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Archive for the ‘The Main Ingredient’ Category

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As promised, I’ve been experimenting this week with sweet potato orzo and am here to present the results. The first recipe was created by scanning some basic recipes I have found for roasted sweet potatoes and a need to use red onions. People who roast sweet potatoes apparently like to do so with a lot of rosemary and thyme, so I figured why not flavor my dish that way?

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Okay I know I keep crying wolf with “THIS is the best place ever”, “No, actually it’s THIS”, or “I think THIS is tops”, but I do seriously think I’ve found heaven. On Route 6 in Truro. The Atlantic Spice Company is a wood-framed  warehouse nestled on the side of the road on one of the thinnest and most remote parts of Cape Cod. Thus, you have to make an effort to get there, and believe me it’s well worth it. It is all because of Atlantic Spice that I have a relationship with smoked paprika, Saigon cinnamon, and Gumbo File. I’m telling you, a girl could spend many happy hours wandering this place and it’s probably only 1000 square feet. In my next life I’m going to own a spice shop…maybe even in this one.

Anyway, my most recent trip to Mecca unveiled a previously unexplored region of this store’s inventory, the grains. Uh oh, my wallet was not pleased. I’m just warning you now, I’ve stocked up on about six months worth of every kind of quinoa, cous cous and barley you can imagine so get ready for some heavy blogging. This week’s feature is actually a pasta (gasp!), right? Isn’t orzo a pasta? In any case, the sweet potato flavor caught my eye and after an extensive discussion with the store owner I learned that when he sampled this flavor he was surprised by the bold taste that can often be lacking from flavored pastas. Sold! Sweet potatoes aren’t typically a summer ingredient, so I used the pasta instead to get the flavor without the oven roasting. I’m going to tell you about the two versions I made this week and I think at some point my roommate is helping me to plan how to incorporate the orzo into a true sweet dish/dessert type thing.Versatility is the name of the game.

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For my final quinoa trick (at least for a while), I felt it was only appropriate to give a shout out to the ancestral origins of this seed/vegetable ingredient. That, and I think I’m truly obsessed with all things Peruvian these days – pisco, quinoa, Macchu Picchu, you name it. I first came across ‘quinotto’ (quinoa risotto…clever,  or annoying? I’m undecided) during one of the best dinners I’ve had in Boston at Taranta and have been enamored with the idea of this dish ever since. Peruvian restaurants seem to be the new sexy thing in innovative haute cuisine and I for one am firmly seated and belted in to the bandwagon. Last week was a true Peruvian dining-lover’s paradise at my house: one roommate and I went to a cultural benefit dinner at a local restaurant where we sampled authentic cuisine and were treated to a demonstration on how to make ceviche (coming soon to an Esculent blog near you!), and another roommate returned from her trip to visit Peru bearing a wealth of spices for us to experiment with. Oh happy day! With that, the quinotto was finally ready to make its appearance.

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Here it is, installment #3 of my quinoa adventure. I’ve never made a veggie burger before, but it makes sense that quinoa would find its way here. The protein and mild flavor make quinoa a perfect candidate for creating all sorts of burger varieties. I had some leftover curried lentils (p.s. watch your lentils when you’re cooking, they are far less appetizing when they burn) so I decided to go with an Indian flavored version.

The important thing here is to make sure you include an ingredient in your patties that will make them stick together. I must confess that I tried to cook the burgers without an egg in them, quickly realized that the end result would look more like mush than burger, and took what were by then little piles of quinoa out of the pan to start over. Luckily, it worked out much better when I just added an egg and a little scoop of breadcrumbs. Much more burger-like then. I would imagine you could go to town with this kind of idea…whatever kind of flavors you’re in the mood for would likely end up as something delicious. Just don’t forget the egg!

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Oh, I love being around geometry nerds…no offense to any of my dinner guests the other night. Since I made up this recipe and am clearly no good at coming up with witty titles, we had a animated conversation about what to call these things I made where  this delightful term was coined and immediately favored. Pythagoras would be proud.

 

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Pay no mind to that colorful display of ingredients on the cutting board. That’s Kitchen Challenge Part 2. Thanks for the picture Diana!

 

This recipe was born out of a penchant for healthy competition and a cooking challenge posed by my out of town guests this weekend who requested a home cooked meal. Not only that, but they requested a meal that included the following ingredients: cheese, lime, noodles, bacon, cream sauce, and filo dough. I thought about possible dishes that could encompass all six ingredients in way that didn’t assault your senses, but I just couldn’t get behind the idea of lime-flavored cream sauce. So, I decided to divide and conquer: an appetizer and a main dish, each representing part of the list. Never one to turn down a challenge, here is installment #1 of Iron Chef Christa-style.

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Boy, it’s been a busy few days of cooking and eating around here. I threw a crazy fun dinner party on Saturday as part of a cooking challenge that I’ll have to tell you about later, but this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and write about the star of my kitchen this week, quinoa.

I know I’ve extolled the virtues of quinoa (“keen-wah”) on these pages several times already, but it really bears repeating in a blog dedicated only to this pseudo-grain. Many of you may already be familiar with using quinoa in your kitchen since it seems to be one of the more popular was to inject healthy carbs into your diet these days. From what I can tell quinoa is actually some sort of beet or spinach relative, making it in actuality a vegetable, and I hear it’s chock-full of protein so the glycemic index is likely low and it’s gluten-free. Most of the time you’ll see quinoa used where rice, orzo, or other pastas may have been.

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Brace yourselves, it’s about to be a quinoa renaissance revival around here. I went through a serious obsession phase about a year ago and OD’d a bit, but now I’m back and ready to go. One of my roommates is currently in Peru (so jealous!) and I think the delicious spices I asked her to bring back for me have been flirting with this versatile grain inside my head for the past few days. I have at least four ways I plan to cook quinoa in the coming week and here is option number one.

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