One of the best things a cookbook can do to impress me is to offer inspiration, every page filling me with new ideas to try in the kitchen. Often I will cook from a book that contains tasty recipes, some of which make it into my treasure trove of recipes I am compiling into a book to gift to my children when they are grown. There are times I get excited about a particular cookbook, and I find myself drooling over the glossy photos and having a hard time determining which recipe to try first. Other times I will fall madly in love with a book and enjoy an intense relationship of monogamy for several weeks, sometimes months. Usually what happens is that something new and exciting distracts me and we end up parting ways as I throw myself into the next book. But every once in awhile a cookbook will come along that truly knocks me off my feet. The last book to do this to me was Anthony Sedlak’s The Main: Recipes, and while I have enjoyed other books along the way there was an element of inspiration that has been missing.
Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood is a quietly unassuming book that packs quite a punch. To say I was caught off guard by how much I enjoyed this book is an understatement. Every recipe I tried was a success. Authors Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming provide you with an overall education on quinoa, along with exciting new ways to use this seed and truly bring it to life. The book is beautifully photographed, and a wide variety of recipes are included that show you how quinoa can be used as breakfast foods, snacks, salads, soups, in baking and for baby food.
The introduction contains interesting information on quinoa including a nutritional breakdown of its health benefits, a history of the seed, different varieties of quinoa that are available, and tips on how best to prepare this superfood. I love the symbols Green and Hemming include in the book that allow you to easily identify whether a recipe is gluten-free, kid-approved or vegetarian. Anyone who needs or wants to follow a gluten-free lifestyle should have this book on their shelf. Even if you have no interest in living gluten-free you should have this book on your shelf. So go purchase a copy (preferably from my Amazon store!) and get cooking. Inspiration awaits.
(Click here to read my interview with Carolyn Hemming)
Bocconcini & Oregano Salad
RATING: 4 out of 5
THE TEST: I’ve always enjoyed eating quinoa but have never attempted to make it myself. Somehow I developed a misconception that cooking this seed would be tricky. Boy oh boy was I wrong! It is easier than rice, and cooks up a lot faster. The standard rice quantities of 2-1 (liquid to grain) also applies to quinoa. Simply bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes and voila! The phrase ‘easy peasy’ would be an appropriate way of describing the cooking process.
The recipe calls for water as the cooking liquid for the quinoa, but I substituted chicken stock (you could use vegetable or beef stock if you prefer) which is something I always do when cooking rice or cous cous. I find it imparts a much more interesting flavour than plain H20.
THE RESULTS: What a great, tasty, simple salad that just oozes health. And the best part? It keeps in the refrigerator for up to three days, making it the perfect dish to have on hand during those busy weeknights or to throw into your lunch bag for work or school.
The texture of the quinoa was nice and earthy with a bit of a crunch, pairing well with the crisp veggies and softness of the cheese. The dressing was simple and clean, bursting with great flavours that complimented the mildness of the bocconcini. While this salad was definitely Mediterranean in taste, it could easily be altered by cucumbers, peppers, olives, tomatoes and feta to become a tasty Greek salad.
Click here for a copy of the recipe for Bocconcini & Oregano Salad
Moist Chocolate Cake
RATING: 5 out of 5
THE TEST: Chocolate cake made from quinoa?! Given the amount that co-author Carolyn Hemming raved about this recipe I had to give it a try.
This is an easy dessert to throw together. If you plan on eating quinoa the night before baking the cake, simply double your quantities to have extra on hand. Of course this would mean NOT using chicken stock as the cooking liquid! The quantities allow for two 8-inch (20 cm) cakes, which can be frozen or kept in the refrigerator for up to one week. (That being said, it took just three days for my family to polish off both cakes!)
THE RESULTS: Delicious! Moist! Chocolatey! This is one of the best gluten-free cakes I’ve ever tasted since my friend Andrea introduced me to Bette Hagman’s Carrot Cake. The quinoa gave the cake a slightly crunchy texture that reminded me and Mr. Spock of nougat. We both agreed that the addition of chopped nuts would complement the crunchy texture, making it virtually impossible for people to guess it was made using quinoa.
As per Carolyn’s suggestion, I got my taste-tester hubby to try the cake without telling him it was made from quinoa. While his spidey sense told him I was withholding pertinent information, he thought it was because I had used some sort of box mix. In the end we both agreed that this recipe is a killer keeper. We devoured every last crumb, and the fact that a frosting lover such as me enjoyed eating it plain says a lot about this cake. Oh and one of the best parts? Because it’s gluten-free the cake comes out completely even. Perfect for layer cakes.
Salmon & Red Quinoa on Asparagus with Lime Cilantro Sauce
RATING: 4.5 out of 5
THE TEST: Okay there were some hurdles in this recipe that I was forced to get over. In particular, the fact that low-fat dairy and I just don’t get along. It always tastes hollow to me, like all the fat (along with any flavour and fun) have been sucked out. So when in the grocery aisle I stood there shaking like a leaf, my hand hovering over the half-fat mayo while I stared into the eyes of temptation in the form of regular mayo on the shelf below. Sigh. But I held faith and am proud to say both the half-fat mayo and the light sour cream made their way into my shopping cart that afternoon.
THE RESULTS: I thought I would get Mr. Spock’s opinion of this dish before informing him of the low-fat items included in the list of ingredients. But when I came home and began unpacking the groceries, the glare from the turquoise mayo container immediately tipped him off and he came flying into the kitchen from across the room demanding to know why such a thing dared enter the sanctity of our home. So much for a blind test!
In the end all of our fears were for nought, as you couldn’t tell the sauce was low fat. This bears repeating: YOU COULDN’T TELL THE SAUCE WAS LOW-FAT! There was so much additional flavour from the lime zest and juice, the ginger and cilantro that the tastelessness of the low-fat products was transformed. Delish!
I must say that we ended up doubling the amount of sauce as the females in our house tend to be a vortex for sauce/dips. I also substituted chicken stock for the plain water the recipe calls for as the cooking liquid. The more flavour the better! When I initially made the red quinoa it didn’t fluff up as much as the white or golden varieties, nor did it soak up as much liquid which resulted in a crunchier texture. It tasted good, but I thought I had done something wrong so I decided to toss the first batch and begin all over again. That’s the beauty of quinoa people! You can start anew and have it cooked and ready to go before the rest of the dish is finished. Beauty.
The second batch turned out exactly like the first, so I figure that’s just the way red quinoa cooks up. But like I said, it tasted great and we loved the nuttier, crunchier texture. Combined with the salmon and asparagus along with the creamy citrus of the sauce, the flavours and textures of this dish all worked together in harmony.