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I know. I know! It’s been too long. You must be thinking that since The Food Network has launched its daughter program, appropriately called The Cooking Channel, I must have gotten lost between the folds of my couch, sitting with my nose glued to the TV 24/7.

I wish! But somebody has got to pay her bills, plus Cosmo’s mani and pedi ain’t cheap. His favorite nail polish is Bulgarian Rose by the way. Don’t ask me where he got that from.

Less than two weeks ago I announced the start of my very own LUNCH DELIVERY SERVICES here, in Los Angeles. Guess what. It’s HAPPENING! I’ve been busy menu planning, then designing labels, then shopping for containers, then grocery shopping, then cooking, and delivering at last. Breathe in, breathe out.

I was also clear-minded enough to snap a few photos in all that chaos. Just imagine me with a chef’s knife in one hand chopping cucumbers, my toes holding tight a wooden spatula and stirring soup in the pot, while my jaws clenched on the camera and took some shots.

ONE MORE BITE Lunches (sides)

As a result of the madness, I was able to produce this CRUNCHY RED QUINOA SALAD with a Medley of Vegetables and BASIL VINAIGRETTE. Also, I made this refreshing FRUITS SALAD sprinkled with Orange Juice and MINT CHIFFONADE.

One of the meals on my Menu for this week is this delicious and healthy PAN-SEARED TUNA Over the Bed of SPINACH with Gorgonzola, Pecans and Cranberries, dressed with POMEGRANATE VINAIGRETTE.

Speaking of dressings, there’s nothing easier than making one. The most basic one is simply oil (olive) and acid (e.g. vinegar, acidic juice) in 3:1 ratio with a pinch of salt and pepper. You can get fancier than that just by adding a touch of a healthy sweetener (e.g. honey), maybe a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, or cucumber (as an emulsifier), whip it together, and just like that you have made yourself a perfectly wonderful vinaigrette.

Once you get the basics, then you’ll want to explore other flavor combinations and possibilities. One of my favorite dressings that I make for our meal ALL THE TIME is Basil Vinaigrette. To make it yourself, follow the steps described above and add a bunch of fresh basil leaves to your blender. WHIZZ. WHIZZ. Done.

ONE MORE BITE Vinaigrettes: Basil, Lemon, Pomegranate

Store-bought dressings are full of fat, sugar, and preservatives. Save yourself money and that unnecessary inch on your waist just by switching to home-made goods like the ones seen above. You’ll satisfy your palette. You’ll exercise your creative muscle. You’ll be healthier and closer to Nature with each bite. And it takes 2 minutes to make it, from scratch.

Go for it. Try this at home!

We had a little falling out with the sun here in Los Angeles for the last few weeks. Or so it seemed. In my three-and-a-half years in LA I haven’t experienced that much rain. Plus it was my first winter in California that I needed to cover my chest with more than a bikini top, and wear shoes covering my toenails. Yup, it was pretty nippy here, and not in a good way. I brought it all on myself, I realize, with my bitching about the long and hot summer we had last year. Imagine, I had the nerve! I should really shut up in that instant before one of you on the East Coast, or up North, stretches your vindictive hand across the entire United States and slap me on my face.

Luckily, the sun came back, shiny and perky as if nothing ever happened, teasing and schmoozing to get out and bask in its rays. Hence, I invited my fellow blogger and a kindred spirit, Alisa, to come over for lunch along with her 2-year old and their pup. That dog, by the way, is the most non-mean and non-vicious Chihuahua I’ve ever come across in my life. On the contrary, the little Bean is just as sweet as my Caramelized Pears with Whip Cream.

We sat ourselves outside in the midst of the quasi-jungle in our backyard, munched away some Quinoa Salad and another one with Greens, Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Toasted Pine Nuts, and sipped my ICE TEA.

I poured boiling hot water over a bag of Sweet & Spicy Herbal Tea accompanied by one bag of Organic Chamomile Herbal Tea, let them seep together for 10-15 minutes, and then transferred that herbal essence into a jar filled with ice cubes and juice of half of a lemon. That was it. I dressed it up with a few lemon slices and we were ready to chill.

Here’s a twist I applied to the second batch after Alisa left – I added a pinch of cayenne pepper. If you’re familiar with the Master Cleanse, you’ll understand. If not, I’m afraid you’ll think I’m nutso.

Trust me, that little heat will do wonders to your body. Not only does cayenne help remove fat cells from your digestive track (that you can later use as a part of your fertilizer… if you want, but no pressure), but also combined with fresh lemon juice the concoction acts as a brush to your system – it helps clean it from the toxins we accumulate every day. To top it all, the heat helps break a sweat, which is your body’s natural cooling mechanism. It’s not serendipity that people who live in tropical climates tend to eat hot and spicy food.

Think about it. Summer is around the corner.

Did someone slip something into my coffee yesterday morning? Or even earlier, in my sleep, was I powdered with magic dust over my dreamy eyes? From the moment I pulled one leg out of bed, the other one just jumped. From then on I was just bouncing around the house like an energizer bunny on crack. And I will acknowledge that I really don’t know what I’m talking about here, as whenever I see any drugs (crack, marihuana, ibuprofen, aleve) heading in my direction, I spin around on the ball of my foot and… sayonara! Gone, I am. Still, I was clearly high on something when I entered the kitchen soon after noon that day. I didn’t leave until 6 PM, thus sacrificing the playtime with Cosmo and completely ignoring any of my own physiological needs. What happened in between the 1200 hour and 1800 hour is a mystery, which nonetheless resulted in the birth of the following:

–       Edamame Dip

–       Pita Chips with Gruyere and Paprika

–       Quinoa Salad

–       Tuna Salad

–       Zucchini Chips

–       And last but not least – Romesco Sauce.

A sample of each and every delicacy landed on the dinner plate I assembled for Jason last night. He devoured the meal with such passion, the temperature in our freezing house (the furnace is kaput, to be fixed any day now) rose by 17 degrees. Celsius!

Ladies and Gentlemen, today I present to you…

ROMESCO SAUCE

Starring:

–       2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded

–       3 red fresno peppers, dipped in boiling water for a few minutes, then peeled      and seeded

–       12 garlic cloves

–       1/2 cup toasted almonds

–       3/4 cup halved heirloom grape tomatoes (red)

–       1/2 red onion, roughly chopped

–       1 lrg slice of rusting bread, crust off, diced

–       1/2 cup aged balsamic vinegar

–       olive oil

–       fresh dill, handful, roughly chopped

–       kosher salt, paprika and black pepper to taste.

I discovered ROMESCO SAUCE recently when I was watching one of the Bobby Flay shows on Food Network. I was so intrigued I poked around on the Internet and pulled out one of his recipes for a yellow version of the treat. But Agi being Agi, I had to do things MY WAY, because that’s how I roll.

Romesco is a Spanish sauce traditionally served with fish. However, you can use it as a dip or spread as well. I would go even as far as accenting a pork chop with a teaspoon of the delight. You see it tastes like a sweet pepper jam, if you can imagine that. Have you ever had a sweet pepper jam in your life? Exactly! You’ve got to try this one. It’s divine! Probably due to all the love it requires to make it. Some of you may think it’s a lot of work. I just call it INTENSE LOVE THERAPY.

Are you ready? Then hit that PLAY button on your screen for instructions.

Get all your ingredients ready in separate bowls. Only this one trick will make your life SO MUCH EASIER you’ll send me thank you notes and a pair of Cirque du Soleil tickets! Pour a few splashes of olive oil into a deep saucepan and heat it until it smokes. Now, one by one, sauté each ingredient for a few minutes over medium heat, ensuring that all elements of your sauce are cooked. Leave the almonds aside for toasting sans the oil. Let them get their own natural oils out when in a toaster oven or on a small dry and heated skillet. And for crying out loud, do NOT burn the garlic. Those little suckers of cloves really don’t like high heat for prolonged periods of time, so be sure to toss them around in the pan until lightly golden, and get them out of there asap.

Each ingredient, after it’s been sautéed, may be dumped directly into your prearranged food processor. When everybody’s in, pour the balsamic vinegar into the saucepan, deglaze the pan, reduce it for a minute or two, and also pour the mixture into the machine on the counter. Add fresh dill, close the lid, and press ON button. Leave it be for a couple of minutes until the sauce is of smooth and unified consistency. Turn of the food processor and taste your creation… What did I say? Isn’t it heavenly?! You may want to season it now with salt, pepper and paprika to your liking. You may spread it thinly on your toast and top with a slice of turkey, cheese and cucumber. You may want to serve it with grilled salmon or tuna, or next to the pork chops we talked about earlier. You could also bake various veggie chips and use the sauce as a dip. The possibilities are as many as you can come up with. It’s your game. You set the rules.

All I know is that by making this sauce I raised my very personal bar of culinary standards set in my house. I have so much more respect for myself now that I made my own Romesco Sauce. Are you kidding me? This rocks! Now it’s your turn. Go and make me proud. I promise that your every effort will be rewarded tenfold.

All right. That’s all she wrote.

Not always does a good night sleep and a hearty breakfast help you get your shit together and get on with your day.

OK, ok! Easy. I’ll just speak for myself then.

In my defense, it doesn’t help that my TASK BOARD still says it’s Saturday, while at the same time, I’ve  been convinced since last night that today is Friday (the day I’m taking Jason on a date to a secret location). Meanwhile, a strange man with a nice, deep voice says to me on the radio that today is Wednesday, September 30, 2009. Hmmm.

My reality today is convoluted to such an extent that I bounce from one place to another with a heavy chip on my shoulder. I know I should be writing now, but the very thought of it makes me spin 180 degrees on my bare heels and go sweep the neighbor’s stoop. Next, I focus on my hands as they scream for attention, and suddenly I find myself performing a home manicure – a task I normally dread like the chicken pox. Once the bright red polish is splashed all over my nails, it’s the silence in the room that gets me at last.

I fan my  froggy fingers out over the keyboard of my computer, open iTunes and break out the jams. It’s not until The Last Shadow Puppets begin to play that I decide it’s time to turn the volume UP,  prepare my stage,  move the chair out of the range of my high-kick, place Cosmo on the balcony of our bed and GET MY GROOVE ON. While the music blasts from the speakers, I jump and throw my hands in the air, stretch in all directions, bounce my shoulders, bend to the sides, thrash my hips back and forth, and give the “dance” MY ESSENCE. Gasping for air, I look at Cosmo, and a bright smile wraps it’s way around my glossy face like a red bow on a Christmas gift. He just yawns at me with mere disapproval: “Mother, REALLY??!”

Cosmo w/ Headphones

After being scolded by my very own dog, I curl my tail under my own bottom, shut down the music box, and shuffle my feet to the kitchen hoping to get some LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING from an oozing, chocolate mini-cupcake. One thing leads to another, and within minutes, I’m prepping lunch. On the menu today… an Avocado Turkey Sandwich with a side of a Quinoa Salad. I’m confident after this meal I’ll have a work out that would make Michael Phelps crawl out of his pool humiliated and in tears.

Turkey Sammy

Speaking of Sammies, they play an important role in our household, especially since Jason returned to work and I took on the temporary role of “little wifey”, which nota bene suits me shockingly well. The part I play entails my rising at dawn along with my beau and tending to his feeding needs. While Jason assures me he’s perfectly capable of getting a bowl of cereal in the morning, I won’t have such nonsense and proceed to fill his bowl with a cherry picked mix of breakfast grains topped with a rainbow of sliced fruit, all soaked in an ocean of almond milk.

While the boy crunches away, I move on to the next task at hand which consists of assembling his lunch and dexterously fitting the mountain of food into the 2 compartments of his teeny-weeny lunchbox.

If there are no leftovers from the previous night’s dinner (which is the case 3 out of 4 times), I grab from the refrigerator whatever I can hold in my arms and build a Mothership of all Sandwiches. I start with two slices of HEALTHY bread, which unfortunately in many cases tend to taste like old tennis shoes. Particularly the low sodium Ezekiel Bread which is as exciting as a chess match!

porkzo1

Let me pause here for a second. If it wasn’t for a pile of SPARKLING NEW jeans that are an entire two (2) sizes smaller than the last pants I bought, I would be slathering both sides of ciabatta bread with mayonnaise and topping it with 1-inch thick chunks of chicken, beefy slices of mozzarella, tomato and a basil leaf. I have wet dreams about  Italian breads, rustic French baguettes and country rolls. In fact, I’m drooling a little bit right now with nothing more than the mere image of them!

How do I turn that ugly ducking of Ezekiel Bread into Cinderella? I have a trick (or two) that (lucky for you) I’ve decided to no longer keep to myself.

Raspberries on side

My secret is to make the sandwich relatively MOIST, but not soggy. Second, you want to keep it versatile and exciting. The sky is the limit when it comes to building a sandwich! Think outside the box. Instead of always going for the good ‘ol mayo, use a low-fat version mixed into a coherent cream with a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Or forget about mayo altogether and spread a little hummus on your bread topped with slices of heirloom tomato and pickles under an umbrella of a few spinach leaves. You can buy a flavored one, or just make your own Hummus. The EDAMAME DIP you just tried this week for the first time will go swimmingly with a few thin slices of low sodium turkey, maybe a little of Monterey Jack and a slice of Tomato, all sprinkled with finely chopped chives and packed between the slices of bread.

Cottage Cheese Sammies

Being Polish, I bring my Polish twist to the table, and when the sandwich is for here and not to go I like to keep it open. It’s an ideal surface for a tablespoon of cottage cheese, green onions and crunchy Persian cucumbers. That’s today. Tomorrow, get yourself a ripe avocado, slice the meat and spread it generously over your bread. Cover with turkey/chicken/ham, and top with thick slices of hard-boiled egg – don’t forget to sprinkle it with a dust of salt and pepper. The next day, make a Tuna Salad and use it as filling in your sammy. And if you grew up convinced radishes taste like dirt, here’s your chance to bring back the magic and believe in Santa  all over again slice one radish and hide it between the layers of your tuna sandwich. Not only will you have that extra crunch, but also vitamins and minerals you’ve deprived yourself all your life.

Tuna Sammy Tuna Closed Sammy

Have you ever tried Mascarpone cheese? It’s good not only in a Tomato Sauce for your pasta, or in cakes, but can also serve as a foundation for your – exactly! – next day sandwich. You can cover it with slices of meat, cheese, roasted peppers, onion, cucumber, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, and fresh herbs (basil, dill, mint, tarragon, etc.) Same thing goes for Pesto. You can have an exciting, delicious sandwich every day at work, and it will never taste the same. Bring a smile back to your SAMMY.

One last thing to keep in mind – do NOT overcrowd the guy. Don’t pile up everything under the sun onto your slice of bread.   After all, you want to be able to wrap your mouth around that bad boy, don’t you?

Three Open Sammies

I could go on, and I’m positive there will be more opportunities to talk sandwiches. Hell, I’ll make sure of it. Today’s article will at least get you started. It’s like opening Pandora’s Box of Sandwiches. From now on the ideas will never stop coming. They will flood your mind, your lunchbox, and your kitchen. You’ll feel overwhelmed with the creative powers that will suddenly take over and you’ll start feeding your coworkers, your neighbors, and even your dog. Each Sammy will be a Gourmet Concert of Wild and Exotic Flavors clasped within the crunchy arms of two slices of toasted bread waiting to be domesticated in your mouth.

Now go and unleash your inner Sandwich Snob. Then tame the beast with your creations. Have fun with it!

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