- See more at: http://blogtimenow.com/blogging/automatically-redirect-blogger-blog-another-blog-website/#sthash.2lzcOnhH.dpuf Nothing but Delicious: January 2013

On Measurements, Substitutions and Cake for Breakfast

I eat cake for breakfast. A lot. 

Let's just say it's an indulgent habit of mine, one that I feel needs to be updated but not curbed entirely. Last weekend I decided to take a recipe for a really delicious spiced applesauce cake from Smitten Kitchen and make a new, healthy version by using only my brain and what I had on hand in my kitchen.  

Now, when I say "my brain" I really mean my iPhone and amy kitchen scale. Because Deb Perlman wrote this recipe by weight, I was able to use my kitchen scale to make substitutions with precision, meaning the flavor and texture of the cake came out just right, no weird surprises. If you're skeptical about owning or using a kitchen scale, I recommend you read Ratio by Michael Ruhlman.

Here is the original recipe for spiced applesauce cake: 

2 cups (8 3/4 ounces or 250 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon (10 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) salt
3/4 teaspoon (2 grams) cinnamon*
1/2 teaspoon (1 gram) ground ginger*
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves*
1 stick (4 ounces or 113 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (6 7/8 ounces of 195 gram) packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon (5ml) pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (about 13 ounces or 265 grams) unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup (about 1 3/4 ounces or 50 grams) walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 with rack in middle. Butter an 8 or 9 inch square cake pan. I had no trouble getting my cake out of a nonstick pan by just buttering it, but if you don't have a nonstick cake pan or are a little nervous, line the bottom with parchment paper and butter that too. 

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in applesauce. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined, then stir in walnuts (if using). The batter will look a little curdly and uneven but don't worry, it will all bake up perfectly in the end. 
Spread batter evenly in pan and bake until golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Reinvert cake onto a rack to cool completely. 

*I just used 2t five spice because I'm too lazy to buy/measure out three separate ingredients. 

Substituting and measuring sugars is pretty straightforward. Altering the amount or type of sugar affects the flavor more than the texture of your finished product. Sugar, turbinado sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses and agave nectar can all be used in lieu of one another. The Whole Foods website provides a great explanation of the different types of sweeteners and how they vary in sweetness. I thought maple syrup would be a nice flavor compliment to the apples and spice, so instead of using one cup of sugar, as the recipe calls for, I used 3/4 cup maple syrup and reduced the amount of applesauce by 3T. Since the cake itself is not very sweet, I topped it with a 1:1 mix of sugar and unsweetened applesauce when it had cooled completely. 

There is one thing that I WILL NOT STAND FOR and that thing is artificial sweeteners. I do not agree with many of the opinions voiced in the book Skinny Bitch, from the title to the horrible, blasphemous things the authors say about eggs and butter. However, the chapter covering sugar substitutes such as Splenda is well worth a read. If I find out that you have used Splenda in one of my recipes.... well, as The Pioneer Woman would say, I will come to your house and paddle your bottom

Fat is only slightly more complicated. There are two basic types of fat: those that are solid at room temperature and those that are liquid. Liquid fats- canola oil, olive oil, grapeseed oil, safflower seed oil- can be used interchangeably in baking (frying is a whole different can of worms). Note that more pungent liquid oils, such as extra virgin olive oil, will affect the flavor of your dish. Solid fats- lard, shortening, suet- contain the same amount of fat per Tablespoon. Theoretically they could also be use interchangeably, but because each one has a different smoke point, the type of solid fat you use will ultimately affect the texture. Butter is the exception to the rule; it contains between 80% and 88% fat, while the other percentage is made up of milk solids. The milk solids are what give butter its distinctive (read: "glorious") taste, so if a recipe calls for butter, you should probably just use butter! I was trying to make the applesauce cake more healthy, I used half butter and half grapeseed oil. To read more about each individual type of fat, take a look at this article from King Arthur Flour. 

If you're curious about which type of eggs to buy or use, check out this infographic from the American Egg Board. Generally speaking, you should pretty much always use large, grade A eggs at room temperature. 
Flour is where business gets tricky. The weight of a cup of all-purpose flour can range significantly, even among brands. King Arthur Flour weighs in at 4 1/2 oz, Gold Medal at 4 5/8 ounces and White Lily at 4 1/4 ounces. The old-fashioned cooking Bible, The Joy of Cooking, claims that there are four cups to every one pound of all-purpose flour, meaning that each up weighs 4 ounces. Of course, none of these measurements account for other defining factors, such as humidity. In the very first chapter of his book, Ruhlman writes, "A cup of flour can weigh anywhere between 4 and 6 ounces. This means that if you are making a recipe calling for 4 cups of flour, you might wind up with a pound of flour in your bowl or you might end up with 1 1/2 pounds. That's a 50% difference in the main ingredient, which will have a substantial impact on the finished product." Whether you are using the type of flour that is called for or not, it is so important that you measure the flour by weight. For this recipe, I used 250g of Trader Joe's whole wheat flour. 

When in doubt or away from my kitchen scale, I assume that one cup of flour weighs 4.5 oz and I measure it like this. Why? Because Amanda and Merrill said so. Keep in mind that this only applies to white all-purpose flour. When you're working with other types of flour, try to go by the manufacturer's measurements- look for a chart of products like this one from King Arthur Flour. 

Whew! That was a lot. Please feel free to email me (HMMessinger [at] gmail [dot] com) or comment below if you have any questions. 

The ratio used for this blog post is one cup coffee/three paragraphs, although Michael Ruhlman tells me that this is inaccurate. 

In the Kitchen

Kitchen Essentials

Kitchen Essentials by hmmessinger on Polyvore

Here are the 20 things that I believe absolutely every good cook should have in his or her kitchen. They are tools that will serve you well and if you care for them properly, they will last throughout your lifetime and possibly on into your children's'. Some of them are very affordable. Others, such as the Le Creuset french ovens, are what I like to call "investments." I recommend that you wait for your perfect french oven to come along. Pick a color, a size, a shape. If it goes on sale, great. If you have to save up for it for a year, so be it. Don't settle on something that is inevitably going to play a huge part in your culinary life. 

1. Emile Henry mixing bowls. I especially like these bowls for a number of reasons. They are heavy and will not slide. They nest to save space. They are freezer, oven, broiler, microwave and dishwasher safe. You can literally take them out of your freezer and put them straight into your oven. Indestructible. As an added perk, they're pretty enough that I can use them as serving bowls.

2. Two 8" cake pans. I couldn't live without my cake pans. Period. I make chocolate cake constantly. If you're more of a cupcake person, buy a cupcake pan. If you're more of a cookie person, buy a cookie sheet. I usually make pies in my cast iron skillet, but should you want a pie dish, I like this one

3. OXO vegetable peeler. Obviously you need a vegetable peeler to peel things like carrots, but I also use mine to make big chards of parmesan and to create vegetable "noodles." The OXO peeler is ideal because it has a sturdy grip and it stays sharp. I highly recommend the OXO brand because of their customer involvement- you can follow them on Pinterest to see how to use their tools and you can tweet them @OXO with any questions or concerns. Best of all, they matched our donations dollar for dollar during the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, which meant more than $4400 went to Cookies for Kids' Cancer.  

4. Microplane zester/grater. What a multi-tasker. I use mine to grate cheese, citrus zest, ginger, garlic, onions, shallots, nutmeg and chocolate. Be sure to wash it well and only run your sponge with the grain of the holes, otherwise it will grate your sponge.  

5. Emily Henry casserole dish. Once again, the Emily Henry casserole dish does all of the same amazing things as the mixing bowls. The casserole dish can be used for lemon bars, brownies, roasted vegetables, lasagna, casseroles, enchiladas, spanakopita, baked mac and cheese...I mean, the list goes on and on.

6. Bamboo cutting board. Everyone needs a big, heavy cutting board. My heart drops every time I see the small, lightweight plastic cutting boards at Target. Seriously, those things are a safety hazard, big time. I don't care if they have plastic grips on the bottom or whatever, they just don't cut it (pun intended). Space and sturdiness are absolute requirements for cutting safely. Here is how to clean and preserve a bamboo cutting board. 

7. Pyrex two cup liquid measuring cup. I'm sure you know by now, but it's very important to measure dry ingredients in dry measuring cups and wet ingredients in wet measuring cups. I like a good 'ol Pyrex, nothing fancy. To learn more about the difference between wet and dry measurements, see #19, Ratio

8. Lodge cast iron skillet. I own this pre-seasoned skillet and one small non-stick pan. And that's it. Mine is a 12", but they size you choose to buy will depend on your lifestyle. Cooking with a cast iron skillet is a labor of love; it is completely imperative that you care for it properly in a timely manor. I season mine the super old-fashioned way- with bacon grease. You can bake a pie, a cake, a tart tatin, a clafoutis or a fritatta right in your cast iron skillet. One of my very favorite things to make right now is deep dish pizza baked in a cast iron skillet. Of course you can use it for eggs, vegetables and meat too. 

9. Le Creuset 2 and 2/4 quart French oven. Ideal for heating up soup, making sauce, cooking rice or other grains and boiling vegetables. Great for cooking pasta for one; use the 7.25 quart if making pasta for a crowd. 

10. Le Creuset 7 and 1/4 quart French oven. I use this thing non-stop because I love soup so freaking much. An employee of mine once asked if someone gave me five million dollars, would I stop eating soup? NO, I replied in a moments time. Several days later, he suffered an injury that made him delirious. "What do you daydream about?"another co-worked asked him. "I bet Hannah daydreams about swimming in a giant vat of soup, and with each stroke it turns into a different kind," he replied. 

11. William Sonoma silicone spatula. What I like about this little guy is that the head comes off so that you can get every little nook and cranny clean. The shape is curved enough that it scrapes down the side of a bowl beautifully, but flat enough that I can use it to flip pieces of chicken or pick up hot cookies. Silicon, as opposed to rubber, is highly heat resistant. 

12. William Sonoma maple wood spoon. Wooden spoons have to be one of the oldest and the most useful cooking tools around. They are non-conductive and non-reactive. This means that if you're stirring something like tomato sauce, a wooden spoon with neither heat up and burn your hand, nor will it react with the acid in the sauce. The spoon pictured is particularly useful because you can use the flat edge to scrape up bits at the bottom of your pan without doing any damage. And here's one I bet you didn't know: You can place a wooden spoon across the top of a pot of water to keep it from boiling over.  

13. Dry measuring spoons. Even if you're not big into baking, measuring spoons are useful when you're making a dish that calls for something like cayenne pepper or fish sauce- just a tiny bit too much of such a strong ingredient can ruin your entire dish. 

14. Dry measuring cups. Dry measuring cups are used for flour, rice, beans, sugar, oats and other grains. Here is how to use them properly with flour. 

15. Salt bowl. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have your KOSHER SALT out and at your disposal at all times. My salt bowl sits right on my stovetop in the middle of all the eyes. As Tamar Adler says in her book (#20), "All ingredients need salt. The noodle or tender spring pea would be narcissistic to imagine it already contained within its cell walls all the perfection it would ever need." 

16. OXO Whisk. You may have noticed that I did not include any electronics on this list. For centuries, people used whisks instead of stand mixers and electric mixers. Putting a little elbow grease into your cooking and baking will make it all the more gratifying. 

17. OXO 8" chef knife. Please, for the love of all things delicious, buy a knife sharpener when you purchase a chef knife. Cutting with a lightweight, cheap or dull knife is laborious and dangerous. Trust me, a cut from a dull knife hurts far worse than from a sharp one. A chef knife is all-purpse: with it you can do everything from cut a chicken into eight pieces to chop herbs.

18. OXO 4" paring knife. The paring knife is the chef knife's kid sister. It should be used to do more delicate tasks, like slice strawberries, de-seed chiles and devein shrimp. 

19. Michael Ruhlman's Ratio. Ratio is as scientific as I dare get when it comes to cooking. According to Ruhlman, a ratio (bread for example, is five parts flour to three parts water) determines whether as dish is "good" or "bad" and "Only when we know good can we begin to inch up from good to excellent...Technique will ultimately determine the quality of the end result. Ratios are the points from which infinite variations begin." After reading Ratio, you will probably also want to purchase a kitchen scale. I own this one

20. Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. As the title suggests, this book is beautifully written. It is modeled on M.F.K. Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf. In the introduction, Adler writes, "This is not a cookbook or a memoir or a story about one person or one thing. It is a book about eating affordably, responsibly, and well, and because doing so relies on cooking, it is mostly about that." On the subject of Economy, she says, "Meals' ingredients must be allowed to topple into one another like dominoes. Broccoli stems, their florets perfectly boiled in salty water, must be simmered with olive oil and eaten with shaved Parmesan on toast; their leftover cooking liquid kept for the base for soup, studded with other vegetables, drizzled with good olive oil, with the rind of the Parmesan added for heartiness." 

Banana Ice Cream with Salted Caramel Swirl

I'm kind of an ice cream fiend. Ice cream is truly a feat of the culinary world, a canvas on which to paint pretty much anything! We eat ice cream both to celebrate our happiest of times and to console us at the saddest of times. And gosh, does it do wonders for the spirit. 

From Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein:

Eighteen luscious, scrumptious flavors
Chocolate, lime and cherry,
Coffee, pumpkin, fudge banana
Caramel cream and boysenberry.
Rocky road and toasted almond,
Butterscotch, vanilla dip,
Butter brickle, apple ripple,
Coconut and mocha chip,
Brandy peach and lemon custard,
Each scoop lovely, smooth and round,
Tallest ice cream cone in town, Lying there (sniff) on the ground.
Mr. Silverstien makes an excellent point, namely, that ice cream is much better in your mouth than it is on the ground. That is why winter is the perfect time to eat ice cream. Think about it: no heat means no melting and no melting means more ice cream in your mouth
Last spring I met my match- a man who loves ice cream just as much as I do! He turned 25 yesterday and we celebrated with Italian wedding soup, Moonrise Kingdom on dvd and of course, ice cream. 

Banana Ice Cream with Salted Caramel Swirl
yeilds about a quart and a half

4 cups half and half
8 egg yolks
3/4 cup honey
2 small, very ripe bananas
1/4 cup salted caramel sauce*

Place milk over medium heat. Mix egg yolks with honey. As milk warms, whisk spoonfuls of it into the eggs. When milk hits 170F, remove it from heat and slowly whisk one cup into egg mixture. Combine both parts and bring the temperature up to 180. Immediately pour into a clean bowl (strain if desired). Let cool in the fridge for at least four hours. Puree with bananas and follow manufacturer instructions on ice cream maker. Swirl caramel in as you see fit. 

*I bought my caramel sauce at Trader Joe's (also available on Amazon). If you'd like to make your own, here's a great recipe from Sarah at The Vanilla Bean Blog: Salted Caramel Sauce with Bourbon

Some of my favorite frozen treats in Nashville:

Hot Chocolate with Kettle Corn Marshmallows

Lately I've been thinking a lot about a quote from M.F.K. Fisher: "It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and intertwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the other." 

So today I thought I'd share two of my favorite childhood memories of food: drinking hot chocolate in Paris and eating kettle corn with my best friend Susan. Both memories very nearly bring me to tears because they remind me of how much I love and care about the people with whom they were shared.

What is your favorite food memory? Please share with me at the bottom of this post or on Twitter!  
I was probably the luckiest 11 year-old of all time. For two glorious weeks, my parents, my wonderful, wonderful parents, took me out of school so that I could travel to Paris with them. I don't remember most of it, save a few poignant details. How could I forget the luscious gardens at Giverny, the crunch of a perfect croque-monsieur, or the smell of the first perfume my Mother ever let me buy? 

One detail sticks out to me, probably because it happened repeatedly: each morning at our hotel, I was served a hunk of baguette and a mug of hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was thick and mildly sweet, made only of milk and chocolate chips. I dream of it, still. 
The next year I had the unbelievable good fortune to move less than a mile away from my very best friend, Susan. And how it snowed that winter! Every time school was canceled, I went to her house to sled all day long, and when dusk finally came and her Mom practically blackmailed us to come inside, we would cuddle up in her basement and eat hot, buttery kettle corn while we watched movies.

These days when we get a weather forecast predicting snow and all of my neighbors run to the store to buy bread and milk, you can find me stocking up on kettle corn because I know how strongly I'll crave it.
To see more of my daydreams about Europe, follow my board "east of here" on Pinterest. 

I also made a French soundtrack to accompany me while cooking, complete with music from Coeur de Pirate, Brigitte Bardot, the Midnight in Paris soundtrack, Carla Bruni and Stacey Kent

For hot chocolate

Pour boiling water into your mug and let it sit for two minutes, or until it is very hot to the touch. Fill it about 1/3 full with semi-sweet chocolate chips and pour in warm whole milk. Add a pinch of salt if desired.

For marshmallows
The process of making marshmallows is messy, hot, sticky and time-sensitive. I do not recommend making them with your kids. 

Follow Alton Brown's recipe, but add an additional step at the beginning:
Place one regular sized bag unpopped kettle corn in a pot with one cup water. Warm until the butter has dissolved. Strain. Place in fridge until butter is separated. Place butter in with the sugar and corn syrup and use the rest of the water as directed.

Note: These marshmallows are gently kettle corn flavored. If you want a more pronounced flavor, try using two bags of unpopped popcorn.

Urban Hydro Project and How to Make the Perfect Kale Caesar

My friend Jeffrey is a weird guy. I met him a couple years back when we were set up on a blind date. He showed up perfectly on time, standing outside of my apartment building in the blistering summer heat. As I opened the door to greet him, I noticed that he was wearing rape whistle and holding six baggies of herbs, like some sort of bizarre child soldier/drug dealer. His hair looked like it had been designed by Chihuly himself.   

He talked (almost rambled) about hydroponicswar in Africa and beer for the better part of our date. But that's just who he is- a guy who really invests in the things he cares about. And just to be clear, when I say "hydroponics" and "herbs," I'm not talking about marijuana. I'm talking about a highly efficient, soilless technique used to grow all kinds of plants. That night, the baggies he was holding were full of basil, Thai basil, pineapple mint, regular mint, oregano and thyme that he had grown himself- the best bouquet ever! 
Several weeks later I was invited to Jeffrey's loft. {As a note on his good nature, I feel like I must mention that he invited me and my new boyfriend.} It can't be more than 750 square feet and he has two roommates: a cat named Bosco and a dog named Gunner. "All of my animals shed," he told me when I walked in the door. Only one wall has windows, enormous ones. They are adorned with a vertical hydroponic system, much like the one in the picture below, but made out of old soda bottles. Troughs sit on the windowsills, blooming with heads of lettuce and kale. 
This past winter Jeffrey took his hydroponic obsession to a whole new level. He built a grow room in an abandoned 135 square foot closet on the top floor of his apartment building in downtown Nashville and turned it into a business. In the dead of winter, this tiny room is bursting with organic kale, arugula, lettuce, herbs, tomatoes and peppers, which he sells to the residents of his building. Right now he only has  the "ground level" up and running but soon, because the room is 12 feet tall he will be able build vertical layers of plants and lights, therefore producing ten times more vegetables than a conventional farm of the same size (WHOA!). He won't be selling at Farmer's Markets or grocery stores. Funnily enough, Urban Hydro Project operates just like the other type of grow room: you have to call or text Jeffrey (info@urbanhydroproject.com) to arrange a pick-up or drop-off. 

 To learn more about Urban Hydro Project, like it on Facebook or watch the Kickstarter video.

Raw kale, like quinoa, is another thing to which I thought I'd have a life-long aversion. The chef at my family restaurant (The Mt. Vernon) used to garnish dishes with a piece of kale and a slice of lemon, and as a very small child, both things looked so pretty that I'd try to eat them. The kale was bitter and tough and waxy. I never kept it in my mouth long enough to swallow. It was only last summer that a friend suggested that I massage the leaves with oil before eating them, so I bought a head of kale from the East Nashville Farmer's Market and got to work. The oil, along with a pinch of salt, somehow removes all of kale's less-appetizing qualities and leaves you with beautifully fresh, never wilt-y salad. I made this kale caesar on Christmas Eve and I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that more than half (maybe 20 people?) of our guests asked for the recipe! 

Perfect Kale Caesar
-serves six as a side dish

one bunch kale, preferably flat leaf
2t olive oil, 1/4t kosher salt
1/4 cup shaved pecorino cheese
3T chopped sundried tomatoes
3T lightly toasted pine nuts
dressing to taste*

Remove spines from kale and chop into bite-sized pieces. Place it in a plastic bag with oil and salt. Press all of the air out of the bag and massage leaves with your hands for about two minutes. Let sit in fridge overnight or up to three days. To toast pine nuts, place in cold pan over low heat until they are fragrant. Toss with dressing and toppings. Serve immediately.

* I buy my caesar dressing. I recommend picking one with anchovies- those will be in the refrigerated section. Brands I like include Naturally Fresh and Marzetti Simply Dressed. If you want to make your own dressing, here are some great options:
Vegetarian Caesar Dressing
Classic Caesar Dressing

All-Purpose Quinoa Salad

 Quinoa (keen-wah) is one of those scary things that was introduced to me through health food stores. I somehow found it guilty-by-association for sitting next to even scarier things like tempeh on the salad bar at Whole Foods and for being featured in books that I hope to God I never have to read, like "Recipes for IBS" and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Acid Reflux Diet." I overlooked quinoa's bad reputation a few years back when I realized that I would never in my life be able to cook a pot of rice and needed a substitute. Now I actually like to think of it as another type of rice (although technically it is not): it's a grain, you boil it in liquid to cook and you eat it in burritos. No big deal. Not so scary after all. 

You can't neglect the fact that quinoa is crazy healthy, but that doesn't exclude it from also being crazy delicious. It comes down to execution, so think of it as you do other healthy foods. Store-bought tomato juice? Vile. Fresh tomatoes on a margherita pizza? Unbeatable. Mushy, overcooked, oversweetened baked apples? Absolutely not. Homemade apple pie with crispy, flaky crust? Yes, please! But while we're on the subject of nutrition, you should know: according to Self Nutrition Data, quinoa is a good source of iron, fiber, protein, magnesium, thiamin, folate, riboflavin and vitamin b6- all stuff your body really needs.  

Here are a few things to remember when cooking with quinoa:

1. Never cook quinoa in water, always use good quality, low-sodium vegetable stock. This brings out the nutty flavor of the quinoa and will prevent it from tasting bland. 
2. Cook quinoa as you would risotto. Place quinoa into a cold pot and cover with vegetable stock. Bring it to a boil over medium high heat and add more stock as needed. You will know the quinoa is done when the little kernels burst. It usually takes 15-20 minutes. 
3. Quinoa is best when fluffy. When your quinoa is done cooking, add just a bit of butter to keep the pieces from sticking together. If you're making enough quinoa for the week, let it cool completely before putting it in the fridge. Run a fork though it a few times before reheating. 
I call this "all-purpose" quinoa salad because it is so incredibly versatile. It can be served hot or cold. You can eat it as a side dish or turn it into a main by adding your favorite fish or chicken. One recipe makes boo-coos of salad, which is great because it keeps well and can be used in a number of different ways throughout the week. I ate it in burritos with spinach, goat cheese and black beans, in tacos with slices of avocado and a drizzle of crema and on top of spinach salad with creamy cilantro lime dressing

All-Purpose Quinoa Salad

1 cup dry quinoa
low-sodium vegetable stock (about 2 cups)
kosher salt
1T butter
1T vegetable oil
6 medium carrots, cut into a large dice
6 medium garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped
1/4 cup red onions, diced
1 1/4 cup roasted beets, cut into a large dice*
3T chopped cilantro
lime juice to taste (start with the juice of two limes)

Place quinoa in a cold pot with a pinch (1/4t) kosher salt and cover with vegetable stock. Turn stove to medium-high and bring to a boil. Add more vegetable stock as needed until quinoa kernels burst. Meanwhile, heat 1T vegetable oil in a pan over medium-high and cook carrots with a pinch of kosher salt for 5 minutes. Add garlic to pan and cook until garlic is soft and fragrant and carrots are just starting to brown around the edges. When quinoa is done and still hot, add butter, carrots and garlic, and red onion. When the mixture has cooled, add beets, cilantro and lime juice. Add salt to taste.

* You can buy pre-cooked beets at stores like Trader Joe's. If you'd like to cook beets at home, I recommend buying beets that are on the smaller side so that they roast faster. You can read about how to roast beets here.

Note: This is a recipe that is very easily altered. You can use parsnips instead of carrots, shallots or green onions instead of red onions, parsley instead of cilantro, or lemon juice instead of lime juice and any color of beet you can find. Use what you have on hand and get creative! 

Try tossing a salad with creamy cilantro lime dressing (recipe follows) and top with a big scoop of all-purpose quinoa salad and a little bit of queso fresco for a healthy lunch.

Creamy Cilantro Lime Dressing

7oz Greek yogurt
2t white balsamic vinegar
1-2 T fresh lime juice (start with 1T and add more if needed)
2T fresh chopped cilantro
1t very finely chopped red onion
1/4 t grated garlic
1/8 t kosher salt
2t honey

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

P.S. One more! Put quinoa salad in tacos with pan-fried fish and drizzle creamy cilantro lime dressing on top. Amazing.

By the way, I had the good fortune of being able to shoot this dish in my parents' kitchen, which is full of some of the best props you could ever imagine- from elk antlers to crystal cocktail glasses. So if you've ever been on Ebay, Etsy or in a thrift store and couldn't find any vintage white plates or sterling plated flatware, it's because my Mom bought them all.