Christmas Quinoa

In the mountains of Western Pennsylvania it gets cold. I mean, really cold. This past weekend was no exception. It was cold, blustery, snowy, and icy. Did I mention that the day before was sunny and 70? At any rate, it’s good weather (the cold stuff) to have the church Thanksgiving dinner because it gets you in the mood for the warmth and comfort Thanksgiving brings. It is one of my very favorite holidays where friends and family can gather, talk, eat a meal, and enjoy one another. The time spent with loved ones is a treasure to be held and cared for. Do me a favor, don’t talk politics or other controversial topics…just be in the moment and enjoy the company of those around you.

At any rate, our church’s Thanksgiving dinner is a wonderful time of feasting, fun, and fellowship. Many bring a covered dish and the church provides turkey, ham, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. This year I decided to bring quinoa salad. I have a few favorite quinoa recipes in my holster and this may be one of the best! It is fresh and light while bringing in some holiday flavors.

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Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is a whole grain packed with nutrients. It is best known for having tons of protein and even more than that it is a complete protein meaning it has all of the amino acids (what makes up protein) that you need! Cool huh?! Besides protein, quinoa also contains fiber, iron, omega-3’s, and many vitamins and minerals. It’s fairly flavorless unless toasted which helps it to pair well with most food. Because it is gluten free, you can substitute quinoa for pasta, barley, bulgur, or farro in other dishes.

This ancient grain is one of my favorites to make and as a bonus, it only takes about 15-20 minutes to cook. Warm or cold quinoa can be eaten warm with a meal or as a cold salad. Like this recipe, it goes well with fruit or can be part of a tangy or savory side dish.

One of the most important steps to this dish is super simple but adds so much flavor. Toasting the quinoa. I was told by a seasoned chef that you can toast any grain to bring out a nutty, more flavorful version of that grain. There are a few things you should know about toasting any grain; first you need to warm the pan over medium high heat. After the pan is warm simply add the grain, in our case quinoa. The grain will warm up and start to smell nutty. Quinoa will let you know when it’s toasting by hearing “pops”. Simply let it pop for a minute and then add broth or water (see instructions on the back), turn the heat on high, and allow the water to boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and let the quinoa cook and soak in all of the liquid which takes about 15-20 minutes.

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The rest of the recipe is chopping, mixing, and pouring. Easy peasy and tastes amazing!

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Christmas Quinoa (keen-wah)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups red quinoa (if you can’t find red, white is fine)
  • 5 stalks celery chopped (cut up the leaves as well)
  • 8 green onions chopped (if you can’t find them use 1/2 red onion)
  • 1 cup parsley finely chopped (flat leaf or curly)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup chopped dried cranberries

Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing (use this on everything…it’s sooo good!)

  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup canola or olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 2 lemons

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Directions:

  1. Mix all the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl. Whisk together and set aside until the quinoa salad is ready. This marries all of the flavors together. Yum!
  2. Toast the quinoa. Place a large pan over medium high heat until the pan is warm (not hot). Place quinoa in warmed pan and wait until the quinoa starts popping. Stir continuously until the quinoa pops for a minute or it starts to smell nutty. Do not leave the quinoa during this point or you will burn it!
  3. Once the quinoa is popping and nutty add 4 cups of water, turn the heat to high, and allow the quinoa to boil. Once it starts boiling turn down the heat and let the quinoa simmer for 15-20 minutes until the quinoa soaks up the water. (follow the package directions minus the toasting and letting the water boil before putting the quinoa into it)
  4. Let the quinoa cool for a few minutes and then place in a large bowl. Add the celery, onions, parsley, walnuts, and cranberries.
  5. Pour the dressing over the mixture and toss lightly until the dressing is distributed evenly.
  6. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

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NOTES:

  • This is definitely a good make ahead dish. You can make it ahead the day before and the flavors will marry and become irresistible!
  • You can make this salad with any number of grains including (but not limited to) brown rice, wild rice, barley, bulgur, wheat berries, and farro.
  • Nut allergy? Not to worry! Try sunflower seeds or shelled pumpkin seeds instead for an added crunch.
  • Like a little more dressing? Just double the batch and save excess for salads later on!

FOOD ALERTS: Contains nuts. Gluten free, dairy free, egg free, soy free.

Try it. Let me know how you like it or if you did something to make it your own!

Tomato Veggie Slow Cooker Pork Loin

When I was younger my grandmother made these incredible pork chops. They were breaded, pan fried, and then baked with tomatoes and onions. I still remember how they tasted. She hasn’t made them in a long time but my parents have taken this recipe and made it better for you. To get the recipe, I called my dad because he is the one who usually makes the dish and apparently this started the “pork chop recipe battle of 2016” between my parents as they fervently discussed who’s recipe it is. Honestly, whoever’s recipe it is, it is a keeper! This is a dish that my husband and I ask for quite often because it is so delicious!

When I’m cooking I like to take a recipe that I’ve found and put a spin on it so that’s exactly what I’ve done to this one. From my grandmothers original breaded pork chops to my parents unbreaded baked pork chops I took it one step further with a pork loin and I think you’ll really enjoy it…I know we did!

When you buy pork loins at the store they usually come in packs of 2 (about 2 pounds each loin). I used both in this recipe but you can certainly cut it in half and do pork barbecue or cut your own chops (pork chops come from the loin) from the other one. Look for the leanest one…the one without a huge fat layer and marbling. Pork loin is the leanest cut from the pork but it still can have a layer of fat and some marbling.

NUTRITION SIDE NOTE: Marbling is the white swirls in pork, beef, and lamb. This is fat…saturated fat. It carries a lot of cholesterol (it also carries a lot of flavor). Look for meat without a lot of marbling and add flavor through oils, herbs, and spices.

In every recipe I make there’s an ingredient that many people do not think of adding. I like to be creative yet practical and invent recipes that people would actually make at home but also push you out of your comfort zone a little. My secret weapon in this recipe are capers. If you’ve never used/eaten a caper before I promise you are missing out! The are relatively inexpensive (for a jar that will last me months it cost $1.50) and have a taste that will knock your socks off! They are salty and briny…but not strong like olives. D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S!

There’s another catch to this recipe. I add tons of vegetables because a diet that is 2/3 vegetable based has been shown to reduce your risk of many diseases like heart disease and cancer. THAT is why a healthy diet is important. Weight management is important but that is a side note…health, now that’s where it is at kids!

The steps are simple…

Chop:

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Season

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Layer

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Smother

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Cook it!

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OK the recipe you’ve all been waiting for!

Tomato Veggie Slow Cooker Pork Loin

Ingredients:

  • 5 stalks celery
  • 3 whole carrots
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 3 medium onions (2 large)
  • Pork loin (I used 2, 2 pound loins)
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (omit if watching your sodium intake)
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1, 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1, 28 oz can diced tomatoes

Directions

  1. Chop celery, carrots, peppers, and half of the onions (larger pieces about 1 inch). Put them in the bottom of a large slow cooker.
  2. Place pork loins in a large bowl and rub capers, garlic, oregano, turmeric, salt, and pepper over the loin to get the flavors surrounding it. I cut small slits into the loin and stuffed them with the garlic and capers.
  3. Put the loins over the vegetables and pour the balsamic vinegar over the loin and veggies.
  4. Place the can of crushed tomatoes around the pork loin and layer the rest of the onions on top. Top it off with the can of diced tomatoes. I also put another teaspoon of capers on top of the diced tomatoes but this is optional…I really like capers!
  5. Cook on high 6 hours or low 8-10 hours.

I served the pork loin with parsley and lemon red skin potatoes and a side salad with homemade balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

Parsley and Lemon Red Skin Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 6 small red skin potatoes cut in 1 inch cubes (skins on)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives
  • 1/3 lemon (about 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice)

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients into a glass dish. Using a steamer lid (or a glass plate on top) microwave on high for 10 minutes.
  2. Season with salt and pepper to taste (can also use more herbs and spices)

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Recipe Notes: this slow cooker recipe takes about 10 minutes to prepare. You can sear the tenderloin in a pan first but it is not necessary. The meat is fall apart tender without the sear. It is so quick, easy, and delicious.

Pork loin recipe cost: about $15 for  8 servings (4 oz of meat). That is $1.87 per serving!

Simply Salad Dressings

Salads…mmm. I love salads. They definitely falls into my favorite foods category. I enjoy any kind of salad too – lettuce, vegetable, pasta, potato, fruit, bean…really, any! I think it’s the flavor combinations that I like. There’s nothing more delicious than a good salad dressing that brings out the best tasting salads. Not just any salad dressing but a good homemade

Sure, I have some store bought salad dressings in my refrigerator for parties and a good ranch dressing is a staple in my refrigerator to mix with buffalo sauce! My every day salad dressings are homemade. I like them better than any store brand plus it’s simple whole ingredients. Similarly to my mother, I don’t really have a salad dressing recipe but I’ll let you in on the delicious secret: as long as you have the basics, you can make a delicious homemade dressing yourself.

Here’s what you need:

  • Acid:
    • Vinegar – balsamic, red wine, white wine, even a simple apple cider vinegar works well!
    • Lemon/lime – fruitier salads pare well with lemons and limes.
  • Oil:
    • Canola: tons of omega-3 fatty acids
    • Olive: great source of mono-unsaturated heart-healthy fats
    • Other oils: grape seed, avocado, nut oils (walnut, almond)
  • Herbs:
    • My favorites: chives, parsley, basil
    • Others to try: cilantro, thyme, sage, rosemary, mint
  • Spices:
    • My favorites: turmeric, black pepper, paprika, celery seed, garlic
    • Others to try: coriander, cayenne pepper, chili powder, oregano, poppy seed
  • Salt:
    • Types: kosher, iodized, sea salt, pink hymalain
    • Salt substitutes: check with your doctor first but these go well in salad dressings
  • Sweet:
    • My favorites: honey and sugar
    • Other alternatives: agave, stevia, maple syrup
  • Others:
    • Dijon mustard makes an appearance in 90% of my homemade salad dressings
    • Mayonnaise is a great emulsifier and is a source of healthy fats
    • Spice/seasoning mixes: Mrs. Dash, Italian dressing seasonings, McCormick’s Salad Supreme. I may use any number of these depending on the salad and my taste mood at the time.
    • Fruit. You can make a great strawberry, pomegranate, blueberry, peach, or plum vinaigrette dressing just by simmering the vinegar with the fruits to get out the flavor.

Mix any of the above combinations based on your flavor profile.

Here is one of my favorite vinaigrette to make.

Amanda’s Herbed Vinaigrette

2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 + cup canola oil (I pour in a little over 1/3 cup and you could also use olive oil)
1/4 cup fresh parsley
1/8 cup fresh chives
2 teaspoons honey (more if you want to balance out the acidity…I like mine more acidic)
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
2 teaspoons minced onion (fresh or dried)
1 teaspoon oregano (I use dried)
1 teaspoons minced garlic (shortcut)
1/2 teaspoon salt (less if you have high blood pressure, CHF, or are sensitive to salt)
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon turmeric

Pour vinegar and oil into a salad dressing carafe (a mason jar with a lid would work). Place all herbs and spices in jar and shake. Let set for at least 1 hour to allow the herbs and spices to marry into the vinegar and oil.

Notes: you can also use white balsamic, white wine, or champagne vinegar for this recipe.

Pour over your favorite vegetable salad and enjoy!

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OTHER IDEAS:

  • Feta vinaigrette: red wine vinegar, olive oil, feta cheese, dried oregano, dried basil, salt, and pepper – goes great with a Greek quinoa salad or your favorite Greek tossed salad
  • Strawberry poppy seed vinaigrette: diced strawberries, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, poppy seed, honey, salt, and pepper – pairs well with a strawberry spinach salad

Final thoughts: It is important to have fat in your diet. If you are choosing store bought dressing (which is totally fine I have an array in my frig) make sure you select ones that do have fat. Fat free salad dressings tend to have a lot of sugar and other additives. Purchase regular salad dressings and just eat less!

Challenge: have fun with dressings! Make those fruits and veggies pop with excitement and flavor!