Black Bean & Quinoa Everything

All the Trader Joe chatter is about these things lately: Quinoa and Black Bean infused Tortilla Chips. I bought a bag to try at home. Gone in sixty seconds. I went back to the store to buy ten bags and they were gone from the shelves. I asked a crew member if there were any in the back and he, and a few more crew members, burst out laughing. "Girl, those chips became like Peppermint Joe-Joes.  People are lining up at the truck for them!"  

As a testimonial to how perfectly freakin' AWESOME the crew is at Trader Joe's, one of them took my cell phone number and promised to text me when the next shipment came in. And she actually did:

Hm, usually my love has a better effect than that. Anyway, I hurried over and scored six bags and there was this great communal love-fest in the snack aisle with a bunch of us loading up our carts and discussing the best way to serve these chips. People confessed to eating an entire bag solo before dinner. One guy insisted we try them with TJ's corn relish, and I myself converted a few people to trying them with the peach salsa. Then a nearby Crew member went in for the kill:

"Have you tried our Tri-Color Quinoa yet?"

We turned as one, eyebrows raised. Pardon?

"The Tri-Color Quinoa. Over in the pasta aisle. There's a recipe on the back of the package for Black Bean & Quinoa fritters that sounds like it would be great with the peach salsa, too."

I was gone. I love black bean fritters to begin with, and this sounded really good. I ended up not following the recipe to the letter because I was too lazy to get out the food processor. I'll leave it up to you to try their way. Here's my way.

Black Bean & Quinoa Fritters (My Way)

  •  1 red bell pepper, diced small
  • 1/2 red onion, diced small
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
  • 3 cups quinoa, cooked in chicken broth (I got confused here. Did they mean measure out 3 cups quinoa and then cook it in classic 2-to-1 ratio, in this case 6 cups of broth? Or to prepare enough quinoa in chicken broth to yield 3 cups? I went with the latter and cooked 2 cups quinoa in 4 cups broth and the yield was enough with some left over)
  • 2-3 eggs (start with 2, you may need to add another to get the ingredients to bond and the fritters to hold their shape)

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Actually, if you combine all without the egg, you could stop here, add a vinaigrette and end up with a very nice salad.

But add the egg, mix it all up. Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Scoop up a generous tablespoon of quinoa, drop gently into the oil and gently flatten into a patty. My first batch fell apart and I needed to add the third egg.

Fry until brown on both sides and drain on paper towels.

To go along with these babies, I had a salad spinner basket full of greens from the garden: yellow swiss chard, beet tops, and leaves from Purple Peacock Broccoli, which is a cross between broccoli and kale so the leaves are edible. To prep the greens, I had something from the Department of I've Been Meaning to Do This for Years but Never Got Around to It:  flavored olive oil.  

I don't know what's taken me so long, it's not like this is a time-consuming, labor-intensive chore. I guess it was just being in Homegoods and finding a couple of glass bottles for olive oil on clearance and deciding one of them would be exclusively for herb-infused oil. And there's nothing to this at all: wash and dry sprigs of thyme, rosemary, oregano, whatever you want, and cram them into the bottle. Peel and smash a few cloves of garlic, slice them lengthwise so you can get them through the neck of the bottle too. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes. Then funnel in your olive oil. Stop up the bottle, let it sit a few days. Next thing you know you're using it to sauté everything, dunking bread in it, drizzling it over pasta. When the oil runs out, just pour more in. And be sure you arrange it on a cutting board with a bouquet of just-picked roses and a lemon, because that's what all the cool people do.

So here's the Money Shot of sautéed greens and quinoa-black bean fritters. Amazing how that entire basket of greens cooked down to a wilted lump. But fabulous cooked down in the infused oil and then braised with a little added chicken broth. Top the fritters with a spoonful of peach salsa and you are in business.



Meatballs 3 Ways

Trader Joe's pre-cooked turkey meatballs are the bomb. I'm never without two or three bags of them in the downstairs freezer. These things have to be terrible for you, the sodium content is probably off the chart. But they are always there when I need them. And when you have four different people with four different ideas for dinner, meatballs are the common thread.

Case in point, tonight. I was wanting soup. Panda and Redman wanted yellow rice with peas. Jeeps pointed out that the bag of kale in the crisper drawer was approaching slimehood and needed to be used.

Now, watch...

One soup pot on the back burner. Olive oil. Three carrots scraped and sliced.  A can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed. Half a pint of grape tomatoes.  Saute all. Add chicken broth. Chopped parsley if you have it. Lower the heat, cover and let it do its thing.

One skillet on the front burner. Olive oil. Five big cloves garlic, minced. Work it. Add half the bag of kale, toss with tongs. Cover and let wilt. Add other half. Salt and pepper. Toss. Cover and let it do its thing.

Third skillet down. Olive oil. Half the bag of pre-cooked meatballs. Brown them.

The stove now looks like this. Jeeps insisted I take the picture so I could prove I wasn't putting three different nights' dinners into one post. As if I would do such a thing.

And now (drum roll), from these three pots and one tupperware from the fridge, I give you dinner:

The kids had meatballs with their yellow rice. Jeeps constructed yellow rice, kale, and meatballs. I dropped meatballs and kale into my soup.

Everyone was happy. And personally, I think mine was best.

Trader Joe's Watermelon Salad

So when you first walk into Trader Joe's, there are, right inside the automatic doors, two big bins of whatever produce is usually on sale. Yesterday it was navel oranges and watermelons. On the chalkboard attached to the watermelon bin, it said, "Watermelon! Delicious in a salad! Try it with peach salsa, basil and gorgonzola cheese!"

And I thought, "Um. OK. I'll do that." I always appreciate direction.

So I bought a watermelon, gorgonzola cheese, and a thing of Joe's peach salsa (which I love anyway). Basil I already had in the garden. And today for lunch, I gave it a try.

And wow!  Hey!  This was a pretty awesome salad.  I love the watermelon and basil together, and the peach salsa gives it a nice kick. To be truthful, I am not a huge gorgonzola fan. I see the point of having the savory counterpart to the sweetness of the fruit, but if I try this again I will use feta cheese instead, and see if that's more in line with my taste. Still, for a summer salad, this one rocked, and went perfectly with the little bit of grilled chicken I had leftover from last night.

Thank you Joe!!

Cauliflower Corn Soup

Here's another one from my old recipe book of Martha Stewart clippings. The full name is "Cauliflower and Roasted Corn soup with Chanterelle Mushrooms (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fungus)."

The kids were to be sleeping over my mother-in-law's so I was looking forward to making something adult-oriented. Panda came home from a birthday party with a stomach ache and ended up staying home, but she was only interested in saltines and applesauce so I could continue with the menu as planned.

Jeeps was shopping in the vicinity of DeCicco's so I sent him in for a few ingredients, including aforementioned chanterelles, which I was positive DeCicco's would have. Alas, they didn't. After a little debate we figured baby portobellos would probably make a good substitute.  

Jeeps kept sending excited texts, such as, "This place rocks!"  "Un-be-LEEV-able!"  and my favorite, "Did you SEE the beer section?!"  The excitement was warranted. DeCicco's stocks a minimal selection of wine but has an entire long wall devoted to artisan, hand-crafted and locally brewed beer. So home my baby came with his new suit, new shoes, shallots, mushrooms, bay leaves, fresh thyme, and a six-pack of Old Slugger.

Cauliflower and Roasted Corn Soup

  • 4 dried bay leaves
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 ears fresh corn, kernels shaved from the cob (and no, I did not shave. I had a bag of Trader Joe's sweet roasted corn. I measured out 1 1/2 cups for the soup and 1 cup to roast for garnish, more on this later)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 ounces fresh chanterelle mushrooms, wiped clean (I used half my 8-oz box of mushrooms, wiped clean and quartered. At the end of the day, the mushrooms were so delicious in the soup that I wished I'd used the entire box)
  • 1 1/2 pounds cauliflower, cut into florets.
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • Cayenne pepper to taste

The recipe starts off with you roasting the kernels from one of the ears of corn at 400 for 5 minutes. I had my one cup of reserved corn and decided to use a trick that my friend Cyd taught me, which is to toast the kernels on the stove with salt and spice. Drain the corn and pat dry as much as possible before putting the kernels in a dry, non-stick skillet on medium-low heat. Sprinkle with salt and a pinch of paprika. As with caramelized onions, low heat and long time is the trick. Just babysit them and shake the pan every now and again. Once they are nice and browned and crunchy, set aside.

Melt butter in your soup pot over medium heat, add shallots, garlic, onion. Cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add mushrooms, continue to cook until mushrooms soften, another 4 minutes. Remove mushrooms from pot and set aside.

Add unroasted corn, cauliflower, stock, bay leaves and thyme (Ms. Stewart advises to tie up the bay and thyme in cheesecloth to make a bouquet garni; if you have cheesecloth, go right ahead, but don't sweat it—at the end you just pick out the leaves and stems by hand). Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, until cauliflower is tender.

Remove bay leaves and thyme stems and discard. Working in batches in blender, or with immersion blender, puree soup until smooth. Return soup to pot over medium-low heat. Stir in reserved mushrooms. Add cayenne and salt to taste.  

Serve garnished with toasted kernels and fresh chopped parsley.

To go with the soup, I had a tube of Trader Joe's crescent biscuit dough. I haven't had these babies in years. They can't possibly be good for you but they are sooooo good.

The soup was delicious.  Even the invalid had a little bit in a ramekin, without the mushrooms.  I am not a mushroom aficionado at all so I don't know what kind of difference the chanterelles would have made, but if I ever see them in the store, I know I'll be giving this soup another go.

Let's talk tofu...(and Joe)

"A brick of tofu. Gently warmed in brown butter."

So sayeth my friend Mieke, recounting tales of her mother's horrible, yet memorable cooking. This meal sounded particularly dire.

I've tried to make tofu memorable a bunch of different ways over the years, and when Panda was 2 or 3, I hit upon this sentence in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest (one of the Moosewood cookbooks): "Cut into cubes, dust with cornstarch and fry in sesame oil."

I cut, dusted and fried, and that's the way I've made it ever since. The kids eat it, we eat it. You can debate the healthiness either way but if you're trying to go meatless a few nights a week, it's a sure thing.

And we have Joe on our side.

I drive my friend Stacie crazy when I go on about Trader Joe's—apparently he does not reside south of the Mason-Dixon line—but I can't help it. I don't know what I'd do without him. He is a harried mother's true friend. Especially when it comes to the frozen food section, which is filled with staples of last-minute-whip-up-ability. Vegetable birds nests (little latke-type fritters of potato, carrot, onion and scallion); spanikopita triangles; different kinds of gyoza (so essential to Thai coconut soup).

Best of all, vegetable fried rice. Can't be without three or four bags of this stuff in the freezer at all times. Redman will eat fried rice down to the last grain and it's one of my best fallbacks after scrambled eggs. In fact, I put a scrambled egg in it.

Tofu with Fried Rice à la Trader Joe-San

  • 1 brick of extra-firm tofu, drained on paper towels
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • Canola and sesame oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 or 2 bags prepared vegetable fried rice
  • 1 or 2 eggs

Cut tofu into 1" cubes, as such (and yes, I DO have to show all the steps because I'm very proud of how I cut the cubes with one hand while holding a camera in the other, do you mind?):

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons canola oil and one tablespoon sesame oil.

Yes, that is a reused ziplock bag which at one time did hold Panda's collection of Silly Bandz.  Good eye!

Yes, that is a reused ziplock bag which at one time did hold Panda's collection of Silly Bandz.  Good eye!

Put cornstarch in a ziplock bag, add tofu. Zip the bag. Make sure it's zipped. Check again (can you tell I've made this mistake too many times?). If the bag is confirmed as zipped, shake to coat the cubes thoroughly.

Fry in the oil, shaking the pan often so that all sides are browned. Transfer to a paper-towel lined serving dish and sprinkle with salt. Add another tablespoon oil to same skillet and cook rice until thawed, stirring often. If desired, scramble eggs, making small pieces, and stir into rice.

Shown above is just one bag of rice, and all this here will feed the 4 of us with nothing left. If you have more people, or hungrier people, it's easily augmented by using another bag, or steaming some broccoli or asparagus and serving with soy sauce or any asian dipping sauce.

To the ruler, the people are heaven; to the people, food is heaven.
— Ancient Chinese Proverb


Good Luck Salad

I couldn't think of anything for dinner tonight. I felt like I had to come up with something spectacular for the sake of the blog, but since this is a blog about real life, then those nights when I can't think of damn thing for dinner get included. Even take-out will be included. So there.

By the way, when do you decide what to make? Sometimes I have an idea in my head all day. Sometimes I don't get inspired until 5:00. Other times, like tonight, I got nothing. In which case there is nothing to do but surrender gracefully:

No shame in frozen pizza. And by the way, have you tried Trader Joe's Tarte d'Alsace? Actually, correction, it's not a Trader Joe's branded product, but they sell it there. It's made by Maitre Pierre but it is delicious—flatbread with gruyere cheese, ham and caramelized onions. Pandagirl will eat a whole one herself. So will I.

And speaking of Panda, she came up with the idea of making Good Luck Salad tonight, so we will be joined by my lovely sous-chef.  In her lovely panda hat.

My delicious friend Claudia taught me about Good Luck Salad, which is traditional New Year's fare in the south. We're pretty addicted to it up North here and eat it at any given opportunity, which is why my pantry is always stocked with black-eyed peas and hominy.

Good Luck Salad

Mix all. Serve. Die.

And voila, an excellent accompaniment to your frozen pizza on a night such as tonight, and a perfect dish for your aspiring young cook to put together.