Fall Squash Quinoa

Fall Squash Quinoa | Cook it Pretty
Cutting right to the chase, you need this dish in your life. This recipe is full of fall flavor bombs: squash (or pumpkin), dates, dried cranberries, almonds, balsamic, and warm spices. It’s also healthy (because spinach), gluten-free, and vegetarian. I have made it with acorn squash, butternut squash, and gem pumpkins. You can impress guests by stuffing the quinoa mixture in a roasted acorn squash. It looks really cute. But this deconstructed method tastes the same. I’ll leave it to you to decide if you want to go the extra mile in presentation. I know this looks like a lot of ingredients but that’s ok because they’re all bringing something to the table.

Fall Squash Quinoa
1 Squash of your choice (butternut or acorn), halved and scooped
1  cup uncooked Quinoa
2 cups Water
2 Tbs Olive Oil
1 small Red Onion, diced
2 cloves Garlic, minced
S&P to taste
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 cup Honey
1/2 cup fresh Spinach
1 tsp Red Pepper flakes (more to taste)
1/4 cup chopped raw Almonds
6 Medjool Dates, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup dried Cranberries
1/4 cup crumbled Feta
1/2 cup fresh Cilantro, chopped

Roast the Squash
Preheat the oven to 400F. In a roasting pan, drizzle the squash halves with 1 Tbs of the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place them cut side down and roast for 20-25 minutes. Turn the halves over and return to oven for 10 more minutes. They’re done when you can easily stick a fork all the way through the flesh of the squash.

Cook the Quinoa
While the squash is roasting, bring your quinoa and water to a boil on the stovetop. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking the quinoa covered for 15 minutes, until all water is absorbed. Set aside.

Ready the Flavor Bombs
Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet. Add the chopped onion and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the garlic and stir. Add a dash of salt and pepper, cumin and cinnamon. Add the balsamic and honey and allow it to reduce for a couple minutes. Add the spinach and stir until the leaves cook down. Turn off heat. Add your cooked quinoa and mix well. Add red pepper flakes,  almonds, dates, cranberries, crumbled feta and cilantro and mix well. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Combine Forces
If you’re going for presentation points, spoon the quinoa mixture into the roasted squash halves. If your halves aren’t so pretty or you just don’t care, go ahead and scoop the cooked squash out of its skin and add it to the quinoa mixture.

Enjoy!

© Cook it Pretty 2016

Advertisements

Southwest Quinoa Salad

Southwest Quinoa Salad | Cook it Pretty

My Dad is a nutritionist’s, personal trainer’s, and doctor’s dream. He follows instructions and has admirable levels of will power. Over the past several years, he has gradually lost weight and completely changed his lifestyle, all under professional guidance and with no extreme diets or fad exercise routines. He’s definitely the healthiest septuagenarian I know.

When I visit him in California, I benefit from all this because all I have to do is wake up and get dressed and I have a ride and a gym buddy every morning. We usually do some grocery shopping afterwards, for lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and the occasional pre-made dish from the Whole Foods salad bar. One day his favorite one of these, a quinoa salad with corn and black beans, was no longer available. It had become one of my faves as well, and I was disappointed to not see it in the fridge when I was home in June. I decided to recreate it myself, and Father’s Day seemed like just the occasion for it.

Southwest Quinoa Salad | Cook it Pretty

Shopping for produce in California is AN ABSOLUTE JOY. I never really appreciated this before moving to Dubai. The availability of local produce in California is exceptional, and the summer haul is hard to beat. I still come across some California fruits in Dubai, but it makes me sad to think about how long they must have been sitting on a boat to get here. Not exactly fresh from the farm. Not to mention the sticker shock of all the imported goods, and by imported goods I mean nearly everything.

Enter this fresh sweet corn from Northern California! I admit, it’s been a very long time since I’ve actually shucked corn and cut it off the cob myself. I tend to just keep frozen corn stocked and had convinced myself it “tastes the same.” NO it does not! The extra effort is definitely worth it. That said, of course you could still make this recipe with good ol’ frozen kernels.

Southwest Quinoa Salad | Cook it Pretty
I roasted the corn on a cookie sheet with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. This was definitely the star of the dish. Of course, the local avocados also helped. Lately it seems I don’t eat much without adding avocado to it. I can’t help it, I’m Californian. It’s what we do.

I made a pretty huge batch so that Dad (and I!) could enjoy the leftovers for the rest of the week. Good thing it was a hit, because we sure did have a lot of it! That day I served it as a side for some roasted salmon, along with some truly special heirloom carrots. It’s also great on its own for a light and healthy lunch (Dad-approved, vegan and gluten free, btw) and would be the perfect dish to bring to a summer BBQ. In Dubai we can only have winter BBQs, but you get the idea.

Southwest Quinoa Salad

Big Batch of Salad
2 cups uncooked white Quinoa
3 ears of Corn, cut off the cob
2 large Avocados, diced
1 red Bell Pepper, diced
1 medium Red Onion, diced
1 can Black Beans, rinsed
Handful Cilantro, chopped or cut with shears
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper

For the Dressing
Juice from 2 Limes
1/3 cup Olive Oil
1 Tbs Honey
1/2 to 1 tsp Chili powder
Salt & Pepper to taste

NOTE: This is a big batch, but you can easily reduce amounts of everything if desired!

To cook the quinoa, bring the 2 cups of quinoa plus 4 cups of water to a boil in a sauce pan on the stove. (If you are cooking for fewer people, try 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups water. Just remember it’s always a 2:1 ratio of liquid to quinoa). As soon as it’s bubbling and boiling, cover and reduce the heat to low. Let cook for about 15 minutes, until all water is absorbed. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool for a bit before adding other ingredients, as the salad should be served room temp or slightly chilled.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Add corn kernels to a cookie sheet or shallow roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil, and a bit of salt and pepper, tossing to coat. Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes. Let cool.

Combine cooked quinoa with prepared vegetables, beans, and cilantro, adding the corn when it has cooled. In a separate bowl, whisk together ingredients for the dressing. Treat the given measurements as a guideline, adding more or less of what you like to suit your tastes. Skip the chili powder if you’re averse to spicy (like my Dad!). Taste it to make sure it’s not too tart or too spicy, and add a little more honey and/or salt and pepper if needed to balance out the flavor. Drizzle over the salad and lightly toss together.

If you want to garnish with some pretty avo slices like in the photo, this is how to do it:
Slice the avocado in half lengthwise and remove the pit. Gently peel off the skin, which should be easy if it’s ripe. Lay the avocado half flat-side down and slice lengthwise in narrow strips. Pick a few pretty bits to fan out and place on top of your salad so when you enter the party everyone says OOOOOOH briefly before eating it all and telling you how awesome you are.

Enjoy!

© Cook it Pretty 2016

Risotto for Beginners

Broccoli Parmesan Risotto | Cook it Pretty
It is possible to make risotto without crying or getting eliminated from Top Chef. Take it from me, someone who has made risotto all of three times in my life. Two of the three were successful, so I feel like those odds are pretty good. I’m pretty sure that other time was the recipe’s fault for not including cheese.

Which brings me to my first tip: choose a risotto recipe with cheese involved. After all the work you put in, you’ll be happier if you’re rewarded with creamy cheesy goodness.

Next tip: Look to the experts for a solid base recipe, and add whatever ingredients you like. I chose one from Biba Caggiano, an Italian chef whose food our family happily consumes as often as possible in her Sacramento restaurant. Her book, Italy al Dente, contains more risotto recipes than I could make in a lifetime. The recipe she says she used to teach her daughter the basics of risotto, Risotto alla Parmigiana, seemed like a good place to start. (Watch Biba be charming and make risotto in 3:30 in this cute video).

Broccoli Parmesan Risotto | Cook it Pretty

I got my next tip from the author of A Cozy Kitchen: Prep everything in the recipe before you even fire the stove. Having everything measured and ready to go will ensure you don’t overcook something while you’re chopping something else, and you’ll feel like you have your own cooking show once you get going.

Finally, making risotto is all about stirring and patience. So take my friend Seriously Yum’s advice and have a glass of wine for yourself handy so you feel better about being chained to the stove. (Chair optional). Maybe this is why everyone messes up their risotto on Top Chef! They need wine. Ready? Give this one a go:

Broccoli Parmesan Risotto

6 c low sodium chicken or vegetable stock
4 Tbs butter
1/2 c yellow onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c Arborio rice
1/2 c white wine + a glass for the cook
2 c broccoli, chopped to bite size
1/2 c Parmesan, grated
Salt & Pepper to taste
Red chili pepper flakes optional

Measure and prep all your ingredients. Steam the chopped broccoli until very tender and set aside. Add 3 Tbs of the butter to a large skillet over medium heat and add the onion once melted. Stir about 5 minutes, add garlic and cook another 30 seconds. Add the rice and stir 2 minutes until it is coated in the butter and appears translucent. Next add the wine and stir until it’s mostly absorbed. Add the stock 1/2 cup at a time, each time stirring until the broth is almost fully absorbed. This process may take about 20 minutes, this is the part where you’ll want that wine to sip on. Once you’re through the stock, add the reserved 1 Tbs butter and most of the Parmesan, stirring to combine and melt the cheese. Stir in the steamed broccoli. Taste and add salt, pepper, and chili flakes if desired. Top with the remaining grated Parmesan. Pour yourself another glass of wine and enjoy!

© Cook it Pretty 2015

It’s January. Eat a Salad.

We’re all trying to eat a little better in 2015. Sometimes you need a salad, but it’s even better to want a salad. Here’s my favorite conglomeration of healthy and colorful things, which happily are also delicious together.

Spinach Avocado & Feta Salad | Cook it Pretty

Spinach is my favorite healthy green base, and I’m just not going to be that into a salad that doesn’t have cheese or avocado involved somehow. Throw in some corn, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, and an easy homemade balsamic dressing and you’re in biz.

Spinach Avocado & Feta Salad | Cook it Pretty

Spinach Avocado & Feta Salad with Balsamic Dressing

For the Salad
1 bag or package of baby spinach
1-2 cups frozen cut corn, thawed
1 avocado, cubed
1 cucumber, sliced (here in Dubai they’re local or Omani cucumbers, you can find Persian cucumbers at Trader Joe’s in the US)
2 handfuls of mixed cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 red onion, diced finely (to taste, a little goes a long way)
1 handful of crumbled feta cheese

For the Dressing
2-3 Tbs olive oil
1-2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
Salt & Pepper to taste
Pinch of dried herbs, such as thyme or rosemary, optional

Boom. A healthy and tasty salad for all your New Years Resolution needs, and an easy homemade dressing you’ll probably always have the ingredients for. All measurements are approximate, taste and adjust to your preference.

Couscous or Quinoa, Pumpkin or Squash?

Any conversation about squash or pumpkin can get pretty confusing around here. In Dubai, and apparently in Australia as well, butternut squash is referred to as butternut pumpkin. I’ve also seen acorn squash labeled as green pumpkin. I like pretty much all manner of squash and/or pumpkin and tend to gravitate toward recipes with these ingredients. (A recent review of my Pinterest boards made that pretty clear).

Butternut Squash Couscous | Cook it Pretty

So I recently picked up a “butternut pumpkin” and was looking for a recipe to use it with. I opted for  this Couscous Salad with Butternut Squash and Cranberry from The Kitchn. I followed the recipe pretty closely except for not soaking the dried cranberries (I eat them straight from the bag anyway – anyone know why I would need to soak them?) and adding some honey to the dressing as I found it a little too strong on the vinegar. I do love the local couscous, how cute is the packaging?

Dubai Couscous | Cook it Pretty

As I was making it I realized how close this recipe is to the Quinoa-Stuffed Acorn Squash recipe that is a big favorite of mine. After tasting it, I concluded that I prefer the quinoa/acorn version. This recipe from Camille Styles is the favorite of which I speak. I’ve made it over and over and it has sweet, salt, spice, and heat in all the right places. I always use cranberries instead of currants and different chopped nuts instead of pepitas, and my favorite personal addition is dates.

Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash | Cook it Pretty

I think this one also wins for presentation, and the addition of greens ups the health factor. Secret bonus of this presentation – no peeling or chopping the squash. That’s right, it’s actually easier to make it the cute way this time. I’ve made it clear in the past how partial I am to quinoa. Maybe I’m biased, but quinoa beats couscous this round. Cute camel packaging notwithstanding.