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.

DeLITcious: Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley #2

Happy MaddAddam day! I will receive my copy in the mail today and plan to begin reading it as soon as I get home from work.

As promised, here is the alternate version of my interpretation of Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley from The Year of the Flood.

Pilar's Pickled Mushroom Medley #2If you have no idea what I’m talking about, start with this previous post about version 1.

What makes this recipe so perfectly God’s Gardener-esque is the option to use any fun fungi (hur hur hur) you can get your hands on — extra points if you forage them. However, I have added some specific instructions for the mushrooms I used. I also like the use of the dark vinegar over strictly white or apple cider; it seems more like something that would have been fermented in the Vinegar Room from the dregs of wine scavenged from nightclub dumpsters by the Young Bioneers. The only thing distinctly un-Gardener about it is that it must be refrigerated.

Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley #1 is great for stabbing with toothpicks for a cocktail snack (or, let’s be real, a standing-over-the-sink-with-a-fork snack). On the other hand, #2 is more well suited to eat as a side dish with a fork or, even better yet, as a building block in other main dishes. Imagine a scoop of these flavorful ‘shrooms on a sandwich, salad or pasta — the herbed oil and vinegar acts as a built in dressing.

Pilar's Pickled Mushroom Medley #2Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley #2 – Refrigerated
Adapted from Herbed Marinated Mushrooms from The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich

Makes 1 quart

3/4 cup olive oil, separated
approximately 1 1/2 pounds of mushrooms, mixed varieties of your choice, stems trimmed or removed as appropriate (I recommend roaming your local Asian market)

I used:
5 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
5 ounces fresh crimini mushrooms, stems sliced short
5 ounces fresh white button mushrooms, stems sliced short
5 ounces fresh oyster mushrooms, torn into bite-sized pieces
5 ounces fresh enoki mushrooms, bottom of stems removed

2 garlic cloves, sliced
1/4 cup finely diced onion
2 tablespoons diced pimento
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup white vinegar
4 sprigs fresh thyme, stripped from woody stalk (or 1 teaspoon dried)
3 fresh sage leaves, chopped (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 bay leaf
10 black peppercorns
3/4 teaspoon pickling salt

Rinse all mushrooms to remove dirt or debris. Trim or remove woody stems as needed, depending on mushroom variety. If mushrooms are particularly large, cut into bite sized pieces if desired.

In a skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and sauté, covered, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Remove lid and sauté again until tender. If your varieties differ greatly in shape or tenderness, add them in an order that will prevent you from overcooking the more fragile ones. (For my mixture, I cooked the white button, crimini, and shiitake for 5 minutes. Then I added the oyster and cooked 5 minutes more. Then the enoki, and cooked for 2 minutes more.)

Once tender, drain any excess liquid if necessary and transfer mushrooms to a heatproof bowl.

Combine garlic, onion, and vinegar in a medium non-reactive saucepan. Simmer gently for about 2-3 minutes until slightly softened. Add pimento, herbs, bay leaf, salt, and remaining olive oil. Heat until just boiling, then pour over mushrooms and toss to coat.

Pack the mushrooms into a clean quart jar. Top with a lid (used is fine since it will not be processed) and screw a ring on to close. Let cool, then place in the refrigerator. (Because the jar contents are hot, you may find that the lid “seals” — this does not make it shelf-stable!)

Let the mushrooms pickle for about a week before eating. In the fridge, the oil may solidify and turn opaque — this is normal. Bring to room temperature before serving and the oil will become liquid again.

Store in the fridge for up to 1 month.

DeLITcious: Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley #1

Ever since my pre-order on February 21, I’ve been counting down the days to MaddAddam.

MaddAddam, coming on September 3, completes Margaret Atwood’s trilogy that started with Oryx and Crake (2003) and The Year of the Flood (2009). The series focuses on a handful of different characters and their experiences leading up to and after a global pandemic. Oryx and Crake follows the experiences of Snowman (aka Jimmy), a privileged young man who grew up on the HelthWyzer compound (a rich suburb that is walled off from the crime and poverty of the “pleeblands”). The Year of the Flood tells the stories of Toby and Ren, former members of a fringe religious group in the pleeblands called the God’s Gardeners who predicted the pandemic, calling it the “Waterless Flood.”

I’ve just reread both of them in preparation, obviously.

One of the things that I like so much about The Year of the Flood in particular, and much speculative and science fiction in general, is the food. Whether it’s a post-apocalyptic world where the ability to grow and safely preserve food is a necessity, or an alien world where a description of dinner helps paint the vivid picture of a world unknown, well-written food always tickles me in a story.

It’s because of this that I’ve decided to seek out and develop a series of recipes inspired by my favorite books. Which I am of course, calling DeLITcious, because I can’t resist a horrible pun. And what better book to start with than The Year of the Flood as I wait with bated breath for MaddAddam to arrive on my doorstep?

In The Year of the Flood, The God’s Gardeners are nothing if not self-sufficient. In many of the flashbacks to Ren’s and especially Toby’s time with them, the food that they grow and preserve plays a major role in their daily life. They have a rooftop garden for vegetables, a beehive to harvest honey, and a mushroom growing operation, nutritional and medicinal alike, in the bottom of an abandoned condominium building.

When Toby first joins the Gardeners, one of the first foods she eats (among many others) is a dish called Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley.

Pilar's Pickled Mushroom Medley #1

“The first evening, there was a modest celebration in honour of Toby’s advent. A great fuss was made over the opening of a jar of preserved purple items — those were her first elderberries — and a pot of honey was produced as if it was the Holy Grail.

Adam One made a little speech about providential rescues. The brand plucked from the burning was mentioned, and the one lost sheep — she’d hear of those before, at church — but other, unfamiliar examples of rescue were used as well: the relocated snail, the windfall pear. Then they’d eaten a sort of lentil pancake and a dish called Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley, followed by slices of soy bread topped with the purple berries and the honey.

After her initial elation, Toby was feeling stunned and uneasy. How had she got up here, to this unlikely and somehow disturbing location? What was she doing among these friendly though bizarre people, with their wacky religion and — right now — their purple teeth?”

Pilar and her place in the God’s Gardeners is not revealed until later. However, given the friendship that grows between them, I really like that part of Toby’s first Gardener meal was a result of Pilar’s labor.

All of this is to say, I wanted to make my own version of Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley.

But then I ended up with two versions.

Here’s the deal: The God’s Gardeners most certainly would have canned their wares, both for selling at the Tree of Life market but also for packing into their Ararats (caches of food and supplies hidden all over the city in preparation for surviving the Waterless Flood). And Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley most certainly would have contained a wide variety of mushrooms plucked from the bed in the basement of the Buenavista Condos — puffballs, shaggy manes, morels, and anything else that was available when she went to fill the jars.

Therein lies the problem. There are no tested, approved water-bath canning recipes that I am aware of that utilize anything besides standard grocery store button and crimini mushrooms (which, by the way, are the same species). Other varieties of mushrooms would likely have a different density which could affect the safety of a finished canned product.

Because I’m not in the business of poisoning my loved ones, I decided that two versions would be appropriate. First, behold the Ararat-approved recipe utilizing a “medley” of crimini and white button mushrooms.

Pilar's Pickled Mushroom Medley #1Coming soon, a more exciting and exotic medley that must be stored in the refrigerator. Stay tuned. (Update: Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley #2 recipe here.)

Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley #1 – Shelf Stable
Slightly adapted from Marinated Whole Mushrooms by National Center for Home Food Preservation

Makes 9 to 12 half-pints

3 1/2 pounds small whole white button mushrooms
3 1/2 pounds small whole crimini mushrooms
1/2 cup bottled lemon juice
2 cups olive oil
2 1/2 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
1 tablespoon pickling salt
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup diced pimento
3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in quarters
27-36 black peppercorns

Equipment
9-12 half-pint jars, rings, and unused canning lids
boiling water canner with rack
jar lifting tongs
jar funnel (optional, but recommended)
clean dish towels

Important Note: If you’ve never canned before, you will probably want to study up on some basics before you get started. And use common sense when eating home-canned goods — leaking, compromised seals, weird growths, bad smells? Play it safe and throw that shit out.

Select the freshest, smallest mushrooms you can find. Wash to remove dirt, then trim off the stems, leaving about 1/4-inch attached to the cap.

Dump all the mushrooms in the largest pot you can find (or split them evenly between two large pots), then pour lemon juice over. Fill with water until mushrooms are fully submerged. Bring to a boil (this will take a very long time), then simmer for 5 minutes.

Drain mushrooms. (Because the pot was so big and unwieldy, I had a much better time using a skimmer to transfer the mushrooms from the simmering liquid to a large bowl. In addition, I was able to save and freeze some of the mushroom liquid — the lemon juice prevents you from using it as straight broth, but I froze some into cubes which I plan on throwing into soups here and there that need a bit of a pick-me-up.)

At some point you should start your canner boiling, depending on how long it takes for it to get up to temperature. When it is, pop your jars, lids, rings, and tools in for 10 minutes to sterilize.

Mix olive oil, vinegar, salt, herbs, onion and pimento in a large nonreactive saucepan. Heat to boiling over medium heat.

Remove sterilized jars from canner and place on a clean dishtowel. Put a quarter piece of garlic and 3 black peppercorns in each jar. Using a funnel, fill each jar with mushrooms until there is about 1-inch of headspace. Then ladle in hot, well-mixed oil and vinegar mixture until there is 1/2-inch of headspace.

Use a chopstick, small spatula, or other non-metal utensil to stab and stir the jar to remove air bubbles. Wipe the rim of each jar with a wet paper towel. Center a lid on top, then screw on a band until fingertip-tight (until you just meet resistance). Using jar tongs, place jars in the canner.

Bring water back to a full, rolling boil, then process for 20 minutes (or longer according to this chart if you are at a different altitude).

Using jar tongs, remove jars from canner upright, without tilting. Place on a clean, dry dishtowel without touching each other. Do not disturb for at least 12 hours.

Check each jar for a good seal (press on the middle or the lid — it shouldn’t move or make noise). Any that didn’t seal can be refrigerated immediately and still used. Remove rings to prevent rust, and clean the outsides of the jars and lids as needed before storage. Store in a cool, dark place for 6 to 9 months. Refrigerate after opening and use within 1 month.

Note on yield: While the original recipe states this recipe makes 9 half-pints, I ended up with 10 and a lot of mushrooms still left. If you don’t have enough jars or room in your canner to process them all, you can store them in non-canning jars (I used those tall salsa jars) and store them in the refrigerator.

Fig and thyme white cake with whipped honey frosting

My dad’s 50th birthday was on Friday. I emailed him to ask what his favorite cake was.

His helpful response: “I never met a cake I didn’t like.”

Given free reign like that, I decided to do something a little different. Something he’d never order in a restaurant or ask for someone to make him, but that would still knock his socks off.

I also wanted to make something summery because of his late August, dog days of summer birthday. S’mores cake? Eh, I’ve made it in cupcake form before and wanted to try something new. Chocolate-orange? Nah, that seems like more of a cold weather one to me. I thumbed through All Cakes Considered for ideas. I hemmed. I hawed. I pondered.

Eventually I got stuck on my favorite thing about summer: figs. The rest came together pretty quickly after that. A fluffy white cake with a fig jam in the middle. A light, whipped honey meringue buttercream on top. Not too heavy, but certainly tooth-achingly sweet. Good for the kids.

But I wanted to slightly temper the sugar rush for the adults. Something herby. Which of course led to my favorite fig accompaniment, thyme. It’s piney, but not too piney like rosemary sometimes is. It doesn’t overpower the delicate honey flavor in the frosting, but it does effectively counter the sweetness while adding a little flair of its own.

Of course, the best part of this flavor combo is that I can say that I made my dad a fig-tieth birthday cake, on account of him being alive for a long thyme.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry!

I cut plain slices for my niece and nephew, then said to my dad, sister, and brother: “I didn’t think the kids would like this, but if you’d like I can put some fresh thyme over your piece of cake.”

Sister: “What’s thyme?”
Brother: “That sounds really weird. But usually when you try to get me to eat something weird, it’s good, so okay.”
Father: “If you say so.”

I sprinkled a few leaves over each piece of cake. I could tell they didn’t trust me one bit.

fig and thyme white cake with whipped honey frostingThen they tasted it. “I can’t believe that’s… actually really good.” Well gee, thanks for trusting my judgement, folks. But I knew I had a winner when my sister and dad both took tiny slivers for seconds, and chose to add thyme to them completely of their own volition.

My dad knows I post my recipes on the internet. He saw me taking my photos and figured (correctly) that they were for a post. He said, “People aren’t going to think that’s good when they read the recipe. It’s too weird. They’re not going to realize how good it tastes and they won’t make it.”

It’s not that weird. Prove him wrong.

fig and thyme white cake with whipped honey frostingFig and Thyme White Cake with Whipped Honey Frosting
Adapted from Whipped Cream Cake by Melissa Gray in All Cakes Considered and Brown Sugar Meringue Buttercream from Sky High Cakes as posted on Completely Delicious

Serves 10 to 12

Cake:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup whipping cream
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Frosting:
3 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons water
9.6 ounces (about 19 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into chunks

Garnish:
scant 1/2 cup fig jam, at room temperature
fresh thyme leaves, stripped from woody stalks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray two 8-inch pans, then line with a parchment paper circle. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together cake flour, salt, and baking powder. In a small bowl, beat eggs until thick and pale yellow. Set both aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip cream on medium speed until stiff peaks form. Add beaten eggs and beat again until fully integrated and foamy. Add sugar and extracts and beat again for about 1 minute. Add dry ingredients and beat on low speed until barely combined — there should still be some visible flour. Use a spatula to fold the ingredients the rest of the way to avoid over mixing.

Divide batter evenly among prepared pans, then put in the oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes, removing when a toothpick comes out clean. If your oven heats unevenly, swap positions of the two layers about 10 minutes into the baking time.

Place on a wire rack until cool enough to handle. Use a knife to loosen the edges of the cake from the pan, then flip out onto the rack. Remove the parchment paper from the bottom and let cool completely.

For the frosting, there’s a little bit of timing involved in making this all work. Start by combining the water, sugar, and honey in a small saucepan. Do not yet put it over the heat.

In the bowl of your stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form.

Put sugar solution over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it comes to a boil. Once it is boiling, stop stirring and insert a candy thermometer. Book without stirring until it reaches 238 degrees F (soft ball stage).

Turn the mixer with the egg whites back on medium speed. Carefully pour the hot (seriously, really really hot, be careful) sugar mixture in a thin stream into the egg whites. Try not to hit the beater or the side of the bowl.

Once the sugar syrup has been added, raise the speed to medium high and beat until the mixture is down to room temperature (touch the side of the bowl to check). This will take several minutes.

With the mixture still running, add the butter cubes a few tablespoons full at a time. Once all the butter has been added, continue to beat until smooth. The mixture may start to look curdled at one point, especially if your butter was a little too cold or too warm. Just let the mixer keep running and it will work itself out. Once the frosting is smooth, creamy, and light you’re good to go.

Put one cake layer on a serving plate or pedestal. I’m no expert cake decorator by a long-shot, but the best tip I can give for tidier looking cakes is to line the plate with strips of parchment paper tucked under the cake before you frost it. Try this! It really helps your cake look better to not have frosting smeared all over the plate.

Spread the fig jam evenly over the first layer. Then using an offset spatula, spread a small layer of frosting on top of the fig jam. Go almost all the way to the edge. Top with the second cake layer, then frost the top and sides to coat.

Sprinkle fresh thyme over the top of the cake, then serve.

Za’atar zucchini salad with crusted halloumi

It’s summer! There are outdoor movies, bike parties, art festivals, birthday parties, anniversary parties, housewarming parties…

Heeey, I’m just over here rationalizing why I haven’t posted in a while.

But summer also has lots of awesome produce. And every summer, whether it’s a fluff piece in the local paper or friends in my Facebook feed, I always see people asking, what the hell can I do with all this zucchini? One that I’ve seen popping up recently is zucchini noodles topped with feta cheese, which is what got me thinking about this salad.

za'atar zucchini salad with crusted halloumiSo, what’s going on here?

Zucchini. You’ll want to use smaller ones if you can, because super huge zukes are not great for eating in salads like this — they get all weird and fluffy. And you’ll need to use a julienne peeler or a spiral slicer to get the “noodle” thing going on. (My mister when we sat down to dinner: “How did you make these vegetables like this?”) I use a crummy julienne peeler that I got for $1.99 in Japantown when I visited San Francisco, and it works fine.

Za’atar. Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice mixture that you could make very easily to your preference. It seems like it’s one of those Italian grandmother tomato sauce situations, where every family has a different recipe. But generally it has some combination of sesame seeds, sumac, oregano, basil, thyme, savory, and salt. So you could be a rockstar and make up a little batch of za’atar… or you could be like me and use a jar of pre-packaged stuff that you impulse bought, while your partner pokes fun at you because the brand name is Urban Accents.

Preserved lemons. They are basically pickles made of Meyer lemons and salt. I probably should have made a post about when I made preserved lemons back when I made them last winter… but I didn’t. You can buy them in Middle Eastern markets, or in the ethnic aisles of some well-stocked grocery stores. My homemade ones were spiced with cinnamon sticks, cardamom, and peppercorns. Yum.

Halloumi. This cheese, much like feta, is salty and delicious. It doesn’t melt, so it’s perfect for browning in a skillet to warm it up and give it some crunch.

Za’atar Zucchini Salad with Crusted Halloumi

Serves 2 to 3 as a main, 4 to 6 as a side

3 small or 2 medium zucchinis (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds)
1 small red onion
2 ounces halloumi
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped preserved lemon, peel and flesh (a little less than 1/8 of one lemon)
1/2 small garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons of za’atar, divided
2 cups arugula

Using a julienne peeler or a spiral cutter, make zucchini into long, thin, noodley shapes. Put in a large bowl and set aside.

Cut the tip off the red onion, then cut in half through the root and peel outer layers. Slice into thin half moons. Put in a small bowl and set aside.

Cut the halloumi cheese into small (about 1/2-inch) squares. Put in a small bowl and set aside.

In a measuring cup, mix olive oil, vinegar, preserved lemon, garlic, and 1 teaspoon of the za’atar. Pour a small amount over the halloumi and toss to coat. Do the same with the red onion. Then pour the rest over the zucchini, and add the additional za’atar. Toss to fully coat (I just use my hands).

Let zucchini marinate for 20 minutes.

While it is marinating, heat up a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When one piece sizzles, throw in the red onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes until slightly softened and the taste mellows out a little bit. Remove from skillet and set aside to cool slightly.

After zucchini has marinated for 20 minutes, add arugula and cooled red onion and once again toss to combine.

Then go back to your cast iron skillet and turn it to medium heat. When a drop of water sizzles, dump in the halloumi cheese in a single layer. Let cook for 1 to 2 minutes until a brown crust forms, then use a metal spatula to scrape them up and flip to the un-browned sides. Don’t worry about getting every single piece perfect, but try to get some good brown crustiness on as much of the cheese as you can.

Remove from heat and distribute evenly over the top of the salad, then serve immediately.

Fig and onion pizza with quail eggs; adorable but odiferous

As you may know, I love putting eggs on top of things. One of the things I’ve been wanting to try is egg on pizza.

This is totally a thing! The lava-hot pizza comes out of the oven, an egg is cracked in the middle, and it cooks from the residual heat. Then you slice it up and everyone has some delightful drippy egg on their piece. Yum.

Yum, but, you know — drippy.

There has to be a better way, right? And after some pondering, I realized… quail eggs! Their diminutive size ensures that you get it in one bite. You still get the yolk explosion, just in your mouth instead of all over your plate. Not to mention, with them evenly dotted over the top you can ensure that there’s enough egg for everyone to be satisfied.

fig and onion pizza with quail eggs fig and onion pizza with quail eggs

For even more fun, I swapped out a tomato base for another idea that’s been bouncing around in my head for a while: a pizza sauce made out of caramelized onions.

fig and onion pizza with quail eggs

Not a date night pizza, I guess.

But man, oh man, is it good.

The caramelized onion plays beautifully with the sweetness of fresh crushed thyme and fig jam, one of my favorite combinations. The bitterness of the arugula and the smoky, salty cheese balances it all out.

What I’m saying is, it’s good. Real good. And if you make the caramelized onions and pizza dough ahead of time, it’s quick.

You could even be horrible like me and use store-bought pizza dough. Nobody will complain, I promise.

Fig and Onion Pizza with Quail Eggs

Serves 2-4

1 ball pizza dough (use your favorite recipe or store bought)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 heaping cup caramelized onions *
1 tablespoon fig jam
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
pinch hot smoked paprika
1 cup arugula
3.5 ounces smoked provolone cheese, shredded
2 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese, shredded
9 quail eggs
fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

With a fork, stir caramelized onions and jam together until fully combined. Sprinkle thyme leaves in onions, crushing them between your fingers as you do. Add a pinch of smoked paprika, and stir again to combine. Set aside.

Cut a piece of parchment paper the size of your pizza pan.

Preheat oven and your pizza pan according to the recipe for your dough — usually around 450 degrees.

Stretch or roll your dough balls to fit the pieces of parchment paper. I’ve found this pizza dough how-to to be helpful.

Brush olive oil on crust with a pastry brush. Then spread the caramelized onion mixture on top of the oiled dough with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle dough evenly with arugula, then top with both types of cheese.

Pick up the parchment papered pie and slide onto the preheated pan in the oven. Bake according to the directions for your dough recipe, minus 4 minutes.

Remove pizza from oven. Crack eggs evenly over the surface. Pop back into the oven to cook the rest of the way, until crust is golden and the egg whites are solid.

Grind coarsely cracked black pepper over the whole thing, then cut into slices and enjoy immediately.

** If you have a recipe you love for caramelizing onions, go ahead and use it. Otherwise, go ahead and do this. This recipe will make enough for the pizza… but since caramelized onions takes so long, just double/triple/quadruple it, please! My last batch was 9 pounds… (6 pounds lacto-veg, 3 pounds vegan). Freeze them in 1/2 cup portions so you can savor them at a moment’s notice.

Caramelized Onions
1/2 lb yellow onions (about 1 small to medium onion)
1 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch sugar

Thinly slice the onions in half moons. In a medium pot, heat oil and butter over low heat. Add sliced onions and toss to fully coat. Cover and leave for 15 minutes to soften.
Remove lid and raise the heat slightly. Add in salt and sugar, then cook and stir onions frequently for about 30 more minutes — you want them to be paper lunch bag brown, and for the texture to be gelatinous, almost like preserves or marmalade. These can be refrigerated or frozen for later use. If using immediately, set aside to cool. You’ll be left with approximately 1/4 cup of caramelized onions.

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.

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.

Marinated squash and fig summer salad and my dirty little secret

I love to cook.

You would hope so, wouldn’t you? Since I’m documenting my recipes on the internet and all.

But here’s my dirty little secret:

I buy a lunch almost every day at work.

I currently work right across the street from a Whole Foods, and their salad bar, hot bar, deli, and other prepared foods are just too convenient.

I’m one of those people who snoozes the alarm eight times and sleeps until the very last minute before scrambling to get out of the house in the morning. So I’m pretty much incapable of bringing a lunch unless it has been prepared and packaged the night before. Sometimes this happens. But more often, I forget about this crucial task and instead spend my evening working on a project, watching Doctor Who, or harassing Smells McGee.

I rationalize my lunch habit to myself by saying that it makes me eat healthier; I try to stick to the salad bar (“though that doesn’t always happen,” say my pants). I tell myself that I like variety, and if I were to buy and prep all that fresh produce that I like to load up on my salad, it’d go bad before I used it all. I tell myself that it’s really not that expensive, because at least I’m not loading up my salad with a pound of chicken breast.

These excuses have been enough for me so far. I mean, I’m still eating lunch from Whole Foods pretty much every day. But in just over a month, I am being forcibly relocated from my beautiful downtown office across the street from Whole Foods (not to mention walkable to three sushi joints, the vegetarian sandwich shop/juice bar, the tea house, the pizza place, and occasionally the cupcake truck). I’m being relocated to…

An office park in the middle of the ‘burbs. With nothing you can get to on foot. WHYYYYY??

I guess I’ll have to start bringing my lunch more often. Maybe I’ll even bring this salad, which was loosely inspired by a dish on the Whole Foods salad bar. Obviously you should be taking advantage of the summertime nectar of the gods, fresh figs, if you can get them — if you’re not so lucky, just use dried ones.

marinated squash and fig summer salad

Marinated Squash and Fig Summer Salad
Serves 4 as a main dish

1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
1 heaping teaspoon fig jam
1 heaping tablespoon fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste (I like a lot)
1 medium yellow squash
1 medium zucchini
5 ounces baby spinach
5 ounces arugula
1/2 cup slivered almonds
6-12 (depending on variety) fresh figs, quartered
shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano to garnish

Stir olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, cheese, jam, salt and pepper into a storage container. Make sure the jam is fully dissolved. Remove the thyme leaves from the woody stalks, and crush slightly between your fingers before adding to the marinade.

Chop the ends off your zucchini and yellow squash, then cut lengthwise. Slice thin half moons (I like using the food processor slicing disc for this). Add to the marinade. Stir and shake to make sure all the slices are coated. Let marinate in the fridge for at least two hours, as long as overnight if you can plan that far ahead.

Mix spinach and arugula in a big bowl until integrated. Dump the marinated squash, almonds, and quartered figs on top, and toss to combine. I used Black Mission figs, which are pretty petite. If you’re using a larger variety of fig, you can use fewer and may want to dice them into eighths. Add more of the marinade as needed to fully dress the salad. Top off with some generous shavings of a good Parmigiano-Reggiano.

If you want to save leftovers to bring for lunch instead of buying your lunch out yet again: I would recommend preparing just as much as you are going to eat for the first meal. Then toss everything except the greens in a jar, and keep the greens separate to mix when you’re ready to eat.