Keen on quinoa – Superfood Salad

Once upon a time, when I was a carefree girl-about-London-town, I used to spend a lot of time at Leon, a tiny cafe in Carnaby Street with a Scandinavian-style bleached wood interior and good-for-you-but-not-too-earnest-about-it food. The waiting staff were charming, the menu was interesting and it was within stumbling distance of Liberty, Topshop Oxford Circus and the Boy Wonder’s work.

There are now lots of Leons and even a cookbook by its clever founder, Allegra McEvedy, but alas, none in little old New Zealand. But I’ve been making my own version of its Superfood Salad for so long now that I think it’s better than the original. Quinoa (keen-wah) is considered a super-grain because it’s high in complete proteins, which makes it an excellent choice for vegans, vegetarians and people on gluten-free diets. It behaves a bit like rice and millet – it absorbs twice its volume of water during cooking and has a subtle, nutty flavour.

Quinoa Superfood Salad

Superfood Salad (with thanks to Leon)
In the weekend I made this for Terence and Catherine, with some grilled chicken thighs, a tangle of green leaves and some flatbreads from the Italian deli warehouse down the road. Think of this as the master recipe and make your own substitutions as your garden and the seasons provide.

3/4 cup quinoa
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
1 1/2 cups frozen baby peas
200g feta, diced
1 avocado, diced
a handful or two of cucumber, cut into batons
2 handfuls of mint leaves, shredded
2 handfuls of parsley, chopped
zest of a lemon
a couple of handfuls of sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds (toasted in a dry pan, if you have the time and/or inclination)

Dressing
Mix together:
1 clove garlic, crushed with 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup olive oil

Rinse the quinoa under cold running water, then put in a pan with 2 cups boiling water. Boil gently until nearly all the water is absorbed (about 10 mins). Throw the broccoli and peas in and cook until the broccoli is bright green and ‘al dente’, then drain and refresh under cold water again.
Tip the cooked quinoa and vegetables onto a salad platter, then pour the dressing over the top. Toss gently, then scatter over the herbs, cucumber, feta and avocado. Strew the lemon zest and toasted seeds on top in an artistic fashion and serve. This feeds four as a main course, but I suggest placating the carnivores with something meaty on the side. It also makes a very good packed lunch, but remember to keep it refrigerated until playtime.

Musical Monday: It’s a heartache

A heartbreaking song of staggering genius (sorry, Dave Eggers) from my new (old) hometown. I used to live just up the road from Deluxe Cafe (featured in the video) and can definitely vouch for their pies…

Sweet sweet Friday: Spicy parsnip and pecan cakes

Sacha is supposed to be having a baby today. She’s been expecting him for two weeks (as a former newspaper photographer she knows all about deadlines). But last night she sent me a text saying that the baby had to stay put until Monday, because she’s shooting a wedding tomorrow and she doesn’t have time to have it today!

When the Small Girl came into our lives the thing I appreciated most was people bearing gifts of food. I felt really bad when I realised we would be gone before Sacha’s new baby came, so I made her a double batch of cupcakes and some other, more wholesome, baked goods for her freezer. She laughed her head off when I told her they were for when the baby arrived. “Do you really think we can wait that long?!”

If he knows what’s good for him, little Reed will do what he’s told and stay inside for a few days longer. In the meantime, hope you all have a sweet, sweet Friday. If you’ve got a friend in need, bake them a batch of these spicy parsnip and pecan cupcakes, topped with a caramel cream cheese frosting. Or you could make them for yourself!

Spicy Parsnip and Pecan Cakes
This recipe is inspired by one I copied out of a Julie Le Clerc book when I was a bored personal assistant with time on my hands. I’d carted it around in my notebook for years, but didn’t make it until just before the Small Girl was born (when I also had lots of time on my hands). I’ve changed the spices, swapped brown sugar for white and added nuts, but Julie’s recipe is pretty much perfect.

1 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
3 large eggs
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained
4 cups grated parsnip
1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup chopped dates
3/4 cup pecans (or walnuts), roughly chopped
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp grated nutmeg (optional)

Preheat oven to 160C and either grease and line the bottom of a a 20cm springform cake tin, or put cupcake liners in about 18 standard-size muffin pans.
Beat the sugar, oil and vanilla together to combine, then add eggs one at a time, beating until mixture is creamy. Stir in pineapple, then sift in the dry ingredients. Stir to mix, then add the grated parsnip, dates and nuts. Pour into the prepared cake tin(s) and bake for around 80 mins (cake) or 25 mins (cupcakes) – or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely. Ice with generous amounts of the following frosting:

Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting – inspired by the Ottolenghi Cookbook
Beat together 100g soft, soft, soft butter with 75g soft brown sugar (or that lovely dark, sticky muscovado sugar, if you can get it) and three tablespoons of golden syrup. Then beat in 200g cream cheese (room temperature) until you have a satin-smooth mixture. Eat this out of the bowl with a spoon, then make another batch to ice the cakes with. I went down the piped rosette route for Sacha, but this icing looks lovely just slathered on with a generous hand.

In my pantry…

Clever Debby, who blogs at Cooking Up A Storm In A Teacup, has started a brilliant meme looking at pantries (and their contents). Her post about it is really beautiful and the photos of her pantry are enough to induce fits of jealousy in the most well-mannered of KitchenMaids. As Debby says, “Don’t you just love nosing inside other people’s cupboards?”.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s in our cupboards lately, because we’ve had to start from scratch due to moving house. I keep opening the pantry and realising that, damn, we don’t have any cinnamon/orzo/cornflour. Then, this morning I left the pantry door open and my little kitchen helper discovered a bag of icing sugar… she sat there happily (and so quietly) for ages, like a little cocaine addict getting her fix (and was quite cross when I vacuumed it all away!)

So when I’ve restocked properly, I’ll invite you back to come and have a look. In the meantime, take a look at what Caz has in her pantry. Have you ever seen such an impressive line-up of breakfast cereals? Go on, why don’t you show us what’s in yours?

Memories of Makiri

Makiri, my great aunt with the dazzling blue eyes and wicked grin, has died. She was 97 and for the last few years lived in the horrible twilight of dementia, but her death still feels like a terrible loss. Makiri, who grew up in a remote rural area in New Zealand, was named after a Maori princess. She told us amazing stories about her childhood, such as the tale about their pet pony, Pocket Edition, who was allowed to come in the house and sleep in a real bed. Retelling this story to someone else recently it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps this wasn’t entirely true – but as a child I would believe anything Makiri told me.

She and Uncle Jack were like fantasy relatives from books. Uncle Jack had a booming laugh and would burst into song or dance at the drop of a hat, while Makiri carried a solid navy handbag from which she could dispense barley sugar sweets whenever a parent wasn’t looking. When they came to stay with us she would make pikelets in the shape of cats and choux pastry swans. When we went to stay with them, she would have a collection of specially chosen library books and I was allowed to drink ginger ale from a crystal tumbler.

Yesterday in honour of her memory I tried to make cat pikelets for the Small Girl. I need more practice – like everything Makiri did, it’s harder than it looks – but they still tasted great. Next stop, choux pastry swans and a pony who sleeps in a real bed.

Perfect Pikelets
Every Antipodean has a pikelet recipe, handed down from generation to generation. Here’s mine, adapted from the trusty Edmonds Cookbook. The first pikelet, like the first pancake, is always a disaster. Gobble it up and keep going.

1 egg
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup natural yoghurt

Beat the egg and sugar together in a bowl, then sift in the dry ingredients. Stir to mix, then add the milk and yoghurt and mix gently to combine. Lightly grease a heavy frying pan with a little butter and place over medium heat. Drop dessertspoonfuls of the mixture into the pan (hold the spoon vertically to get a perfect round). Cook until bubbles appear on top, then flip gently and cook for a few minutes more. Best eaten warm from the pan, or cold with lashings of butter and raspberry jam.