!)

Spring Pork Loin with Citrus Garlic Ginger Crust and Apple Onion ‘Salsa’

You know what’s great about trying new cuisine or ingredients? You can try them in new ways – or, I suppose, OLD ways with a new twist.

Are you confused? Sorry. Let me explain in detail:
This week I attempted Indian food for the first time – Tandoori Salmon. It was actually AMAZING. I bought fresh ginger for the recipe. I’ve used ginger before, but not very often. The combination of the extra ginger sitting there and the marinade I made for the salmon gave me an idea. I scrapped the recipe I was going to try for my Thursday meal and made up my own instead!

And now I’ll share it with you! I’m calling it “Spring Pork Loin” because I suppose I’m wishful thinking. It is mid-March after all, and the weather has topped 50º more than once this week! (But then again, in Chicago that means nothing. Reluctant prediction: we will get another snow storm in April.)

Pay attention to the captions on the photos – they include instructions!

Here’s what you’ll need:

Not pictured: 1 orange, cinnamon, soy sauce

Not pictured: cinnamon, soy sauce, 1 orange

I started with a 4 lb. pork loin which I patted dry with paper towels. Next I made the marinade, which also serves as our liquid for the crock pot.

1/8 cup soy sauce

1/8 cup soy sauce

Enough red wine to come to almost 3/4 cup - then add the juice of one orange

Enough red wine to come to almost 3/4 cup – then add the juice of half an orange

Now brush that marinade onto the pork.

I always use a pastry brush. I've never used it for pastry. ;)

I always use a pastry brush – which I’ve actually never used for pastry. 😉

I let that sit while I made the “crust”:

Start with about a 1 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger

Start with about a 1 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger

Add 1 Tblspn diced garlic and the zest from your orange

Add 1 Tblspn diced garlic and the zest from your orange

Stir in the Dijon mustard, then brush that ‘crust’ onto the pork:
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Be sure to get all sides and cover thoroughly. (More crust = more flavor!)

Put that baby in the crock pot!

Put that baby in the crock pot! (Fat side down)

Pour the remaining marinade into the pot. Just be careful not to wash away the crust. I poured mine in that little space you see above the pork.

Make the apple onion salsa by slicing an apple (I used Gala and a quarter of a Golden Delicious we had in the fridge. You see, I really do save and use everything. – almost -) and putting it in a bowl. Cut up half of a white onion by slicing vertically through the bulb 3 times, cutting in half crosswise, and then cutting a few times crosswise again to get big chunks. Put in bowl with apple. Add the applesauce, orange juice, and cinnamon, and toss.
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Now (gently) dump that ‘salsa’ on top of the pork! (I’m calling it a salsa because it’s the only word that comes close to a chunky kind of sauce. It’s not a slaw. It’s not a chutney. So it’s a salsa!)
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Cover any bit of the pork that is showing by moving the chunks around.

Now put on the lid and cook for 8 – 9 hours on LOW. I originally cooked mine for 8 on low, but had to cook it for an additional 30 mins on HIGH because it wasn’t as tender as I wanted.
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Here’s the finished product, ready to eat!
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Look at how caramelized the apples and onions were. They not only got soft but also soaked up the juice. The ginger and orange juice are bright against the deep, traditional ‘au jus’ flavors of the marinade, which is further balanced by the sweet apples. And the crust just melted right into the pork. So, maybe it was more of a ‘rub’ than a ‘crust’, since a crust implies crunchy, and crunchy it was not. It did however impart that nice spring flavor and extra layer of texture. All the pork has this great ginger scent. It’s just a hint, not too spicy or overwhelming. The meat was falling apart into shreds – just perfect to make a Second Meal of pork tacos or pork sandwiches!
I served it with a slightly modified version of these 
roasted sweet potatoes (yes, I jumped on the coconut oil bandwagon!).

If you’re craving spring, give this a try and let me know what you think!

Ingredient List:
1 4lb Pork Loin
Marinade:
1/8 C soy sauce
–up to 3/4C red wine
Juice from 1 orange
Crust:
2 Tblspn Dijon mustard
1 tsp fresh minced ginger
1 Tblspn diced garlic
Zest from 1 orange
Apple Salsa:
1 Apple, sliced
Half large white onion, chopped
1/3 C Applesauce
Juice from 1/2 an orange
Few dashes of cinnamon (I used 5)

Garlic & Onion Crusted Pork Loin with Red Wine Jus

Every Thursday my eldest has dance class from 4-5. It is at least a 15 minute drive, more if we get stuck in rush hour traffic. I knew when I signed her up that I’d have to be strategic about dinners on these days. I figured it was a perfect opportunity to try new slow cooker meals!
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Most times my meal planning is influenced by the sales that week. This particular week, pork loin was on sale, so I searched for pork loin crock pot recipes. I came up with this: Amazing Pork Tenderloin in the Slow Cooker. However, since Kelly’s Honest Mom interview, I’ve been following her tips to read labels, and trying to do better in choosing products with more natural ingredients. One of the ingredients in this recipe was Onion Soup Mix. I checked the label at the store, and it had dehydrated onions, salt, onion powder, and some paprika – and a bunch of things I couldn’t pronounce. I decided to skip the mix and replicate the spices myself. I also adjusted the recipe because I bought a 4.8lb pork loin, and the recipe only calls for 2lbs. (I’m planning on making a Second Meal with the leftovers!)

Here’s what you’ll need:
Pork Loin (again, mine was 4.8lbs)
1/2 c chopped onion
4 Tbspn minced garlic
3 Tbspn Soy Sauce
3/4 c Red Wine
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 tsp Garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp Onion Salt
1 c Water
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First I trimmed the pork loin of some of the fat, since the hubs and I are eating healthier. But don’t remove it all – you’ve got to leave some for flavor and tenderness!
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Then I cut it in half (it was big! too big to fit in my crock pot otherwise) and layered the chunks in the crock pot.
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Next I sprinkled the seasonings over top (onion salt & garlic powder) and added the liquids: wine, water, and soy sauce. Be sure to pour some of the soy sauce directly on the meat – it will sink in and make for a delicious bite!
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Next I placed the onion and garlic over top of the meat and cracked the pepper over top.
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Replace the lid and cook on low for 8 hours.

When it’s about half-way through the cooking time, splash 4 more dashes soy sauce and about 1-2 more tablespoons red wine directly on the meat.

Good luck resisting the amazing garlic smell coming from the crock pot all day. It’s worth the wait though, with a distinct saltiness and tender pork that pulls apart with no effort at all. The onions and garlic almost form a crust on top. So good!
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Save that juice and pour some over your meat and whatever side you choose; I served it with egg noodles and homemade creamed spinach.
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Save the leftovers for a Second Meal – pulled pork sandwiches, wraps (they’d be great with avocado, lime, and a little cheese!) or pork soup!

Quick Tip – Mince Garlic

A quick tip today to prep for tomorrow’s recipe!

Remember where I came from as a cook – not knowing how to cook pasta. Somehow I knew how to mince garlic, but I did have to google it the first time I did it to be sure I wasn’t just making it up.

Hence, how to mince garlic:

1. Start with one garlic clove and a clean cutting board. Remove the skin from the garlic clove by placing your knife horizontally above the garlic. Rest it there gently. Use the heel of your palm to slam the knife down.
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When you move the knife away, the skin should be broken and easily peeled away. (If it’s not, try smashing it again.)

2. I always cut off the very bottom tip of the clove.
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3. Slice the garlic thinly – horizontally first.
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4. Now slice in the opposite direction. Continue gathering the garlic into a tightly condensed pile and cutting until the pieces are very small.
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5. Here comes the mincing part. Hold your knife at an angle over your now finely chopped garlic. Firmly press the blade down over the garlic. I find it’s easiest to do if you first condense into a tight pile again. Then start at one side and move across to the other, repeating as necessary. (You’re basically smashing the garlic to release the oils.)
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And voila! You have now minced garlic!
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Homemade Italian Dressing

After interviewing Kelly for my Honest Mom series, I’ve begun reading labels more carefully according to her suggestions. What I’ve found is most of the time I can replicate a dressing or seasoning packet with what I already have at home – and without the unnecessary preservatives! Not only do I feel better about what I’m feeding my family, but it’s also a huge confidence booster to make something from scratch, relying entirely on your taste buds.

I won’t lie: when I was done, I did a happy dance in the kitchen.
To which A said, “Mom! STOP!” (Apparently she’s now hit the age of parental embarrassment. Even when no one’s around to witness.)

Let me share a little disclaimer: Several months ago I would not have had the time, energy, or even desire to do this. Chasing after the kids, meal planning, working, keeping up with obligations from the hubs, school, and church kept me plenty busy enough, thankyouverymuch. So the two biggest things that led to me trying this were:
1. My family eating healthier – The hubs is trying to lose weight, I want to eat healthier, and my mother in law started Weight Watchers. Part of the reason I tried this is because I knew she could only have fat free dressing, so I made it from scratch. (YES! The only fat in this recipe is from the olive oil, which she is allowed.)
2. My youngest is finally old enough to (pretty much) keep herself busy for longer periods of time and without endangering herself, so I can get more things done. Plus, I knew I’d be using most of necessary ingredients for dinner already, so it wasn’t a whole lot of extra work.

Just to be clear: If you would have told me 6 months ago to make Italian dressing from scratch, I’d have told you to jump off a bridge. Okay, maybe something less extreme, but I just want you to know that my intent isn’t to make anyone feel bad for using bottled dressing. More to show how fun and easy it is, if you have the desire and time to do it.

So HERE WE GO!

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Tblspn very finely diced red pepper
1 finely diced shallot
4 Tblspn Olive Oil
2 tsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 Tblspn Kosher salt
3/4 Tblspn honey
Dash oregano
Dash basil

Finely dice your red pepper. You almost want it to be a mince, releasing all the juices.

Keep cutting until juices are released and it's almost mushy.

Keep cutting until juices are released and it’s almost mushy.

Combine liquids (oil, vinegars, and honey) in a bowl and whisk to combine.
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Add salt and pepper; whisk again.
Add the finely chopped garlic. I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite parts of Italian dressing are the chunks. You can mince your garlic if you like, but I prefer to leave some texture!

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Guess what’s next? Yep! Whisk away!

A helped me whisk, taste, and adjust my recipe.

A helped me whisk, taste, and adjust my recipe.

Add your red pepper and shallot aaaand… WHISK!
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Add your dashes of oregano and basil.
The finished product should look something like this:
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I poured mine in a cruet for easier dispensing:

Remember to shake before using!

Remember to shake before using!

Be sure to let it sit for at least an hour before you use – the garlic needs time to flavor everything. This will keep in the fridge for about a week – longer if you keep shaking it – otherwise everything separates and you can get a thick solid film on top.

I dare you to try this. Then I dare you to take a blind taste test with a bottled dressing and determine which is which.
And even if you are able to tell the difference, you’ll probably prefer your homemade one anyway. Why? Because there’s one ingredient you won’t find in bottled store-bought dressing: LOVE!

Honey Garlic Pork Loin (First Meal)

If you aren’t aware, I plan my meals based on the grocery sales each week. Sometimes that means stepping out of my comfort zone and trying a new cut of meat or cooking it a different way. Lots of times it involves Google, and lately, Pinterest! So when pork roast went on sale last week, I picked one up after searching and coming up with this recipe: Honey Garlic & Onion Pork Loin. The author actually is a Word Press user: http://myworldasamom.wordpress.com/

I followed the recipe except that I didn’t have dried dill so I omitted that ingredient.
I love that the glaze is sweet but the seasonings add a nice herbal flavor to it.

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So enjoy trying out this recipe and use the leftovers as a Second Meal in my “Minezole Soup”!!

Healthy Stuffed Chicken (Second Meal)

The Hubs has been doing an awesome job lately of consistently exercising and especially eating foods that are out of his comfort zone (raw veggies! gasp!). I am super proud of him! I know he will reach his weight loss goal if he continues down this road.

On the other side of that is: if he wants to continue down this road, I need to be on board to help him. Genesis 2:18 says “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (emphasis mine) I love this verse, because it’s very practical when it comes to being a wife. I am created to be my husband’s helper. I read a book by a Christian author that gave me this awesome filter to ask of everything I do: Am I helping or hindering my husband? (Always good for a gut check!) So, in his weight loss goals, I am coming alongside him to be his HELPER. Which means making healthy (well, health-IER) meals! I’m so excited that he’s motivated enough to try new things.

A Second Meal using tomatoes, onion, and spinach is stuffed chicken. (See here for a First Meal.) The first time I made this was before work one night, when I was prepping dinner before I had to leave for work. The hubs had requested something healthier than the chicken nuggets and Mac n Cheese I was making for the kids. I got a family pack of chicken breast when it was on sale, and some of the breasts were really large and thick. I cut them into smaller tenderloins and was thinking about butterflying some too. I was going to just grill a chicken breast for him, but then this idea came to me. I recently used it again for my brother-in-law’s birthday dinner at our house. Modifications for a larger group are in red

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:
Chicken Breast
Bell peppers – red, yellow, and orange
Onion (any kind will do – red, Spanish, or white)
Tomatoes (Roma work best because they’re firm)
Spinach
Italian dressing (click here for homemade recipe)
Butter or cooking oil
*Optional: shredded cheese like Parmesan, Mozzarella, or Italian Blend
*As always, adjust ingredients or recipe to your tastes!

1. Butterfly a thick chicken breast, leaving enough connective protein to keep it shut after you stuff it (I’d say it’s in between a butterfly cut and cutting a pocket in your meat – more open than a pocket, but not completely cut through either.) Drizzle with some Italian Dressing, spread with a pastry brush all over and let it marinate on your raw meats cutting board while you cook vegetables. When I made this for the whole family, I made a homemade Italian dressing for the marinade, adding 3 extra garlic cloves for more flavor. I put them in a glass baking dish and poured the dressing over top.

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2. Heat a small pat of butter or drizzle of oil in a small skillet. For a large group, I used my large skillet. Add chopped onions, tomatoes, bell peppers (I used yellow and orange and red), and spinach. Saute very gently and sprinkle a little S&P.  Remove from heat. You can stir in cheese to the filling as well; I added about 1- 1 1/2 Tblspn Italian blendFor the large group, I used a handful of shredded parmesan cheese, about a quarter of each color pepper, half a Spanish onion, 5 Roma tomatoes, and a whole bag of spinach (remember it shrinks!), then put the stuffing in a bowl until I needed it. *Be careful with this though – you might have to drain the veggies of liquid before you stuff your chicken!

3. Heat grill pan over medium-high heat. Meanwhile add the vegetables to the chicken – inside the ‘pocket’ – and fold the other part of the chicken over to close. When grill pan is hot enough that water sizzles loudly when flicked onto surface, lift chicken with tongs & spatula and set on grill pan. (Use tongs on open side holding it closed and spatula underneath closed side.) Cook for approximately 7 minutes or until chicken no longer sticks to pan and there are nice grill marks on bottom. Then flip and cook the same on the other side (using tongs again to keep pocket from falling open).

4. Move chicken to a sheet pan with edges. I line with aluminum foil for easy clean up. I had a lot of extra filling, so I spooned more over top before baking. Finish in a 350º oven for 10-15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. (If you want to know if it’s cooked or not without cutting into it, ‘feel’ it with the tongs. It should no longer be soft, but springy and almost firm. If it’s too firm and hard, it’s overcooked and will be dry and chewy.)

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That first time I made this, I wished I had made two so I could have devoured one before work. He loved it and even though he’s never been a big spinach or tomato fan, he ate the WHOLE thing and said the stuffing was awesome. At my brother-in-law’s birthday dinner, all the plates came back empty. I hope you enjoy this healthy, quick and delicious entrée!

Quick, flavorful veggies

Growing up, I never ADORED broccoli. It didn’t bother me to eat it, but it wasn’t my favorite either. Some regulars where I work bring their two kids with them all the time, and they would always (wait for it) VOLUNTARILY get broccoli as a side!! I was uber impressed. Which may or may not have been the reason I started cooking broccoli more at home 😉

Turns out it’s a good thing I did, since Aubrey now LOVES broccoli! She will even eat it -gasp- RAW!  The first time this happened I was cutting broccoli to make the way I’m going to show you, and she asked, “Mom, can I have one right now?” (grabbing a piece off the cutting board). I was kind of quietly freaking out in my head. Don’t make a big deal out of it or it will ruin it! I was thinking in a terribly over-excited voice in my head. Very calmly and off-handedly I said, “Sure honey.” I watched out of the corner of my eye because I was certain she was going to spit it in the garbage. But she didn’t! And now broccoli is probably her favorite vegetable, with cauliflower coming in a close second.

So how did I make it the first time I bought fresh broccoli and cut it off the stalk? Sorry to say I didn’t steam it or even blanche it. Nah… I take baby steps. Here’s how I like to cook these now – and they’re usually a hit with everyone in the family (I guess I’m still working on the hubs though).

First, obviously, cut up your vegetables. I try to cut the broccoli and cauliflower into smaller pieces for the kids (remember my definition of kid-friendly?)
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Then melt a generous tablespoon or so of butter in a skillet over low to medium heat. (Yes, sorry, this is not really a healthy dish by today’s standards. Back in the 50s maybe, sure.) You want the melted butter to cover the surface of the pan.
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Once it’s all melted and you’ve tilted the pan to cover the entire surface, evenly sprinkle some Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, and paprika. It will form almost like a shortened version of a compound butter, which is going to coat our vegetables very nicely.
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Then place the prepared veggies in the pan – just enough to cover the surface. Now DON’T TOUCH! Let it sit for a minute or so, and sprinkle more seasonings on the top of the veg.
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Then give the pan a good shake to move the veggies around and coat other sides of them. After another minute or so you can do a little flip with the pan to rotate them even more.

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Here’s where you have some options.
1. You can add another pat of butter to the middle (aaaand maybe the sides too) of the pan and sprinkle more seasonings over top of the veg. This is the best way. The seasoned butter sticks so well to the veggies and forms almost like a crust of deliciousness!
2. If you have some chicken stock open in the fridge, or possible using it for your main dish, you can add a splash or two to the pan to hydrate the veggies some more. I must warn you: it will sizzle and probably whatever bits of seasonings are on the bottom of the pan, it will kind of clump them up and form a chewy… substance. haha. But if you like them more moist this is probably the way to go.

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Look at that seasoned yummy-ness!

Now. Yes we use a fair amount of butter here, but what I like about it is it gives the veggies flavor without overcooking them (the more you cook veggies the more nutrients leak out). I should tell you now, this is part of my process of introducing new foods to my kids, particularly vegetables (see QUICK TIP). And although I’m glad Aubrey enjoys raw broccoli, I really don’t enjoy the dry raw florets, so this preparation is a perfect compromise! Hope you enjoy it too.