Saturday, October 22, 2011

A quintillion reasons to love Quinoa

Yo! Have you tried chisaya mama (Mother of All Grains), otherwise known as Quinoa (pronounced Keen-wa)? The Inca considered the crop to be sacred and worshiped its magical qualities. It also sustained the appetites of many hungry Inca soldiers with its incredible protein power and essential nutrients. Quinoa originally grew in the Andean Region of South America, in the land now known as Peru and was first harvested for people to eat about 3000 to 4000 years ago. It is a species of the Chenopodium family and mostly grown for its edible seeds. It is called a pseudocereal, meaning it is a broadleaf plant, not a grain. Other examples of pseudoceral plants are: amaranth, love-lies bleeding, red amaranth, Prince-of-Whales feather and buckwheat. These “grains” are sometimes referred to as “Anciant Grains” because they originated long, long ago. Modern-day cereal crops are known as grasses and some well-known, commercially grain crops include: Barley, Corn, Oats, Rice, Rye, Sorghum, Wheat and Millet.

What makes Quinoa so outstanding in its field is its uniquely nutty flavour and best of all, its high nutrient content, boasting essential amino acids like lysine and good quantities of calcium, phosphorus, and iron. According to the USDA Nutrient Database, 100 grams of uncooked Quinoa yields 14g of Protein, 7 g of dietary fibre, 4.6 g of Iron and plenty of Vitamin B1, B2, B6, Folate, Vitamin E, Magnesium, Phosphorous and Zinc. It is a perfect alternative for people who are gluten-intolerant or allergic to wheat and is also known for building muscle, promoting weight loss and stabilizing blood sugar.

So what’s not to love? Well, during the European Conquest of South America, the Spaniards turned up their noses and gave it the thumbs down, labelling it “food for the Indians”. They banished the Incas from growing Quinoa and forced them to grow wheat instead. Why? Because the Spaniards recognized that this mighty crop gave the Inca armies great strength and stamina. Of course they claimed it was because the Incas used it in non-Christian ceremonies. Being tactful folk…the Incas simply obliged. Perhaps they knew this mighty and resilient food gem would make a resounding comeback thousands of years later among North Americans looking for sustainable non-animal protein food options.

A great cookbook to get you started is Quinoa 365 by Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming. I am a huge fan of their recipes for Ginger Molasses Cookies, Bocconcini and Oregano Salad, and Quinoa Stuffed Chicken Breasts. I have successfully adapted a few of my own recipes using quinoa flour in cookie recipes and quinoa instead of couscous, rice or bulgur. If you have a Bulk Barn or a health food store near you, be sure to explore all the various colours of Quinoa, flour options and flakes and adapt away! Just remember, it has no gluten in it so I wouldn’t attempt making bread or muffins entirely with Quinoa flour. Gluten, which is in wheat flours is needed to help bread rise.

Here is my Quinoa Pistachio-Chocolate Shortbread recipe and another (below) for Spicy Cookies adapted from my Grandmother Upton's recipe:

Quinoa Pistachio-Chocolate Shortbread

½ cup butter

½ cup granulated white sugar

1 egg

1 1/2 cups Quinoa Flour

1 tsp vanilla

1 tbsp orange zest (orange peel finely diced)

*¼ cup chopped pistachios

2 squares dark chocolate chunks- roughly chopped (preferably 2 wrapped squares of Baker 100% Pure dark chocolate)

*Other optional additions: blanched almonds, chopped dried cranberries, etc.

Topping to brush on shaped cookies before baking:

1 egg yolk, beaten

¼ c granulated sugar

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Add in the egg, vanilla and orange zest and mix well. Stir in flour and knead by hand until dough comes together. Add a little more flour if dough is too sticky.

Cover and refrigerate for about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Remove dough from refrigerator. At this point you may roll the dough into 1” size balls by hand OR roll the dough out flat to ½” thickness and cut with cookie cutters into desired shapes and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. If making balls, place them on a parchment lined baking sheet and flatten carefully with a fork dipped in water or a smooth bottomed glass lightly dipped in water.

Brush with a little egg yolk and sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake for 8-10 minutes. DO NOT let them brown! Remove to cool on a cookie rack.

Spicy Cookies

3/4 cup butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 1/2 cups Quinoa flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cream of tartar (found in the spice section-this is a dry white powder)

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

(For flattening dough balls have ready: a small bowl of water and a small bowl of granulated white sugar)

Preheat oven to 325F.

Cream together sugar and butter. Mix in egg. In a separate bowl, mix well together flour, soda, cream of tartar, nutmeg and cinnamon. Add flour mixture to sugar and egg and stir well to form a smooth dough. Shape dough into 1" balls and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Use a flat bottomed glass lightly dipped in water, then dipped in small bowl with white sugar to flatten each ball. OR, flatten with a fork lightly dipped in water.

October's pick: The Pumpkin starring in Pulp Non-Fiction

Mini-pumpkins make darling little centrepieces, place card holders (just make a deep slice and slide in the card) and romantic Fall tealight candleholders (slice off top, hollow out seeds and voila).

Now, let me regale you with a few tales about this robust October starlet and a few intriguing recipes for muffins, soup, cheesecake and even pasta!’s October 1535. You’re Jacques Cartier navigating your way up a very big river. Yes, you know it's the St. Lawrence River but stay with me.... Peering through your scope you see scattered patches of large, bright orange round things sitting in the riverbank fields ahead. Hmm? Have you been at sea too long or, are you about to be invaded by an army of very pudgy, misshapen aliens with a serious camouflage problem? Being a seasoned world explorer you pull over and ask the local native people what these orange things are. “Isqoutm squash, monsieur,” they reply. Translation: “Pumpkins”. And so, you and your French confreres are introduced to the monster member of the Cucurbita family, her siblings being the petite squash and svelte-like cucumber. The French named this mysterious large melon the Pepon, then Pompon. The English changed it to Pompion, and finally, the Pumpkin.

Our native people though were the real discoverers of the pumpkin’s many virtues. High in fibre, heart-friendly potassium, vitamins A and C, and good-for-you antioxidant beta-carotene, pumpkin was used as a daily food staple in the native people’s diet long before the colonists landed in North America. In these pre-marshmallow times, as a delicacy, the Native Indians would roast long strips of pumpkin over an open fire. Hollowed out pumpkins also performed double-duty as biodegradable, disposable and nutritious roasting pots in the hot ashes of dying fires. No pot scrubbing required!

But it was the Irish who revealed the pumpkin’s inner magical spirit. Always in pursuit of life, liberty and luck, Irish settlers to North America began the tradition of carving pumpkins into Jack-o-lanterns and placing a piece of coal inside to light up the creation, as part of their Samhain holiday on October 31st to welcome back dead souls. They used turnips in the old country but quickly discovered pumpkins were much easier to hack up in a hurry.

These days pumpkin seeds are used to deworm humans, to prevent prostrate cancer and to relieve burns—not surprising since pumpkins are comprised of 80 per cent water.

With the pumpkin being a lifesaver in so may ways, it’s easy to see why the wise Fairy Godmother reserved a pumpkin carriage to whisk away the one-shoed lady to life-altering bliss in the children’s fairy tale, Cinderella. And, we have lived happily ever after with the pumpkin ever since!

Try these pumpkin pleaser recipes to get you started.

High Fibre Breakfast Pumpkin Muffins
Dry ingredients:
¾ cup bran
¾ cup whole wheat flour
¾ cup white sugar
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cloves
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup raisins or currants

Wet ingredients:
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 egg unbeaten
½ cup canola oil
½ cup plain yogurt

In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add pumpkin, egg, oil and yogurt and stir until just combined. Tip for muffin success: after adding wet ingredients to the dry ingredient mixture, only stir the mixture 17 times! Spoon batter into paper-lined muffin tins. Bake in 400 F oven for 25 minutes or until firm to the touch. Let cool in tin on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove muffins from tin and allow to cool on a cookie rack. Makes 12 muffins.

Slow-Cooker Pumpkin Soup
(Serves six)
You will need a 5-6 quart slow cooker to make this recipe.
3 cups chicken stock
1 28 oz or 796 ml pumpkin puree (not pie filling!)
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
pinch of nutmeg
1 14 oz or 400 ml coconut milk
1/2 tsp lime zest
2 tsp lime juice
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
In the slow cooker combine chicken stock, pumpkin, brown sugar, cumin, chili powder and nutmeg. Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours OR on high for 2-3 hours until it is hot and bubbling. Stir in coconut milk, lime zest and juice. Serve in individuals bowls and garnish with cheese and cilantro.

The Crowd-Pleaser Pumpkin Cheesecake
This recipe is easy to make but allow yourself enough time to bake and cool the cake, then chill it overnight. You will need a 9 inch spring form pan and an electric mixer.
2 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs
(PC English style Gingersnaps crushed in a food processor work well)
3 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp granulated sugar
(Reserve a tbsp or two of this mixture to sprinkle over the baked cake, if desired)

3 250 g pkgs light cream cheese, softened
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 ½ cups canned pumpkin
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp EACH nutmeg and ginger
2 tbsp milk
1 tbsp bourbon, if desired

Combine ingredients. Press firmly onto bottom and ½ inch up sides of a 9 inch spring form pan. Chill for 1 or more hours.
In a large bowl, using a electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugars until very smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time, until just blended. Beat in pumpkin, spices, milk, cornstarch and bourbon, until thoroughly combined. Pour into pan. Bake at 350 F for 50-55 minutes or until center of cake is just set. Remove cake from oven and run a knife around sides of pan. Cool at room temperature on a cookie rack. Chill, covered, overnight. To serve, remove sides of pan and garnish as desired with crumb mixture, whipped cream or whole pecans or pralines.

Tasty Bacon-Pumpkin Pasta
Serves 4-6
3-4 cups dry penne pasta (or your favourite pasta)
2 cups pumpkin puree (1 large tin)
6 strips bacon
2 garlic cloves minced
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
¾ cream or whole milk
pinch of sage
pinch of nutmeg

1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
Toasted chopped pecans for garnish, if desired

Boil penne to al dente. In a deep fry pan cook bacon until crisp, drain on paper towels to absorb grease and dice into thin strips. Discard all but 1 tbsp bacon fat from fry pan. Lower fry pan heat to med-low and cook garlic in remaining bacon fat. Stir often to prevent it from burning. Add the pumpkin, parsley, sage, nutmeg and cream. Stir until warmed. DO NOT BOIL. (If you wish, reserve some of the sauce and Parmesan cheese for another meal at this point.) Drain pasta. Stir Parmesan cheese into pasta, then stir in sauce. Mix well and serve immediately. Top each serving with toasted chopped pecans.
Bon App├ętit!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Good Apple - In Memory of Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

....Steve Jobs and his Apple products made creative and sensible thinking, cool.

Just imagine if Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs hadn’t chosen “Apple” as the brand name for their computer company way back in 1976. The personal computer might not be where it is today, IBM might still be telling us to “Think” and we’d probably be downloading our favourite tunes to Lemons. Those smart Steves, must have known naming their little company after the most popular fruit in North America would guarantee success. No other fruit bears quite the same healthy, virtuous, down-to-earth reputation among North American consumers as the apple, known everywhere as a portable, reliable, nutritious snack, and packed with Vitamin A and C. The McIntosh apple, by the way, is the all-time favourite among consumers and coincidentally, the name of the two Steves’ first generation of computers. Yes, there’s something highly resilient and entrepreneurial in the name McIntosh. The Steve and Steve team enticed people to take a bite out of the PC market, buy their Macs and “Think Different.

Similar to Steve Jobs' success, the apples from the very first McIntosh Apple tree, grown in the Ottawa Valley 200 years go, took a bite out of the apple market.

Rumour has it, John McIntosh, the son of Scottish immigrants discovered an overgrown orchard on his property near Ottawa and transplanted 20 of the healthiest seedlings to new ground. Only one tree survived and the apples from this singleton drew the praises from his admiring neighbours. With a stubborn entrepreneurial spirit and the drive to capitalize on his find, McIntosh learned how to successfully duplicate the apple of his eye. At first, apple growers did not want to grow the “Mac” because it was susceptible to pests and disease. By the early 1900’s, however, as spraying techniques were more widely used, the little McIntosh became more virulent and very popular among apple growers and consumers alike.

Today, tart and tasty McIntosh apples are cultivated in nearly every apple growing area of North America, including Eastern Ontario.

A few tips about apples:

  • It takes four apples to make a glass of pure apple juice.
  • Three medium apples equals about 1 lb. (500 g).
  • One medium apple yields about 1/4 cup (175 mL) sliced apples

Try these recipes to explore this Fall’s bounty:

The Steve Jobs No-Fail Spicy Apple Tart

Use McIntosh, Cortland, Spy or Newtown Apples.


2 cups all purpose flour

2 tbsp white sugar

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp cloves

¾ cup cool butter

2 egg yolks, beaten

2 tbsp water


6 cups (7-8 medium sized apples) peeled, coarsely grated apples (no need to core!)

2 cups white sugar

¼ cup white flour

1 tsp cinnamon

icing sugar

Pastry: In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and cloves. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in egg yolks with water; stir into flour mixture to form a soft dough. Using fingertips, spread dough evenly onto bottom and up sides of 11” flan pan or fluted glass dish, patting gently.

Filling: Combine all ingredients except icing sugar. Spread mixture evenly over pastry. (After filling the pastry, make a tin foil ring to place over the edges of the pastry to protect it from burning.) Bake at 375 F oven until apples are tender or about 45 minutes. Be sure to turn and check after 20 min and place the foil ring on the pastry edge if necessary to prevent burning. Let cool. Sift icing sugar over top. Serve with frozen yogurt or ice cream.

Apple Oka Bites

12 slices smoked bacon

1/4 cup grainy mustard

2 Ontario Apples cut into 24 wedges

250 g Oka cheese, cubed into 24 pieces

(Or, try other cheeses like Gorgonzola or Stilton for savoury substitutes)

In a skillet over medium heat, cook bacon in batches until cooked through, limp but not crispy. Place on a paper-towel lined plate to soak up fat and let cool. Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut each strip of bacon in half to make 24 small strips. Spread each strip with 1/4 tsp mustard and wrap around an apple wedge and piece of cheese. Secure with toothpick. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Arrange bites on a parchment or foil lined baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven just until bacon starts to bubble and cheese begins to melt, about 3-5 minutes. Do not overcook. Serve immediately or refrigerate and quickly reheat under the broiler. Makes 24 pieces.

Apple, Carmelized Onions and White Cheddar Pizza

2 tbsp butter

2 onions, sliced into 1/4 rounds

2 Ontario Apples, cored and sliced into wedges

1/4 tsp each salt and pepper

1 tbsp cider vinegar

1/2 pkg. frozen puff pastry (1 sheet), thawed

1/2 cup shredded aged white cheddar cheese

1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme

Melt butter in large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Cook onions until caramelized and softened, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Stir in apple wedges and cook 5 minutes longer (apples will be firm and a light golden colour). Season with salt, pepper and vinegar. Let cool slightly.

Preheat oven to 400°F . Roll puff pastry into a flat 10-inch square. Cut a 1/2-inch strip from each side. Brush the edges of the remaining pastry square with water and arrange strips on top, trimming, to form a border (or pizza crust) on all four sides. Using fork, prick bottom of pastry all over. Arrange onion and apple mixture inside border. Sprinkle with cheddar and thyme.

Bake in the centre of preheated oven until pastry is puffed and golden and cheddar is melted and bubbly, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before slicing into squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4-6 servings.