Quinoa Zucchini and Corn Fritters

Maybe it’s the  pollution, or the random insomnia, or the fact that I was at work from 7:30 (on a Monday morning, no less) to almost 7:00, but I woke up with a raging migraine and absolutely no ability to be a real person and put pants on and go to the office. I called in and answered emails from bed as long as I could stand the glare, then napped with a damp compress over my eyes. Eventually I did have to get out of bed and pretend to be functional. What with semi-restructuring, new bosses, new programs and picking up responsibilities of maternity-leaving-coworkers, I can’t even really relax on a sick day. But after being productive for a little while I decided to make myself a nice lunch.

I had a bowl of quinoa I made on Friday that needed to be used up, but I didn’t really feel like a grain salad. A quick perusal on Tastespotting gave me a few ideas. I had zucchini and half an onion needing to be used up in the fridge, and a can of corn in my pantry (can I call it a pantry if it’s just a bookshelf in the middle of my living room?)

I chopped up the half onion along with one large clove of garlic. Washed, peeled, and grated the zucchini, then squeezed the water out of the shreds. Sauteed the onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent, then added in the grated zucchini. After about two minutes, I removed from heat and let cool. Then, I added about 3/4 of a can of drained sweet corn kernels abut 1 1/2 cups of cooked quinoa, salt and pepper. Stirred, then added in one lightly beaten egg and 3-4 Tbs of flour and mix this thoroughly

Heat oven to 200C. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. I used a small, round cookie cutter to make uniform sized patties: place the cookie cutter on the parchment, spoon the fritter batter into, smooth it out to about 1/2 inch thickness, then slowly lift the cookie cutter up. Repeat until baking sheet is filled up–they don’t spread out at all, so they can be placed quite close to each other. Pop into the oven for 15 minutes, flip over, and bake for another 15. They should just be golden and crispy. You could also fry in oil, they get much crispier and are very tasty that way, but baking is healthier, you can make a whole big batch with less work, and the little circle fritters are quite cute to serve.

A cup of sugar snap peas, a little jar of Sriracha aioli, and a tall glass of lemon sweet tea…it’s almost enough to make me feel human again.

Zucchini Corn and Quinoa Fritters served with sugar snap peas, Sriracha aioli and lemon iced tea.

Zucchini Corn and Quinoa Fritters served with sugar snap peas, Sriracha aioli and lemon iced tea.

Party Snacks: Mostly Stuff Wrapped in Dough

About a week in advance of hosting, I made pork, shrimp, and pepper jiaozi, as well as zucchini-carrot-corn baozi.  Diced the zucchini and carrot into 1/4 inch cubes, then quickly saute with the corn in a bit of oil with minced garlic, ginger, and dash of Maggi seasoning.

I stuck the jiaozi and baozi in the freezer, and then deep fried the dumplings and pan fried the buns right as everyone was arriving. Making the skins is the hardest part, mixing about 2 1/2 cups of flour with about 3/4 cup water, and playing with that ratio until the right elastic-not-too-sticky texture forms. They’re best freshly cooked, so I got the assembly-heavy process out of the way early.

The night before, I made vegetarian (with and without cheese) empanadas and honey-chicken hand pies.

The empanada dough was the same as I’ve written about here, but instead of beef, pepper and cheese, I went with a black bean based filling. I had a bowl of chopped zucchini, carrot, corn and green pepper left from the vegetarian baozi. I added this bowl to a pot with 1 can of black beans (liquid mostly drained), salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, coriander and chili powder. After letting that cook a bit, I added in two chopped tomatoes. Once the pot cooled, I assembled the empanadas, mixing in small cubes of cheese in about half of the filling. I made tiny empanadas, and only used about half the bean mixture. It was very liquidy after cooking, and every spoonful of filling had to be drained to prevent soggy dough. The rest of the pot, heated up with the cheese, made a very satisfying lunch.

I braised two chicken legs with butter and wafers of garlic inserted under the skin, interspersed with lemon wedges, garlic and chopped shallot in the baking dish. Rubbed with olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and drizzled with honey, then a dry white wine and a splash of cider vinegar about 1/2 inch deep. Popped into a 180C oven for 1 hour…the top skin is crackly and crispy and amazing, the meat is tender, juicy, moist and flavorful. Really, really excellent for a normal meal. But I cut up all the meat instead, and made the honey-cranberry-cider vinegar sauce, and added it to a roux of butter and flour to create a gravy. Mixed the shredded chicken in this.

Pastry dough: 3 cups flour, 1/2 cup butter, egg yolk, 1/2 cup water. A trick I recently came across, freeze the butter, then grate it, it makes it much easier to blend into the flour. Roll into a smooth, elastic ball, and chill for about 30 minutes. Roll out and cut circles that lined muffin cups with overlap. Filled with chicken, covered witha  top circle, and excess of bottom circle folded over to seal.

Both the empanadas and chicken pies brushed with an egg white + milk wash, and baked for 25 minutes at 190C, and best served warm, but they are still remarkably tasty room temperature.

The night before I also made falafel and tzatziki, baking the small balls in my mini muffin pan (I had a mini-brain storm at work when I realized mini muffin pan was perfect for this purpose). Instead of frying the falafel, I scooped little balls into oiled mini muffin tin, and baked for 15-20 minutes at 190F. Not quite as tasty as deep-fried, but still, a nice crunch on the outside is achieved, and its that much healthier. The muffin cups will need to be heavily oiled, not lightly, because the falafel sticks to the pan much worse than cake batter.

Party Snacks: Appetizers and Amuse-Bouche

A few weeks ago I had a little ladies’ evening party at my apartment as an excuse to make a bunch of tasty tidbits. Obviously, I went into over planning mode all week, to accomodate both what I wanted to eat/serve, and also to make sure that the vegetarians and dairy-unfriendly folks could have an ample plate. With the lack of dining room space, I prefer to make a spread of finger or toothpick-friendly fare.

To start, baguette with some fancy dipping oil I lugged all the way over here in my suitcase last trip home from a specialty shop Boston’s North End, mixed with some fresh cracked pepper and snowflake-sea salt, and a bowl of vegetable sticks with homemade hummus and  miso dipping sauce to tide everyone over while I finished the final dishes.

After my first disastrous attempt to make hummus last year, I finally found managed to make it correctly.
1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight, simmer for about 45 minutes with a pinch of baking soda, which helps the skins slip right off. A 1/3 cup of sesame paste, about 1/4 cup of the boiling liquid plus generous amounts of olive oil, 3-4 cloves of garlic, and sea salt. Blend into a nice smooth face and finished off with another drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of paprika. I have no idea how I messed that up so badly the first time because this was delicious.

Next, I basically stole an open beetroot ravioli idea from Pinotage, and recreated it with a mix of homemade ricotta and mascarpone cheese. Roast beet for 45 minutes wrapped in tin foil and drizzled with oil at 200C. Let cool. Rub off the skin, and carefully cut thin slices. I wanted these to be an amuse-bouche, so I used small cookie cutters to cut small shapes. I mixed ricotta and mascarpone with salt and pepper, then filled a pastry bag and piped swirls onto the beet circles. Top with another beet circle, garnish with balsamic pearls (made by heating agar-agar and balsamic vinegar, and squeezing drops into freezer-chilled oil. For those who can’t or choose not to eat cheese, I mixed cashew cream with salt, pepper, garlic powder and lemon zest. It wasn’t quite the same, the cashew cream has a bit of a smoky taste, but a decent vegan alternative.

Beet and Ricotta Ravioli with Balsamic Pearls

Beet and Ricotta Ravioli with Balsamic Pearls

Picnic in the Park

I’m not the most nature loving person out there. I men, yes, I love nature, and natural beauty, and the environment, and animals, but I’m not like, really good at camping. In fact, I’ve only camped twice in my life. And I despise/fear bugs. A beetle flew at my face the other day in the subway and I screamed like a three year old. A beetle was making weird fluttery noises trapped by the rear windshield in a taxi I took last month, and I made the driver pull over and kill it. A cockroach once flew out of the sink drain when I was doing dishes in Taipei, and my response was to fling a soapy frying pan at it and flee the room. I like running rater and tables and cushioned chairs and air conditioning.

Despite all this, I love picnics, both in theory and practice. They’re messy, you have to carry a lot of things, it’s just slightly uncomfortable unless you happen to have a folding chair or picnic bench, and there are a lot of bugs. Regardless, love them. Wish I went on more picnics. Holding out hope for that over the top romantical perfect picnic basket filled with baguette and cheese and wine and whatnot.

So, we’ve been fortunate to have some remarkably nice days this week. Mid 90s, sunny, blue skies, low AQI. On Tuesday we threw together a last minute barbecue with my inflatable pool, it was so nice. A friend’s been having a rough couple days at work, so I decided to surprise her with a lovely picnic lunch, because really I should do that more often.

It starts of course, with fresh homemade lemonade. Five lemons, juiced, zest of one lemon, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Make simple syrup with the water and sugar, add the lemon juice and zest and let reduce slightly. Once cool, add to 6 cups of water. I filled a glass growler of the lemonade and put it in the fridge overnight. Just before lunch, I stopped and bought a bag of ice and a bottle of sparkly water. We poured about a 3:2 ratio of lemonade to bubbly water over ice, which resulted in a tartly refreshing and delightful beverage.

First course: Onigiri. The perfect snack. I didn’t know the Japanese name until 6th grade, when we had a Japanese student teacher come give a lesson on Japanese culture. (I won the chopstick fast-eating contest, but it may have been slightly unfair seeing as how I grew up an entire drawer devoted to chopsticks in my kitchen). But we’ve always had rice balls on our menu, particularly for long car drives. Self contained, endlessly variable, low effort. Steam some rice. Don’t refrigerate, it’ll dry out and fall apart instead of becoming a sticky ball. Toppings: traditionally fish flakes or seaweed seasoning flakes or pickled plum. We used to put rou-si (dried pork floss) and Chinese pickled cucumbers in at home. I hard-boiled some quail eggs and chopped them up with tiny pieces of Taiwanese sausage.  Whisked a Tbs of soy sauce, dash of Mirin, Maggi, salt and sugar. Dab some over a spread out square of plastic wrap. Moisten your hands so the rice doesn’t stick to you. Take a ladleful of rice and flatten in down on the plastic. Trickle drops of seasoning around the rice. Add filling. If there’s enough rice, wrap t up, or add a small spoonful on top of the filling, and create a ball so mostly the filling is in the middle. Twist the plastic closed. Shape into a sphere, triangle, cube or whatever shape pulls on your desire. I packed the individual wrapped strips of nori (dried, toasted seaweed) alongside the wrapped onigiri. Once ready to consume, add the strip of seaweed (it gets soggy after about ten minutes of contact with the rice, so really wait until last minute). Extra strips of nori are tasty snacks in their own right.

Second Course: Fresh vegetable sticks (sugar snap peas, carrots and green pepper) with a freshly whipped up batch of Sriracha aioli.

Third Corse: Ham Cheddar and Apple Sandwiches.  I cut two small, 4-inch long segments of baguette, then cut them into three horizontal slices. One side of each sandwich I spread with a little bit of room temp butter, the other side was slathered in the Sriracha aioli. Layers: carefully washed and dried Bibb lettuce, two folded slices of ham, thinly slices green apple, and thinly sliced sharp cheddar cheese.

Fourth Course: Quinoa Salad. I ran out of faro a couple months ago, but I like this dressing and add-ins a lot so I swapped in quinoa instead. Rinse a cup of quinoa, boil until fluffy, the tails have popped out and center is translucent. Drain any excess water. Toss with: edamame, chunks of green apple, dried cranberries and chopped almonds, and a dressing of peanut butter, miso paste, sesame oil, balsamic vinegar, minced ginger, honey, and canola oil.

Dessert: Cashew Custard with Peach. I made a very quick batch of cashew milk, and used about one cup to make the custard (properly strained of all grittiness, cashew milk with a little bit of honey, vanilla extract and cinnamon is really tasty, but the custard is my favorite application). I layered the custard with chopped up canned peaches. Bright, pretty, incredibly simple to make, and surprisingly impressive and crowd pleasing, as far as desserts go.

It was a lovely lunch, and what I prepared was quite a bit of food for two. 95 degrees out, sitting in the shade with an icy drink, with just a little breeze, clear blue skies above. The grassy, shady little area we chose was just far enough that we could see people, but be removed from the lunch rush hour crowd and eat a leisurely, peaceful meal. I like having a lot of little bites of different food, and having a quiet meal with a friend in a very pretty setting was a nice break away from the office.

I packed everything in jam jars or plastic wrap, and since it was a workday-lunch, could keep everything cold in my office fridge. I also purloined some real spoons and disposable plates, cups, and paper towels from work. I even included a (stolen airplane) blanket to sit on, and everything was easily transported in a cloth grocery bag. Although, since I hope to do more of this, weather permitting, and not always during the week, think tht I’ll start scouring TaoBao for a pretty, insulated picnic bag to invest in.