Tuna Cakes with Orange Cumin Quinoa

This meal, believe it or not, was the result of one of those times when we were faced with a pantry full of what seemed to be random crap that couldn’t possibly be put together.  We had some canned tuna and some quinoa, but no clear idea of what to do with it–until we discovered this recipe from Ina Garten for Salmon Cakes…and decided to make some quick substitutions.  While I’m sure salmon would be great in this, the tasty variety of veggies in them (including capers, peppers, onions, and celery) would make just about anything taste amazing, so I say give your wallet a break and just open a couple cans of tuna.  The preparation does take a bit of time, but trust me when I tell you that it’s worth it.  I won’t describe it in full here (Ina does a great job herself at the link), but I will say that if you’re looking for something cheap and quick, this isn’t it.  But hey, we can’t have it all, all the time.

On the other hand, it’s delicious.  Did I mention that?  The cakes are especially amazing paired with this citrus-y quinoa, which is also one of my favorites (adapted from an old issue of Vegetarian Times).  Here’s how you do it:

Take 1 cup of quinoa, and wash it in a sieve for a few minutes.  Make sure not to skip this step; quinoa in its natural state has a weird flavor that will distract from the amazing dressing described below if you don’t wash it off.  Cook the quinoa according to the package directions–usually this means a 1:2 ratio of quinoa to boiling water cooked for 15-20 minutes, just like rice.  Make sure to salt the water.

While the quinoa is going, get everything ready to be tossed with it.  Finely chop the following:

  • 1/4-1/2 cup shallots or red onion
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots (you can sub golden raisins, or whatever you like as a dried fruit)
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, preferably toasted
  • a handful of parsely
  • a few mint leaves, if you have them
  • The wedges cut out of one peeled orange (without pith)

Then, make the dressing in a big bowl.  Whisk together the following:

  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. coriander
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp sugar (depending on how sweet your orange juice is)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup (or a bit less) of extra virgin olive oil

When your quinoa is done and has cooled a bit, toss it with the dressing and the dried fruit.  Allow to cool a bit more, then add in the rest of the ingredients.  Let the quinoa sit a bit (preferably covered) while you or your cooking partner finish frying up the tuna cakes.  To serve, top the quinoa with a cake (or two!).

I think the savory, rich, vinegar-y flavor of the tuna cakes pairs incredibly well with the sweet-and-sour-yet-nutty flavor of the quinoa.  The textures are also incredible: the fish cakes get a lovely crispy crust on the outside, while remaining warm and soft on the inside.  I think this compliments the quinoa nicely, which is chewy, but enhanced with bursts of orange juice (from the cut-out wedges) and crunchy bits of almond and onion.  If these were a bit easier to make, I’d probably be eating them all the time…so we should probably be grateful that they aren’t, since tuna cakes aren’t exactly low fat.  They are, however, a great weekend treat–and surprisingly cheap to make, if you have the right things hanging out in the pantry.

Vegan Red Beans and Rice

When I was growing up in South Louisiana, my favorite cafeteria food day was Red Beans and Rice day (with Jambalaya day coming in at a very close second).  The cafeteria at my school would cook their red beans to within an inch of their lives, stewed and broken down into a rich, thick, brown gravy flavored with andouille sausage, ham chunks or fatback.  The bean-gravy was then served over white rice, with bonus pieces of pork: I used to hunt through my plate, hoping to find one extra piece of ham or sausage than everyone else.  Pork is king in Southern vegetable cooking, and it’s easy to see why–very few things deliver the same kind of flavor in such a small package, and when you consider that most of these classic South Louisiana dishes were invented to stretch what little meat was available, it all makes sense.

Of course, now that my days of eating piggies have passed, I have to make do with new things.  So here’s one recipe for red beans and rice with “sausage” (or “something meat-like, but still tasty”).  It’s a bit of a departure for me, since I still typically stew my red beans down into a thick sauce, while this recipe (which is an adaptation of the one from Bryant Terry’s Vegan Soul Kitchen) cooks everything together in the way I might prepare jambalaya.  But it is indeed tasty, even if not authentically South Louisiana.

Image via eCurry

To start, I did a bit of improvising on the “sausage.”  Terry’s recipe simmers seitan in a flavorful broth to use as a meat substitute, which I didn’t have at the time.  What I did have were soya pieces,which look a bit like dehydrated chunks of chicken, but which are made from soy (somewhat like TVP).  These little guys have absolutely no flavor, and because they’re dried, are impossible to eat on their own.  But, if you simmer them in some delicious liquid for about 10 minutes–well, then things get much more exciting.  The liquid I simmered them in was very similar to Terry’s suggestion for the seitan, though I cut down on the amount of red wine he suggests, since, seriously, it’s not necessary (and also, we live in Canada, where that shizz ain’t cheap).

So, in a saucepan, I combined the following:

  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 2-3 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2.5 cups water
  • Approximately 3 cups soya chunks

I simmered these together for about 10-15 minutes, until the soya chunks were tender and had absorbed the flavor of the wine broth.  I then drained and reserved the excess liquid, and let the soya pieces cool a bit, since I wanted to roughly chop them (they’re just a bit bigger than I wanted my “meat” chunks to be).

I then got to work on the rest of the dish, sauteeing the following in a bit of olive oil in my big jambalaya pot:

  • 1 cup diced red onion/shallots
  • 1 cup diced green bell pepper
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp. salt

When these got a bit softened (after about 5 minutes of simmering), I added 2 cloves of minced garlic, cooked for another couple of minutes, and then added 1 cup of white rice, one big can of red beans (which I had rinsed and drained), and 2 cups of water plus the reserved soya-simmering liquid.  To that I added 1/2 tsp. salt and some Tabasco and brought everything up to a boil, then reduced the heat to simmer covered for 20 minutes.

When the rice was almost cooked, I tossed in my coarsely-chopped soya pieces, and re-seasoned the whole thing with salt and pepper, before allowing it to sit covered for about five minutes.  To serve, I topped it with a bit of parsley, and toasted some crusty bread.

The recipe made quite a lot of food (Josh and I ate red beans and rice for days), and it was nicely comforting: the flavor was rich and filling, despite being totally vegan, and the texture of the soya chunks was as satisfying as the flavor, which (as far as I’m concerned) was great.  You can’t go wrong with red wine, I think.  In the end, this wasn’t the Red Beans and Rice I’m accustomed to–the soya doesn’t taste anything like andouille, and the consistency of this is more like jambalaya than the gravy of traditional Louisiana Red Beans.  But its tastiness (and hint of spiciness!) more than makes up for what it lacks in the reproduction of my cafeteria memories.

In Which I am a Contrite Food Blogger

So, this is me hanging my head in shame!  It has been far, far, far too long since my last update from the Philosophers’ house.  Indeed, it has been so long that I have slipped into avoiding posting for fear of the contrition that would surely be required.  But hark!  I am here, contrite, and ready to begin again from the foundations, as they say in the more apocalyptic versions of 20th century Continental thought.

Ok, not really.

I mean, I’m beginning again, but there’s no re-foundationing happening here.  In fact, this post primarily exists to tell you where the hell I’ve been, which is a backtracking if anything.  But oh!  The places I’ve been!  Since we last talked, I’ve voyaged to Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Dayton, Nashville, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Montreal, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Niagara Falls.  I’ve done my (international!) taxes, gave an invited lecture, almost got a job (and sadly didn’t get a job), written more cover letters than I care to think about, thought I was going to have to defend my dissertation, and then didn’t, got into a blog-altercation with someone who writes for NPR, got an article accepted for publication at my favorite journal, did more driving than anyone should do in a month-long period without getting paid for it, and decided to move to Niagara.  It has been, to say the least, a busy time.

But, there have also been a few delicious meals along the way, the backlog of which I’ll do my best to update you on over the next week or so.  For the moment, I’ll just share one of the simplest pleasures of springtime: finally being able to sit on the back porch with a beer, and a plate of tomatoes and cheese drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

Funnily enough, this one was taken back in April, and I remember distinctly that I was wearing a scarf at the time.  Fortunately, those days seem to be behind us now, and we’re enjoying the simple pleasures of tank tops and life with the windows open.

Until next time, remember: beer always tastes better when you drink it on the porch.

Asparagus Pesto Pizza

Sometimes I make something that sounds and looks good, but is less than awesome.  Other times, I make something that tastes much better than it looks.  And then, on very rare occasions, I manage to throw something together that looks pretty good, but which has a taste far beyond what I would have imagined.  This Asparagus Pesto Pizza?  It falls into the final category, friends, and I don’t mind telling you that it’s one of the most amazing things I’ve put into my mouth in recent memory.

The recipe we used is a variation on the one Bobby Flay offers here, but with walnuts instead of pine nuts.  When combined with the basil, grilled asparagus, romano cheese, olive oil and garlic, the resulting flavor is earthy, rich and satisfying, with a heady aroma that contrasts nicely with the sun-dried tomatoes we used as a simple topping.

I started by grilling the asparagus on a grill pan with a bit of olive oil and salt. After these took on a bit of color, I pureed them in a food processor with the basil, garlic, walnuts, olive oil and salt.  When this was combined, I emptied the mixture into a bowl and stirred in the grated romano cheese.

Josh made the crust from scratch, but you could easily use a store-bought crust.  After he pre-baked it on the pizza stone for a few minutes, we spread it with the pesto, and topped it with sliced sun-dried tomatoes and just a bit of mozzarella and parmesan.  We then finished baking the whole thing in the oven, and served it with a simple salad.

I am not at all exaggerating when I tell you that this pesto is out-of-control amazing.  Seriously, I would strongly suggest that you consider stopping what you’re doing and getting the ingredients to make it now.  As a bonus, this recipe makes far more pesto than you could possibly eat in one sitting (or even on one or two pizzas), and keeps well in the fridge–though if you’re anything like us, you’ll have eaten the rest within a couple of days.  We also used it as a sauce for corkscrew pasta, and ate it on toast (though you could also put it on grilled eggplant or use it as a dip for crudites).  Affordable spring asparagus only happens so often, so take advantage of it while you can–and with a recipe like this, the veg-phobes in your life don’t have to be left out.

Eggplant Parm and Mushroom Risotto

Well, it has been quite some time, hasn’t it?  We’ve been cooking, of course (because, really, what else would we be doing?)–but I’ve been a little distracted on the food-blogging front.  My pup, Dewey, has been sick, and I’ve been contributing regularly to another blog, Hysteria!, which takes much more of a time commitment, interested as it is in feminism rather than food.  (Not that food isn’t important, mind you!  It’s just a little easier to write about quickly than, say, Health Care Reform.)

Anyway, we made this delicious Eggplant Parmesan and risotto a little while ago, but I’m just now getting to sharing it with you.  Which is a damn shame, because it turned out incredibly well, despite the fact that we deliberately made it lower in fat than we might typically: instead of frying the eggplant, we baked it in the oven.  Here’s how we did it.

To begin, Josh cut one eggplant into 1/4 – 1/2 inch slices.  He then put these in a colander, sprinkled them with salt, and put a weighted plate on top of them to squeeze out the bitter juices.  He left them there for about 25 minutes.

While this was hanging out, he prepped the vegetables for the risotto.  Basically, this involved making sure we had the following:

  • Half an onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pint cremini mushrooms, chopped.
  • About 2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped

When the eggplant was ready to go, he set up a dredging station with a bowl each of:

  • flour
  • egg wash (with a bit of milk)
  • Bread crumbs, seasoned with salt and Italian seasoning

He then dredged each slice of eggplant through the 3 bowls (always in that order), and placed them all onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  These went into a 375 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes on each side.

While these were cooking, I started on the risotto (have you been wondering where I am during all of this?  I’ll give you a hint: we don’t have a dishwasher).  I sauteed the chopped onions and mushrooms in a bit of olive oil and butter while I heated up about 4-5 cups of vegetable stock on the stove.  When the onions were transparent and the mushrooms had shrunk considerably, I added the garlic, and then 1.5 cups of arborio rice, and let this saute in the pan without liquid for about a minute.  When the grains of rice began to get translucent, I began adding the broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring almost constantly.  After this, it was add, stir, add, stir, for about 20 minutes.  Unfortunately, I had no white wine to add that day, but typically, this is a standard risotto addition.  When the liquid was mostly absorbed, I added some grated romano cheese, and the parsley.

As I was doing this, Josh retrieved his eggplant slices from the oven and began constructing the eggplant parm.  He began by spreading a layer of marinara sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 9 baking dish (we’re using jarred sauce here; apologies to the Italians in the audience), and then constructed layers of eggplant, sauce, mozzarella cheese and basil to form a tasty casserole.  He finished the whole thing with a bit of extra parmesan and romano cheese on top, and then put the dish back into the oven to get melty and delicious.  When we took it out (after 10-15 minutes), we sprinkled the individual servings with thinly sliced basil leaves, and served it with the risotto.

This was Comfort Food at its finest–but a little more exciting than the traditional Eggplant-Parm-and-Pasta pairing.  And honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference between this version and the one that fries the eggplant slices individually.  It was still crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, and with the big flavors of the cheese and marinara, the decrease in fat was totally stealth.  My one regret about this meal was the lack of wine for the risotto, but next time, I’ll be prepared.

Hints of Spring

We had a few fine days about a week ago–I even went outside in short sleeves once!–but now we’re back to below-freezing temperatures at night and sometimes even coats during the day.  Still, these little guys are resilient, and we now have some tulips sprouting, so I am hopeful: spring is coming!

Springtime on a Plate

The weather is warming up ever-so-slowly here, and to celebrate our new-found meltiness, Josh and I made one of our favorite simple warm-weather meals last week: a tomato and pesto panini with a Greek lentil salad.  The panini was so simple as to be unworthy of discussion–if you can buy pesto at the store, just do it.  Slather it on bread with some cheese and sliced tomatoes (this time of year, I only buy grape or cherry tomatoes, since the bigger ones are invariably disappointing), and then toast the whole thing.

For the lentil salad, I cooked about 1.5 cups of green lentils in nearly 3 cups of salted water with whole garlic cloves for about half an hour.  When the lentils were getting tender, I removed them from the heat and let them cool to about room temperature, while preparing the rest of the ingredients for the salad.  To put it all together, combine the following in a bowl:

  • cooked and cooled lentils
  • grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • one small cucumber, peeled and diced
  • one clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp of fresh dill, chopped
  • lemon juice to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Toss gently to combine, and enjoy!  The salad is the best of what I love about warm-weather food: big, bold flavors that are still simple and refreshing.  And when the house actually does get hot, this salad is an even better idea.  For now, though, it’s a reminder that, eventually, the snow really does melt!


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