Quinoa, spinach & chickpea soup

Quinoa, spinach & chickpea soup

Quinoa? Aw, man, I was totally into quinoa back when nobody knew about it. Back before it became all popular. I used to buy it at this small store that was, like, all hardcore vegetarian stuff, and, like imports. Quinoa was so cool – it was my favorite, and it totally spoke to me. It was my perfect food, man. And then it started getting bigger, and playing the big stadiums, like shoprite, or, you know, pathmark, and suddenly everybody’s eating quinoa. And it’s in cookies, and, pancakes, and bread, and in mother-flippin statues of Mount Rushmore probably. Totally sold out. It’s so sad when that happens to a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. So sad.

That’s right, I ate quinoa in 1993! That’s got to make me one of the first wave of quinoaers, right? Old school! Except for maybe the Incas. They might have come first. When I first met David (in 1993) he made a quinoa-barley soup that his co-worker had recommended. And it was really good! I have to admit that I don’t cook with it as often as I should, and I’m ashamed to admit that it might be because it’s so popular now! It’s so earnestly vegetarian, which is a quality I admire in a food, but sometimes it makes me take a step back from it for a while. Silly, I know!!

If you’re looking for a way to introduce quinoa to somebody who hasn’t tried it, this might be it, because the quinoa is so much a harmonious part of everything going on around it. Malcolm asked what the little floating curls were, and I said, “sea monkeys!” Fortunately he’s too young to know what those are, so I revised my answer to “the ultimate Incan super-food, that made them into superheroes!” He liked the soup a lot, anyway.

I think this soup turned out really well! I’m quite proud of it! It’s got a really pleasing flavor and texture. Very savory, soft, but substantial, and comforting. I grated the zucchini, which, once cooked, gave it a perfect sort of texture. And I puréed half the spinach and chopped the other. I used the broth left over from cooking french lentils, but I think you could make a simple vegetable broth and it would be fine. It’s as close to chicken soup as I’ve come since I stopped eating chicken soup. And probably better for you! It’s simply seasoned with fresh thyme, nutmeg and cinnamon. I wasn’t sure this combination would work, but I went ahead with it on a whim, and it’s really good!

Here’s Carnaval ayacuchano from an album called Peru: Kingdom of the Sun, the Incan Heritage. I love this song!
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Carrot cake with pistachio crumb topping

Carrot cake with pistachio crumble topping

In our house, when we put the boys to bed, David reads stories to Isaac, and I sit next to Malcolm reading my novel while he reads his. (Pretty clever, huh? Reading time for me!) Then we go downstairs and yell at them periodically to Be quiet! Get back in bed! Get to sleep! (They share a room, and it’s nice to hear them chatting for a long time after lights out – what on earth do they talk about? But really, they need their sleep!) I just started reading The Brothers Karamazov. I like it so far, but it reminds me of reading War and Peace, which was so confusing at first because everybody has about three different names that they’re called by, and they all sound sort of similar, and I have trouble keeping them all apart. Which reminded me, in turn, of my brilliant idea that somebody should make a hip hop version of War and Peace. I think it would be wonderful! Epic! Here’s why. Rappers have a lot of different names, and I sometimes have trouble keeping them straight. And…so many of the concerns explored in War and Peace are also of primary importance in hip hop songs. Religion, violence, love, lust, greed, over-indulgence in alcohol. Can’t you just see it? Or maybe hear it, it should probably be an opera, right?

Ahem. Sorry for the creeping tangential nature of this post. Anyway – I can sometimes hear snippets of the stories David reads to Isaac, and yesterday one of them mentioned carrot cake. Carrot cake!?! Said Isaac. What on earth is that? You know, said David, it’s like pumpkin bread – it’s sweet and sweet-spicy. You could see the little wheels turning in Isaac’s head as he processed this information. And, of course, you could hear the little wheels creaking rustily in my much older head as I planned to make a carrot cake. Why not, thought I, why not purée the carrots, instead of grating them? Just for a change. And then my mind wandered back to an Indian dessert I had recently read about (I like to read the dessert sections of my Indian cookbooks while I eat my breakfast, don’t you?) It was a sort of carrot pudding, with pistachios and cardamom. Sounded good! But I didn’t want to just stir the pistachios in. I thought I’d make them into a crumbly topping with lots of butter and sugar, to make this even less of a healthy cake. It turned out very good! The cake is velvety, and the pistachios are a perfect crunchy little accent. Isaac came running into the kitchen, with a beaming smile, saying “you made carrot cake!” and boys both give it their seal of approval (crumbs all over the living room).

Here’s the B 52s with Cake

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Spicy machica cocoa baked pudding

baked pudding

The other week I bought some machica at the Super Tropical Food Market. I’ve been thinking about what to do with it ever since. What is machica, you ask? Well, it’s toasted barley flour. The machica that I bought is from Ecuador, and according to my extensive research, when it’s at home it’s used to thicken hot drinks. I saw several recipes for machica hot chocolate, that sounded very nice. And then I was browsing through Mrs. Beeton’s Everyday Cooking. (There’s such strange stuff in there! So matter-of-factly presented! It’s irresistible.) She has a recipe for baked puddings made with very finely ground grains! Including barley! The idea of combining Ecuadorian machica and a recipe of Mrs Beetons seemed like the best kind of fusion cooking, so I gave it a go. I decided to flavor it with dark cocoa powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. I didn’t want to overwhelm the subtle flavor of toasted barley, but I thought it might be pleasant to fashion it after spiced cocoa thickened with Machica. The resulting pudding was very tasty. The texture is comforting, and it has a nice balance of tastes, with the toasted barley-flavor subtle but distinct.

Here’s Miles Davis with Tasty Pudding.
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Mexican hot chocolate brownies – chewy v. cake-y

Mexican hot chocolate brownies

Here at the test kitchens of The Ordinary, we do the hard work so you don’t have to. I made two big trays of brownies in as many days, and then I forced my poor beleaguered family to try both and decide which they liked better. It was an arduous job, I tell you! Why did we do this? In an attempt to determine why some brownies turn out chewy, and some turn out cakey. And why some have that crackly, dried mud looking top, which is so oddly appealing.

These particular brownies were inspired by Mexican hot chocolate, that completely perfect combination of chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon. More than that – they contain Mexican hot chocolate. That’s right, we didn’t just add vanilla and cinnamon, we melted one of the hot chocolate tablets with the butter, and stirred it right into the brownies. And then we added vanilla and cinnamon! And then we ate them with cream whipped with vanilla and cinnamon! These smell so ridiculously good when you’re cooking them that it will make you dizzy.

The results of our fiendish experiments were inconclusive, because everybody liked all of them. However, we have gathered a small amount of data. If you use white sugar, you will get a crackly top. If you use brown sugar, you will have a smooth and placid surface. If you add two eggs, you will have a cake-y brownie. If you use only one egg, you will have a chewy fudgy brownie. If you want a cake-y brownie, you should add a bit more baking powder – 1/2 t. as opposed to 1/4. I can’t guarantee the scientific reliability of these facts. You might have to make several trays yourself, purely for the noble cause of verifying this experiment.

Brownies are incredibly easy to make, which is a good thing when you’re making tray after tray of them, day after day. You simply melt some butter, stir some stuff in, put them in a tray and cook them for a while. The Mexican hot chocolate tablet I used was made by chocolate Ibarra. It contains cocoa nibs, sugar and cinnamon. It melted quite nicely in a few tablespoons of water, and then mixed well with the melting butter. I think you could probably use any brand, but you may have to experiment to find out! Oh, and I should add that, in my book, brownies have to have chocolate chips in them. It’s required!

Here’s Chocolate Caliente by Mike Laure
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Pumpkin popovers

pumpkin popovers

These little popovers are very subtly spiced with cinnamon and cayenne. I wanted them to go well with our kale and chickpea stew (which they did!) but also to be good warmed up in the morning with butter and jam. It’s really sinking in that it’s winter, here, with icy drizzle and everlastingly grey days, and these are a good antidote. They have a nice warm color, a mild sweet flavor, and a lovely light soft texture. They’re also incredibly easy to make! I was reading Mrs Beaton’s cook book, the other day (as one does) and I think these are related to her chapter on “batters.” Which makes them also related to yorkshire pudding, perhaps the most famous of batters! Yorkshire pudding is cooked with a bit of dripping in the bottom of the pan, and these are cooked with butter. I let the butter get burnt, because I like the flavor, but if you don’t, just put the pan in the oven for a minute before you’re ready to cook.

Here’s Tricky’s Pumpkin
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