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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My Mama’s Homemade ‘Gravy’

My great-grandparents on my father’s side came to America from Italy. My mom learned a lot of homemade Italian recipes from my great-grandma Florence. Up until very recently, I’ve been either too busy or too inexperienced to attempt any of these homemade recipes. But I found myself wondering the past few weeks, why don’t I just quit buying jarred sauce? Most of the ingredients for the homemade alternative are staples in my pantry anyway, and it is SO good – and healthier, I’m sure. So finally last week I called my mom up and asked how she did it. (Her sauce is always AMAZING.) I’m about to share with you the secrets to that amazing homemade gravy! (Um, right: if you’re not Italian, gravy is spaghetti sauce.)

Okay here goes!

You will need:
*Roughly chopped Veggies (Onion, celery, carrot, mushroom, bell peppers, garlic are all options)
*Tomato Paste
*White wine (or red, or stock of your choice)
*Canned tomatoes (unless you know how to peel and crush them yourself)
*An immersion blender (you can use a regular blender or food processor I suppose, but immersion is so much less work)
*Seasonings – bay leaf, basil, oregano, thyme, etc – whatever you like.

Disclaimer: If you want to do this right, you need to allow for a lot of time. The longer the sauce simmers, the more flavor it’s going to have. I think 3-5 hours is a good goal. Too short and it’ll still be good, but not EXCELLENT; too long and you could find it reduced down too much (unless you want it to cook extra long – just use more of everything).

We start by sweating our veggies. Melt some butter in a large stock pot over medium heat. Just like anything, you can tweak this to your desired tastes. My mom uses Onion, Celery, Carrot, & Garlic. (The first time I made it I used a LOT of carrots. I told myself it was okay, but it wasn’t the sauce my mama made.)

Too many carrots! Orange, not red.

Too many carrots! Orange, not red.

This past time when I made it I started with 2 small farm-fresh yellow onions. Just toss in the pan with the butter. I also used half a red onion. I like the balance of both because red onion is a sharper flavor while the yellow onion is sweeter. Now garlic. I used about 5-6 very large cloves, smashed before chopping. (*Do not do the garlic first, as it could burn much more easily and leave a bitter flavor.) I included about 1/4 cup red & orange bell peppers. Next I added Baby Bella mushrooms. They’re the smaller version of portobello, so add very rich flavor. Stir after adding each new veggie.

Now add your seasonings. Again, use what you want, but I sprinkled dry bay leaf and chopped farm fresh basil. Stir.

Next, 1-2 Tablespoons tomato paste. This time all I had was a pesto-flavored one that I saw and decided to try for fun. I used probably about 1 1/2 Tbspn. Now you stir with a spatula or wooden spoon to mix all the veggies in with the paste, until all the veggies are covered and they’re completely combined.

Here’s my favorite part. This is what we call deglazing the pan: using a small amount of liquid to pull up all the flavors from the bottom of the pan, and to marry the flavors from the veggies and seasonings together. My mom’s secret is using the white wine. Lots of people use red, but she found the flavor is too strong when combined with the tomato paste (I agree!!! Love you Mom!) I think a medium white is perfect. You don’t want a super dry Chardonnay, but you don’t want a Moscato either. A sweeter Pinot Grigio or Savignon Blanc is wonderful. This last time I used a local white called Oktoberfest that my in-laws brought from Galena. Having a wine that’s a little sweeter balances out the strong flavors of basil and garlic, and works well with tomatoes, which are naturally semi-sweet. *Side note: if you don’t drink, or don’t want to use wine, you can substitute chicken or vegetable stock. You only need about 1/4 cup or so – just enough to go once around the pan. Stir that and bump up your heat to medium-high. Now just lean in, carefully, and take a whiff. SO GOOD, right? I did actually add a splash or two of a red blend that I have sitting on my counter, just for good measure. 😉 Let this simmer for 2-3 minutes to really build up that flavor.

Oh. YEAH.

Oh. YEAH.

Onion, garlic, mushroom, peppers, fresh basil, bay leaf, and wine. MMM mmm good!

Onion, garlic, mushroom, peppers, fresh basil, bay leaf, and wine. MMM mmm good!

Finally, add your canned tomatoes. I added one of those LARGE cans of whole peeled tomatoes and the regular size diced tomatoes. I suppose it doesn’t matter much if they’re diced, finely diced, chopped, or whole, because you’re going to blend it all together anyway, but I’m pretty sure my mom always used whole ones. Therefore, it doesn’t feel right to me without whole peeled tomatoes! Stir that all together, and let it simmer for about an hour.

After the hour is up, blend everything using an immersion blender. You want to turn off your burner and remove it from the heat for this part, in case of splattering. Again, if you don’t have an immersion blender, you have alternate options: wait for it to cool, then use either a regular blender or a food processor. I just don’t like this method because it takes so much more time. If you don’t have a big enough blender or food processor you might have to do it in batches, plus now you have to clean those out… I like my immersion blender. I blend until it’s a thick consistency but still has some very little chunks.

Now all that’s left to do is let it simmer, covered, on low, for another few hours until ready to eat! Mine simmered for 5 hours total and was A-MAY-ZING. I wish I could describe my feelings as I walked in the house after it simmered for that long… I could smell it before we even opened the door. It smelled just like my mom’s house would, and mentally transported me directly to her kitchen. Visually, a picture of her at the stove with her big pot and her whole bay leaves in the sauce.

It always feels good to make something your mama made. This is partly why I love food: passing on the tradition of healthy, simple, homemade recipes. Because when I do that, I feel like a part of my family history and heritage is being passed on as well. It’s timeless. 😉

Mama's gravy with spaghetti squash and sausage (recipe tomorrow!)

Mama’s gravy with spaghetti squash and sausage (recipe tomorrow!)

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)

Salmon Florentine (Second Meal)

Lately I’ve been doing a lot with this particular combo of veggies: spinach, tomato, onion (& garlic). They blend well together, they’re healthy, they have a pretty good shelf/fridge life, and all ingredients can be used in so many different ways that I’m able to use it up before they do go bad.

So tonight I made Salmon Florentine. Well, my version of a Florentine. I did look up a quick recipe and found one on Food Network, but it used Ricotta cheese which is one of those that has little flavor and equal nutritional value. So I skipped that part and just kind of did my own thing.

I had a hair appointment at 3:00, so about 2:15 I portioned my salmon into fillets, rinsed them to remove whatever scales were left from the butcher (I asked for them to do it this time because I did not want scaly fingernails again!), patted them dry with a paper towel, and placed them in a greased (with BUTTER!) glass baking dish. Sprinkled a little S&P and a little dried thyme, drizzled some Olive Oil, covered and placed in fridge until I got home. I did this early because the olive oil, when absorbed into the salmon, gives it a really nice buttery taste.

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Next step, veggies. First preheat oven to 350º and remove salmon from fridge.  I put a very small amount of Olive Oil in a skillet and heated over medium-high. I minced some garlic, chopped some red onion and tomatoes off the vine. I threw the garlic and onion in first, then about 3/4 of a 10oz bag of FRESH! spinach, and the tomatoes on top.

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Splashed some Chardonnay in there, maybe twice around the pan. Mixed it all together until the spinach was wilted and the onions were becoming translucent (5-10 minutes). Remove from heat. At the last minute I sprinkled a handful of Italian 4 cheese blend shredded cheese in with the veggies and gave it a toss.

Now, spoon the veggies over top of the salmon filets and drizzle remaining pan juices over salmon. MMMMM-MM! Put in oven for 15 minutes or until salmon is cooked through. The salmon absolutely melts in your mouth, the veggies are the perfect combo of sweet (tomatoes and onion) and herbal (spinach and garlic). Delish! It feels indulgent. And you don’t have to feel guilty eating it!! HOORAY! I served it with salad and some crescent rolls (see below for healthier, way more delicious alternative!)….And for myself, a glass of Riesling. Divine!
A note here: 15 minutes was PERFECT in my oven, but we have electric and it tends to run a little hot. You might need 17ish minutes. Also, I usually grill or sear my salmon. This approach has it looking more like poached salmon than grilled. It will look light pink and solid in color. It will not have any dark caramelization or golden edges, but trust me when I say, IT IS STILL DONE AND DELICIOUS!!!
Also, it is important that you cut the salmon into individual filets. Otherwise, you will have to cook it longer, which will dry out the spinach. Not good.

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Sorry it’s such a poor photo; I’ll have to add a better one soon.

Now enjoy an amazing healthy dinner! 🙂 “Eat well without feeling deprived.”  Should this be my new tagline for the blog?!

For other recipes using this veggie combo, see First Meal here , another breakfast here and an additional Second Meal here.

*Update: After my recent ladies weekend in Door County, I switched it up and added a splash of cherry balsamic drizzled over the salmon, after the olive oil and seasonings. Then instead of regular chardonnay, I used some cherry chardonnay. It’s a nice change as we make this every week. Also try a splash or two of wine in the baking dish to create more “sauce”.

What are some of your favorite feel-indulgent-without-feeling-guilty recipes? Do tell!!

Try this with Garlic Parmesan Quinoa – we always do 🙂

I make this so often that usually I call it my happy place:

Prep = Happy

Prep = Happy