Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Braised Kale Over Quinoa With Mustard Balsamic Vinaigrette

Quinoa is one of those once-crunchy, now more-mainstream foods I discovered in the last few years.  Naturally gluten-free, a good source of complete protein, calcium, and dietary fiber, I try to include these guys regularly in my diet.  But a few months ago, I discovered the dark side of quinoa.

I had just transferred several cups of quinoa to an old yogurt container after noticing a small hole in the original bag.  (That's what you get for buying compostable packaging, you dirty hippy.)  I set the container down to grab a measuring cup, but apparently had placed it on a not-quite level surface.  A couple of teaspoons spilled out onto the stove and the floor.  No big deal, right?

Except that it turns out that quinoa is the glitter of the culinary world.  The tiny volume of quinoa that escaped managed to slip down into the burners, behind the stove, under the counter, and under the kitchen door in about three seconds.  The shopvac scooped up some of the seeds, but not before a sizable number had suctioned themselves onto the bottoms of my bare feet.  Even after taking the vacuum to my tootsies, a few scragglers remained, which I then apparently tracked into the living room and onto the couch where I sat cross-legged.  When I stood up, there were quinoa seeds everywhere.

I was reminded of the great quinoa incident of 2013 while making this dish today, when I noticed a smattering of quinoa seeds taunting me from the small gap between the tile floor and kitchen wall.  Jerks.  But I will forgive them, because they serve as an excellent base to this meal.  Topped with braised greens, sweet chewy golden raisins, toasted pine nuts, and a soft-boiled or poached egg, this is my go-to lunch/dinner on days when I have class until 9:30pm (like tonight).  And while you're welcome to substitute your own favorite dressing, I think the mustard balsamic vinaigrette is what really makes this flavorful dish work.

Braised Kale Over Quinoa With Mustard Balsamic Vinaigrette 

Per Serving:
Half a bunch of kale
3 tbs golden raisins
1 tbs pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
olive oil, for cooking
salt and pepper, to taste
top with a soft boiled or poached egg

For the Dressing:
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp pomegranate balsamic vinegar* (or your choice)
1 tsp garlic olive oil** 
1/2 tsp agave syrup, or to taste

Wash and de-stem kale, then tear into bite-sized pieces.  You don't need to dry the leaves after washing.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, and add kale.  Toss in oil and cook for approximately 30 seconds, then turn heat down to low.  Cover skillet and let cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes.  You may need to add a little water to the pan if the kale starts looking dry.  The kale is about ready when the leaves just start to turn brown.  Add golden raisins and cook for another minute or two, until the raisins are plump.

In the meantime, in a skillet (or in the toaster oven!), toast pine nuts.  If you're using a skillet, toast over low heat, stirring frequently, until you can just start to smell the pine nuts.  Add pine nuts and quinoa to the skillet, and cook until heated through.  

Top with egg and serve with dressing.  Enjoy!

*This is my favorite balsamic vinegar, discovered at the Davis Food Co-op a few years back.  I consider it to be a pantry staple around here!
**If you don't have garlic olive oil (another pantry staple of mine), use regular EVOO, and then either add minced garlic to the dressing for a more powerful punch, or cook along with the greens for a more subtle flavor.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Turns out that Monday's pancakes were the highlight of my week.  Sometimes life is like that, and it can really make you homesick.  So, here are a few snapshots from an all-too-short trip back home at the end of last quarter. Not pictured are all of the beer and rice crispy treats consumed with family, the epic catch-up sessions with old friends, and the warm quiet of spring in the foothills.  Looking forward to spending a little more time in California this summer - only seven weeks to go!!

Miss this pup!

I'm pretty sure we actually ate this as our lunch at Treats

I live in Portland, which loves it's breakfast - but it ain't got nothin' on South Pine Cafe!

I'm on the left, wearing my dad's jacket - the weather went from summer to winter in just a few hours!

It's so hard to be patient...

Even though my grandpa is no longer with us, when I look at this view, I feel like he's there, too.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Vegan Maple Pecan Pancakes

It's Monday.  Couldn't we all use some pancakes?

I started making pancakes on the regular when I went on a crazy elimination diet almost two years ago.  Without corn, wheat, soy, dairy, gluten, yeast, sugar, etc. (and while trying to still eat a vegetarian diet), my options were pretty limited.

Enter the humble pancake.  It's such a flexible food, easily adaptable to any dietary restrictions or preferences.  Also, has anyone ever felt unhappy while eating pancakes?  They're just so cheerful.

I started experimenting with vegan baking when I moved to Portland, partially inspired by the need to come up with a good cookie I could share with my classmates while working on a group project.  One of the team members was vegan, though a few months later, I saw her snacking on goldfish crackers.  Still, I've found vegan baking to be a fun challenge, trying to create recipes that look good, taste great, and use (mostly) healthy ingredients.

Even though pancakes are supposedly one of the easiest foods to adapt to a vegan diet, I've found the texture to be tricky.  In previous attempts, my pancakes never seemed to get quite "done."  I realized that the lack of egg was probably the culprit, and decided to see if a chia egg could help bind the ingredients, as well as add the crispiness that I love in a good pancake.  It did!  

After some tweaking, I think I've finally found the elusive vegan pancake recipe.  What a great way to start the week!  Ready?

Vegan Maple Pecan Pancakes
Makes 8-10 pancakes

1 tbs chia seeds + 3 tbs water
1/2 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup barley flour
OR 1 cup your choice flour (buckwheat and oat flour are both nice gluten-free options)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup almond milk
1 tbs maple syrup
2 tbs melted coconut oil (plus more for pan)
1/3 cup lightly toasted pecans (plus more for serving)

Mix together chia seeds and water; let sit for about 15 minutes, or until ingredients form a gel.  This is your chia egg!

With a fork or whisk, lightly fluff together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Create a well in the middle, and add the almond milk and maple syrup, followed by the melted coconut oil.  Fold with a spatula to combine until just blended.

When the chia egg is set, add to batter, and stir to combine.  Add the pecans last.  You want to avoid over-mixing; we don't want a totally smooth batter.

**Alright, so this is where I've experimented, failed, and come up with my preferred cooking technique for vegan pancakes that are actually cooked all the way through, slightly crispy on the outside.  You may find that something different works with your stove and cooking equipment!**

Heat coconut oil in pan over low heat.  I use a gas stove, and turn the flame to slightly above low, but not quite medium low.  I find turning the heat any higher results in pancakes that cook too quickly on the outside, leaving mushy centers.  This is not the ideal outcome.  I also like to use a cast iron skillet, but this isn't necessary.  Give pan a few minutes to heat through completely, and don't skimp on the coconut oil!  Otherwise, the batter tends to stick to the pan.

Add batter 1/4 cup at a time, and cook until slightly browned on each side, approximately 3-4 minutes.  Serve with maple syrup, most toasted pecans, blueberries, or your favorite pancake topping!