Sunday, April 27, 2014

quinoa, ham, and strawberry salad, aka Easter leftovers

Woke up this morning after a fitful night of little sleep, tho' I did catch up on some of my reading from about 1:30 to 3:30 a.m.  (this has all become rather routine, so I choose to see it as quiet time, uninterrupted, to read and journal more regularly…)  Suffice it to say, I slept through church.  Finding myself in an empty house over lunchtime, still a bit groggy and grumpy, I decided to cheer myself up in the kitchen.

Easter this year included 18 family members for dinner - a mix of Bedenbaughs, Hollingers, Clemens, and Pingitores - an enormous ham from the local butcher, Groff's, and fresh vegetables from Central Market in Downtown Lancaster, some of which still reside in my refrigerator even after generously giving away leftovers of mashed potatoes and ham to whomever wanted some.  So for dinner Monday evening for David and myself, I took stock of what was in the pantry and got creative.

I first fell in love with quinoa at John J. Jeffries, at the Arts Hotel in Lancaster.  Sean had been crafting these awesome salads of micro greens with a pressed quinoa concoction that I still get hungry for.  Truth be told, I'm always hungry for Chefs Michael and Sean's dishes, and the fresh, local menu only has one drawback - I crave something, and it's not on the menu any longer!  But something else new and incredible always takes its place, so I never leave unfulfilled.

Earlier this year, my daughter Jenna asked if I could come stay with my grandson Carson a day or two a week, while her mother-in-law (his usual sitter) was recuperating from surgery.  So for a few incredible weeks I got some extra one-on-one with my favorite little guy.  Typically our excursions included a visit to Mama in downtown Philadelphia for lunch, a chilly walk along the Brandywine River, or searching out the local Trader Joe's and Whole Foods to compile ingredients for dinner later (and ingredients I couldn't resist taking home to my own pantry, hence the quinoa).  I love to cook.  My daughter(s) don't.  They joke with my mother that cooking skipped a generation.  

Quinoa is gluten free, nutty and tasty, and quickly takes on the essence of whatever marinade or vegetables you add to it.  It's delicious hot as a side dish, or cold in a salad and super quick and easy to make.  Two parts water boiled, to one part quinoa - boil a minute or two, then let is simmer until the water is completely absorbed.  In this recipe I'm using 2 cups water and 1 cup quinoa.

Meanwhile, I pull out one of these awesome cobalt blue glass bowls I found at Ikea for 3.99 (another fun place Carson and I hang out).  Add two tablespoons of olive oil to the bottom, then chop and add a small handful of red bell pepper, two smashed and diced cloves of fresh garlic, two stalks of green onion, six pitted and halved black olives, a dash of balsamic vinegar, cracked pepper and salt to taste.  Set it aside.

I love Central Market, as my children can tell you - it was the first outing for each of them at five days old, and it continues to be my favorite place in the world.  Really.  The latest proliferation of independent organic growers, and responsibly sourced meats and dairy products, alongside the steadfast Amish and Mennonite fair, spice and fresh pasta, authentic Mediterranean, and the best latte (aside from Folklore), one can't help but want to cook and eat healthy food.  The nutty, flavorful sprouts in the above photo are a recent find - awesome in salads, sandwiches, as a snack out of the bag, or even in an omelet.  It's still my dream to retire within walking distance of that market, but alas, I think the firehall in Elizabethtown is as close as I'll get to living with David in a "city" - he's a mountain kind of guy.  

Food preparation, even on a late Sunday morning, always includes a glass of wine.  This glass came from my father-in-law's cabin on the Susquehanna.  I think some of the many reasons I love to cook so much are the process, the memories, and the aesthetic feast.  My favorite yellow bowl from a street fair in Manayunk with my sister-in-law when the kids were still in strollers, my collection of Le Creuset pots in cobalt blue that accumulated over Christmases and birthdays, wooden salad forks brought back from Seattle from my friend Maggie, and what was left of a set of French Longchamp dinnerware I happily took possession of from another friend, Lisa, who was upgrading.  These things make me happy!

Stir the chopped vegetables into the oil and vinegar, and add the quinoa.  It can be served warm this way as an accompaniment to any meats, or with a large salad.  We had a large green salad for Easter dinner, alongside the usual mashed potatoes, green beans, and pickled beets, which is how I ended up throwing them all together in the first place.    

Add to the salad greens (I prefer a mix a heartier green like romaine or bib lettuce, with some spring mix, and a handful of micro greens - pea shoots lately), sliced leftover ham and fresh strawberries, and a handful of sprouts.   Really anything will do, however I tend to want to throw in everything but the kitchen sink - some restraint is called for, if you really want to enjoy the individual flavors and textures.  

The last half of a whole wheat pita, stuffed with salad and quinoa.  

Did I mention this creation was just for me?  I did tell you about the empty house, and a lazy Sunday morning… I'm a firm believer in linen napkins, candles, and reading at the table.  Moosewood cookbooks by Mollie Katzen are some of my favorite reading material.  And Sunday morning's Sleepy Hollow on XPN provides the best background music for my solo culinary journey.

Afterward, there is just enough to fill two pyrex bowls for lunch tomorrow - one for me and one to share.  Put the salad on the bottom, and the quinoa on the top.  Dump it on a plate with a splash of dressing, and it's good to go.  

And I'm one of those crazy people who relish hand dishwashing.  Just another part of the process of making food.  Whether it's for myself alone, or a crowd of twenty, there is nothing like putzing in the kitchen to inspire and put my soul at rest.  And outside a gorgeous day beckons.  Think I'll take a long walk.  Cheers!