Saturday, November 11, 2006

Venturing into foreign territory

Today was a day of many pit stops. I embarked on a shopping trip that ended up including stops at four different stores. I have long been the type of person who buys her produce at a veggie market (you can't beat the prices!) and purchases the remaining food stuffs at the local Dominicks. Now I have to add a stop at Whole Foods (or Trader Joe's) for those more specialty type items. While a lengthy journey, it was a productive one.

My first stop was at a local spice shop. I had never been there before, but had heard many good things. Man, was my aunt right when she raves about The Spice House! It was amazing. Pure spices, blends, you name it they have it. Upon telling the helpful employee I am gluten free she (after quickly conferring with the manager/owner?) informed me that the only item I could not eat is the taco seasoning. Woo hoo!!! A whole store full of amazing spices that I can eat. Of course, I had actually gone in there looking for taco seasoning. The girl was extremely helpful in suggesting an alternate blend for my planned tacos. I ended up leaving with Sweet Curry Powder, Thai Red Curry, Herbs de Provence, Pilsen Latino Seasoning, Hot Cocoa Mix, Mulling Spices, and Argyle Street Asian Blend. There was so much more that I wanted to pick up, but felt that was enough for now. It was great. You can buy a shaker bottle full (usually about 2 oz) or you can buy a bag with 1, 4, 8, or 16oz of a spice. If you already have the shaker jar and just need a refill it costs $1 less. The best news (for all of you) is that you can order online and they will ship the spices to you. I can say firsthand that the two curries are excellent. The hot cocoa is ok. I prefer it stronger and sweeter. I think I need to start experimenting and make my own hot cocoa mix. Any suggestions?

After all of that shopping (I was gone for nearly four hours!) I came home and started cooking. I was dying to bust into my spices. Yesterday I found a couple of recipes I wanted to try. Have you even been so full you felt ready to burst, but you just want to keep eating because it tastes so good? Yep, that's me. I made Thai-Spiced Winter Squash Soup and Curried Apple Quinoa. Both dishes are adaptations of recipes I found on the site 101 Cookbooks. I was beyond happy with the results. This was the first time I had used quinoa. The recipe actually called for couscous, but a substitution had to be made. This was exactly the right grain to use. It was lovely. So I give you two flavorful, aromatic dishes. Enjoy!

Curried Apple Quinoa

4 T butter
1 T curry powder
kosher salt
1 large apple, chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins
3 green onions, washed, trimmed, and sliced
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
Small handful of mint, chopped

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat add 4 tablespoons of the butter, the curry powder, and a couple generous pinches of salt, and cook for a minute or until the spices are fragrant. Stir in the chopped apples and raisins, and cook for about 3 minutes, enough time for the apples to soften up a bit and absorb some of the curry. Scoop the apples and raisins from the pan and set aside in a separate bowl.

In the same pan, again over medium-high heat, add the remaining tablespoon of butter. Stir in the green onions, let them soften up a bit and then add the water, salt, and quinoa. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer over low heat heat for 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and use a fork to fluff up the quinoa. Stir in the apples, pine nuts, and chopped mint. Season with more salt and curry powder to taste.

Along with the quinoa dish I made this robustly seasoned soup:

Thai-spiced Winter Squash Soup

1 acorn squash
1 small pumpkin
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
1 teaspoon (or more) red Thai curry paste
1-2 cups GF chicken stock (Pacific Organics)
2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt (or to taste)
Plain yogurt
ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place the oven racks in the middle. Carefully cut each squash/pumpkin into halves (or quarters). Slather each piece of squash with butter, sprinkle generously with salt, place on a baking sheet skin sides down, and place in the oven. Roast for about an hour or until the squash is tender throughout.

When the pumpkin/squash are cool enough to handle scoop it into a large pot over medium high heat. Add the coconut milk and curry paste and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and puree in a blender, you should have a very thick base at this point. Slowly add chicken stock a cup at a time to the blender as it is running, until the soup is the consistency you prefer (a vegetable stock could work here as well). Bring up to a simmer again and add the salt (and more curry paste if you like). Garnish individual bowls with plain yogurt and a dash of nutmeg.

I had never made squash soup before. I had never used Thai red curry paste. It was a new adventure. It actually turned out a bit too spicy for me. I used a good spice blend from The Spice House, so it may have been stronger than what you would find at your local supermarket. (Although, I could be wrong.) I needed to cut the heat and went looking for some sour cream. I did not have any, but figured the plain yogurt should be ok. Boy howdy! It was perfect! Yogurt and curry should have been the obvious pairing. It was exactly what was needed to complete the rich creamy soup.

Now I need to try an idea I have buzzing around my head for a breakfast quinoa dish. Hmm...

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