Roasted and caramelized autumn quinoa

Potlucks can be risky for vegetarians and vegans in mixed groups. You might be tempted to make a dessert or appetizer, either to try a fun new recipe you’ve been eyeing or to save a bit of money over buying the ingredients for a main dish. Then you get there and realize the main dishes ended up all being meaty and you eat a dinner comprised of potato chips and cookies, maybe with a few leaves of salad if you’re lucky.

So last Sunday when I realized I had a potluck to go to in a few hours that I had completely forgotten to plan for, I knew I needed to make something quick but hearty — just in case.

Quinoa salads fit the bill. Quick, high protein, filling, delicious, and infinitely adaptable based on what you put in it.

Since it’s autumn, I wanted something with rich, roasted flavors. Without spending all day on it.

Cue my freezer. Low and slow caramelized onions and roasted garlic bring this quinoa’s flavor to the next level, and luckily I had both stashed in my freezer. If you don’t have these items ready to go, this dish will take a little bit longer to make, but it’s the perfect opportunity to make extra to freeze. (I flash freeze my roasted garlic as individual cloves spread out on a baking sheet, then put them in a labeled freezer bag. I freeze my huge batch of caramelized onions in 1/2 cup portions, then again, put all of the portions in one labeled freezer bag. Seriously though, freeze some caramelized onions.)

Roasted butternut squash and fresh chard and thyme round out the garlic and onion into a hearty, veggie-filled, protein-packed dish that can be served warm, at room temperature, or chilled. This makes it perfect for potlucks as you don’t have to worry about serving it at a particular temperature. If you’re eating it at home, enjoy it slightly warmed when the air is crisp, and chilled when you just wish it would get crisp already.

roasted and caramelized autumn quinoaRoasted and Caramelized Autumn Quinoa

Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish

1/2 a medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed *
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1/2 cup caramelized onions (from about 1 large onion, use only olive oil for vegan dish)
10-12 cloves roasted garlic
1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cup water
2-3 fresh chard leaves, stems removed sliced into ribbons
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves stripped from woody stalks
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss butternut squash cubes with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Spread in an even layer on a baking sheet (lined with a Silpat if desired to ease cleanup). Bake for 30-40 minutes until pieces are slightly browned and fork-tender. Set aside to cool.

If you do not have roasted garlic ready to go, bake it at the same time as your squash. Cut off the tip of the head of garlic to expose the cloves inside the paper skin. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, then wrap in a square of aluminum foil. Throw it on the pan with the squash and it’ll be good to go at the same time.

Put quinoa in a mesh strainer and rinse with plenty of cool water to avoid having a bitter taste to your cooked quinoa. Add 1 teaspoon olive oil to a medium pot over medium heat. Add rinsed quinoa and toast, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes. Add water, then cover and lower the heat to the lowest possible setting. Simmer for 15 minutes. Then remove the pot from heat without uncovering and let sit 5 minutes more. Remove lid and fluff with a fork.

Let quinoa cool slightly, then stir in caramelized onions. Properly caramelized onions should melt right in and become almost imperceptible. Fold in the chard, which will then be lightly cooked from the steam from the warm quinoa.

Fold in butternut squash, garlic, and thyme. Taste, then add salt and pepper as desired. Serve warm, room temperature, or cold. Garnish with thyme sprigs.

* Note: wear gloves when you’re prepping the butternut squash to avoid the difficult-to-remove drying residue on your hands.

Bite-size apple cider snickerdoodles

I’m done with sticky, sweaty summer days. Done. It’s already gone back to being dark when I wake up in the morning for work, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s fall. No matter what the thermometer says.

I can’t wait to make hearty soups and pumpkiny things and apple desserts and various of eats and drinks infused with cinnamon and nutmeg and all the other spices that make you think of sweater weather.

So, you know, why not start now? I decided I’m going to will autumn into being. With some cookies.

apple cider snickerdoodlesI went to a wedding yesterday that was inspired by the couple’s tradition of making an apple crisp together every fall. I mention this for two reasons. 1) This put me in the mood to make an apple dessert of my own. 2) I really want to show somebody, anybody, everybody the awesome present my partner and I made for them.

apple crisp aleApple Crisp Ale, brewed by the mister, bottled by the two of us, and labeled and packaged by me using some of their engagement photos.

Okay, okay, back to the program.

I wanted to make an apple dessert. To narrow it down, I needed something not too messy to eat and easy to transport to my board game happy hour this week. I considered apple hand-pies… but all that assembly, whew. Cookies were definitely a better bet. But how to infuse them with apple-y goodness? I’ll be honest, 90% of the reason I decided to use apple cider is because that meant I wouldn’t have to do any of the coring, cutting, and peeling prep necessitated by using whole apples. This really (sorry) appeeled to me.

I poked around to see kind of apple cider cookies were already out there on the old internets. What presented itself over and over again was this strange recipe using an apple cider flavored just-add-water drink mix. I had no idea such a thing existed… and I was certainly not interested in purchasing any. The handful of recipes I found that used actual apple cider called for a few tablespoons, maybe a third of a cup at most. This didn’t seem like it would impart the concentrated apple cider flavor I was looking for.

I reflected on the lovely apple cider caramels I made last year from smitten kitchen. The whole recipe starts with four cups of apple cider boiled into oblivion to create a half cup of sweet and sticky apple syrup. This syrup is then used in place of some of the sugar to bring a natural, apple-y flavor and sweetness to the table. Bingo.

apple cider snickerdoodlesThis makes a looooot of bitty cookies, which is perfect for a party where you want people to get cookies in their mouth instead of crumbs on your floor. If you’d prefer, feel free to roll the dough balls a little bigger and bake longer as needed for fewer, larger cookies.

Bite-Size Apple Cider Snickerdoodles
Adapted from Snickerdoodles by Joy of Baking

Makes approximately 12 dozen mini cookies

4 cups apple cider
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

In a medium saucepan, boil apple cider uncovered over medium high heat to reduce. This will take 40-60 minutes depending on how high you keep the heat and the size of your pot. Stir occasionally, then more frequently as it starts to boil down. Keep it bubblin’ until it’s reduced to between 1/3 cup and 1/2 cup of thick syrup. Transfer to a heatproof, oiled bowl or measuring cup and let cool in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the brown sugar and cooled apple cider syrup until integrated. Add butter and beat again until fully combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating between each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add dry ingredients, then beat again on low speed until the dough comes together. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

In a shallow bowl mix together the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Shape dough into 3/4-inch round balls. Roll each ball in the spiced sugar coating, then place on baking sheet at least 2 inches apart (I fit 20 cookies per half-size baking sheet). Use the bottom of a glass to gently flatten the dough balls.

Bake the cookies for 7 to 8 minutes — until they are firm around the edges but still soft in the middle, and just turning light golden brown. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack until cool.

Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

More Beyond Meat experiments: autumnal chicken-free salad

So, remember Beyond Meat? Well, I found out that Roots Market is selling it in five pound food service bags. So you can guess what I picked up last week.

They sell the big bags frozen, which answers a question you may have had — yes, it freezes fine, so there’s no need to worry if you want to stock up. It’s still at a pretty high price point — I paid about $40 for the five pounds. But once they roll out nationwide I hope to see the price drop quite a bit.

With so much Beyond Meat at my disposal, I decided to tackle something I wasn’t all too optimistic about: chicken salad. I was worried that without cooking it into something, the Beyond Meat wouldn’t be up to snuff.

It’s not like I have a super refined chicken salad palate. I mean, I ate a ton of chicken salad as a kid. Just not good chicken salad. Canned chicken breast (blech) mixed with mayonnaise, salt, and pepper. That’s it. My dad stocked up on the canned chicken from Costco, so we had pyramids of it in the pantry. Mayonnaise lasts forever in the fridge. It was quick, easy, and we always had the ingredients.

Yeah.

Anyway, I promise this is way better than just fatty-salty. It’s got a lot going on; it’s creamy-salty-sweet-herby-tangy-crunchy. It’s an autumnal, Thanksgiving-y blend, with veggies and cranberries and pumpkin seeds all rounded out with a hearty dose of fresh sage and thyme. I even used Greek yogurt in place of some of the mayonnaise for a little bit of sass. And… the Beyond Meat holds up perfectly. I think it tastes delicious, but it’s been a while since I’ve had chicken. My omnivorous mister says: “It is a pretty good ringer for boneless, skinless chicken breast. It is nowhere close to a juicy roast.”

I’m cool with that.

autumnal chicken-free salad(Since this post was originally published, I have edited the recipe to reflect the slightly changed retail formulation of Beyond Meat after the national rollout.)

Autumnal Chicken-Free Salad
Adapted from Cranberry-Walnut Chicken Salad by Smitten Kitchen

Serves 6

1 3/4 pound Beyond Meat Lightly Seasoned Chicken-Free Strips, shredded
1-2 celery ribs, finely diced
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup hulled, roasted pepitas
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt *
1/2 cup mayonnaise
 *
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, stripped off the woody stalk
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Fill a medium pot with water and bring to a boil. Add Beyond Meat Chicken-Free Strips and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain, then place in a medium bowl filled with cold water and ice. (Alternatively, let cool and then chill in the fridge if you are doing this ahead of time. You can also safely use the strips “raw”, but the texture is much better and they are easier to shred if you cook them.)

Once cool, shred the Beyond Meat strips with two forks (or your hands, I won’t judge).

Chop up your celery and shallots. The size of the dice is up to personal preference, but I like to go pretty fine for two reasons: the shallot benefits from having the flavor dispersed pretty evenly, and my mister is not a huge fan of raw celery so I have to chop it finely so it’s not too stringy.

So, toss your chopped veggies on top of the Chicken-Free Strips. While you’re at it, add the dried cranberries and pepitas.

Mix mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, vinegar, herbs, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. When you add the thyme, crush the leaves slightly with your fingers to get the oils going. Stir everything together until dressing is combined.

Pour dressing over the other stuff and toss until everything is fully coated. Give it a taste and salt and pepper to taste. I like to serve over a big bed of baby spinach, but it’s obviously equally at home in a sandwich, wrap, on crackers. Do what you do.

* Vegan substitutions: Instead of mayonnaise, use an equal amount of Veganaise or your choice of vegan mayonnaise. Instead of Greek yogurt, try So Delicious Dairy-Free Greek Yogurt. If you can’t find that locally, you can try straining your favorite plain soy yogurt to thicken it — start with double the amount of yogurt — or simply use more vegan mayo.

Rosemary garlic potatoes soup, instead of binging on french fries

When I found this Sweet Potato and Sausage Soup, I initially set out to make a plain old vegetarian version of it. I figured I’d just omit the sausage and add some smoked paprika, throw in some hearty beans and call it a day. Sounds pretty good, right?

This is not what happened. As I was driving to the grocery store, for some reason I became fixated on the rosemary garlic fries I’ve eaten way too many times at a craft brewery/bar kind of near my ‘hood, the Brewer’s Art. There was nothing I wanted more at that moment than to stuff my face with those rosemary garlic fries.

I took a detour on my way to the grocery store to stop by this house a bunch of my friends live/have lived in. One friend planted a rosemary bush when she lived there; it’s now gigantic, and sadly I think only one current resident actually uses it, so I’ve been welcome to help myself as needed. So, I pilfered several woody, fragrant stalks. I may have received a few strange looks from passers-by for waltzing up to a house and rooting through the bushes, but oh well. It was necessary. For rosemary garlic fun times.

So, this soup isn’t exactly french fries. But that pungent, kick in the face rosemary-garlic combo that I was craving? Oh yeah. (“That’s more garlic than I would eat in a year,” my garlic-averse friend Emily said when I gushed to her about this recipe.)

Aside from the objectively awesome garlic overload (sorry Emily), the antioxidant/vitamin-rich sweet potatoes and spinach, and fiber/protein-filled white beans are an added bonus.

rosemary garlic potatoes soup

Rosemary Garlic Potatoes Soup
Adapted from Sweet Potato and Sausage Soup by Smitten Kitchen

Serves 4-6

4 tablespoons olive oil, separated
1 medium onion, chopped
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 medium sweet potatoes
2 medium Yukon gold potatoes
6 cups water
2-3 tablespoons not-poultry seasoning
1 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed (I used Great Northern, but Cannellini or Navy beans are fine too)
5 ounces fresh baby spinach
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Peel your sweet potatoes. Quarter lengthwise, then slice into 1/4-inch thick slices. Slice up the Yukon gold potatoes the same, but go ahead and leave the skins on.

Heat 2 tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add garlic and rosemary and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until fragrant. Remove from pot and set aside. Raise to medium heat, then add remaining oil and onions, then cook for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add sweet and white potatoes potatoes and cook, stirring often, until beginning to soften — about 12 minutes.

Add water, not-poultry seasoning, and half of garlic/rosemary mixture to the pot. Bring to a boil and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are soft — about 20 minutes.

Using potato masher, mash up the potatoes to your preference. Add white beans to pot. Stir in spinach, drop the heat to super low, and cover. Remove from heat as soon as spinach turns a vivid dark green, just a minute or two. Stir in remaining rosemary/garlic mixture. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Not-chicken and dumplings made with Beyond Meat

So, have you heard of Beyond Meat? Despite having possibly the worst name for a faux meat product, it’s been generating a lot of foodie hype. It fooled Mark Bittman! It’s almost being seen less as a food for vegetarians and vegans, and more as a food for omnivores who want to eat less meat for health or environmental reasons but can’t kick the habit. Or even, potentially, added to commercial chicken to stretch it and reduce the environmental impact (think fast food, school lunches — food which is often already stretched with soy but maybe not quite as tasty as Beyond Meat).

With that said, it is indeed vegan — a gluten-free soy protein. And… it shreds. I was skeptical, but it truly does shred just like chicken (I think… it’s been twelve years so you can take that with a grain of salt.) But still, with that texture — so many possibilities! Chicken salad, barbecue chicken, chicken fajitas, the list goes on.

The only problem is, unless you live in the Pacific Northwest or the Rocky Mountain region, it’s not available yet. They’re doing a gradual roll out, and it will eventually be available nationwide. But I live in Baltimore — how did I get it? Well, it was invented in Maryland. So aside from the PNW and Rocky Mountain Whole Foods, it’s also available in a little health food store in Clarksville, Maryland called Roots Market.

My grandmother (not this one) made chicken and dumplings pretty frequently before she passed away. Hers may have been made out of chicken thighs, a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, and Jiffy mix dumplings, but regardless, I get a bit nostalgic for the dish sometimes. I’ve never even attempted a vegetarian version before, but I thought Beyond Meat would be a good one to try it out.

not-chicken and dumplings

Not-Chicken and Dumplings
Adapted from Chicken and Dumplings by Smitten Kitchen

Serves 3-4

Stew
1 pound Beyond Meat™ Chicken-Free Strips
3 tablespoons butter *
1 medium leek , white and light green parts only
1 small onion, minced
1 shallot, minced
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons dry sherry
3 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons not-poultry seasoning
2 tablespoons whole milk
 *
1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup frozen green peas
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Dumplings
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup whole milk *
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter *

Shred the Beyond Meat. I find it easiest to just get in there with your hands — using forks like you might with chicken is a bit difficult.

Cut your leeks in half lengthwise, then rinse very well under cold running water. They tend to be really sandy in between all those layers. Once clean, chop into one inch pieces. Finely mince your onion and shallot and set aside.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter to a large pot over medium heat. Add Beyond Meat and toss until butter is absorbed, just a minute or two. Remove from pot and set aside.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, then add the leeks, onion, and shallot. Add a pinch of salt and toss to combine, then cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the flour, then the sherry. Whisk vigorously to scrape up any browned bits of veggies. Stir in the water, milk, and not-poultry seasoning. Crush the thyme and rosemary with your fingers and throw it in, along with the whole bay leaf.

Add the Beyond Meat, then cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thick and fragrant — about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and discard the bay leaf.

If you want to start this ahead of time for a quick weeknight dinner, now would be the time to pop it in the fridge to continue tomorrow.

Dumpling time! Stir the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Microwave the milk and butter about 1 minute, until just warm. Stir the wet mix into the dry mix with a wooden spoon until just smooth — do not over mix!

Return the stew to a simmer, stir in the peas, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low.

Drop batter in golf-ball-sized dumplings evenly over the top of the soup. The easiest way to do this is to scoop the batter with one spoon, then push it off into the soup — plop! — with another spoon. They should be about a quarter inch apart to allow for the dumplings to grow when they cook.

Once the dumplings are distributed, cover and cook until the dumplings have doubled in size, about 18-20 minutes.

* Vegan substitutions: Your favorite plant based milk and butter substitutes. A soy creamer would be good to add depth to the soup, and olive oil instead of butter would work. For the dumplings, I think rice milk and vegan margarine would be the best bet.