Saturday, March 30, 2013

Wedding Cake Testing

Let's eat cake! Lots of it...
I have made three cakes in the span of a week and it was awesome… if I could bake cakes forever, I would be the happiest girl on Earth! The reason behind all this cake baking frenzy is because DFJ and I want to make our own wedding cake. Well, maybe I want to do it more than he does, but he’s always been agreeable and easygoing… a true keeper! Oh, and he’s also one happy cake tester… too happy that I have to give away half of the cakes each time because it’s just not ok to eat three entire cakes in one week.

All three cakes that I made were delicious. Each one is very special in its own way, but the third one was the charm. It really makes for a great wedding cake!

It sounds like a totally crazy combination, right? So crazy that I knew it was just going to be good and I had to make it, pronto! This cake had a really interesting flavor. I know that the word interesting is something that most people use to describe something that is not really interesting or exciting and use the word anyway because there’s nothing else to say. But, that’s not the case for this cake. It really has interesting flavors, simple and complex at the same time. I would consider this cake more of a quick bread since it isn’t too sweet and soft. Dark chocolate, rosemary, and olive oil are three of my favorite ingredients in any recipe and these three ingredients all thrown together into a cake is too good to be true. Friends, this is a good one… simply lovely, subtle yet intense, with a magic touch that makes it so good, yet you can’t quite place what it is that makes it good. This would be a perfect cake to serve for brunch parties or just an everyday, snack cake.


This cake is for dark chocolate and stout lovers! If beer isn't your thing, worry not, because once the simmered down beer goes into the cake, there is nothing left but a rich, dense, moist, chocolate cake that has a mild sweetness and full body.

The icing is amazing. Really, it is! Powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and buttermilk... so rich, chocolatey, and perfectly sweet. I am in love with it and couldn't stop licking it off the whisk, the bowl, and the sides of the cake. This might be my go to quick icing from now on!

Cake # 3: Also Known as My Wedding Cake!

After searching all of my cookbooks for a promising cake recipe, I came upon this particular Ina Garten recipe in Barefoot Contessa at Home: Beatty’s Chocolate Cake. Even before I finished reading the directions, I knew that this would be the one and it had to be made in my kitchen soon. Now that the cake problem was solved, I needed to find the perfect frosting. That was when I remembered the best buttercream frosting I have ever had in my entire life. It was at Delancey’s in Seattle. DFJ and I happened to be there on the night of their 3rd anniversary last year. So, I emailed Molly Wizenberg and asked her for the cake and frosting recipe. She was very sweet and happily shared it with me… it is the best coincidence that the Delancey cake recipe is so close to the Ina Garten recipe that I found. In the end, I decided to make Ina Garten’s cake with Delancey’s Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting.     

Absolutely lovely! This cake is perfectly sweet with a rich chocolate flavor and notes of coffee… Every bite is surprisingly light and airy with its moist and spongy texture. A truly delicious and decadent cake with a delicate softness that just makes you smile and fall in love with it. The frosting is just as heavenly… buttery sweetness with hints of salted caramel. What could be possibly be better than this? After the first bite, DFJ and I knew that this would be the perfect celebratory cake to welcome us into our new life together.

As much as I would like to share the Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting, I am not sure if it is my place to do so. But I would be happy to tell you that there are two components to the frosting: the Swiss Meringue Buttercream (I made meringue for the first time!) with a homemade salted, caramel sauce that has real vanilla beans in it for added flavor. So very special!   


Wedding Chocolate Cake
Very slightly adapted from Ina Garten’s Beatty’s Chocolate Cake; Barefoot Contessa at Home

a teaspoon or so of butter to grease two, 9-inch round cake pans
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus a little bit to dust the pans
1 ½ cups sugar (the original recipe calls for 2 cups)
¾ cup cocoa powder (non-Dutched)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
½ cup olive oil (the original recipe calls for vegetable oil)
2 large eggs (the original recipe calls for extra-large eggs at room temperature)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
Frosting (I made Delancey’s Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting that I got from Molly Wizenberg; Ina Garten uses a Chocolate Frosting; and I believe any chocolate or buttercream frosting that you love would be great with this cake)

Set an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease every inch, space, nook, and cranny of both cake pans with butter. Lightly dust with flour, tapping the bottom and sides of the pan to spread it around. This will help ease the removal of the cake from the pan once it has slightly cooled.

Brew a pot of good coffee… I used the French press method, but I believe that drip would work just as well.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk well together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Make sure that everything is well combined. In a separate large bowl, pour in the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Use a hand held electric mixer set on low to combine everything together.

Slowly and gradually pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix on low speed until just combined. Use a flexible spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl and carefully pour in the coffee into the mixture. Mix on low speed until just combined and once again, scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure all the dry ingredients are incorporated.

Carefully pour the batter into the prepared pans, making sure to place an even amount in each. Bake for 38-40 minutes. Test both cakes for doneness using a cake tester poked in the middle. If it comes out clean, the cakes are done. Cool the pans on a cooling rack for 30-40 minutes. Turn the cakes carefully by placing a cooling rack on top of each pan (one at a time) and flipping it over. The cakes will lie on the racks flat side up. Let the cakes cool completely.

Gently place a plate or a cake stand on top of one cake. Hold both sides of the plate or cake stand and the cooling rack (with the cake sandwiched in between) firmly with your hands, and flip the cake onto the plate or stand. The flat side of your cake should be on the bottom. If you’re particular with how your cake will look, you may want to even out the top of the first layer since it is rounded… but I don’t care about that too much so I didn’t bother to do anything. Frost the top of the first layer using whatever frosting spatula you have (offset spatula, a frosting knife, what have you). Place the second layer on top, with the rounded side up. This is tricky… I carefully slid the second layer off the cooling rack onto my outstretched palm, then held it gently with both hands, and carefully but surely placed it on top of the first layer. Whew! Spread the rest of the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

Savor every bite and enjoy!!! I have one more slice left to have as dessert tonight!            


Monday, March 25, 2013

Dal with Lots of Vegetables

See that bowl of soup? DFJ and I just finished it off a minute ago… We ate off of the same bowl and shared the same spoon, passed it back and forth between us, exchanged a few words every now and then, and sometimes just enjoyed the comfortable silence.

Now I sit at the dining table, typing this post and he is in the office reading news. There is just enough of an opening in the door that divides the short distance between us so we can glance at each and talk when we need to. Moments like these make me appreciate so much the life we have together… sweet and simple.

This warm and spicy bowl of soup was inspired from Mark Bittman’s Dal with Lots of Vegetables. Anita, the author behind the beautiful blog, Cooking Poetry, chose this recipe for this week’s Food Matters Project.

I made this soup yesterday morning before going on an out of town shopping date with my friend, Elissa. More on this later… for now, I will suffice it and say, we had a blast! I sure am lucky to have her as a friend.

As I was making the soup, my mind was elsewhere and from what I remember, the following ingredients went in the giant pot: a sauté of diced onion, minced ginger, and minced garlic + a whole head of cauliflower and the stalks, chopped + two carrots, chopped + leftover cooked beets, chopped + a bunch of kale, chopped into ribbons. As I was sautéing the cauliflower, I threw in a tablespoon of mustard seeds, 4 cardamom pods, 4 whole cloves, a dried chile, and black pepper. After sautéing all the vegetables, I added a cup of green lentils + a generous amount of homemade chicken stock and water to cover everything about an inch. I let everything cook for about 20 minutes and added salt one pinch at a time. The flavors seemed off and bland, so I threw in some curry powder but it still wasn’t enough and I gave up.

DFJ picked up after my slack and somehow managed to pull everything together. When I asked him what he did, he said he added more cardamom, some coriander, some cumin, and lots of salt. The result was excellent! A heartwarming bowl of soup that only gets better with time.

My apologies for the terrible recipe directions… Worry not though, Anita has the original Mark Bittman recipe posted on her blog and the other FMP members will have recipes of whatever delicious creations they came up with!

Have a great week friends!  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Easy Tangelo Poppy Seed Cake

I work with a special group of people. It is surprising how all of us get along so well and help each other do our duties given that we all have such different personalities. Last week was Classified Staff Week and to honor the wonderful ladies who give me utmost support every day in my classroom, I baked a cake. These hardworking, passionate, and caring professionals deserve an award every day for their service.

This cake was a small token of my gratitude for their awesomeness and I am pleased to say that everyone loved it! It’s a very basic cake recipe that I adapted from Alice Water’s 1-2-3-4 Cake.

A simple white cake that is anything but… It is elegant in an understated way. Lovely and moist, with citrusy notes and a good touch of sweetness. Every bite is simply delightful!  

Easy Tangelo Poppy Seed Cake (Makes 2, 9-inch round cakes)
Adapted from Alice Waters’ 1-2-3-4 Cake, The Art of Simple Food

4 eggs, separate the yolks from the whites

3 cups cake flour, plus a teaspoon or so to dust the cake pans
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 + 2/3 cups sugar
zest of 1 tangelo
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened, plus a teaspoon or so to coat the cake pans
egg yolks (from the 4 eggs above)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
juice of 1 tangelo, make sure to remove seeds
1 cup soy milk
egg whites (from the 4 eggs above)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter two, 9-inch round cake pans and lightly dust with flour. Tap the bottom and sides to spread the flour dust all over the pan. This will prevent your cake from sticking to the pan and breaking when you turn it upside down onto your serving platter. 

Carefully separate the egg yolks and egg whites. Place all the yolks in a small bowl and the whites in a small mixing bowl. Set aside.

Sift the cake flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the baking powder, salt, and poppy seeds. Whisk everything well together.

Pour the sugar in another large mixing bowl and massage the zest of the tangelo into the sugar granules with your fingertips. Add the butter into the bowl. Using a hand held electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar over medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Pour in the vanilla extract and tangelo juice. Mix on low speed until everything is well-combined, making sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.

Alternately add the flour mixture and soy milk, starting and ending with about 1/3 of the flour. Stir just until the flour is incorporated but make sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Set aside.

Take the bowl of egg whites and using a hand held mixer, mix the egg whites on high speed until foamy and soft peaks form. Stir about 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter using the electric mixer on low speed. Gently fold in the rest with a flexible spatula.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and bake for 35-40 minutes. The cake should slightly pull away from the sides and turn a nice, golden color on top. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick in the center. The cake is done if it comes out clean.

Cool the cake pans over a wire rack. When the cakes have cooled, flip them onto a serving platter one at a time. Place a plate on top of one pan and carefully flip the pan to remove the cake. Then place a serving platter on top of the cake bottom and carefully flip to move the cake to your serving platter. Do the same with the other cake.

You may frost the cake if you want… add some filling… or what have you… but I like this cake just the way it is. The perfect dessert, snack, or even breakfast!

Have a great week my friends!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Spiced Cauliflower, Potatoes, and Snow Peas

Winter is almost over and before bidding goodbye, I want to take advantage of the produce that is in season during these cold months.
Let’s talk about cauliflower, potatoes, and throw in some snow peas in the mix too. What makes this vegetable combination even better is the garlic-onion-bell pepper-ginger purée that is cooked with warm Indian spices that blankets them with exotic flavors.
This dish will transport you to a different world… it will welcome you with its wonderful aroma, tickle your taste buds with delicious spices, warm your heart, and fill up your belly. (I’m not exaggerating, promise!)
Spiced Cauliflower, Potatoes, and Snow Peas
Slightly adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Asian Cooking recipe for Spiced Potatoes, Cauliflower, and Peas
2 yellow potatoes, 11 oz
½ teaspoon salt
1 head cauliflower
1-2 handfuls of snow peas, cut in half
¼ cup olive oil
Onion Paste
1 small onion, roughly chopped
2 inch piece fresh ginger
3 cloves of garlic
1 mini bell pepper or a small bell pepper, roughly chopped
Spice Mix
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Tomato Paste Mixture
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon sugar
1 cup water
fresh basil leaves, to garnish
Fill a medium size pot ¾ full of water and bring the water to a boil over medium high heat.
While the water is heating, peel the potatoes and cut into approximately 1 inch cubes. Cut the cauliflower into florets by carefully trimming the stems and removing the core.
When the water is boiling, lower the heat to medium and add ½ teaspoon of salt. Put the potato cubes into the boiling water and cook for 5-6 minutes. The potatoes should be partially tender with a bit of resistance. Pierce a few potato cubes with a sharp knife to test for doneness. Turn off the stove and drain the potatoes into a colander. Rinse the hot potatoes right away under cold, running water to prevent from further cooking and set aside.
Put the chopped onion, ginger, garlic, and chopped bell pepper into a food processor and purée into a smooth, thick paste. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk the following well together: salt, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and cinnamon. Set aside.
In a medium size bowl, stir well together the tomato paste, lemon juice, sugar, and water. Set aside.       
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a deep, large frying pan. When the oil is hot, sauté the onion paste until brown bits form here and there and the paste thickens considerably, about 5 minutes. Add the spice mixture and stir to mix, about 15 seconds. Add the cauliflower florets and sauté until each floret is coated with the paste, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste mixture, the potatoes, and the snow peas. Cover and let cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat to medium low, put the cover back on, and let cook for about 8 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Make sure to stir gently so as not to mash the vegetables. Turn off the stove and move the pan away from the heat.
Move the vegetables into a serving platter or bowl and garnish with fresh basil leaves. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Simple Collard Green Stir-Fry

Do you ever have those moments when you are completely powerless against your own convictions? I generally stay away from store-bought pastries because my principle is: “Make it if you want to eat it.” Last week however, DFJ and I bought an indecent quantity of donuts, pastries, and cookies from a bakery and consumed everything within five days. As if that wasn’t enough, I gorged on grocery-store donut holes that a co-worker brought in the classroom to share. It was a nice gesture and after donut hole #7 I lost count.

During these moments of weakness, I redeem myself by eating more vegetables than usual. One of my most favorite ways of preparing vegetables is stir-frying them. It brings out their flavors and juices while still retaining their freshness and crunch. Vegetables are great! They really need nothing more than a good coating of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Today I want to share with you the simplest of all recipes. Nothing fancy, just a couple of vegetables tossed together in a pan… Collard green ribbons with colorful embellishments of carrot and bell pepper slices. Collard greens have a strong flavor when eaten raw… I can’t quite describe the taste except to say that it tastes very green with some slight bitterness (you can taste healthiness in these leaves). However, once they are cooked, these flavor tone down a notch. If strong, green flavor is not your thing, add a splash of lemon. It masks the bitterness that some folks don’t dig and brightens up the dish.

You can serve this stir-fry as a side dish or use it as a bed of greens for some roasted meat. This will also be great with a good slice of buttered sourdough.     

Simple Collard Green Stir-Fry (Makes 4 servings)

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
5 mushrooms or more (I used cremini), sliced
1 carrot, sliced into half moons
1 bunch collard greens, stems included, sliced into thin ribbons
4 oz mini bell peppers (or a large bell pepper), sliced
fresh ground black pepper
a pinch of red pepper flakes
lemon slices, optional

Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, sauté the garlic until you see golden specks, about a minute. Add the mushrooms and cook until fragrant and shrunken, about 2 minutes. Toss in a generous pinch of salt and stir for a few seconds. Stir in carrot slices and let cook for a little over a minute. Add the collard greens and cook for 2 minutes, until it starts to wilt. Toss in 2 generous pinches of salt and stir to mix for a few seconds. Add the bell peppers and cook for about 3 minutes. Toss in another generous pinch of salt, some fresh ground black pepper, and a generous pinch of red pepper flakes. Let cook for about 2 more minutes, stirring often. Turn the heat off and remove pan away from heat. Serve warm.

Optional: Squeeze some fresh lemon juice into the stir-fry to add brightness.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Curried Lentil, Rice, and Carrot Burgers on a Bed of Sautéed Collard Greens

Hi Friends! Welcome to a wonderful Food Matter’s Project post. This week Evi + Sam, the delightful people behind Fifthfloorkitchen, picked Brown Rice and Lamb Burgers with Spinach.  

Since, there’s zero meat in our refrigerator these days, I wondered what would happen if I used lentils instead. I entered the keywords lentil and rice burgers on Google and found this delicious Curried Lentil, Rice, and Carrot Burgers recipe from The New York Times. After reading the recipe, I was sold!

I didn’t make the original Mark Bittman recipe (it’s close though, kind of). So, if you want to read his recipe, head over to Fifthfloorkitchen. Also, don’t forget to visit the FMP website to see what the other members came up with.
DFJ and I worked on these burger patties together. Well, he actually did the bulk of it after I prepared all the ingredients. I tweaked the recipe a bit to accommodate for ingredient substitutes and still ended up with something so good. These Indian-inspired burger patties will put other veggie burgers to shame! The spices give the burgers so much flavor and all the vegetables in it just go so well together. This recipe calls for lentils to be puréed. The puréed lentils not only binds everything together but also adds a hint of powdery sweetness. The brown rice adds a nice chewiness in every bite.

These burgers are so good, they don’t need the help of hamburger buns, cheese, or tomatoes! I speak only the truth here. However, I encourage you to lay these babies on top of garlicky collard greens. They are perfect together!       

Curried Lentil, Rice, and Carrot Burgers on a Bed of Sautéed Collard Greens
(Makes 8-10 patties)
Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe from The New York Times, March 28, 2012

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
2 mini bell peppers, finely diced
heaping ½ cup purple cabbage, sliced into very small pieces
3/4 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
pinch of cayenne
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 and 1/2 cups cooked yellow lentils, drained
1 egg
canola oil (for frying the burgers)

Make sure you have some cooked brown rice and cooked lentils. I cooked my lentils in homemade vegetable stock which gave it so much good flavor.

In a small bowl, stir together the ginger, cumin, curry, turmeric, mustard seeds, and cayenne. Set aside.

Using a blender, purée the lentils and the egg together until smooth (like hummus). Set aside.  

Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, sauté the onion, carrot, mini bell peppers, and cabbage for about 4 minutes. Add the spice mixture and stir well to combine. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Turn off heat and transfer vegetables to a large bowl.

Add pureed lentils into the bowl and sprinkle with two generous pinches of salt and a generous grind of pepper. Stir to combine. Add the rice and mix everything well together.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Get a rimmed cookie sheet handy for easy transfer of the cooked burgers. 

Pour just enough canola oil to coat the bottom of a large nonstick pan. Turn the heat on to medium high and let the oil heat up. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, quickly form the mixture into burger patties, one at a time. The mixture should make about 8-10 patties. Grab a handful of the mixture, quickly form a patty, and carefully drop it in the oil. It will be very sticky so don’t worry about getting a perfect patty. Gently flip after 2-3 minutes of cooking, or until it turns into a nice brown color, you are the best judge for this. The patties are delicate, take some care when you flip them so they don’t fall apart. When both sides are crispy, move them to the cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes.

Serve the lentil and rice burgers over a bed of sautéed collard greens. These burgers are delicious with ketchup and Sriracha or chutney!

Sautéed Collard Greens

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small bunch collard greens, rinsed and cut into thin ribbons (no need to pat dry)
salt and freshly ground pepper

While the burger patties are in the oven, cook the collard greens. Pour out the excess oil from the pan you used to fry the burgers and leave about a tablespoon, just enough to cook the greens. Heat the oil over medium heat and once it’s hot but not smoking, sauté the garlic until golden brown. Add the collard greens and season with a generous pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Let cook for 6-7 minutes or until the greens are wilted, stirring often. Turn the heat off and move the collard greens to a plate. Top with the lentil and rice burgers.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


I have been on an artisan bread baking kick. The obsession has been on for over a month now and I hope it lasts forever. I made a starter using a recipe from Peter Reinhart's "Artisan Breads Every Day", borrowed from the library, and have made several batches of his pain au levain and San Fransisco sourdough over the past few weeks. Some came out nicely, some came out too dense, and some were just decent. This has been a great learning process so far. DFJ also got me Ken Forkish's "Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast" for Valentine's Day and I am devouring all the information from this great book! This book has been on my mind since I saw it sitting on the counter at Ken’s Artisan Bakery in Portland a couple of months ago. New vocabulary such as: bulk fermentation, autolyse, pre-fermentation, poolish and biga, shaping, proofing, scoring, and so on are the new words that I am wrapping my head around. I have yet to bake out of Ken’s book… right now, I am just savoring the knowledge that his book provides while I practice the Reinhart methods from my rented book.


My yoga teacher encouraged me to learn different yoga styles and practice more at home with YogaGlo. I started with the 15-day free trial and am hooked. There are so many classes and helpful tutorials to choose from. All of which cater to specific time frames, injuries, and skill improvement. There are different spaces at home that I could practice in, but I find our kitchen to be the best spot because it has the wood floor. My yoga mat on the carpet makes the ground feel too cushy and causes my wrists to strain from hyper extension. I also find it hard to do balancing poses on softer ground. So, yoga in the kitchen it is. I drag our recycling bin out from under the kitchen table and prop my iPad on top, push play, and yoga away. It's the best home studio ever! Sometimes, I fall asleep on my mat in the middle of the kitchen floor, next to the crumbs, and random hair strands after savasana and it's the best feeling ever!

Walking for 10-20 minutes in the darkened gym during my lunch break at work is a great way to reset my button. It helps me stay alert and focused for the next three class periods. To be honest, as much as I love my job, there are days when I wish I was doing something else. If I had to rate my performance over a total of 35 hours, it is such an embarrassing thing to admit that I am an awesome teacher/planner for only 15 hours. The rest of the time, I am distracted, keeping my frustration at bay, holding my bladder (bathroom time is hard to come by for teachers), fighting a bout of drowsiness between noon to 1 PM, and forcing myself to stay upbeat despite a huge desire to pull my hair. Every day, I try to increase my patience and focus... It is a struggle but one that I am willing to take because my students are worth trying for, every single one of them.

There has been a lot of cooking and baking going on in our household, but less blogging and sharing of these recipes. As much as I love sharing good recipes, I sometimes feel too selfish to stop for note-taking and picture-snapping because it takes away the pleasure of cooking. I'm sorry... When I get all the craziness of my life sorted out, I will share some more. Pinky promise!

 fresh pineapple, ham, cheddar cheese,
and spicy oil pizza

bell pepper, shiitake mushroom, parsley, goat cheese,
and spicy oil pizza

Ottolenghi potato salad with parsley pesto!

DFJ made homemade dumplings 

gluten-free, vegan cookies
 cranberry-cocoa nib-poppy seed-orange scones 

I have been into making homemade chicken and vegetable stock. It's so easy really, just save the chicken carcass or your vegetable scraps, add a generous amount of salt, sprigs of fresh herbs, mashed cloves of garlic, onion skins, a bay leaf, and boil everything together for a long time. Easy peasy! These homemade stocks can be frozen and are perfect for adding flavor when you cook lentils, beans, or rice.

For the past two weeks or so, DFJ and I have slowly weaned off of dairy. The last of the softer cheeses have been consumed along with the last spoonfuls of yogurt in the bottom of the container. This is not a permanent thing, just an experiment to see what it's like to be semi dairy-free for a while. Occasionally, we still spread butter on our toasts, sprinkle Parmesan cheese on some dishes, and use heavy cream in our scones. In a few weeks here, we will be back to consuming regular cow's milk, yogurt, and cheese again. They key is balancing it all out… a little bit of everything is good, and I believe that a certain amount of dairy is an important thing to include in our daily consumption.

DFJ and I have whiled away one too many nights playing Settlers of Catan. Since we got it in the mail over a month ago, the game set has been occupying half of our dining table, ever-ready for a new game. Yes, we are both dorky...

Last but not the least, I have been feeling extra grateful for my family back home and here, my host parents, and friends near and far. Everyone has been very supportive, encouraging, and helpful. DFJ and I are about to jump into something big. It is exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time but there is no turning back. This is it, him and I forever! WOO-HOO!

To all of you who come and visit my blog... Whether by happenstance, curiosity, or whatnot, I appreciate your time. Drop me a line or two if you so wish... I always look forward to hearing from readers. Thank you!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Winter Quinoa Salad

A few months ago, I thought my life was falling apart. It started when the school district I work for decided not to extend their sponsorship for me. They retracted that decision a few weeks later and told me they would be happy to sponsor me again for the next three years.  

During the time when I was scrambling to find another teaching position at any school district that might be willing to sponsor me, DFJ and I started having conversations about getting married. Those heart-to-heart talks were full of love, honesty, awkwardness, and some scary truths. The truth is, we are not sure if we are fully ready for this. The love and commitment is there but not everything else that comes along with it. We are going to have to plan a wedding, get me a Greencard, move somewhere else when we get good job offers, buy a house someday and settle in a place we are going to live in forever, raise kids, AND we are seriously going to be together for the next 50 years… WHAT?!?!

We were perfectly happy the way things were, why do we need to shake it up by deciding to take the next step? The answer is simple, we can’t keep floating within arm’s reach of each other forever. At some point, we have to anchor down and if not now, then when? If we don’t choose each other, then who? The only truth that we know is that we don’t want to lose each other. So from there, we moved forward. Now, we are engaged… and every time I look at the ring on my finger, my heart feels full. I am not alone in this… at the end of the day, no matter what happens, we have each other and that is all that matters.

Today I am sharing a simple, all-in-one meal that says “I love you” one spoonful after another. Quinoa, roasted winter vegetables, and sautéed vegetables all mixed together in a big bowl. It is deliciously heart-warming and will keep you coming back for more.

I love the myriad of textures in this dish… there are fun quinoa pops, juicy mushrooms, crunchy bell peppers, soft cauliflower, and the mashed squash that brings everything together. Each ingredient plays its own role and you get the pure flavor of each ingredient in every bite.   

The preparation and cooking time is quite lengthy, but I will walk you through it so there’s not so much lag time while the squash and cauliflower are roasting and while the quinoa is cooking. There is a four-step process to making this dish: roasting the squash and cauliflower, cooking the quinoa, sautéing the other vegetables, and mixing everything together.  

Winter Quinoa Salad (Makes 6-8 servings)  

Roasted Squash and Cauliflower

1 small winter squash (I used a sugar pie pumpkin)
olive oil
rosemary leaves

1 head cauliflower
olive oil
½ teaspoon garam masala

Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. You will need two roasting pans to roast the squash and cauliflower separately. Make sure the roasting pans that you use will fit in the oven side by side.

Carefully cut the squash in half. Remove the seeds and as much of the fibrous threads as you can. Pour a generous amount of olive oil into the squash halves and use your fingers to spread the oil all over. Sprinkle liberally with salt and scatter some rosemary leaves. Place the squash halves in a roasting pan. Set aside.

Using a knife, carefully remove the stalks that surround the cauliflower florets. Cut the cauliflower in half from head to stem. Lay each half flat side down on a cutting board and proceed to make half inch slices as if you're slicing bread. Move the sliced cauliflower to a separate roasting pan. Pour a long drizzle of olive oil, toss in 2 generous pinches of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon garam masala. Use your hands to toss everything together.

Place the squash and cauliflower in the oven. Set your kitchen timer to 20 minutes and let the vegetables roast. Remove the cauliflower from the oven to stir for even cooking then place it back in the oven. Rotate the squash pan and close the oven door. Set your timer again for another 20 minutes. About 5 minutes before the timer goes off, check your cauliflower. They should start having brown blisters on top. You may remove them from the oven or give them a bit more time until the timer goes off. Take cauliflower out of the oven and place the pan on a cooling rack. Move the squash pan to the center of the oven and continue roasting for 15-20 more minutes. Turn off the oven and place the squash pan on a cooling rack.     

While the vegetables are roasting, prepare the quinoa. I found a really helpful tip from bon appétit on how to treat quinoa right. Here we go:


1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
generous pinch of salt

Rinse the quinoa using a fine mesh strainer. Just for extra safety, place a bowl right under the strainer to catch the grains that might escape through the mesh. Move the rinsed quinoa into a medium size pot, add 2 cups of water, and toss in a generous pinch of salt. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat. When the water is boiling, partially cover the pot and lower the heat to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Taste your quinoa to check for doneness. It should be chewy but still have that nice pop. Drain the water when it is done cooking. Again make sure to use a fine mesh strainer to prevent spillage. Move the pot away from heat, cover, and let sit for 15 minutes. Fluff quinoa with a fork and put the cover back on until you are ready for the next step. 

While the quinoa is cooking, prepare the vegetable sauté. The cooking time for each ingredient is very short, so make sure everything is chopped and ready to go before you begin. 

Vegetable Sauté

3 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 large garlic cloves, minced
2.5 oz shiitake mushrooms, chopped finely
4 oz bell pepper (I used mini bells)
1/4 teaspoon sumac (if you don’t have sumac or harissa on hand, use cayenne and/or paprika)
1/4 teaspoon harissa
1/8 teaspoon salt

Heat olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, sauté the garlic until it turns golden, about a minute. Add the shiitake mushrooms and cook until soft, 2-3 minutes. Toss in the bell peppers and cook for about 2 minutes. Season with sumac, harissa, and salt. Stir everything well together. Turn off the stove and move the pan away from heat.

Making the Salad
roasted squash
cooked quinoa
roasted cauliflower
sautéed vegatables
juice of half a large lemon
parsley leaves, to garnish

salt (to taste)  

Use an oven mitt and be careful not to burn yourself as you scoop out the squash flesh. Remove the fibrous threads that you were not able to get rid of before roasting the squash, they tend to give a bitter taste. Plop the mushy squash flesh into a big bowl and mash with a fork. Add all of the quinoa and mix it with the squash. Mix in the roasted cauliflower and sautéed vegetables. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon all over the salad and mix everything well together. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your preference… maybe add more lemon juice or salt. I found the flavors to be sufficient, but I encourage you to follow your own taste buds.

Allow the flavors to settle for at least an hour if you can help it. We ate this right away but later discovered that the leftovers had so much more flavor! This can be served at room temperature or warmed up in a skillet.

 This dish is definitely a good-mood food! Make it, I promise you will love it!