Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Quinoa Salad with Strawberries, Almonds and Mint

Summer fruits aren’t wasting any time bursting onto the outdoor dining scene. Whether it’s a picnic, BBQ, or first dinner on the patio; berries, melons, pits, and citrus are rallying to stake their presence in any and every warm-weather seasonal dish. Enough of limiting us to breakfast sides and post-dinner desserts, they scoff.  Chilled soups, bold salads, hearty grains, grilled mains…. we want in on it all!

Oh so sweet but equally determined, they are collectively led by the mighty strawberry. The most represented fruit on the summer savory dish circuit, we don’t skip a beat seeing a strawberry-balsamic glaze or goat cheese-strawberry salad on a main menu.  Which is why the juicy red berry shines in this herb-flecked, warm-toned summer Quinoa Salad with Strawberries, Almonds and Mint.
A side salad (add a protein like grilled chicken or shrimp to elevate to a main) that promises a warm welcome at any communal outdoor gathering, this quinoa salad is the perfect potato-salad-pick-me-up thanks to its bold, refreshing flavors and novel pairing of well-known parts. Scallions, cucumber, almonds, strawberries, feta, parsley, and mint are nothing new; but tossed all together…does it work? Oh, you bet it does! No bite tastes the same with the infinite combinations of each chopped ingredient, transforming flavors as you dig deeper into the salad for the next surprising gustatory pop.
This recipe is the first I’ve used with champagne vinegar; a subtle, citrus acidity that delivers a much milder taste than it’s apple cider and white wine vinegar cousins.  While I appreciated the subtleness, I think next time I’d use a bolder vinegar: for salad bites that didn’t contain the naturally acidic strawberry, I felt that the dressing could’ve used something more. I also forwent the almond oil only because I didn’t have any, but imagine that its nutty flavors would’ve helped meld the flavors even more seamlessly. (A smart calorie-conscious move would be to half the oil, no matter which kind you use—3 tablespoons is plenty!)
Quinoa Salad with Strawberries, Almonds and Mint (from PureWow)
Makes 6 side-servings (second helpings are inevitable, so if you're hungry, feeds 4)

1 cup quinoa
3 tablespoons almond oil*
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil*
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar (can substitute apple cider or red/white wine vinegar)
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 strawberries, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 scallions, white and light-green parts only, thinly sliced
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted
½ English cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoons thinly sliced mint leaves

*As I noted above, I recommend using no more than 3 tablespoons oil total.

1. In a medium saucepan set over high heat, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the quinoa, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the quinoa is tender and has absorbed all the water, about 12 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Transfer the quinoa to a large baking sheet or plate and spread it out to cool to room temperature. This step is optional. If you are eating immediately, a slightly warmed quinoa tastes wonderful too.
2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk the almond oil with the olive oil, champagne vinegar and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the cooled quinoa with the strawberries, scallions, feta cheese, almonds, cucumber, parsley and mint. Re-whisk the dressing and pour it over the salad. Toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then serve.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge Pops

A few months back, I wrote a guest post on Advice for a Twenty Something about two kitchen tools no quarter-century cook should be without. Guidance still standing, I want to amend the list to add one more essential gadget for the warm weather: popsicle molds, a must-have for these Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge Pops.

You can buy fancy ice pops mold at Bed Bath and Beyond or Crate and Barrel, but there are plenty of home-made options that work just as well. Small paper cups with popsicle sticks, or ice-cube trays are perfectly adequate. (In fact, paper cups are a must for this recipe—see my note* below!)
A cold popsicle on a hot summer day is the definition of happiness. Don’t you have the fondest memories of being a little kid, licking and slurping and running around, a ring of syrupy color around your mouth flaunting the evidence?  Pure sugar, on a stick—sometimes with a joke at the end! It was heavenly; childhood at it’s best. Just thinking about it brings contentment.

But just as our palates have grown up, so too can our popsicles. There are so many different ways to create a more sophisticated rendering of the beloved frozen treat. Starting first and foremost with the responsible adult thing to do: cutting back on the sugar. With sugar, not fat, being blamed as the deadly villain in America’s obesity epidemic, the mounting evidence on the perils of added fructose is compelling to say the least.  In 1990, Americans consumed an average of 4 teaspoons of sugar a day—today, the average is 22! (The American Heart Association currently recommends 6 teaspoons a day for women, and 9 for men.)

So whether it’s adding alcohol over sugar to switch that cocktail to a “poptail”; flowers, lavender or elderberry fora floral flair, pairing fresh herbs with naturally sweet fruits, or a jolt of coffee or chai for an afternoon pick-me-up; there's a cornucopia of possibilities to flourish that frozen flavor—sans added sugar.
Even for the nostalgically special classics. This Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge Pop brings it back to basics, channeling my inner child, lover of the fudgsicle. (Must! Have! Chocolate!) A more health-conscious, sugar-controlled version of the beloved traditional, this recipe uses frozen bananas to help create the appropriate texture without adding cals, and sugar is limited to what exists in the chocolate-hazelnut spread. (True to my eat-less-sugar credo, I am not using the words chocolate-hazelnut spread and Nutella interchangeably, as most of us associate automatically. This is because 2 tablespoons of Nutella contain 20g of sugar, while Justin’s all-natural, organic Chocolate Hazelnut Nut Butter only has 7g.) With only 4 ingredients total, this recipe provesthat less is more when it comes to producing the perfect popsicle.

So there you have it: a dairy-free, antioxidant-loaded, healthy-fat, potassium-full fudgsicle that produces the same blissful euphoria as that firecracker pop from when you were a kid. Happy licking!

*If at first you don't succeed...
This recipe took two tries to make. I failed the first time using plastic ice pop molds. I froze the pops overnight, and when I went to remove them from the molds...only the stick gave. In a frantic race against the clock, as the pops were rapidly melting, I used a spatula to remove the batter, but the result was not pretty. (I will spare you the photo of the failed pop, because it looks icky, and I don't want to ruin your appetite for these delicious frozen treats.)
I realized that chocolate-hazelnut butter does not freeze as solidly as water/fruit bases, and thus is not ideal for purchased molds, because it will not produce the right density to emerge in one piece. For these pops, the best way to go about them is to pack the batter tightly in bathroom-size paper cups, and peel the cup open after freezing. This way, the shape stays in tact because you are removing the mold from the pop, rather than removing the pop from the mold. 

Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge Pops (from Chocolate-Covered Katie)
Makes 6-7 paper cup mold fudgsicles

- 3 frozen bananas
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup chocolate-hazelnut butter (Justin's chocolate-hazelnut or chocolate-almond butter, Nutella, or homemade Nutella)
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- pinch of salt

Blend all the ingredients together until smooth in a food processor or blender. Divide evenly into mini paper cups, insert popsicle stick, and freeze overnight for fudgsicles. (Alternatively, eat immediately as ice-cream.)

Lustig, Robert H., MD. "What You Need to Know About Sugar." Time Ideas. Time, 27 Dec. 2012. Web. 14 May 2013.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Spicy Tequila-Lime Fish Tacos

I know, I know...I'm tardy to the party! (Or in this case, fiesta.) Cinco de Mayo has come and gone, but I'd like to consider the beloved south of the border celebration just an appetizer to satiate our palates for an entire spring of Mexican inspired cuisine, starting with these Spicy Tequila-Lime Fish Tacos.

The crux of these fish tacos is freshness and simplicity; a hallmark of springtime cooking. As I sat at my Cinco de Mayo potluck on Sunday, stuffing my face taco after taco as if I might never eat again, I had a slight epiphany: why do we gear up for this holiday as if it's the only time of the year we can eat great Mexican food? We should be eating great Mexican food all the time! Indeed, quite the easy-breezy weeknight dinner does the fish taco make: the fixings are quite budget friendly (corn tortillas, salsa verde, queso, black beans), and prep assuredly easy. My favorite part is putting it all together, assembly-line style: delicately stuffing the mini taco yields such delightful anticipation for the two-bite fiesta of flavor to follow!

On to the recipe: as the tequila lends a subtle sweetness and depth to the marinade, I looked for the perfect balance of citrus, spicy and zest to compliment it. I found it in the following ingredients: lots of fresh lime juice for the acidity, jalapeño, chili powder and cumin for the spice, and fresh garlic and cilantro for an herby tinge. Lastly, a touch of triple sec to sweeten everything up a bit and bolster the tequila.'ve covered all the ingredients for a margarita in this marinade. Yep, grab some sugar, and I highly recommend making one on the side!
Keeping in mind first and foremost the "light and refreshing" aspect of these grilled fish tacos, I chose to top mine with a mild salse verde, queso fresco (or feta cheese), and thinly sliced avocado. You can use flour tortillas as an alternative to corn, but corn tortillas are whole-grain and thus a more health-conscious option than a refined flour tortilla. They also offer a chewy sweetness that pairs nicely with the alcohol-marinated fish.

Other optional add ons: try shredded cabbage or spring radish slices for a veggie-full filling, or light sour cream (turn it into a "chipotle aioli" by adding in a minced chipotle pepper and dash of honey) for creamy toppings.

Spicy Tequila-Lime Fish Tacos
Serves 4

4 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 2 juicy limes)
3 tablespoons tequila
1 tablespoon triple sec (optional)
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped (plus more for garnish)
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 jalapeño pepper, minced
1 lb white, flaky fish (mahimahi, tilapia, cod)
8-12 corn tortillas
salsa verde (I like Trader Joe's or Desert Pepper's salsa del rio)
queso fresco or low-fat feta cheese
optional garnishes: 1 avocado, thinly sliced; red onion, thinly sliced; shredded cabbage, black bean mash; lime wedges

1. Mix together lime juice, tequila, triple sec, cilantro, garlic, cumin, and chili powder in a small bowl.  Place fish in a large shallow bowl and pour marinade over to coat. Cover bowl. (Alternatively, pour marinade into a large ziplock bag and add fish.) Place in refrigerator for 1-2 hours, turning once.

2. To grill: Heat grill, and remove fish from marinade. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until fish is done and lightly charred, about 4 minutes per side. To pan-saute: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat. Remove fish from marinade, season with salt & pepper, and cook until fish is done and lightly browned on each side, 4-5 minutes.

3. Prepare corn tortillas. Stack tortillas on a plate, separating each tortilla from the next with a water-dampened paper towel. Cook in microwave for 1 minute. (Alternatively, warm tortillas on grill along with fish, or in sauté pan with a quick midst of olive oil, 1 minute on each side.)

4. Assemble tacos. Coarsely chop fish, and divide evenly amongst tortillas. (If using black bean mash, spread on tortillas first.) Next add shredded cabbage and/or red onion. Top with a scoop of salsa, crumbled cheese, avocado slices, and cilantro for garnish. Serve with lime wedges.