Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Is Quinoa Not Cool Anymore?

Quionoa is awesome. It's a complete protein that's vegan. It's easier to cook than rice, and it's healthier. You can eat it hot in stuffed squash or cold in a salad. It'll keep on the shelf in your pantry for months and be there when you need it to round out a meal. And you still get to feel like part of the in crown on occasion when you serve it to someone for the first time and teach them how to pronounce it properly.

In short, quinoa is the new soy.

Remember how all of a sudden a few years ago, we started reading everywhere about how maybe soy isn't so healthy after all, and most of it is genetically modified, and it's second only to corn on the grown-in-a-way-that-makes-absolutely-no-sense-and-is-slowly-destroying-the-land scale?

Yeah, quinoa's time has come too, apparently. I guess it's true that if something seems too good to be true it usually is. A recent article in The Guardian went and burst everybody's bubble when it declared that the rising demand for quinoa in first world countries has bumped prices up to the point where people in quinoa's native South America can't afford to eat it anymore, and they're opting for less expensive meal choices, like fast food.

Which would be bad enough if irrefutably true, but, like most things that are important, it's much more complicated than it seems at first, and the truth lies under a big pile of oversimplifications, exaggerations, misunderstandings, and facts that have been stretched to make a point. In the two weeks since the Guardian article came out there has been a flurry of criticism for it. According to Slate, there's no way rising export prices could be a bad thing for growers, and the Guardian article was blowing everything out of proportion. Other sources are saying that, while the short-term economic repercussions might not be great, we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater, and certainly there's a way to make quinoa economically sustainable. Although the general verdict seems to be that we first-world consumers are doing what we do best and forgetting to use everything in moderation, and if we're not careful we'll probably kill this golden goose, too; the implication being that we can probably go ahead and add quinoa to that ever-expanding list of things to feel guilty or, at the very least, confused about.

But I have a theory. I don't think quinoa is hurting local economies at all. I think all this bad-news stuff was started by some guy out in California who has been buying quinoa from his local, independent market since before you could get it at Whole Foods, never mind Shaws. He's annoyed that it's starting to go all mainstream, and has started a bunch of rumors to make it uncool again so he can feel counter-culture. I'm not falling for it. Nice try.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Chocolaty Peanut Butter Cookies

Putting a spin on the classic peanut butter cookie, this recipe features Taza Cinnamon Chocolate Mexicano, made right here in Somerville but available at many stores and online. I think the stone-ground texture and the extra kick of cinnamon really add a unique quality.

- 1 cup pasture-fed butter
- 1 cup peanut butter without hydrogenated vegetable oils.
- 1 cup white cane sugar
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped into 1/4 inch squares


1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Cream together butter, peanut butter, and sugars.
3. Beat in eggs.
4. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt.  Stir into batter.
5. Stir in chocolate chunks.
6. Put batter in refrigerator for one hour so it's not too sticky to work with.
7. Roll into 1 inch balls and put on ungreased cookie sheets.  Flatten each ball with a fork, making that "I'm a peanut butter cookie, what are you?" criss-cross shape.
8. Bake for 10 minutes, until golden brown.
9. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Yields 4 dozen cookies.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Fruit and Walnut Muffins

You have to be careful with muffins. Like so many other pastries, they walk an uncomfortable line between qualifying as "breakfast" and "dessert."  And why is that? You'd never confuse a tuna fish sandwich for breakfast food, (or dessert for that matter) so why does, say, a cinnamon roll count as something that should be able to start your day off right?

I don't know, but it's definitely one more reason to find out what's in your food, whether that means preparing it yourself or being able to have an open discussion with your local baker. While muffins and other pastries can make a great quick breakfast when you're running late, they are not all created equal, and some contain little more than sugar and white flour. In addition to being a poor choice for your health in the long run, these empty calories won't give you the energy you need from the first meal of the day, and will more often that not leave you daydreaming about lunch by 10 AM.

So here's my attempt at a breakfast treat that's high in protein and low in simple carbohydrates.


1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup organic, unsweetened apple sauce (make sure it doesn't contain citric acid)
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped dried fruit of your choice (I prefer cranberries)
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts


1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Grease muffin tins. 
3. Sift together dry ingredients in a large bowl.
4. In a smaller bowl, blend maple syrup, apple sauce, eggs and vanilla until well blended.
5. Dump wet ingredients into the large bowl and stir just until blended. Texture should still be thick.
6. Fold in fruit and nuts until evenly mixed.
7. Fill muffin tins about 1/2 way. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until muffins are golden brown and a tester comes out clean. Set the tins to cool on a rack for a few minutes before gently separating muffins from tin with a knife and popping them out. These will get stale pretty quick, so I recommend leaving a few out at a time and keeping the rest frozen.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Dinners With Friends: Avocado Edition

Here we are a week into the new year, and I'm sure we've all heard our share of the uncomfortable laughter regarding diets and exercise plans that have already failed in the face of time and energy consuming obstacles like work, family, and the fact that Netflix automatically starts the next episode of Breaking Bad 14 seconds after the end of the one you just watched.

So let's focus on a success story for just a minute. When my friend Krisha told me three years ago that she was going vegan, I nodded and smiled the way you might nod and smile at a five-year-old who announces that she is going to ride her pony into outer space.

But she seems to have stuck it out for the long haul, making me glad I didn't have any money riding on it. You can read more about her experiences on her blog, Made From Real Vegans.

A few nights ago, we made dinner together, using a recipe for Superfood Salad from Iowa Girl Eats
Featuring black beans, pomegranate seeds, onion, quinoa (we substituted brown rice) and a lemon vinaigrette dressing, this salad has enough different flavors to keep every bite interesting, and enough heartiness to avoid that feeling of eating rabbit food that so often is the trademark of an ill-thought-out vegetarian meal.

The real secret ingredient, however, was the avocado. Avocado is one of those foods whose texture makes me vaguely uncomfortable. It took me forever to even accept the idea of guacamole. So I went into this dinner with the thought, "There's so much else in there, maybe I won't even notice the avocado." To my surprise I ended up thinking it was one of the better parts of the salad, and caught myself trying to grab an extra piece on every forkful.

The great thing about avocado is it's the quintessential "good" fat, with a greasy, hearty taste that can be used as a substitute for cheese or condiments on sandwiches. I hear it's also great as an ingredient in cake frosting! I guess it's a case of learning to use that somewhat creepy greasy texture in a way that makes sense. It's still going to be quite awhile before I just eat a naked avocado.

Shoulda cleaned stove before I took this picture.
So I'm thinking, as a new feature on the blog, I'm going to host a dinner party once a month featuring an ingredient that scares me. Or better yet, an ingredient that scares YOU! So go ahead and admit it in the comments section. Tell me what challenges you want me to take on. Whether it's something you've always hated that you'd like to revisit, or something you're just not sure how to prepare. Bonus points if it's specifically with the intention of accommodating a dietary restriction.