A Healthy Alternative: Quinoa

Baby spinach is my enemy right now. I usually love the leafy green, but after packing it everyday for lunch, it has become the opposite of appetizing. I’m sure that I will crave it again soon enough, but for the time being, I am seeking healthy lunch alternatives. Last week, I decided to make quinoa.

I love quinoa. (Pronounced keen-wah) If you’ve never tried it, you should. Its a nutritious grain, high in fiber, iron, and amino acids. Plus its gluten-free! I’m also going to say it tastes healthy, but not in a bad way. I promise. It has a very mild, almost nutty flavor, giving it wide potential for different flavor pairings. My favorite thing about the grain is the texture. It has a bit of a crunch and won’t get soggy easily. I’ve made burnt quinoa before, but I’ve never overcooked it to the point of mush. 
Anywho. Hopefully at this point I’ve sold you on the cute little grain. This recipe is from Gourmet  and is definite keeper. Its filled with black beans and tomatoes, making it very filling and even more nutritious. Lime zest, lime juice, and a bit of cilantro brighten the flavor, making the dish very summery and very yummy. The only change I would make for next time would be to substitute olive oil for butter. I will also add more zest and juice. (Although I didn’t measure my add-ins, so the recipe may actually be spot-on) Enjoy!

Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa
Gourmet, July 2007 

  • 2 teaspoons grated lime zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 (14- to 15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Whisk together lime zest and juice, butter, oil, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl.
Rinse quinoa with cold water, draining in sieve. 
Cook quinoa in a medium pot of boiling salted water, uncovered, until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Drain in sieve, then set sieve in same pot with 1 inch of simmering water (water should not touch bottom of sieve). Cover quinoa with a folded kitchen towel, then cover sieve with a lid (don’t worry if lid doesn’t fit tightly) and steam over medium heat until tender, fluffy, and dry, about 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat and remove lid. Let stand, still covered with towel, 5 minutes. **
Add quinoa to dressing and toss until dressing is absorbed, then stir in remaining ingredients. Salt and pepper to taste. 
**This can be a bit time consuming. I have found it fine to follow the directions on the back of the quinoa package, usually requiring you to cook for 10-15 minutes straight 


Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel DTs

Last weekend I escaped to Canada Lake with my Fordham friends. We stayed in my friend Mary Grace’s lake house and spent the weekend swimming, reminiscing, and pretending like we were still in college. It was fantastic. 

DT is a standard term among my friends. It stands for “delicious treats.” Naturally, I thought DTs were in order for our big, highly-anticipated reunion. I knew that we were covered for pretty much everything. My concern was chocolate, and the combo of pretzels and peanut butter seemed to be a perfect pairing.

The night before leaving, I went to Mary Grace’s apartment in the Upper East Side for some extra help to assemble the chocolate pb sandies. Because we anticipated upwards of 15 people for the weekend, we doubled the recipe. However, for a weekend filled with chips, burgers, and hot dogs, one batch would have been sufficient. (Don’t underestimate how hearty these little DTs can be!) 

The recipe is very easy. It is a bit time consuming, so make them on a night where you don’t have too much going on. The tastiness of these DTs, however, makes up for any of the hassle. 

I stole this recipe from one of my favorite blogs, Sunday Treats. Enjoy! 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel DTs
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 teaspoons butter, room temperature
2/3 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup tightly packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pretzels (the grid shaped ones, such as Snyder’s Pretzel Snaps, work well)
1 teaspoon coconut oil (to thin chocolate)

  1. In a small bowl, beat the peanut butter and butter together until smooth and creamy. Add the powdered sugar, light brown sugar, and vanilla extract and beat until well combined. If mixture is not stiff enough to hold its shape, add more powdered sugar and/or brown sugar.
  2. Using a small offset spatula or butter knife, spoon approximately one teaspoon of the peanut butter mixture onto a pretzel. Top with another pretzel, and gently squish to form sandwich.  Place on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper and repeat with rest of peanut butter mixture.
  3. Freeze the pretzel sandwiches for half an hour.
  4. Melt the chocolate chips in microwave, stirring every 30 seconds, or use a double boiler. Stir in the coconut oil (this thins the chocolate for easier dipping).
  5. Dip half of each pretzel sandwich in chocolate. Place the cookie sheet in the fridge and chill until chocolate sets. Store in refrigerator until serving time.

Happy Birthday Mar Mar!!!

My little sister Maria turns 18 today!!! In honor of her birthday, I decided to make chocolate chip cookies. Maria makes the best chocolate chip cookies.

Growing up, we made the Nestlé Toll House recipe together often. It was our go-to activity during summers.  I love tradition and held the classic back-of-the-bag recipe dear to my heart. When Maria decided she had a new favorite recipe, I was appalled. Why mess with perfection?

I was wrong. In a side-by-side comparison, the recipes appear to be very similar. Standard choco chip cookie ingredients in both. However, the subtle measurement discrepancies such as a quarter cup more of flour or a twelfth cup less of both sugars create a completely new cookie.. and a delicious one too.

There is nothing fancy to these cookies. They’re sweet, have a high chocolate to cookie ratio, and keep their fluff even after they cool. I even refrained from sprinkling sea salt on top because simply said, they are good on their own.

This recipe is taken from Baking for All Occasions: A Treasury of Recipes for Everyday Celebrations by Flo Braker. When Maria first got this book, she was obsessed. But I have to admit, she has created fabulous desserts because of it.

Happy birthday Maria.
I love you and can’t wait to have you in New York. Get ready for our future kitchen extravaganzas in the hood.

Chocolate Chip Cookies 
**I made the dough the night before baking them. After reading a New York Times article claiming cookies to be better after the dough has had time to sit (up to 36 hours), I tested the theory in my college apartment. I drew the same conclusion as the Times. The taste becomes richer, with “notes of caramel and hints of toffee.” Don’t worry when you see the dough become drier on the second or third day. The cookies will not be dry! Quest for the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie- NYTimes.com
***Sometimes baking the cookies immediately after putting together the dough is part of the magical baking experience, so by all means, go for it!

2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional- I didn’t use)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts, or a combination (optional- I didn’t use)

    Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350. 

With electronic mixer, combine the flour, sugars, salt, cinnamon (if using), and baking soda and mix on lowest speed just until blended. Add butter and continue to mix on low speed just until small, moist crumbs form (they are larger than crumbs that dont clump together) that look similar to streusel, about 1 min. Add the egg and vanilla and eat on low speed until a cohesive dough begins to form. Increase speed to medium just as you add the chips and nuts (optional) and beat until incorporated into the dough, 20 or 30 seconds. 

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and scoop 1 1/2 inch diameter balls of dough and space them about an inch apart. bake for 10 to 13 mins until undersides are golden. 

Eat at least one warm cookie with a glass of milk. 

(Thomas made a cookie fish)

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Skirt steak and roasted corn with manchego & lime

A couple months ago, my boyfriend Rob visited me in California. In preparation of his arrival, my dad started dinner planning early. He casually asked me what I had cooked for Rob so far. At Fordham, I baked many treats for all of my friends, but I had never cooked for just him. I decided it was about time, so last Wednesday was our first boyfriend-girlfriend, home-cooked meal.

And FINALLY… a kitchen victory.

Being my indecisive self, picking the menu was no easy task. I finally decided on an Alton Brown skirt steak recipe and roasted corn recipe from August’s Bon Appetit. Both were delicious. I served them with refried beans and flour tortillas. Rob also brought over a bottle of Merlot, which paired quite nicely with the steak. (I guess his day in Napa really did turn him into a wine connoisseur)

The fresh lime juice flavored in the steak made for a great summer dinner, while the cumin and sugar gave the meat a touch of warmth. The marinade was very flavorful and did not require much marinating time. The recipe could’ve easily been halved, being that it was just the two of us. However, I made use of the leftovers by making a great salad the next day and steak quesadillas the day after that. Also, we did not have the luxury of a nice grill in my Harlem sixth floor walk up.  Rob heated olive oil in the grill pan instead, and he cooked the meat to perfection. 

The corn was my absolute favorite. While I have little experience making corn, Rob is an old pro, so he took over the husking responsibilities and enlightened me with his kernel cutting knowledge. Waiting for the corn to cool took a bit of time, so next time I will either make the corn more in advance or cheat with already prepared corn. Besides the time factor, this recipe is SO GOOD. The jalapeño adds a little kick, but its very subtle. (I have a low tolerance for heat) This was also my first taste of manchego cheese, and I liked it a lot. It melted in the warm corn and coated each kernel with its deliciousness. My favorite part though was the lime. Made the taste so fresh and light. It also paired nicely with the steak, if I do say so myself. I added this too into my salad for work the next day with the steak leftovers, baby spinach, and thinly sliced red onion, tossed in a simple balsamic vinaigrette. YUM. 

Here are the recipes I used. I highly recommend both. Enjoy! 

Skirt Steak 
(Adapted from Alton Brown’s Food Network recipe)

1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
4 scallions, sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 lb skirt steak (I only used 1 and still had a lot of leftovers)

Whisk together marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Place skirt steak and pour marinade in a large zip loc bad. Seal and refrigerate for at least one hour. 

Remove steak from bag and pat dry with paper towels. Heat oil in pan. Cook steaks to desired doneness. (We like medium-rare, so only a couple minutes per side) When finished cooking, wrap meat in aluminum foil and allow to sit for 15 minutes. 

Remove meat from foil, reserving foil and juices. Slice thinly across the grain of the meat. Return to foil pouch and toss with juice. 

Roasted Corn with Manchego & Lime
(Adapted from August 2011 Bon Appétit) 

6 ears of sweet yellow corn, unhusked
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2tbs unsalted butter
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 jalapeño, seeded, finely dice
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 lime, cut in wedges
1 c finely grated Manchego cheese
1/4 c thinly sliced chives
2 tsp finely grated lime zest

Preheat oven to 250°.

Roast unhusked corn on  baking sheet, turning occasionally, until heated through and crisp-tender, about 15 minutes. Let cool. Shuck corn and cut kernels from cobs. Discard cobs.

Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add corn kernels and sauté until heated through and lightgolden in spots, 3-5 minutes. Add butter; stir until melted. Season to taste with salt and pep. Transfer corn to a large bowl. Sprinkle jalapeño and crushed red pepper flakes over. Squeeze lime wedges over. Sprinkle with cheese, chives, and lime zest. 

Rob’s perfect bite
Rob’s seconds. The perfect burrito

big WHOOPS for the whoopie pies..

Here goes another disastrous story. This time, with a bit more patience and follow through.

I decided to make these chocolate whoopies for Rob and I to have after our dinner on Thursday. First let me preface that this is not my first whoopie experience. I made red velvet ones during my last winter at Fordham, and they were a big hit. Therefore, in my polka dot apron, I felt cool, calm and collected. Ready to tackle a more traditional recipe.

I patiently followed each step of the recipe and got a good arm workout making the batter perfectly fluffy. Before popping them into the oven, I obviously treated myself to the batter off one of the handmixer beaters. Tasted pretty good. Things seemed to be going well until I saw from the corner of my eye an egg sitting on my counter. With the cakes already in the oven, there was no going back. It was decision time, and I decided to start the whole process over.

I sped through the recipe the second time around. The cakes turned out great. Egg was definitely needed. While the mishap cakes looked fine, they were lacking in favor and cake-like consistency.

Eggless whoopies
Whoopies with egg

All in all, the cakes were pretty good. The cake to frosting ratio was off (WAY too much cake), but you can’t complain too much about a giant-size oreo.

Lesson learned: one egg can go a long way. 

Chocolate Whoopie Pies 
(Adapted from Gourmet magazine)
For cakes

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg

For filling

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups confectioners sugar
  • 2 cups marshmallow cream such as Marshmallow Fluff
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. 

  • Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Stir together buttermilk and vanilla in a small bowl.

  • Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. (The color does lighten significantly.) It will take about 5 minutes with a handmixer. 

  • ADD EGG, beating until combined well. Reduce speed to low and alternately mix in flour mixture and buttermilk in batches, beginning and ending with flour, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, and mixing until smooth.

  • Spoon 1/4-cup mounds of batter about 2 inches apart onto 2 buttered large baking sheets. (I used parchment paper on my second go) Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until tops are puffed and cakes spring back when touched, 11 to 13 minutes. Let cool completely. 

  • For the filling, beat together butter, sugar, marshmallow and vanilla in a bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until smooth.

  • To assemble, spread a rounded tablespoon filling on flat sides of half of cakes and top with remaining cakes. 

The marshmallow filling was delicious. It was less like frosting though, and I had trouble creating a substantial layer for each whoopie because the tops persistently slid off. I probably didn’t allow the cakes to cool as long as thy should have because I was so ready to be done with the whole fiasco. If there is a next time, I also will spend more time whipping the frosting get more volume.