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Monday, August 1, 2011

Meatless Monday: Heidi's Quinoa Cakes and Drying Herbs in a Dehydrator

A little while ago, my husband and I bought a new computer, an iMac, of course. We were then faced with the decision of whether or not to buy a printer.  As I type this, there are two perfectly good printer carcasses sitting, staring at me, because they would have cost more to fix than it would cost to buy an entirely new printer.  Both were free in the first place and broke within weeks or months of getting them.

We stood in Best Buy for a long time and thought "Do we really need a printer?  Is this something we'll actually use? Or will it just become another hunk of junk that we have to figure out what to do with?"  When it came down to it, my husband and I fall into two schools of thought: He sees print as an outdated medium and printers as a dying appliance.  I think print still has its place and prefer a hard copy of most things.  In fact, I still struggle with composing on the computer screen rather than writing my ideas down first.

We ended up buying the printer, if only for the scanner function, along with a cheap two year replacement guarantee, and it got me thinking about the printed things that I choose to keep around.

While I've always been a lover of books (see this post for my favorites) I've been making a conscious effort to give more of them away to friends and to allow fewer and fewer of them into my home.  (This anti-stuff stance has gotten even stronger as the nesting instinct has kicked in.)  For me, the easiest way to avoid having a book around that I won't use is to check it out from the library first, live with it for a while, and see if I miss it once I return it.  I did this with this book and ended up buying it because not only does it have many compelling recipes that I see myself making my own, but also includes a valuable reference section about substituting whole grains and natural sweeteners in other recipes.

I recently picked up this book from my library's new arrivals because I am a big fan of the blogger behind it, Heidi Swanson.

DSC03044When I pick up a cookbook, I'm not looking for it to be the end-all be-all of cookbooks.  What I need is a book that

1) has a consistent and interesting voice

2) includes clear recipes that beg me to make them

3) is carefully edited to include only the best of the author's point of view and

4) has enough content to keep me coming back and seeing something different each time I return to the book.

I enjoy a book that is full of very simple ideas, like this one, so long as each recipe I make from it is a total success.  I also have a place on my shelf for more complex involved cookbooks, especially those for ethnic foods, so long as they are very clearly written and I feel confident about each step when cooking from them.

Sadly, Heidi's book just didn't live up to my expectations.  While it includes a lot of my favorite foods and some interesting ingredients that were new to me, there just wasn't enough from this book that made me feel like it deserved a place on my bookshelf.  In fact, I had to flip through this book three times before choosing the recipe I made today because nothing else sounded that exciting to me, or the cooking methods just weren't what I was looking for.  (For example, there was a recipe for summer squash soup.  While I'd very much like to cook the squash that's in season right now, the heat advisory has me resistant to a huge simmering pot on the stove, let alone the thought of hot chunks of squash in curry broth.)

Most of the other dishes that sounded good to me were simply not something I think you need a recipe for.  An example of this was the squash with pasta, which is literally squash, garlic, onion, pasta and a little cheese.

Choosing whether or not to purchase Heidi's book forced me to ask myself the question: what does this book offer me that her blog doesn't?  When I couldn't answer that question, I was almost decided that it wasn't for me.  The final decision was made when I put this recipe together, which turned out to be just ok.  I have made lots of tweaks and will explain each as I get to it, and the result was still a little bland and the cooking method itself was tricky.

That said, I think this recipe has potential for the patient cook and am excited to share it with you today.

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Heidi's Quinoa Cakes

halved and adapted from Super Natural Every Day

(note: original recipe available here)

makes 6-8 cakes

all ingredients should be at room temperature

1 1/4 c. cooked quinoa

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 tsp. salt (could easily have been doubled)

1/2 tsp. black pepper

handful of chopped chives

1/2 white onion, minced

1/2-1 jalapeno, diced

1/2 c. panko bread crumbs

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4. c. Parmesan cheese

Begin by cooking your quinoa.  The ratio should be 1 part quinoa (rinsed thoroughly) to 1.5 parts water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 20-30 minutes.  
DSC03038Meanwhile, lightly beat the two eggs. I find it much easier to beat eggs when the pan is tilted to the side like this.

DSC03046Mince your onion finely.  If I'd done this all over again, I'd grate the onion.

DSC03047And the garlic.DSC03048And, with care, the jalapeno.  If you like it hot, keep the ribs and membranes since they're where the heat is.  If you don't like heat, omit the jalapeno or scrape out the seeds, membranes, and ribs of the jalapeno.  (Some people leave the seeds in because they add heat, but I just don't like their texture.)

DSC03055Combine all the above ingredients with the eggs.  Then, add the salt and pepper, cheese, and breadcrumbs, adding only half the breadcrumbs at first.

Then, add your cooked and cooled quinoa, which should be fluffy.

DSC03074If the mixture still is dry, add the remaining bread crumbs.  I did and found that mine were a little too dry.  This made them a little difficult to form and fry, so I came up with the following method to form the patties and fry them.

Scoop a handful of filling and squeeze it between your cupped hands making a tight ball.  Place this into the pan with a good coating of oil (I used my cast iron) over medium heat. (Like in the top left of this photo.)  Let the patty cook for a little while and then use the back of your spatula to flatten it into a patty, like in the upper right.  This should be sufficient to hold together and flip easily but you still might lose little bits here and there.  These soaked up quite a bit of oil so I replenished it often to get that nice crispy brown edge.

Let each side brown and then pull from the pan.DSC03088Even with the jalapeno these didn't have a ton of flavor on their own, though the texture was excellent.  A little extra salt can help, as could adding more spices and herbs.  Tim thought majoram and soy sauce would be a good inclusion, and we'll certainly be trying these again since we often have leftover quinoa.

Since they reminded me a bit of latkes, I served these cakes with sour cream and extra chives.

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When I ran outside to grab the chives for this dish, I decided to harvest extra and dry some herbs while the plants are in full production.  Here's a little tour of the garden and some tips for drying herbs in a dehydrator.

Watching one thing turn into an entirely different thing is the biggest pleasure of gardening.  The pepper seedlings have finally put out flowers which will eventually fruit.  I have never successfully grown a pepper from seed, so I'll be really proud once these become full fruit.

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Also a first this year is the eggplant, which has three big blossoms on it.  I can't wait to see these become purple fruits.

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Over at Billy's house, things are growing like crazy.  Seriously, look at this place:

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He gets such great light, and plants sprawl everywhere.

DSC03010Some of our lemon drop tomatoes have come in, taking the honor of the first tomato up this year.  They are so good and productive that I'm certain that we'll grow them again next year.

DSC03001The kale is thriving.

DSC03003Chard forrest!

DSC03004Little grape tomatoes.

DSC03007Squash.

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Cabbage.

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Corn!

DSC03013Everything is just loving the heat, so it's a great time to harvest and put stuff away for the winter.  Herbs grow like weeds here and are very easy to dry, so they're a great place to start both with growing and preserving.  You can dry herbs in a low oven or simply tied up in a dry place, but I was given a dehydrator this year and it's the perfect way to remove moisture without using much heat.

Start with a big bowl of your favorite herbs.  I've got basil, chives, rosemary, sage, and oregano.DSC03070Rinse them very thoroughly, paying special attention to the bottom of all the leaves, especially the ones at the base of the plant since they get the most back spray during watering.

Dry them lightly on a towel.

I have this dehydrator and like it.  When you're considering buying one, look for a dehydrator with a motor on top so the water doesn't drip into the motor, and with adjustable temperature controls.

Tips for drying in a dehydrator:

Dry as much as you can before starting.

Don't overcrowd the racks.  Pick just what you will have room to dry and don't let any pieces overlap.

Choose only the best to dehydrate.  Discard and bruised or blemished leaves.

Once thoroughly dried, herbs will be easy to crush with your fingers.  Keep them whole for storage and crush just before using.

I found it a lot easier to rinse and stack the oregano on the stems, so I left them intact.  I'll be back with follow up pictures soon!
DSC03076Apologies for the lateness of this post.  Tell me, how does your garden grow?  What are you putting up these days?

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